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1/16/2023 11:58 am  #1

Lake Travers to McManus - Oct 2022

Algonquin Park: Lake Travers to McManus Lake
ACCESS POINT START :  Lake Travers (Access point 23)
ACCESS POINT FINISH: McManus Lake (Access point 21)       
# OF DAYS / NIGHTS:  4 D / 3 N                  |    DIFFICULTY LEVEL:  Novice
TOTAL KM: 49 KM                                        |   # OF PORTAGES (DISTANCE): 16 (13.3 KM)

Day 1 : Lake Travers to Crooked Chute Cabin 
TOTAL KM: 19.6 KM                       |                              # OF PORTAGES (DISTANCE): 5 (3.4KM)

We had been looking forward to this route for many years. We had never entered the park from Lake Travers, so this entire route was going to be brand new to us. Also, we were extremely excited to spend a couple of nights at the Crooked Chute ranger cabin. We had planned the trip to be late in the season, to fully appreciate the wood stove. Some of the downsides of completing this trip in late October are the reduced daylight hours, the cold and unpredictable weather, and the low water levels in Algonquin Park this year.
We were also lucky enough to be joined on this trip by Jarin and “Buddy” Steve from “Knox on Woods”. We had previously taken them out on their first winter camping experience last winter, and in picking their brains on the Park we quickly realized they had extensive experience with the Petawawa River from Cedar to McManus.  They were happy to plan another trip with us, and were more than willling to share their knowledge of the river. Since we have limited white water experience, this was going to be an amazing benefit for our first venture down river. Rich had no interest in the portages around the Schooner and Five Mile rapids!
  As lucky would have it, the weather was shaping up to be particularly wet and cold for our trip. Rich decided 3 days before the trip to sit this one out. Ryan also politely declined the invitation to paddle in the rain in late October… leaving Evan paddling solo with Jarin and Steve leading the way.
Evan picked up Steve, and headed up to the McManus Lake access point to arrive shortly before 8am. Jarin was waiting for us at the take out, we ended up arriving 20 minutes late due to a slight navigational error on highway 17. The lake was extremely foggy, with no wind whatsoever. It was a cold,  quiet morning, which would be beneficial on our crossing of Lake Travers. We loaded up the canoe and gear from Jarin’s vehicle, and left it parked at the McManus access point for our eventual return four days later. It took us just under one hour to load and drive to the put in at Lake Travers. The road up to the lake was in surprisingly good condition, better than a lot of the access roads we have used on the West side of the Park.
We were going to hike the Turtle Club trail upon arrival, but we decided to hold off and hike that trail on our way out. We didn’t want to waste the good paddling conditions on Travers, a smart decision with temperatures between 0-5 degrees. Too bad the weather was horrible on our last day, preventing us from hiking this trail at all! Oh well, looks like we have a reason to return to this awesome area of the Park!
We pushed off from the rocky put in around 10am. The air was damp and cold, but the lack of wind and the occassional bit of sunshine made the paddle across Travers enjoyable. The lake was like glass and the hills surrounding the lake were stunning. We were likely 1-2 weeks late for the peak fall colours but it was still beautiful. No one seemed to be in too much of a rush, we made good time and chatted as we paddled. We all took turns poking fun at Rich for his decision to stay confortably warm at work.
Once you leave the main body of Travers the entire lake gradually narrows and funnels you towards the Big Thompson rapid. Shortly before reaching our first obstacle we decided to pull over at the spring on the righthand shore. Jarin and Steve had been there before, and knew where to find it. I was surprised at how noticeable the spring is, I could hear the flow of water from the middle of the channel. We put in, stretched our legs, filled our bottles, and munched on some food while being watched by a mink on a nearby rock. We tried to get some footage, and eventually he got bored of us and scampered away.
The plan was to take out at the P345, scout the Big Thompson Rapid, and run it. Both Jarin and Steve have previously ran the Big and Little Thompson class 3 rapids. While scouting the first set it became apparent that water levels were quite low, and we might not be able to run as many rapids as we had hoped. It was still early in the day, so the decision was made to not get wet, and portage around Big Thompson. The trail is a typical river portage and is not very difficult. The trail is obviously heavily used. It is wide, with good footing throughout. We were going in quite heavy, lots of food, clothes, and booze for our multiple night stay at the ranger cabin. I actually enjoy portaging in the fall. It warms up the body, especially the toes and legs, and there are no bugs biting under the canoe!
Another short paddle and we were at the little Tom Thompson Rapids. Take out is on river left, on a small sand beach with a campsite. Neither campsite on this portage appeared to be something we were interested in. We hiked up to a large rock overlooking the rapid so we could scout. Jarin and Steve had ran this rapid multiple times in the past, but when the water levels were higher. On river right there is a fairly large ledge to drop into the rapid, with some rollers to ride on the way out. In low water, we could clearly see a vertical rock creating a rooster tail right in the main chute, which might cause some issues. We elected to line the boats down river left to bypass the large drop at the top, and we hopped in at the bottom to ride the rest of the flow. There was a cross nailed to a tree at the bottom end of the portage, we could not make out the writing on it as it was too high up, and quite weathered.
The next stretch of river was very peaceful. The river narrows for a bit and there are many campsites. The river passes through a section with high shorelines that tower over you. Several of the campsites are on high rocky outcrops due to the low water. One of the small islands also featured a busted up blue canoe… a reminder to take it easy on the ole Langford!
We paddled through the swift at the P130m, and stopped at the “Grillade Rapids” campsite for some more food. This campsite would be fine for hammocks, but with a lack of tent pads it would not be great for those terrestrial sleepers. The look back up the river is nice, and when we arrived the sun finally showed up in force for the first time all day.  It was around 3pm, so we couldn’t stay and warm up too long. We still needed to navigate the Grillade and Crooked Chute rapids before the day’s light faded.
We ran the class 1 Grillade Rapid, with some quick scouting from the boats as we approached. The rapid is not difficult, it was more tricky to navigate due to low water than anything. Evan bumped the rear skid plate fairly hard at the bottom on one rock that was impossible to see, but no damage to boat.
  We arrived at the top end of the Crooked Chute rapids around 3:30pm-4pm, and with the narrow channel and fading light the temparature was noticeably dropping. The plan was to paddle the top end to the first campsite (with take out), then scout and update the plan to reach the second campsite (and last take out). We were planning to portage the last section no matter what, no one wanted to get soaked at this point in the day. We paddled the top, decided to line the boats down river right on the middle section, and then portaged the final stretch in short order. The two campsites in the middle of this rapid are both really nice. Wide open campsites, plenty of trees and tent pads, and excellent views of the river. They might be a little too shaded for my liking, but for river campsites you might not find better, especially for large groups! The last section of the portage was not very hard, minus one section where you have to climb a short but steap section. After walking in the freezing cold water, it was a nice wake up call for the legs.
We put back in at the bottom, took a quick look at the bottom section of the rapid and confirmed the decision to portage was likely the correct one. I would be fine attemping this in a white water canoe, or someone elses canoe, but not worth the risk in my own canoe! It was an awesome feeling to paddle a short way down the shore and have the Crooked Chute cabin emerge from the trees. The cabin has a nice beach landing overlooking the wide basin at the bottom of the Crooked Chute rapid. The cabin itself is in good condition and was very clean when we arrived. Someone had even left some split wood! By the time we unpacked, got the fire going, and started cooking dinner the sun was already down. The night was cold and damp outside with plenty of stars in the sky. We were warm and cozy in the cabin playing cards. We played a custom Knox on Woods version of the game “Love Letter”, featuring cards with photos of their adventures. It was a lot of fun to play a simple game, drink some scotch, enjoy the conversation and relax knowing we were warm for the next two nights!

