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Cedar Loop Showdown

Which lake won Labour day 2023?

The best part about any canoe trip is mercilessly judging each and every waterway you passed through and pitting them against each other in a no-holds barred battle for supremacy, right?

No? Well, it’s what we’re doing here anyway, so strap in.

At the end of every trip I usually end up sorting the lakes I visited into a loose mental hierarchy ranging from “already booking my next trip there” (hi Lake Louisa!) to “only if it was the last lake on Earth, and even then maybe not” (Furrow Lake, come on down!). This time around, I actually went as far as to jot the lakes (and rivers) we paddled down and put them in order from top to bottom. And thus the Cedar Loop Showdown was born. Because what good’s a list if no one gets to argue with you about it? Sure, I think Hogan Lake is the best lake I visited on this trip, but someone out there could very easily argue that it’s Philips or Radiant or Shoal (No Drew, it is impossible to argue that it’s Shoal). 

Over the next few days we’re going to put this to a vote. I’ve seeded each of the lakes/rivers we visited 1 through 13 and they’re going to face off in a single elimination tournament, voted on by you (well, more accurately, voted on by you and anyone who happens to click on my Instagram stories). At the end of the week we’ll declare a grand champion who will forever and irrevocably be known as the best lake on the 2023 Cedar Loop.


A few things:

  1. 13 is a weird number to do an elimination bracket with. I ended up with three first round bye lakes and five head to head matchups. 
  2. I’ve included the Petawawa River once, even though we paddled different sections of it on different days.
  3. Shoal Lake is absolutely the worst thing I saw on this trip. If it wins even one round I’m going to lose all faith in humanity.
  4. You can vote here or in my Instagram stories (or in both places). Scroll to the bottom of this page if you want to get right to voting and don’t need a primer on the contenders.

Ok, on to the matchups. The bracket, along with a brief rundown on each lake, is just below.

4. Radiant Lake


13. Shoal Lake

I’m already worried about this one. On paper, this should be a cakewalk for Radiant Lake. Radiant is a gorgeous lake with multiple above average campsites, proximity to the Petawawa and the rapids/waterfalls found there and a ton of history to boot. The site this picture was taken from is one of my top five sites I’ve visited in Algonquin, and it might be the second best one I’ve visited on Radiant. Shoal Lake, on the other hand, is what you get when you let the lily pads take over. Half the lake is more puddle than lake, and the sole campsite looks like the backcountry expression of giving up. So why am I worried? Because of the pictures. I’ve got one picture of Shoal Lake, and it looks kind of nice! If I was voting in this contest based on the two images above only, I might be inclined to throw some love Shoal’s way. Take my word for it, that would be a mistake. 

5. The Petawawa River


12. Narrowbag Lake

This is a weird one. Narrowbag Lake is really just a widening of the Petawawa River. So it’s kind of like the Petawawa is battling itself. A shorter, slower, less impressive version of itself. For the purposes of this contest, we’re talking about the Petawawa between Cedar and Narrowbag, and between Cedar and Radiant. Both stretches have a lot going for them: waterfalls, rapids, more waterfalls. Narrowbag, on the other hand, is basically just some slower moving shallow water that spread out a bit. There’s one campsite on Narrowbag, and it didn’t look all that impressive. I don’t know, maybe there are some Narrowbag fans out there, but to me this is another one that won’t be close.

6. Cedar Lake


11. Manta Lake

We’re still in the realm of matchups that should probably be pretty one-sided. Cedar Lake is one of the bigger lakes in the Park. It’s an access point lake that lets you trip in multiple directions. From here you can get to waterfalls, ruins, secluded lakes and great fishing (I’ve been told) in an easy day’s travel. Cedar itself is very cool. As I mentioned, it’s huge. There are a ton of campsites and there’s a ton of history along its shores. The ruins of the Kish Kaduk Lodge are a highlight of any trip, and if you manage to catch Cedar on a calm day, it’s a dream to paddle. On the other hand, Manta Lake is … well, it exists. It’s small and it has no campsites. It does have a very steep western shore that looks like it would be fun to climb, but apart from that it doesn’t have a whole lot going for it in my opinion.

7. Little Madawaska River


10. Sunfish Lake

I’m going to start with the lower seeded lake here. Sunfish is actually a very pretty lake. There are no campsites on it, so it feels very quiet once you arrive. The shoreline is interesting, rising and falling in gentle waves, and there were a couple spots that looked like they’d be good to stop for a swim. All that said, it’s a pain in the ass to get to. You’re either taking a string of long-ish portages up from Hogan or paddling through the football field of lily pads and frustration that separates Sunfish from Catfish. The Little Madawaska River, on the other hand, is easy enough to get to. You just need to get yourself to the middle of the Park, or do a 3.5KM portage down from Radiant … okay, so it’s not the easiest to get to either, I guess. But it’s worth it! I’m not usually the biggest fan of rivers/creeks, but I liked this one. We were paddling it in September, and the current was still strong enough and the water levels high enough that we were able to sail down the river (metaphorically. I don’t recommend sailing the Little Madawaska). The scenery along the way is quite pretty, and there are a few breath catching moments, including the one pictured above where you come around the bend in the river and are greeted with a surprise cliff, towering overhead like something out of Lord of the Rings, but with fewer Orcs.

8. Catfish Lake


9. Newt Lake

Catfish at 8th is probably the seeding that people would disagree with the most. Am I seriously saying I like the Little Madawaska better than Catfish? Or even Cedar? To be honest, the 6-8 grouping is pretty tight, and you could convince me that I should have Catfish at the top of those three. It’s a nice lake, big, with multiple good campsites (and one absolute hole). It’s split into two or three parts depending on how you look at it. There’s a narrow, marshy bit in the middle (my buddy Gordon called it Catfish’s Mushy Middle) that I didn’t love. But I’m sure there people out there who think that it adds character.  Newt, on the other hand is a lot like Manta in that it’s small, has no campsites, and is a bit of a blink and you’ll miss it spot. That said, and the reason I have it above Manta (and Sunfish), I thought it was the prettiest of the three no-camping spots that make up seeds 9-11. The shoreline scenery is quite nice, and I loved the view from the put-in up from Sunfish.

Okay, now that we’ve met the contenders, it’s time to vote. Who will come out victorious in Round One? Will there be any upsets? Was I completely nuts to put Catfish so low and Radiant so high? Does Shoal Lake have a small but loyal group of followers ready to upend the Cedar Loop Showdown? By this time tomorrow, we’ll have the answers to these questions and we’ll know who’s moving on to face our top seeds. Hogan, Philips and Clamshell Lakes are waiting in the wings… 

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