The Lower Madawaska River is a trip I grew up doing with my dad: 1, 2 or 3 fast and fun days of perfect padding, rushing class 1-3 whitewater, picturesque campsites, and guaranteed good times for all adventurers!
Lower Madawaska River Essential Info
|Length:||25 kilometers / 15 miles|
|Duration:||1, 2, or 3 days|
|Rapids:||Class 1 - 3|
|Put in:||Aumonds Bay|
The Lower Madawaska River runs about 40 kilometers from Palmer Rapids to Griffith, and is one of the favourite spots for whitewater enthusiasts around the region! Locals, outfitters and out-of-towners like me find the Madawaska River’s pristine wilderness, terrific campsites and – above all – consistent and challenging whitewater combine to make the Madawaska our home base!
There are basically three ways of running the Madawaska, plus a couple of park-and-play options.
- Palmer Rapids to Griffith (40k)
- Aumonds Bay to Buck Bay (18k)
- Aumonds Bay to Griffith (25k)
Palmer Rapids to Griffith
Palmer Rapids is a great park-and-play spot at the top of the Lower Madawaska River. With three sets of rapids from class 1-3, depending on water, this is THE spot for local paddlers to hang out.
I used to spend a day and a night at Palmer Rapids and then paddle a day of flat water down to the top of the Aumonds Bay trip the next day, but lately I’ve been doing one or the other, and I suggest you do the same.
Aumonds Bay to Buck Bay or Griffith
This is the trip you want to do.
Aumonds Bay to Buck Bay can be done as a day trip or an overnighter. If you’re looking to stretch it out you can spend a second night on the river and paddle down to Griffith, including a drag or portage at Slate Falls.
Here is my recommended route:
We can put in anytime on Day 1, so long as its not too late. The trick is to ensure you get to Island Rapids before a) before anyone else and b) before dark (long story).
Put-in is at Aumonds Bay, and it's about a 45 minute, flat-water paddle to the island. The island at Island Rapids is one of my favourite places on earth:: a terrific 2-tent campsite on a nice little island nestled in between two sets of rapids: one rocky and technical and the other big and heavy.
Night 1 - Island Rapids
Safe from bears and other big animals, a nice breeze keeps the bugs low, and you wake up with your choice of two exhilerating first runs!
The island has been pretty much picked bare, so I suggest you scavange the nearby shorelines for firewood before it gets too dark.
Day 2 - Let the Rapids Begin!
The day starts with some practice running both sides of Isladn Rapids and is non-stop fast water and class 1 rapids until lunchtime! After Island Rapids it's Snake Rapids, Dog Leg, Shallow Rapids, The Narrows, Exain Time, and Rifle Chute!
That will brin you up to Split Rock Rapids, which is really only runnable on the right (south side). In high water you might be able to find a route down the far left, but it is really shallow.
Lunch 2 - Split Rock Rapids
Once you pop out of the chute, hang a louie and stop up on the rock beach for some lunch!
After lunch you'll have to navigate a sometimes-deadly tounge (not sure if it has its own name...?), then on to some small stuff in another set named Snake Rapids and then Rackett Rapids.
That's it for the day... have a lazy quiet afternoon as you paddle a couple k's down to the next campsite.
Night 2 - Slate Falls or Crooked Rapids
For the second night we have two choices of campsites: a kilometer or so after the falls at Crooked Rapids, or right in the middle of Slate Falls.
Depending on the time, I generally pick the island in the at the top of the Falls. It's decent, not as nice as the first night's island, but has room for two, possibly three tents. The island is kind of in decay, but it’s a great place to check out the Falls!If you don't feel like the island for the night, you'll need to get around Slate Falls before you pitch tent. A bend or two after the falls you'll come across Crooked Rapids, and there are two great campsites on the north shore, so keep your eyes peeled!
Day 3 - Nothin' to it...
Since Slate Falls is basically un-runnable the day starts off with your choice of:
- a 500m portage through ankle-high muck and mud
- a 1km portage on a decent trail
- lining your boats down Slate Falls
I usually opt for lining the boats down. There's a little stream on the right bank of the river that is usually ok for lining... plus it's fun: stay in the water, playing and climbing over rocks... better than any portage!
If you decide to take the portage, be sure you sneak out at a couple points along the way to take a look at the falls. The angled slate rocks are really neat and the sheer volume of water is impressive!
Once we get back in the boats its onward to Crooked Rapids (where you'll see the alternate campsites) and Wadsworth Rapids, both of which are a bit technical but pretty tame, and then on to Highland Falls... a terrifying run to end a river trip if ever there was one! I've tried running this twice, neither attempt was successful. The left (north side) of the river is sometimes runnable or lining, but I usually go right through the island, since in high water there is a little stream through it. Um... watch for leeches.
However we choose to go through Highland Falls, we can always take comfort: one more bend beyond and we'll come across the bridge at Griffith... our pull out!
MKC maintians a web page with their weekly water level reading - very, very handy! If the water flow goes below 30cm/s it the river starts to get really unrunnable. Over 70-ish and you're looking at some big water!
Detailed Map of the Lower Madawaska River
This detailed map coutesy of the NRC Canadian Atlas is informative, with the names of all the rapids, large rocks marked, etc.
Greater Madawaska Canoe Rental
Every time we go - whether it's the Madawaska or Palmer - we get our boats from Don Adams at Greater Madawaska Canoe Rentals. Don knows the area like the back of his hand, will drop your boats off anywhere along the river, and he conveniently lives across the street from the pull-out!
I can't find the link to his contact info anymore, so here is his location (take a right immediately after the bridge over the Madawaska going west on 41) and his number is (613) 333-2240.
Local Weather Forecast
You can check out Palmer Rapids for the closest weather forecast. The weather can change on a dime up in the Valley, so what you get in Quadeville isn't always what you get down river... be prepared!
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Madawaska River Canoe Trip Featured in CitizenIf you’ve been in whitewater around Ottawa it’s likely you’ve been somewhere on the Madawaska River at some point. Not only is it my favourite river to paddle, but it’s also where I bring first-timers whom I wish to lure into paddling for life…
This is @peter taking a picture of Zoe and Jay up at Island Rapids. What a beautiful day!!!
This is a little pic of Bryce getting some air at Rifle Chute. Fun trip!
@brycemaclean, that is…