Day 2 : Rest day at Cabin
TOTAL KM: 0 KM                              |                              # OF PORTAGES (DISTANCE): 0

Woke up to a very damp, foggy morning on the river. We had trapped multiple mice the evening before, so we were not woken up at all during the night by critters rustling or traps snapping. Once the fire was stoked again the cabin remained warm and toasty the rest of the day. I had big plans to fish the bottom of the rapid and paddle a bit on the river, but none of those came to fruition.
The weather threatened rain most of the day, and eventually took a turn for the worst in the afternoon. Heavy rain and eventually hail meant it was time to play cards and have some beverages. We did manager to walk up and down the trail to the left of the cabin, collecting as much dry firewood as we could. We spent even more time, between rain showers, cutting and splitting this firewood beside the cabin.
By the time we finished, we had more than enough for our last night at the cabin and had plenty more to leave for the next travelers. We also spent time reading the signatures on the cabin’s furniture. Thankfully, everyone has been signing the bunk beds and not the log walls in this cabin! One of my favourite activities to while away the hours is to read the various logbooks found in each cabin. It is always neat to see where everyone is coming from, and how their experience on the river was similar or vastly difference from our own.

Later in the afternoon we noticed a large group, around 9 people, finishing the Crooked Chute rapids / portage. At least one boat had capsized with two other boats at the bottom collecting paddles, gear, and people. It was getting dark, and the rain was falling, so I imagine it was miserable. One solo paddler stopped by and chatted with us on the beach for a bit. He sounded and looked like an experienced white-water adventurer. He had nice gear, and the setup of his solo canoe was obviously geared to the task at hand. He explained they were a paddling group out of London, ON (if I remember correctly?) and they had various experience levels in the group. Their travel had been slower than anticipated but were confident they would make it to the Natch before the light failed in a few hours. We wished him luck and waved as the rest of the boats passed a short while later.

We went back into the cabin to warm up (it was getting cold) and were shocked about an hour later to see another group, three canoes worth, pull up to our little beach. It was raining harder, so we did not go out to meet them, but we did stand at the window to watch them. They appeared to be disappointed in seeing our canoes and smoke rolling out of the chimney. We wondered if they had hoped to snag the cabin to warm up and get dry. After looking at their maps, they must have come up with a reasonable plan and away they went downstream. They were cutting it close to sunset on a miserable day on the river. Hopefully they found a nice spot to accommodate the size of their group and could manage to get a fire going once they got there.
After a minute or two the guilt passed. We continue to drink, play cards, and eat delicious food while the fire roared. Not a very eventful day, but we were rested and ready for the next two days. We went to bed hoping for a better weather forecast, at least for our travel day tomorrow. It was going to be our biggest day on the river, with no warm cabin to call home for the night!
No mice were caught all day, not even with their favourite snack (pringles) on the traps. We must have cleared the cabin the night before.

