Skootamatta River

Total Distance: 22 km (Flinton Creek to Hawkins Bay Road just past Actinolite)

Duration: Allow a least 6.5 hours including breaks. 

No. of Portages: 10

Total Portage Distance: approximately 900 meters

Level of Difficulty: Experienced Novice 

Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. 

By the third weekend of May 2021, Ontario was still not open for backcountry overnight camping, so my sister, Maggie, and I decided that we would head out for a day paddle on a beautiful, sunny Sunday. 

I had read online that the Skootamatta River, which runs from Joeperry Lake in Bon Echo Park to the town of Tweed, was a great paddle, complete with twisty bends, bubbling rapids, and some scenic chutes. After a little googling to see where our access points would be, we were on our way there to paddle a section in the middle. 

We accessed the river off of Upper Flinton Road near the confluence of the Skootamatta and Flinton Creek; we were excited about the day ahead. 

Even though it was late May, the river still had a bit of springtime push to it. It meandered for a bit through some lovely deciduous forest with the odd smattering of evergreen here and there. 

As the river rounded a bend, we felt it pick up some steam and saw a small bridge up ahead. This was our first obstacle of the day. There, we portaged up the steep bank on river-left, under a pine grove, and put in just below the falls. 

There were a couple of swifts and an easy C1 to run as the river did a 180 past a cabin above the chutes. It was a gorgeous area. 

Moving south, the banks became steeper and rockier and more pine trees adorned the landscape. Twenty minutes later, we arrived at another large drop in the river where we portaged on the left.  A man was working on his yard at his cabin overlooking this whitewater and we stopped to chat for a minute at the end of our portage. What a beautiful spot he had! 

Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at Storring's Bridge where we lined down the first drop of the rapids and ran the bottom part. 

Another quarter-hour downriver brought us to some more boney whitewater which we partially lined and partially ran.  We were in a kevlar composite Scott Wilderness canoe and were reluctant to scrape it on too many rocks.  

For the next half-hour or so, the river did a big 180 as it veered north and then did a massive bend to the south again. The deciduous forest was thick there and we passed a couple of hunting blinds erected on the river banks. 

We soon arrived at a  rocky island and saw the river gathering pace as it slid through some outcropping rocks and over a ledge into a large pool below. We guessed that we had arrived at Varty's Rapids. I'm not sure they are aptly named though; this feature appeared to be more of a small waterfall than a set of rapids. I guessed that at high water in the spring run-off, this would be quite a sight to behold.  

We portaged through the forest on river-right, took a few photos of this scenic spot, and made our way downriver. Ten minutes later we passed an RV park on river-right and ran over the last little bit of white water for the next eight kilometers. 

The river banks were green and lush with large maples and other deciduous trees along its banks. We had the odd obstacle to negotiate, but it was generally easy-going along this section which ran parallel to Highway 7 just to the north.

Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada.

Shortly after that, we passed a bend in the river with grassy, eroded banks just past an oxbow.

Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada.

A few minutes later we were paddling under the bridge that had earlier allowed our vehicle to get to our access point on Upper Flinton Road. It was after 2 PM and we were getting hungry, so we found a nice spot on the southern bank to beach the canoe and have our lunch and a cold beverage that was still frosty in our cooler bag. 

With our hunger satiated, we had a nice but uneventful paddle for an hour as the river meandered its way through switchbacks as it flowed in a westerly direction. There were a lot more cottages and homes along this stretch than further upriver and it no longer felt like we were in the wilderness, particularly after crossing under a second bridge. 

Shortly past the bridge, the dwellings seemed to disappear. Then the river widened into what seemed like a small lake where at the western end we could see and hear the water falling over a precipice. We knew we had arrived at High Falls. 

We took out carefully just to the right of the top of the falls at the obvious portage. The trail was well-worn and through a dense coniferous forest. We descended the steep path, but not before snapping a shot of the falls from above and through the trees. 

We put in at the large pool that has formed below the falls, paddled out, and took another moment to get a glimpse of this beautiful cascade from below. 

As we moved downriver from High Falls, we encountered the only other paddlers we saw on the river that day, a pair of canoes heading upriver.

Shortly before Highway 7, we arrived at a small ledge that was marked as a private dam. There was a small rock island in the centre of the river that was large enough for us to stand on and lift the boat over the ledge. On the left bank, the friendly owner of the property let us know the best way to proceed and waved as we proceeded downriver.  

Almost immediately, we rounded a bend and found ourselves at the Highway 7 picnic area where a father and his young children were casting lines into the river. We waved and paddled parallel to the road in a westerly direction for a bit before the river veered south and we arrived at the large dam under the highway. 

There, we had to portage on river-left over the highway. With cars travelling at high speeds on this road, Maggie acted as my spotter while I portaged across the highway and through the Price Conservation Area on the south side. 

Getting back onto the river at the Price Conservation Area (watch for ticks there!), we finished the last part of the trip in what seemed like low-water conditions, despite it being only the third week of May. The rapids all along that section were incredibly bony and we were forced to do one more portage on river-left in the town of Actinolite. We scrambled up an embankment and portaged on a road for a short time before bushwhacking back down to the river. 

My advice would be to end the day at Highway 7 as that last stretch took some work and was in a fairly populated area without much wilderness appeal. Having said that, there was one nice little drop that was picture-worthy. 

By 5pm we were dragging the canoe up the river bank and strapping it down on the roof of our second vehicle waiting for us on the side of Hawkins Bay Road., thus ending a fantastic and highly recommended day trip down the middle section of the Skootamatta River.