Making Sense of Water Levels

Environment Canada’s Water Office has taken some of the guesswork out of planning a canoe or kayak trip on Lake Superior’s best whitewater rivers. Real-time water level gauges on the Goulais, Batchawana and Pukaskwa rivers enable paddlers to capture perfect spring flows and make the most of heavy rain throughout the paddling season. We’ve drawn on our experience paddling the Goulais, Batchawana, Agawa, Sand, Dog and Pukaskwa rivers to come up with the following guidelines for a good trip.


Goulais River: Access north of Searchmont on the gravel Whitman Dam Road for single-day, overnight and multi-day trips. North of Searchmont, the Goulais is an intermediate to advanced river. The portages are not maintained and are often located very close to the brink of large rapids and waterfalls. The lower Goulais, from Searchmont (from Highway 556 to the bridge on Highway 552) is a novice-friendly run with a mix of Class 1-2 and flatwater.

Prime water levels: 7.8-8.1, minimum 7.65


Batchawana River: Access via the Algoma Central Railway (Mile 80). It is a 2-3 day trip to the take-out at Highway 17 (Lake Superior), 70 km north of Sault Ste. Marie. The Batchawana features Class 1-3 rapids and several portages around chutes and waterfalls.

Prime water levels: 2.5-3.2, minimum 2.3


Agawa River: Access via the Algoma Central Railway (Mile 114). It is a 1-2 day trip to the take-out at Highway 17 (Lake Superior), 130 km north of Sault Ste. Marie. The Agawa features Class 1-4 rapids and up to three portages, depending on water level, skill level and whether you’re paddling a canoe or whitewater kayak.

* Go guided on the Agawa River with Naturally Superior Adventures

Prime Water levels: Use the Batchawana River gauge, 2.5-3.2, minimum 2.3. Note the Agawa is a smaller watershed and will “dry up” quicker than the Batchawana in spring and after a heavy rainfall.


Sand River: Access via the Algoma Central Railway (Mile 136.25 or Mile 138) or via Old Woman Lake (Lake Superior Provincial Park). It is a 4-5 day trip to the take-out on Sand River Road, located just south of the Sand River mouth (145 km north of Sault Ste. Marie). The Sand features Class 1-3 rapids, several scenic waterfalls and lots of flatwater. Intermediate-skilled canoeists will need to make 18-20 portages.

* Go guided on the Sand River with Naturally Superior Adventures

Prime Water levels: Use the Batchawana River gauge as a rough estimate. Anything above 2.5 should be adequate.


Dog River: Access via Paint Lake Road (3-5 day trip) or Hammer Lake (6-7 day trip), finish at Michipicoten First Nation or Naturally Superior Adventures; includes a 20-28 km paddle on Lake Superior. The Dog is an advanced-only river for experienced whitewater kayakers and canoeists. Expect numerous unmaintained portages. Paddlers who are not capable of running Class 3 rapids should not attempt the Dog River.

Prime Water levels: 4.5-5 on the Pukaskwa River gauge is adequate. Note the Dog River tends to “hold its water” longer than the Pukaskwa River during spring runoff.


Pukaskwa River: Access via the Domtar 600 Road, off of Paint Lake Road. The traditional means of access involved paddling Pokei Creek (launch on the upper White River), however intermediate road access means these portages have fallen into disrepair. It is a 5-7 day trip to Lake Superior and a 90-km paddle north to Hattie Cove (Pukaskwa National Park) or south to Michipicoten on Lake Superior. (Boat shuttles may be available—contact Naturally Superior Adventures for more information.) The Pukaskwa River features intermediate-level whitewater and extreme remoteness. Expect lots of rugged portages—especially on Day 1. Ringham’s Gorge is runnable by advanced paddlers in moderate water levels.

Prime Water levels: 4.6-5.2, minimum 4.5.


Contact Naturally Superior Adventures for information regarding vehicle shuttles for the Pukaskwa, Dog, Sand and Agawa Rivers.