I just finished an amazing job—researching and documenting paddling routes across Southwestern Ontario’s Oxford Region—an area south of the Grand River and north of the Thames River.
(Yes, I got paid to go paddling. Don’t be jealous.)
The region has countless routes, but river paddling is usually only possible during the shoulder seasons—making the next couple of months perfect timing. Here’s a breakdown of some of the best routes for fall paddling.
Upper Thames River—Woodstock to Ingersoll
This section of the Thames was one of my favourites when I paddled the entire length of the Thames River back in spring. The route can only be done when the water level is up. The recommended flow rate from the UTCA chart is six centimetres (three to 12 centimetres). For the Flow Rate Gauge, reference #5 Ingersoll.
The first half may also have sweepers (fallen trees, locking portions of the river). Contact the Upper Thames Conservation Authority prior to trip to see if the area has been cleared of sweepers. (It was when I paddled it a couple of months ago.)
The section is more creek-like, twisting and turning with small swifts rushing over gravel bars. It's a remote-like setting which gets little use by paddlers and a fantastic place to spot various species of fauna and flora.
It’s a novice-to-intermediate run, depending water levels. Some swifts will be encountered. Paddling time is three to four hours.
The best put-in is in Woodstock. A parking area and put-in is available off Dundas Street (#2) in Woodstock. It’s located on the northeast side of the #2 bridge. Parking is for hiking trail access.
It’s possible to take out in Beachville and use the trail system parking. But a longer trip can be had by taking out downstream of Ingersoll at the Lawson Trail access, off Wonham Street (south side of river).
Upper Thames River—Ingersoll to Dorchester
This section of the Thames is an absolute oasis. Hamlets, roads, train tracks and cement kilns clutter the edges of the river, but the high wooded banks hide everything from sight; and the constant birdsong block the sounds of all the business going on away from the river.
It’s also a novice-to-intermediate run, depending water levels. Some swifts/Class I rapids are encountered. It should take you about six to seven hours to paddle the entire 23 kilometres.
The best put-in is the Lawson Trail access, downstream of Ingersoll. The take-out is the Hamilton Road Day Use and Parking Lot, downstream of Dorchester and south side of the river.
Nith River—Greenfield Bridge to Frog’s Bridge
The Nith is a hidden gem. Thousands of paddlers make-use of the Grand River but one of its tributaries—the Nith—gets far less attention. The first section I prefer begins upriver of Ayr, located on the Oxford County Line/Trussier Road (runs north-south). Plattsville is over 12 kilometres further upriver from Greenfield. The stretch of Plattsville to Greenfield is also possible, but it's more open, as it runs through farms with less forest running along the river. Greenfield to Drumbo is nicer.
The Nith, however, is a shoulder-season run. It’s water-dependant and can only be paddled during spring runoff and rainy days in the fall. Monitor water level at grandriver.ca. If the flow rate drops below five cubic metres per second, it becomes unsuitable for paddling.
The best put-in is Greenfield Bridge; on river right downstream side of the bridge, just south of Township Road 11/Greenfield Road. The take-out is Frog Bridge, Drumbo (Silver Bridge). Alternative take-outs are at the Blenheim Road Bridge or in Wolverton, at the Market Street Bridge.
It’s a novice-to-intermediate run, depending on water levels, with swifts and Class I rapids. Blenheim is 10 kilometres (2.5- to three-hour paddle); Wolverton is 13.5 kilometres (three- to four-hour paddle); Frog Bridge, Drumbo (Silver Bridge) is approximately 18 kilometres (four- to five-hour paddle).
Nith River—Frog Bridge to Canning
This is my favourite of the Nith. The river snakes its way through the tranquil countryside of Oxford, cutting into high clay banks and Carolinian sycamore trees. Canning is home to the original house where legend Wayne Gretzky grew up. It was also once a hideout for outlaw Jesse James.
Put-in at Frog Bridge, Drumbo (Silver Bridge) and take out at the second bridge in Canning; parking and take-out is alongside the road, on the southwest side of Canning Road Bridge.
