Three hundred years from now, some poor kid is going to be assigned to write a paper on historical weather patterns in Ontario before weather became obsolete. They’re going to look up the entry for the summer of 2017 and the only thing they’re going to find is a picture of a thundercloud with a sad face and the words “Rainy AF” beside it. The relatively poor weather we experienced this summer (at least, we experienced up until Labour Day, when summer finally decided to show up, apologizing for being late and complaining about the traffic) had me a bit concerned as I planned my trip to Radiant Lake at the end of August.
The primary reason for my concern was that on this particular trip I wasn’t going to be alone. I was bringing along three coworkers, and the last thing I wanted was for them to get the type of weather that can ruin trips, friendships or sometimes both. In other words, the type of weather I had more than once already this summer. Fortunately, the weather Gods decided to throw me a bone and gave us a beautiful weekend to visit Radiant Lake.
We arrived at the Brent Access Point around noon on the Friday and, after a brief stop at the Brent Store to pick up my canoe (which the folks at the Brent Store had very kindly stored for me over the week) and grab a second boat, we set off east towards Radiant. To get to Radiant you have to cross the eastern part of Cedar, and then paddle and portage a couple of segments of the Petawawa River. It’s a really good half day start to a trip, let’s you stretch your paddling muscles without ripping them to shreds.
The three portages between Cedar and Radiant all go around lengthy sets of rapids that break up the flat water segments of the Petawawa. Each set looks like it would probably be doable by the right person, and there are probably some experienced whitewater paddlers out there who would happily paddle those rapids backwards, but that was definitely not on our agenda. Not that I wouldn’t paddle a set of rapids backwards mind you, it’s just that I wouldn’t be doing it on purpose.
The first portage leading off of Cedar and onto the Pet (Pet is my pet name for Petawawa. I’ll give you a few minutes to recover from that perfect wordplay) is good one. It’s just under a kilometer and is mostly flat and obstacle free. The Cedar side of the portage also doubles as a campsite, which means that there’s a good chance you’ll be carrying through someone’s set up if you go this way (it also means there’s a good chance you’ll have people traipsing through your site at all hours of the day if you decide to camp there).
It’s a relatively short paddle along the river to the next portage followed by another easy 685 m carry that takes you around the Surprise Raps. The portage mostly follows the river for about two-thirds of the carry, before veering a bit inland and adding a bit of elevation change. The parts of the river you can see look pretty shootable, but my guess is the bottom third gets interesting judging by the elevation drop and line of rocks across the bottom of the rapids where the portage ends. There’s got to be a reason they’re called the Surprise Raps, and it’s probably not because your friends, family and the cast of Full House are waiting at the end to throw you a birthday party.
I really enjoyed the scenery between the second and third portage. Again, it’s a relatively short paddle, but the river in here is very pretty. The outlet of the Surprise Rapids is picturesque and the river flows through a narrow channel that makes you feel like you might be paddling down some unexplored river into the heart of the Canadian wilderness. At least, you feel that way until you round a corner and see the massive rail bridge over the river and realize that while it may still be wilderness, it is most definitely not unexplored.
If the second set of rapids is called the Surprise Raps, the final portage should be called the Surprise Portage, because it’s surprisingly awful. Looking at it on Jeff’s Map I wasn’t expecting too much trouble. The highest point is at the start of the carry, which I thought meant I’d have a nice, steady, downhill stroll. I thought wrong. Just because the highest point is at one end of the portage doesn’t mean there can’t be a crap load of up and down afterwards. This portage had it all: soggy ground, shitty footing, shifty no good rocks that were just waiting to trip you up if you weren’t paying attention. By the time I got to the other end I was sweating and swearing and legitimately considering adding a few hours and a three low maintenance portages up through Big George Lake just so I wouldn’t have to come back that way in two days time.
The good news was that that was our last Portage of the day. From there on out it was an easy paddle downriver until we emptied into Radiant Lake, our home for the weekend. Radiant is beautiful. We arrived in the late afternoon, when the sun was heading towards the horizon and the entire lake was bathed in that soft, just-before twilight glow. We paddled along the north shore, checking out a couple of the campsites before settling on what will probably end up being (spoiler alert for this year’s Moosie Awards) my favourite campsite of the summer.
