Total Distance: 14 km (Two vehicles or shuttle required)
Duration: 1 day (allow 4 to 5 hours for travelling time)
Number of Portages: 5 short portages, 4 liftovers and 2 sets of rapids that require lining
Level of Difficulty: Experienced Novice
Map is copyrighted by and is courtesy of unlostify.com. It is available for purchase online -- my route is marked in blue.
North of Haultain to Northey's Bay Road
On another exercise day of paddling during the Spring 2021 lockdown in an area near my home, my wife, Dahee, and I decided to paddle down Eels Creek. I had driven past it numerous times before on my way to the many trips in the Kawartha Highlands and Algonquin that I've done. I have even hiked alongside the bottom end of it to High Falls before with the entire family. I always thought it would be a great paddle, but it was just one of those things -- I guess I felt there was somewhere else more inviting to go. I'm not sure why I thought that because it's a fantastic day out -- or in this case, a half-day. With camping being prohibited because of the Covid lockdown, what better way to release pandemic stress and get outdoor exercise than to finally do a local paddle with my wife?
We left our house at about 8:30 am in two vehicles and drove to the parking lot at Northey's Bay Road, our take-out point. We left one vehicle there and then drove to our put-in on Highway 28 in the other. There were a few places on 28 where we could have put in. We chose the one immediately north of Haultain, where the creek crosses the highway from east to west. There, you can find a picnic area with some outhouses.
We parked the car, put in on the west side of the highway and immediately hit some Class 1 rapids. Even though we were doing this in late April, water levels were relatively low that year and we ground my lightweight kevlar canoe on some rocks. Ouch. Deciding that I would like to keep my boat for future trips, we decided to get out and line the rest of the rapids.
This was a long set of rapids that went on for about 500m. It proved to be the most difficult part of the trip. Maybe that was because they looked inviting to run and we tried doing so about halfway through them...and again, ground to a halt on some rocks. Only this time, I was in the middle of the river and had to get out and wade to the shore again in some pretty chilly water. We managed to get to the deeper swifts at the end of the rapids and finally get to paddle on this pretty waterway.
The water was incredibly clear and we spotted the odd trout darting downstream here and there. The creek is stocked with brown trout every second year, but I didn't bring my fishing gear. My wife would have fallen asleep from boredom watching me fish all day.
There were a few swifts as we meandered downstream, heading in a southwest direction with no signs of development or civilization for a good 10 minutes. We eventually came to a house as we rounded a bend. There, the owners had constructed a steel bridge across the creek to gain access to a lovely little sandbank on the opposite side. What a nice spot they had!
A few minutes later, the creek brought us to our first logjam lift-over of the day. The creek was fairly deep there, so Dahee got out and waited on shore while I balanced on the log and pulled the canoe over -- easy, peasy without a canoe laden with a week's worth of food and tripping gear!
Below the logjam, we shot through some fun little swifts and soon came to a point in the creek with high, sandy banks. It reminded me of the York River below High Falls at the southern tip of Algonquin.
Another logjam lift-over later, we eventually arrived at our next set of bony rapids. Boy, did I wish the water was higher! It was a nice little set, strategically placed in front of a cottage and would have been a fun little run after ice-out, but, alas, I was lining down on the right side again.
Back in the canoe, it wasn't long before we crossed under the bridge at Haultain Road. There were a few more cottages and homes in this area. The creek snaked east again and we stopped on a nice sandbar to have a mid-morning snack.
After another lift-over on river-left, past yet another log jam, we soon came to our first real portage of the trip. It was at a spot in the creek immediately west of the point where we had to cross back under Highway 28. There, the creek fell about 6 feet in one, dramatic drop. We portaged on the right. There was no sign, but there was a clear path up the bank on the right side. It was a little less clear coming back down to the water but was easy enough to bushwhack a path through.
Crossing under the bridge, which was under construction, the creek entered into a low-lying, swampy area just east of the highway. Making our way over our last logjam lift-over, we paddled southeast for about 15 minutes. Though we could hear Highway 28 just to the west of us, the area had a lot of wildlife activity. There were several beaver dams and we spotted a fisher poke his head out of the water before diving underwater to escape our gaze.
The creek veered due east and widened substantially. It then narrowed between two rocky points just as it dropped over a series of ledges. It was nearly noon by this time and though we could have held off for another hour or so, we decided to stop there and have our lunch because the spot was just so darn pretty.
What better way to enjoy lunch than to bask in the sun on rocks next to some gurgling rapids?
Back in the canoe after lunch, we continued working our way east. There, the creek widened to the point where it seemed much more like a river and travelled through some dense forest. There were a few campsites along this stretch as we were now paddling through crown land. Our map showed that we had a 70m portage to contend with, but we came to a set of swifts that we could easily run. This was a really beautiful section of the trip. What made it even better was avoiding the portage!
We turned to the south and within a few minutes found ourselves exiting the canoe again for the short portage around Ladder Falls. Though they aren't as spectacular as High Falls downstream, this was our favourite spot on the trip. The falls dropped in three even steps and were quite scenic. The best part was that we had the falls to ourselves, unlike High Falls that is usually overrun with hikers, especially on weekends.
Not long after that, the creek went around a bend and we had to negotiate our way down a tricky little swift that curled around a corner. We knew we were getting closer to High Falls because the current was picking up steam. We saw the only other paddlers on the trip, who waved as they passed us heading upstream. One more bend in the river and we could hear the gushing water of the falls. There were about 15 groups of people milling about the area. We took out on river-left, portaged the 200 meters to the base of the falls, left the canoe for a few minutes and returned to snap a few photos of the falls.
We didn't stay long though; there were just too many people to enjoy the experience. Below the falls, the creek emerged into a small lake. We could see a couple of campsites on the lake, but they were right on the hiking trail leading to the falls and would be frequently visited if one were to stay there.
There was one more C1 rapid where the creek emerged from this lake. I wanted to give it a try, but my wife was daunted by a rock in the middle of the rapids. I thought we would easily be able to avoid it, but she was reluctant, so I resisted my daredevil urges and did the short portage on the left bank. In the end, it was probably for the best.
At this point, we were only about a 10-minute paddle to our car and we could see more groups of people on the hiking trail between the parking lot and the falls.
Our paddle down the lower part of Eels Creek had been nice. Until the High Falls area, we had the creek to ourselves. We were pleasantly surprised at how beautiful the creek was. It was also amazing to paddle a route that First Nations have used for the past 1000 years. Eels Creek was the water route that allowed the Annishnaabe to the north access to the teaching rocks at Petroglyphs Provincial Park, just a couple of kilometres to the east. In less than a 30-minute drive from my front door, who knew that this incredible day trip had been right under my nose all along?