If I were to design the ultimate introductory river for a whitewater canoe trip, it would look an awful lot like the Spanish River. It has all the required ingredients: it feels remote but is easy to get to; it has beautiful wilderness scenery, ranging from boreal forest to cliffs to open valley; it is a provincial park waterway so has marked campsites and portages; there are different options for how to run it; best of all, it has lots of easy rapids and kilometres worth of fast-moving swifts, affectionately known as “boogie water.”
I think of the Spanish nostalgically, since it was my first whitewater canoe trip way back when I was a teenager. After spending the intervening years working as a whitewater guide all across the continent, where do you think I took my kids last summer for their first whitewater canoe trip? The Spanish is the perfect place to start.
Anybody can do this trip. But which one? There are options. Here’s a quick geography primer: the Spanish is less than an hour northwest of Sudbury, and runs from the north to south. The river is shaped like the letter Y, with two branches that meet at The Forks, then continue on as one. If you are new to whitewater canoeing, then take the East Branch: it starts with calm lakes, then adds some easy swifts, and sprinkles in some rocks along the way toward novice-worthy class II rapids.
But if you have some skills and are looking for a challenge, then the West Branch is for you. This options starts as class III with a half-dozen rocky rapids, a portage or three, and then merges at The Forks for lots of easy boogie water.