Magnetawan River Paddle
Burk's Falls to Lake Cecebe
The Magnetawan River flows from its headwaters within the southwest boundary of Algonquin Park. The name Magnetawan has been said to mean “swiftly flowing waters” in the language of the Ojibway. The longest navigable river waterway in the area just north of Muskoka, the river winds a total of 175 km through a diverse landscape encompassing both swift and flatwater as it makes its way to Georgian Bay.
Its history is tightly tied to the days of of enormous white pine, log drives and steamships. Long before that the Magnetawan River was paddled by indigenous peoples as they inhabited the land, hunting and fishing.
Juggling work responsibilities and research (Fun) during a sunny July weekend, we opted for an easy day paddle.
We headed off to the town of Burks Falls and the Magnetawan River. There is a small park with a boat ramp just passed the Welcome Centre and below the dam on hwy 520. There you can leave your car for the day and have easy access to the river.
Moments after settling into the canoe and beginning the first of many paddle strokes that day we came upon the old remains of the wharf from the days of train travel and steamships. Beyond that the river passes several homes lining both sides of the river before flowing under the hwy 11 bridge. We hastily paddled through this area as even in the morning hours it was not the quietest nor very scenic , as you can imagine. Once past this point the river seems to take a breath and begin to slowly meander through the landscape . Alone with a gentle current pulling us downstream, the sights, sounds and signs of wildlife activity were abundant amongst the trees, tall grasses and shrubs , lining the muddy river banks.
One of the main tributaries , Sterling Creek flows into the Magnetawan River on river right originating from the north and Lake Bernard. The confluence of the two waterways provide a great area for fishing especially in the late afternoon and early evening. Whitefish, Pickerel, Pike and Bass are particularly abundant, especially in the fall.
A glimpse of Pegg's Mountain can be seen looking south through a break in the river bank thanks to some busy beavers, who are one of the many species of wildlife who reside along the river.
As you wind through the landscape the river takes a sweeping turn to the right past some magnificent rock cliffs that seem to appear abruptly. Towering above our canoe a couple ravens sat perched on rocky outcrops calling out now and then, capturing the attention of our excitable puppy.
The steady rhythm of our paddles propelled us forward until we eventually came to the Midlothian Bridge where we began to notice a significant increase of use along the river. From here on in, the camps, cottages and small trailer parks became more numerous, along with an increase in the amount of boat traffic. The river was busy with everything from paddle boards and kayaks, to pontoon boats , inboards and personal watercraft.
Our leisurely paddle was coming to an end as we were required to stay much more alert for other boats.
We navigated our way downstream staying river right and away from the main flow of traffic as much as possible. Other than a few characters most people in power boats were aware of their wakes and were both friendly and courteous.
At the point where the Magnetawan River comes to a split you can continue into Midlothian Lake by means of the left channel or stick to the right as we did and head towards the mouth as it empties into Lake Cecebe. This shallow, grassy stretch of water is a place where the river slows and much debris and sediment from the river is deposited. Just off the weed beds is a favourite spot for local anglers to catch Pickerel, but you didn’t hear that from us.
There are not a lot of great places to pull off the river, to stretch your legs and have a swim. We enjoyed a floating lunch but by the afternoon the three of us were pretty antsy to get out of the canoe and into the water. We chose a spot along the left shore as the river emptied into the lake. As there was nowhere to pull the canoe up we hoped out and into thigh deep water to splash around and cool off.
From there we headed along the opposite shore of Lake Cecebe enjoying the open water and welcoming the north westerly winds coming from across the lake until reaching a shallow, sandy bay that would eventually lead us to the beach and our take out at Rockwynn Landing.
Reflecting back on our day, this flatwater stretch of the Magnetawan River was overall a relaxing and enjoyable, full day paddle. We chose one of the busiest summer weekends to explore the river and as is with most easily accessible places, there was likely more activity than at other times during the season.
Overall, the river offered a nice day’s paddle suitable for most skill levels and those looking to enjoy a day on the water in cottage country.