- distance: 18 km
- time: start – 12:30 p.m. ; finish – 5:00 p.m.
- portages/rapids: 2/0
- P01 – 280m Lac Green to Lac Au Barrage (Coulonge River headwaters)
- P02RL – 120m or line/wade/use culvert under road depending on water levels
- weather: overcast and cloudy becoming cloudy with sun towards evening
- campsite: CRCS01 Lac Grand unmarked island site. Room for multiple 2-person tents or perhaps two 4-person tents.
- Natural Resources Canada Topo Map Sheet: Lac Jean-Péré 031 N 02
How do you get back to your vehicle at the end of the canoe trip? The single biggest complication of most canoe trips was eliminated thanks to Cyril taking the ride with us from Ottawa to the put-in off Highway 117 in La Réserve Faunique la Vérendrye. He would drive the car back to Ottawa while we spent the next fifteen days paddling back to his place. Had we wanted to end the trip at Fort Coulonge, he was ready to pick us up there instead – but we were keen on doing the Ottawa River stretch too.
Another option is to arrange a shuttle from an outfitter/canoe tripping company like Esprit Whitewater in Davidson. It is located on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River just north of Fort Coulonge. It offers everything from fully organized canoe trips down the Dumoine, Noire, and Coulonge to shuttles to the various points.
Given the time required and the distance, the shuttle to where we put in was one of the more expensive options. (See here for the shuttle list with prices that are based on their vehicle being used. If a logging road shuttle was the choice, sparing your vehicle sounds like it would be worth it!)
The put-in spot was Lac Larouche. Turning off the highway we found a dirt side road running thirty meters right down the lake to a boat put-in area.
Cyril obliged with a “start of the trip” shot of another episode of Pete and Max’s Excellent Adventures and then he watched as we paddled the two kilometres towards Lac Green.
We did get to listen to the car moving up from the shore with the emergency brake still on and paddled back frantically to let Cyril know! He had already figured it out and we got to wave goodbye one more time – and then it was off for real.
We weren’t sure if Lacs Larouche and Green were separated by a portage or not. When we got to the end of Lac Larouche we found a narrow and shallow channel that we were able to paddle through. At the Lac Green side, we came across sandbars and had to wade to find deeper water. We did the 5-km. paddle up Lac Green right down the middle; it was an overcast afternoon and the wind was light and the paddlin’ was easy!
At the west end of Lac Green, we came to what looked like a fishermen’s camping area just off the logging road that passes by. It would make an “okay” campsite for Day One if you had started late in the afternoon. You can also drive up to this point from Hwy 117 if you want to eliminate the first ten kilometres that we had just paddled. It would be our first portage of the trip – an easy 280-meter carry along a wide and heavily used trail that took us into the actual headwaters of the Coulonge River system, Lac Au Barrage.
After a short lunch break at the put-in on Lac Au Barrage, we followed the east shoreline down to a culvert/bridge and the entrance to Lac Grand. When we set off our goal for the day was a campsite as far down Lac Grand as possible, a respectable half-day of paddling to start things off.
First up was the concrete culvert/ bridge. In retrospect, it may have been easier just to portage around the thing. There is an obvious and well-used 100-meter trail on river left that starts just before the bridge. We decided to “paddle” underneath the road. As the photo below shows, water levels were a tad low! There was some scraping as we pulled the canoe through part of the way, only to enter a shallow bay that required more wading and pulling. (As you can see, that road from Hwy 117 also crosses the river at this point; you could just put in here and eliminate two portages!)
It took us fifteen minutes to get back to our usual paddling speed on the deeper water of the channel that leads down to Lac Grand itself. The lake is about ten kilometres long. By 4 p.m. or so we were paddling on the east side of the string of islands you see on the map below. Seeing a party of five canoes up ahead had us shift into campsite search a bit earlier than expected. Since we weren’t expecting to pass them, we figured the best place to look for a campsite would be somewhere behind them!
The Hap Wilson map #1 indicates an island campsite on the small island on the above map. We paddled along the north shore of the island and, not finding a decent take-out spot, finally landed on the west side. There was no official park sign indicating a campsite but what we found after the 10-meter scramble up the bank was a site that could well have hosted the five-canoe party ahead of us. Later we would find a “thunderbox” (toilet box) in the bush behind the tenting area.
Day One was done and we soon had the tent up on a campsite that would turn out to be one of the nicer ones of the entire trip. That evening we leaned back in our camp chairs and enjoyed a beautiful sunset punctuated by a moon shining through the reddening sky.
On tap for Day Two – more of the Coulonge headwaters in La Réserve Faunique La Vérendrye. Most Coulonge canoe trips begin on Lac Pomponne or some road-accessible insertion point a bit further downriver. However, the shuttle ride up the Coulonge on the poorly maintained logging roads is more difficult than the round-about route that we took via Hwy 117. The cost of starting where we did – two extra days of paddling in Park La Vérendrye. The reward – two extra days of paddling in Park La Vérendrye!