Day 3 : Crooked Chute Cabin to Whitson Lake
TOTAL KM: 20.3 KM                       |                              # OF PORTAGES (DISTANCE): 8 (9.2KM)
We woke up to a slightly warmer morning, and thankfully it was not raining. It was calling for rain on our last day of the trip at minimum, with a chance of rain in the evening today. The river was beautiful, with tons of mist rolling on the surface. It was going to be difficult to pack everything up and leave our nice warm cabin.
Oatmeal for breakfast, with the final pieces of my ready crisp bacon on top. All washed down with an entire pot of coffee to myself. With Rich not coming on the trip I had made the decision to reduce and simplify my meals to keep my travel weight down. By the morning of day three this decision was starting to backfire… I was sick of oatmeal and store-bought meals!
We left the cabin and headed downriver. Today was going to be a long day involving plenty of swifts and rapids. The boys reassured me that most the rapids should be runnable, if the water levels were high enough. If this turned out to be a lie we were in for some massive portages before reaching Whitson Lake.
Our day started with an easy swift, avoiding the P165m portage. There is an island in the middle of the river which proudly displays a busted up old canoe. Another stark reminder of what can happen on the river. Steve and Jarin let me know that we would be portaging around the Rollway Rapids, especially with me being solo in a large canoe. The top end of the rapid does not look very scary, so it can be deceiving. We pulled over to the portage on river right, and I began my solo carry of the P820M. The other guys elected to do a double carry and put in early to run the end. I was going to spend my extra time fishing the bottom… seemed like a fair trade. Around the halfway mark, as you portage along the riverbank, you get a nice view of the “roll” in the Rollway rapid. There is a large shelf that I personally would not have wanted to drop off… maybe one day in someone else’s canoe. This portage is not difficult, until you get to the downstream end. With the rain from yesterday, and the mist from the rapid, the slope and rocks at the end were tricky. There is a boardwalk over a large crevasse, and then a steep rocky decent to the water. By the time I dropped the boat at the bottom, my legs were a little wabbly, but I arrived in one piece. I fished the bottom of the rapid, and another pool just upstream. No luck in the fishing department. There is another white-water canoe, up on the rocks from the put in, that also did not complete its journey down the river. The autopsy was straight forward, bent gunnels and several massive holes in the hull… yikes. I walked back along the portage to try and find the “Blair Fraser” memorial, but I was looking in the wrong spot as it turns out. I did manage to find a nice rock to sit on, one hundred meters or so up from the end, where I decided to wait. In short order, Jarin and Steve put in above me, and I got to watch them run the last section of the rapid with just a little bit of jealousy.
Next up are the two sets of Natch rapids. Before you get to the first set though, the river narrows, and the shorelines rise to tower over you. A couple campsites dot this stretch, and they seemed decent enough. A little too close together for my liking but a beautiful stretch of river nonetheless. We pulled over on river left at the sandy put in for the P275 portage. The plan was to run this rapid after a quick scout. Once we were up top and looking down at the rapid this plan quickly changed. On the right side of the river, where we would be running it, there was a jagged looking rock sticking up right where we would want to drop in. We could possibly avoid it, but I had no interest in tearing a gash down the underside of my canoe.  We decided to portage around the rapid instead.
Again, we were planning to scout and run the second set on the upper Natch rapids. We pulled over, scouted, and decided we could safely run. I watched Jarin and Steve handle the rapid with ease, and Steve was nice enough to run back up to the top and jump in with me for my run. I love the rush of adrenaline and camaraderie you get from white water. We are not sky diving or solving world hunger, but the high fives and smiles at the bottom are genuine and create lasting memories.
By this point, I was getting cold legs and feet from kneeling in the little bit of water that inevitable accumulates when in a canoe. Lucky for me, we had reached one of the highlights of the trip. The Natch is spectacular to see from the river and from the lookout as well. We pulled over to the second campsite on river left and ran into the first group that had passed us while at the cabin. They graciously let us leave the canoes there and walk through the edge of their campsite to start our ascent. We stopped and chatted for a quick minute. Everyone was huddle around a fire keeping warm, but they were in good spirits. The climb to the top took us between 10-15 minutes. I would say it is not as steep or strenuous as the Big Crow Fire tower trail, but I have only ever done that one in the dead heat of summer. One big difference is the Natch trail keeps you fairly close to the cliff edge for a good chunk of the climb, so you are fully aware of the elevation. There is a section where we needed to jump from one rock to another with a steep drop to the water. I am not overly fond of heights, so I did have some wild thoughts of plunging headlong down the cliff. Luckily it wasn’t my time, and we made it to the first lookout (good view) and then, huffing and puffing, to the final lookout (great view). The view is similar to several we have experienced in other areas of the Park (Scorch Lake, Big Crow, Egg Rock, Barron Canyon) and it should be on the bucket list of most trippers.