The site is the third one along the north shore heading east and is built on a wide, sandy beach that you can see pretty much as soon as you come out of the Petawawa and onto Radiant. There are two really good, really level, spots built into the hill behind the beach for pitching a tent. On top of that, if you don’t mind turning your tent into a sandbox, you can pitch as many tents as you want on the beach itself. The fire pit has stadium seating (for a very small stadium) carved out of the hill beside it. You can eat your dinner in front of the campfire with an awesome view of the beach, the lake and, eventually, the star filled night sky. Basically, it’s perfect (click here for 500 more words on how perfect it is).
The next morning was clear and sunny. After breakfast we got in the canoes and paddled to the eastern end of Radiant. One interesting thing about Radiant is that it’s super shallow. Like, Alicia Silverstone in Clueless before she fell in love with Paul Rudd shallow. You can see bottom a long way from shore which, I guess, means that any bottom dwelling lake monsters hanging out down there can also see you (there’s a semi-creepy thought you can’t unhave). I’d hate to paddle through there when water levels are down. I’ve heard stories of people having to drag their canoes along the bottom for the final third of the lake. That sounds less than ideal.
The other guys had all brought their fishing rods and they trolled a bit as we made our way out of Radiant, through Snipe Lake and towards the Squirrel Rapids. I’m not much of a fisherman myself, (to put it scientifically, fish are icky), but apparently that little stretch is good fishing. There’s a road that comes through where Radiant drains back into the Petawawa that people seem to use to access this part of the park directly. We chatted with a couple who were fishing from a nearby bridge over the river who had clearly just driven in for the day and who claimed it was a great spot for catching __________ (insert name of fish I can’t remember here. We’ll just call them Trey Anastasios).
Once we reached the Squirrel Rapids my buddy and I continued onwards to Plover Lake while the other canoe kept fishing above the rapids. It’s pretty generous calling the Squirrel Rapids rapids, basically it’s just some faster moving water that would be too hard to paddle against going upstream. Going downstream, however, it’s pretty fun to let the water carry you. We drifted through the rapids and then paddled on to Plover.
Plover is a shallow, weedy lake without any campsites (well, there’s a campsite on the Petawawa where you’d turn off to get to Plover so maybe that counts?). It does, however, have a giant (again, I know nothing about fish names) Trey Anastasio that I saw swimming along the bottom. But that’s about all I can say for Plover. We paddled around for a bit, then made our way back to the Squirrel Rapids where we decided to portage up and paddle down a few times so that we could tell everyone what whitewater paddling badasses we were when we got home. While I still think it’s generous to call the Squirrel rapids rapids at all, we did manage to almost dump on our last run downstream when we got caught between the downstream current and a rebound current coming offshore. We took our near miss as a sign that we were done with rapids for the day and headed back up to Radiant and our site for some lunch
After lunch I made a solo trip across Radiant to the south shore of the lake, where Jeff’s Map shows an old graveyard and other assorted ruins. While I wasn’t able to locate the graves, I did find plaque commemorating the Rivermen who died in the area back when logging still ruled this part of the Park. It’s a cool little slice of Park history and well worth a visit if you’re on Radiant. After exploring around a bit I paddled back across to the camp site and we spent the rest of the day swimming, dumping canoes and taking it easy, All in all, it was a good day.
The next morning we packed up and headed back the way we had come. I’d hoped that the Surprise Portage might not be as crappy as I remembered it, but like a kid hoping that the underwear shaped blob underneath the Christmas tree is actually an Xbox in disguise, I should have known better. Fortunately, the other two portages were as nice as I remembered, and before long we were paddling across Cedar towards Brent.
The entire trip I’d been worried about that last leg across Cedar. This was the fifth time I’d paddled Cedar in the past two weeks, and the other times there’d been pretty strong winds coming down from the north. Jake at AO had gone as far as to warn us that if we did get a headwind, we were better off just pulling up on shore and walking in because, in his words “I can’t rent you any more canoes if you’re dead” (which, FYI, is not the most reassuring way to send someone off on a trip). Fortunately, wind wasn’t a problem. The water on Cedar was like liquid glass. I can’t remember the last time I paddled across a lake that calm. It was a perfect way to finish what ended up being a perfect weekend trip.
All in all, I highly recommend the trip down to Radiant. It’d be a great spot to take young kids, or just a bunch of folks looking for a nice weekend. The portages aren’t too difficult (the Surprise Portage notwithstanding), it’s a good amount of paddling without being too much, and the campsites (at least the one we had) are amazing. Go there.
New Lakes Paddled: 3
Total Lakes Paddled: 5
Total Portages: 7
Total Portage Distance: 3.6 KM
Total Travel Distance: 40.2 KM
Campsite Reports from this Post
Radiant Lake – Site 4