It’s also a novice-to-intermediate run, depending on water levels (swifts and Class I rapids). The distance is 14 kilometres (three- to four-hour paddle).
Nith—Canning to Bean Park in Paris (on the Grand River)
This is a whitewater paddler’s dreamscape. On the last stretch of the Nith, the river picks up its pace, forming a stretch of Class I and II rapids before flushing out into the Grand River. It makes an exceptional whitewater joyride (as long as you are an experienced paddler).
The put-in is at the second bridge in Canning, parking is alongside of the road, on the southwest side of Canning Road Bridge, and the preferred take-out is Bean Park in Paris (on the Grand).
Take note that this is an intermediate-to-advanced trip. Whitewater skills are necessary. Class II technical rapids must be run and are difficult to scout from shore. The distance is eight kilometres (two- to three-hour paddle).
Big Otter Creek—Hwy 43 to Port Burwell
The creek starts near Norwich and snakes through Tillsonburg until it finally empties in Lake Erie in the town of Port Burwell. The scenery is of dramatic sand bluffs as high as 30 metres, as well as thick Carolinian forest. There’s a sandy bottom and no rapids. Camping is available at nearby Port Burwell Provincial Park
The put-in is on the Richmond Road (just south of Richmond) pull over area on the northeast side of Richmond Road Bridge. An alternative put-in is High 45 (Calton Line) Bridge—but I prefer Richmond Road. The take-out is Port Burwell Beach/Park, on the east side of the waterway. Some paddlers, however, shorten their day by taking out at Vienna, upstream of Port Burwell. That take out is under a small bridge with road parking—Plank Road (Hwy 19) bridge at the end of Chapel Street.
This is an intermediate-to-advanced run. While there are no rapids, the creek has many log jams and possible sweepers. This can be quite dangerous in high water levels.
Richmond Road to Vienna is 27 kilometres (four- to five-hour paddle). Richmond to Port Burwell is 32 kilometres (four- to five-hour paddle).
Big Creek—Rowan Mills to Port Royal
This waterway neighbours the region but it needs mentioning. It’s a fantastic paddle. Big Creek winds south through the Carolinian forests of Norfolk County into the Big Creek National Wildlife Area, an internationally recognized marsh and wetland, and finally empties into Long Point's Inner Bay.
There are numerous put-in locations along Big Creek. The starting point if you wish to paddle the creek in its entirety, which will take about 12 hours, is on McDowell Road. For a shorter paddle, use the Rowan Mills Conservation Area or Lower Big Creek Conservation Area as your starting point. It’s a novice-to-intermediate run.
More Neighbouring Routes
Deer Creek Conservation Area
This is an excellent half-day paddle. The 25 hectares of reservoir is the focal point of this park that is owned and operated by the Long Point Region Conservation Authority. The shoreline is undeveloped and there are many inlets to explore. Canoe rentals are available. Boat motors are restricted to electric-power only. The lake is surrounded by Carolinian forest on all sides. The route is accessed at the public boat launch at Deer Creek Campground. It’s perfect for the novice paddler and the entire shoreline adds up to eight kilometres (three hours).
In 1988, the Authority turned its attention to a site of significant natural heritage. The Catfish Creek Slope and Floodplain Forest spreads across the properties of eight landowners just northwest of Port Bruce. It contains provincially rare and threatened Carolinian flora and fauna such as blue-eyed mary and Oswego tea. Distinctive Carolinian trees like the tulip tree, sassafras, sycamore, black gum and Kentucky coffee tree are characteristic of this region. Much of the vegetation you would find here is typical of that found in the Central and Eastern U.S. This is the northern limit of the zone and the only place in Canada with this type of vegetation. Also, significant species such as red-shouldered hawk, Acadian flycatcher and Louisiana waterthrush are located there.
It’s best planned as a “there-and-back” paddle. The put-in and take-out is the Imperial Road Bridge (#73)—take Dexter Road (#24). Dexter Road ends on a narrow side-road on the southeast side of the river.