Total Distance: 31 km (Two vehicles or shuttle required)
Duration: 1 day (allow about 8 or 9 hours for the trip including breaks). It can be reduced by beginning or ending at one of the 5 bridges en route.
Number of Portages: 4 portages and several points requiring running/wading/lining of rapids
Level of Difficulty: Intermediate due to the number of river obstacles and water-level issues
Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada.
It was the third week of April and the weather was still damp and cold for the most part. So, on Saturday the 23rd, when I checked the weather website to discover that the following day's temperature would be 22 degrees and sunny, my wife, Dahee, and I decided to take advantage and go for a paddle. The winter had been long and it was the third spring in a row of dealing with Covid; we needed to get out.
My birthday present over the winter was a new Esquif Prospecteur in T-formex! I was tired of portaging around fun stuff for fear of damaging my lightweight kevlar Swift and was eager to hit some whitewater in my new river boat. With it still being April and the water levels still quite high, and no dry suits, we weren't ready for big water; however we still wanted to take on some Class 1 or 2s.
That evening, I scrambled to plan a trip for the following day. Hmmm...where to go within an hour or two from Peterborough? The Salmon or Moira?...too big at the moment. The Crowe?...did it last year. The Mississauga? ...planning to do it in early May with my father.
I started googling and going through my trip resources and came across "The Moira and Skootamatta Canoe Guide" published by the Quinte Conservation Authority. I had used it previously on the Skootamatta River and found it fairly reliable. I wish I could say the same for the river that I finally decided on -- the Clare River.
While the guide predominately focused on the two rivers in the title, it does offer some easier day and side-trip information. Here is what the guide had to say about the Clare River :
"Clare River Side Trip - The Clare River may be accessed from Highway 41 at the east end or from Stoco Lake from the west end. This side trip is approximately 18 km in length and will take less than a day to complete."
I googled for more information but found only one account on myccr.com of a guy who put in at Highway 41 in 2020 but only went a couple of kms downriver before returning. He claimed it was a lot of flatwater and mentioned some beaver dams. It all sounded pretty innocuous to me, so I decided we would give it a try.
Highway 41 (at Calpin Lake) to Bridge at Greenwood Rd (just before Stoco Lake)
By the time we loaded up the car with our gear, gassed up both vehicles, dropped off one vehicle at our take-out, and arrived at our put-in on Calpin Lake off of Highway 41, it was 11:30 am. Much later than I had planned to start paddling, but hey, the guide said that the trip would "take less than a day to complete." More on this later.
We were happy! The sun was shining and we were on the water for the first time this year. It was even fun to duck way down in the boat as we passed under the Highway 41 bridge heading west. The water was high...for the time being.
As the post on myccr mentioned, it was a flat paddle for a couple of kilometers until we came to a formidable beaver dam just past a bridge. There was large farm on the left bank of the river.
We lifted over the dam and found ourselves in water levels of a very different nature. Those beavers had done their work well because now we found ourselves in low water conditions. The river veered to the southwest past an enormous herd of cattle on the left riverbank which lent an unforgettable aroma to the scene.
Shortly downstream, the farmland ended and we found ourselves in a mostly deciduous forest that had the odd smattering of pine, spruce, and cedar. There, the river began a 3km shallow descent through what seemed like an endless series of rock gardens.
It was very pretty, but we walked the majority of this section. I was extremely grateful to be wearing the new neoprene boot liners that I had purchased over the winter as the water temperature was about 5 degrees Celsius.
We tried to run swifts where we could, but there simply wasn't enough water. I couldn't believe I was going through this in the third week of April. It was great being out, but a little discouraging not being able to paddle. We were beginning to think our choice of rivers had been a mistake.
It was nearing 1 pm and we had not managed to get very far downriver. Looking at the map and seeing the distance we had to go to get back to our second vehicle, I began to get a little concerned. If the entire river was going to be like this, we were going to be in trouble. It was also at this point that we realized that the 18-km distance mentioned by Quinte Conservation was grossly underestimated.
We arrived at a spot where an ATV trail traversed the river and pulled ashore to eat a sandwich wrap and reassess the situation.
Our topo maps showed that the river was very narrow along that section, but widened for the majority of the distance downstream. We could see numerous tributaries joining the river which would add water volume to the river, so we decided to go for it; however, there were 4 more sections where the river appeared to narrow considerably on the map. Though those sections were relatively short, if they were anything like the section we had just gone through, we knew we would have our work cut out for us to make it to our take-out before nightfall. We got back on the river and began paddling.
Thankfully, the topography changed and the river widened and deepened as it swerved northward. There was a cabin on river-right where a couple was out working on their property. We exchanged greetings and they said that water levels were the lowest they had ever seen for that time of year. Yikes.
We paddled under our third bridge, and shortly after, the river narrowed again. We lifted over a pretty ledge there.
This was followed by a difficult stretch of shallow rapids that required some careful lining down the left bank through branches and rocky shoreline.
Plodding along, the river began to veer northward once again. There were numerous sweepers along this section that required liftovers and scraping the canoe up the left bank and down again. Needless to say, by this time, we were getting awfully tired of getting in and out of the boat.
Thankfully, the river opened up again in a swampy area as it headed west. We saw a large eagle or osprey nest perched upon a solitary tree in the middle of the river. It was very cool to see it up there all alone, watching over the surroundings.