We hiked back down after about 15 minutes of relaxing at the top and decided to take a slightly different route to avoid the cliffside rock jumping. We also noted the natural spring that can be found closer to the river’s edge. There was no ideal spot to scoop or collect water from the spring, so we elected to just look and not touch. Now we were nice and warm, and ready to head down river for what we hoped was an afternoon of rapid running.
Past the Natch, the Petawawa River widens and usually feels like a long, skinny lake unless you are paddling through the various rapids. We were paddling with the current, but with a bit of a head wind you could barely tell. We skipped the P135M with ease, and then approached the Upper Schooner Rapids. This was the decisive moment… were we going to have a quick and easy afternoon or was this canoe trip going to turn into a hiking trip. We scouted the top of Upper Schooner and decided the water levels were just high enough to allow us to skip the portages and still avoid most of the bottom scraping.
Once we finished Upper Schooner we met up under the hydro lines and had a quick break. The sun peaked out for a quick minute, creating in my mind one of those weird random moments on a trip that stays fresh in memory for years.
Lower Schooner is similar to the upper section but feels slightly shorter. We found we needed to stick to the outside of all bends in the river, meaning we had to zig zag through the rapids to avoid hitting the rocky shoals. I would watch from the top of the rapid, as Steve and Jarin dropped in, to see where they picked their lines. By the time I started my run they were out of ear shot and I could no longer make out what they were doing. This was the first time on the trip that I felt like I was up to my own devices. I had never run rapids of this length before (and let me stress, they are not overly hard) but I was excited to give it a go. I was learning on the fly and got through both sections with only a couple hull bumps.
When we reached Coveo Lake it was a bit of a milestone for me. Since 2014 I have been tracking all the lakes, river, KMs travelled, and days spent tripping. Coveo just happened to be the 200th lake visited… I should have planned this to happen on a nicer or more prominent location. After a short-lived pat on the back, and some Donald Trump impersonations, we continued down the river.
If anyone is interested, as of October 2022 the total distance travelled in Algonquin Park is 1,242 KM. I have portaged 199 KM of that distance. This was completed over 85 days spent tripping, an average of nearly 15KM of travel per day. A lot of fond memories and amazing locations were visited during that time, and most importantly, I was able to share that with friends and family along the way.
It was getting on in the day and as the sun was falling so was the temperature. The rain in the forecast was likely to hit around the same time as our arrival to Whitson, so we didn’t waste much time on the Five Mile Rapids. This is a long set of class I – II rapids that really didn’t have any difficult sections at our water level. We carried decent speed throughout with only a few shallow sections. On one sweeping corner to the left I managed to mount the canoe on a submerged rock. With one leg over the side and a quick push with my paddle I was able to get the canoe off.
When we reached Whitson I had a good 2-3 inches of water in the boat, and my legs and feet were very cold. There are plenty of campsites on Whitson, so I was not too worried about finding a hot fire in short order. We swung the corner to the right as soon as we entered the lake and took the first campsite on the west shore. Nice sand beach with a short, steep, root filled climb to the main campsite. It was the perfect campsite for our current sleeping arrangements. Nicely spaced mature trees for my hammock, and many flat tent options for Jarin and Steve. We did not waste time collecting firewood and getting a roaring fire going. I also got the tarp up relatively quick as well, so we would have somewhere to huddle once the rain did start.
I ate another bag meal and by this point I was really mad at myself for not being more creative in the meal department. The boys decided to fry up an entire chub of peameal over the fire, which looked good and smelled even better! Once I was warm, in dry clothes, and had filled my stomach with bland but filling food it finally hit me. I was tired. The rain started to fall, so instead of huddling under the tarp and fighting off sleep I decided to call it an early night. I wrote in my journal, nice and warm in my hammock, as the rest of the group enjoyed their meal. The two nights in the cabin were awesome, but nothing beats the comfort of sleeping in a warm hammock listening to rain on the tarp.

