Saugeen River

Total Distance: 51 km

Duration: 2 days (Two vehicles are required, otherwise a shuttle must be arranged. Contact Thorncrest Outfitters

No. of Portages: None (though there may be some wading and/or lift-overs in shallow water)

Total Port. Distance: N/A

Level of Difficulty: Experienced Novice (some ability to read rapids would be beneficial)

I'm not sure how I did it, but I somehow convinced my wife to go on a canoe trip for our wedding anniversary. Now, I know what you must be thinking, "Canoe Daddy, you hopeless ol' romantic, you!" Well, the truth of the matter is that she really DID want to go. 

She had a great time doing the Laura Lake Loop in Temagami just a few weeks prior to our anniversary and really wanted to get back on the water. This made me very happy! The one caveat was that she wanted to go out for a proper meal for our anniversary, so I looked into doing a trip where we could possibly stay at a hotel/bed and breakfast, and have access to a decent restaurant. After doing a little research, making some inquiries, and placing a couple of phone calls, the Saugeen River absolutely checked all of the boxes. In one fell swoop, I was able to contact Thorncrest Outfitters to arrange a shuttle to our starting point, book an AirBnb in Paisley for the night in question, and make reservations at a restaurant called Bonfire on Queen. It was all coming together for a glamping anniversary canoe trip.

Day 1  - Concession Road 10 Bridge to Paisley ( 19 km)

So, on the big day, in the second week of September, we got up at dawn and immediately left for Southhampton, Ontario to meet the good people from Thorncrest Outfitters at our take-out location, Denny's Dam. As it was a weekend, the roads were busy and we were delayed by construction; this made us a little later than we expected to be, but the Thorncrest people were great and accommodated our late arrival. We parked our car, loaded our canoe onto their trailer, and hopped in their van. From there, we had a couple of other stops to service other customers and eventually got dropped off at our put-in location, a newly built bridge that allows Concession Road 10 to cross the Saugeen River. We unloaded our gear, bid our driver adieu, and got ready at the river's edge. It was 11:30 AM.

We put in and immediately hit some swifts. In fact, most of the river is free-flowing currents ranging from swifts to easy Class 1s. This is what makes this river so appealing. It's a lovely, gentle ride for the most part from start to finish, albeit with a bit of bumping and scraping at low water levels, which we had to a minor degree.

We went around some bends and soon paddled under the bridge of a backroad where the river became calm for a bit.

But within another 30 minutes, we were paddling through some shallow swifts again. 

Fifteen minutes later we were passing under an old iron bridge that looked like it had been replaced by a newer one right behind it. 

And another fifteen minutes of paddling brought us to the McBeath Conservation Area where we stopped at the campground there to have a lunch of yummy chicken wraps that Dahee had prepared and packed the night before. 

Camping is permitted there and can be booked through Saugeen Conservation. This would be a good place to stay for the night, perhaps, for those starting the trip further upriver from Walkerton. 

I say "perhaps" because the Saugeen Conservation pamphlet states that the time it takes to paddle from Walkerton to McBeath is 12 hours. Granted, we didn't start at Walkerton, so I can't comment on the accuracy of that, but we found the times on the guide and on the posted riverside signs to be VERY conservative. In fact, we completed distances in roughly half the amount of the suggested time, and we were by no means paddling hard or rushing downriver. 

Now, obviously, there are a number of factors that play into that such as water levels, wind, and the paddlers' experience and ability. In our case, we had moderately low levels in early September, but not horribly so; we didn't have to drag or wade the canoe for long distances other than in a couple of spots. I'm certainly not the fastest and fittest paddler in the world, but I am somewhat experienced and have learned to read a river like the Saugeen to find the best lines through swifts and rapids. Likewise, I go on frequent canoe trips and I'm used to paddling long distances without having to take frequent breaks. For less experienced paddlers, I would take the suggested times at face value. 

Fifteen minutes past McBeath, and further downriver as we approached the town of Paisley, the forest gave way to open farmland and bluffs.

By 2:30 PM, we rounded a corner and saw the buildings of Paisley appear before us. We had made it from our put-in to Paisley in only three hours, way ahead of what we expected.  No matter, this gave us ample opportunity to explore the town and relax at our accommodations. 

We paddled under the bridge to the far side of town and took out on river left beneath a walking trail on a ridge. We portaged our canoe and gear directly to our AirBnb location, met the owner, and left our canoe in his backyard. 

After settling in and having a shower, we looked around the town a bit. With a population of about 1000 residents, Paisley is the perfect location to overnight on a canoe trip; everything is within walking distance, and the bridges over the two rivers that meet there make for a quaint backdrop as visitors poke in and out of the small shops and restaurants. 

Returning to our Airbnb with some wine, we sat on the deck for a bit and then walked over to Bonfire on Queen and enjoyed a fantastic meal on their back patio. Their woodfire pizza was incredible, as was the carafe of wine, and their Arugula Salad was, perhaps, one of the best I've ever had. 

We returned back to our AirBnb and quietly retired early to our room, having spent an amazing day and knowing we had another big day of paddling ahead of us. 

Day 2  - Paisley  to Denny's Dam ( 32 km)

We woke up early, made ourselves some breakfast in our host's kitchen, and got out to the riverside just before 8 AM. The weather was slightly overcast, but the forecast said the sun would emerge again later. From the top of the ridge, I snapped the following shot of the location in the river where we had to put in. We immediately had some swifts to get through. 

After those initial swifts, the river meandered for a bit through a mix of farm and residential land. There were numerous sand, silt, and clay bluffs on the banks. We passed some people fishing from boats along there, as well. 

About an hour after leaving Paisley, we came to the Saugeen Bluffs Conservation area where we could make out campers set up at sites through the trees. 

Immediately following the campsite area, we entered into an area of swifts. We negotiated them around a couple of bends as it went on for the better part of 400 meters or so. It was a fun little ride and one of my favourite sections of the river. 

The river meandered for some time after that and we crossed under another bridge. There was one section where the river dropped over a bit of ledge, but it was very shallow there. I got out of the canoe and waded through this section. The river split into a couple of channels at this location and it was a pretty part of the river. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of the landscape. 

By 10:45 AM, we had reached the Bruce Road 17 Bridge and Access point. We knew this because a sign was tacked to a bridge saying so. I snapped a quick photo as I paddled beneath it, but my hand wasn't too steady and it came out very blurry. We stopped to have a snack just past the bridge, which we simply ate in the boat as we floated downstream.  

The next hour of downriver paddling was not that exciting. It got less wild as we neared Port Elgin which was just to our west. We approached yet another double bridge that served as one of the very many access points. 

Just after noon, the clouds gave way to sun. At 12:30, we rounded a corner and spotted a massive sandy bluff ahead of us and heard the sound of rushing water. 

We rounded the bend and hit our only real Class I ride of the river. It was fun! 

This spot proved to be the most exciting 'whitewater' that we experienced on the trip. 

Fifteen minutes later, and after a few river bends, we spotted red caution markers ahead of us and knew that we had reached Denny's Dam, our take-out spot. 

We got out on at the steps and carried our canoe and gear up to our waiting vehicle in the parking lot. 

Before long, we were on the road and driving into the pretty town of Southhampton. We found a pub there and enjoyed an excellent basket of fish and chips with a pint. Glorious. 

We explored the waterfront area to get a glimpse of the massive Lake Huron before getting back on the highway and heading back to Peterborough. It was a wonderful way for my wife and me to spend our anniversary. What more could a couple of canoeists ask for?!