In fact, the birdlife on this trip was quite remarkable -- loons, ducks, mergansers, hawks, turkey vultures, a massive bald eagle, whiskeyjacks, blue jays, cardinals, numerous enormous great blue herons, sandpipers, ospreys, and probably many more that I couldn't identify. It was a bird-watcher's paradise.
By 3 pm the river was moving southwest again and we had passed under bridge no. 4. The river narrowed again and veered southeast where it dropped dramatically through a canyon. Little did we know, that we would be coming to the most challenging stretch of the river.
There was a cabin on the left bank there and not wanting to trespass on anyone's property, we tenuously lined along the rocks on river-left until we came to a rickety footbridge built above the river, crossing the canyon. With no more walking to be had because the river pushed through a chute, we waded across a swift over to the right bank and portaged for 50m to the bottom of the chute.
After a quick snack break to get our blood sugars back up, we paddled the pool at the bottom of the chutes and then were forced to line for the better part of a kilometer through a very pretty canyon. There was no portage there and it was very slow going; we had to be extremely careful on the steep, heavily-treed embankments. We ran some of the swifts, but again, most were just too rocky and narrow to run without running aground.
At the end of the canyon section, the river veered to the right through one last series of chutes before it opened up again. From the top of the chutes, it appeared that they could be lined down the right side. So, just as we had done numerous times on the trip thus far, we got out of the boat and began lining. As we progressed around a rock that had blocked our view from upstream, we saw that we could not continue. The river had entered another canyon and behind it was a marshy area that could not be portaged. I looked across the river and saw a trail on the left bank that was obviously a portage that we had missed seeing at the top, but now we were trapped. We were on the right bank and could not cross, continue on foot or run the river.
I'm not going to lie, at that point, I let out a few expletives. It was now 4:30 pm. We had been on the river for 5 hours and weren't even halfway to our take-out. We only had about three more hours of daylight remaining and we were exhausted and trapped on the wrong side of the river. When difficult reality far exceeds initial expectations, it can be quite disheartening.
I apologized to my wife for underestimating the time and energy this day trip would require. I felt terrible that I hadn't mentally prepared her for what we would encounter. I felt even more terrible for putting her in a situation where we would be racing against daylight on what was supposed to be a fairly gentle first trip of the season. I was afraid that she would never set foot inside a canoe with me again. To her credit, she was very understanding and forgiving...at least outwardly. Later, she would tell me that she had been thinking otherwise! Who wouldn't in that situation?
It was her calm assessment at that moment that allowed us to get out of that situation. She simply suggested that we portage back up the way we had come, paddle back up to the pool against the current at the top of the chutes, find the left-bank portage, and continue on our way. It was such a simple solution but my own frustration and exhaustion were not allowing me to see it. I was focusing on the problem and not the solution. I had been doing the majority of the lining, wading, and portaging up to that point; it is amazing how fatigue can affect decision-making ability.
We did exactly as Dahee suggested, found the portage, and made it past the chutes easily. I learned a valuable lesson at that moment and thanked my wife for teaching it to me.
Looking at the map, we had passed all the narrow sections of the river. It appeared that we had nothing but paddling to do for the remainder of the trip. Lucky for us, that was mostly correct.
For the next hour, we moved westward and enjoyed one section that went through a massive swamp. There, we saw an incredibly massive bald eagle perched on a treetop. Dahee spotted a young bear cub in the distance that darted into the woods as we rounded a bend. In one part of the swamp, we grounded on clumps of vegetation growing up from the river bottom. It took some maneuvering to get through.
Past the swamp, the river veered northward through farm country. We finally got to enjoy running some swifts along this section. We passed under two more bridges, the second which had a fun little C1 rapid to negotiate.
The Clare moved westward again through the hamlet of Bogart and we passed a number of farms.
Leaving Bogart and just before we crossed under the last bridge of the trip before our takeout, the river was split by a small island where there were ledges on either side. We lined down the left one and continued on our way.
There, we re-entered a forest, and the river engaged in a series of switchbacks and oxbows that considerably lengthened the distance to our take-out. It was typical southern Ontario, with silver-maple river topography there. I was concerned about logjams on that section and indeed there was a formidable one on the first bend that required a portage on the left bank. Thankfully, there weren't any more obstacles after that.
We arrived at our waiting vehicle at 7:45 pm just as the sun was going down. We made it in the nick of time.
Final Assessment of the Clare River
There was almost no information on the river that we could find, so hopefully, this trip report will solve that problem for others who may want to try it. We had a difficult time because we went into the trip mostly uninformed and underestimated its length and challenges. Had we started the trip much earlier in the day, we would have felt less anxious about completing it and would have been a little more mentally prepared for what we would encounter.
It was an adventure, to say the least. Looking back, it really was a beautiful trip that should probably best be paddled over two days; however, the entire length of this section of the river goes through private land. Unfortunately, there are no options for camping without landowners' permission. For those who are reluctant to put in a 31-kilometer paddling day, there are numerous bridges along the way that are closer from which one can start or end the trip. If trippers forgo the upper section, it would allow them to miss much of the shallow slog there, but also would mean missing some of the more scenic sections.
And for Dahee's assessment? The next day, after a good night's rest, she expressed how much she enjoyed the trip despite the difficulties. Isn't that often the case with canoe tripping?