Day 4 : Whitson Lake to McManus Lake
TOTAL KM: 9.4 KM                          |                              # OF PORTAGES (DISTANCE): 2 (0.6)

                Woke up to a chilly morning and thankfully no rain. Whitson Lake was like glass, with fog slowly lifting. It really is a nice lake, with a large hill on the eastern shore directly across from our campsite. Camping in the fall, and winter for that matter, tends to have exceptionally quiet moments. This was one of those moments. Standing on the shore, looking out on to the lake, and the only sound was my own breathing. Oh, and Jarin and Steve puttering around behind me getting the morning fire going.
A quick breakfast of oatmeal for everyone, sitting by a nice warm fire, then we loaded up and pushed off. Today was not going to be overly interesting or difficult. The highlights are the two swifts we ran between Whitson - Smith, and Smith - McManus.  All three of these lakes feel similar. Long, skinny lakes that are really just wide sections of the river. Plenty of campsites on each though, so it might be a good spot to take my youngest daughter for her first backcountry trip in a few years.
We reached McManus in a few hours; we were not trying to break any tripping speed records. I finally got to see the full lake, and not a fog covered mystery like Friday morning. The south end of the lake shows remnants of past microbursts in the area, similar to what you drive past on the way to Travers. We landed at the McManus access point and started the long drive to get my truck. The plan was to hike and record the Turtle Club trail at the Travers access point, but during the drive it started to rain. By the time we reached my truck the rain was coming down even harder, so we decided to save the Turtle Club trail for another trip. We should have hiked the trail on FRIDAY when the weather was good… oh well.
By the time we made it back to McManus, to load up gear and boats, the heavens were emptying. The worst weather on the trip, right before we were heading home… not a bad way to end it!
We loaded up, got soaked, said our goodbyes, and finished our final trip of the 2022 camping season.

Jarin and “Buddy” Steve from Knox on Woods are cool dudes.
They are experienced trippers, mainly on the north and east sides of Algonquin. You can tell they have tripped together quite a bit; they work well together and compliment each other in many ways.
Thanks for the warm thunder box seats, good conversations, and teaching me to keep the open side up! Cheers boys!


1/16/2023 6:17 pm  #2

Re: Lake Travers to McManus - Oct 2022

Evan, your videos and written account go great together. I was able to go through them more-or-less non-stop. Quite the 'cold and wet' impact! BBBRRR!


1/16/2023 6:20 pm  #3

Re: Lake Travers to McManus - Oct 2022

Thanks for checking it out Barry. As long as we were dry and moving it was good, but the afternoons got downright frigid. Worth it though!

     Thread Starter

1/16/2023 7:05 pm  #4

Re: Lake Travers to McManus - Oct 2022

And, for the video view from Jarin and Steve's canoe .. check out the "Knox On Woods" YouTube channel at


1/17/2023 9:30 am  #5

Re: Lake Travers to McManus - Oct 2022

Great write up Evan, I'll keep the seat warm anytime! Was a pleasure to paddle that section with you. It went about as good as it could have.

Thanks for the link Barry

Recent series on YouTube

1/17/2023 10:06 am  #6

Re: Lake Travers to McManus - Oct 2022

Great read!


1/23/2023 4:10 pm  #7

Re: Lake Travers to McManus - Oct 2022

Great trip report! I love the Petawawa. Had an epic trip to McManus-Smith in mid October last year. Nice time of year to be in the park. 


1/23/2023 4:13 pm  #8

Re: Lake Travers to McManus - Oct 2022

Lenny wrote:

Nice time of year to be in the park. 

if you were in a week or so before our dates I think it would be even better. The colours were nice for us, but peak colour would be spectacular.  

     Thread Starter

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