4 Best Campsites on the Spanish River

The grand slam of campsites.

The Spanish River is an absolute classic Canadian paddle trip. For starters, the shuttle vehicle is a train! How cool is that? There are two branches to the Spanish River, the East or the West. The East Branch is considered an easier stretch of river and you can access it just off Highway 144, north of Sudbury, so you can shuttle with a car. The West Branch has more whitewater and is really only accessible by train. This article provides a complete overview of what to expect.

The Spanish River canoe trip takes between 4 to 10 days, depending on how hard your crew is ready to paddle and how far upstream you put in. You’ll definitely encounter some whitewater, so knowing how to paddle rapids, how to scout, assess, and line rapids are essential skills. If you don’t have those skills, you can always take a guided trip.

If you’re looking for an adventure that will challenge (but not too much!) you and your group, the Spanish River is an amazing canoe route. Taking the VIA Rail Budd Car train to the put-in is an unforgettable experience. Even though it only lasts a couple hours, it’s sure to be a highlight of your trip. If you find some rapids are too advanced for you, the portages aren’t too strenuous either. One of the main challenges with the Spanish is water levels; they fluctuate wildly throughout spring, summer and fall. Some rapids can be big and fast in high water or technical rock gardens in low water. That’s why it’s always important to scout rapids before you commit to doing a run.

No matter how you set up the trip, you’re guaranteed an adventure. This is true Canadian wilderness; the only signs of civilization are the train tracks you’ll paddle along once in a while, or the call of the train as it passes nearby. The campsites are all top notch, but there are a few you don’t want to miss.

Expanse Lake (East Branch)

The campsite on river right just downstream from the 110-km marker on the Spanish River Adventure Map is awesome. There’s a great beach for landing and lots of room for five tents or more. There’s also (depending on the year) a fish cleaning station, which can only mean one thing; get those fishing rods out! The fishing here is great.

People sitting around campfire in the woods.
Getting cozy at Cliff Rapids. Photo: Colin Field

Cliff Rapids

It’s hard to argue that the best campsite on the Spanish River is at Cliff Rapids. Cliff Rapids end at a lovely little pool, at the base of some massive cliffs. The campsite itself is on river right and is a 3- to 4-m (10- to 12-feet) climb up the river bank. There’s a large flat spot with plenty of room to set up a campfire (as long as a fire ban isn’t in effect).

My group fit five tents here without any problem and you may be able to fit one or two more. Watching the sunset as the light bounces off the cliffs makes for a perfect evening on the river. The cliff provides an amazing foreground when darkness falls and the stars pop out, too.

Overhead shot of campsite beside a set of swifts.
It's pretty clear what makes the Cascades campsite so awesome. Photo: Colin Field

Cascades

The campsite at the bottom of the Graveyard Rapids and the Cascades is beautiful. It’s just downriver from the Elbow, after the last ledge of the Cascades. It’s easy enough to pull off on river right before the last ledge to get to the campsite. Then you can run the final ledge in an unloaded canoe. It’s a difficult drop depending on water levels, so it’s a fun one to practice on.

This is such a perfect campsite you may want to spend a full day here. Why not just hang out for a couple nights? Fish, swim and enjoy a rest day. Massive slabs of Canadian Shield rocks spill out to the final ledge of the rapids and they’re perfect for lazing around on, absorbing the warmth of  the sun and enjoying some quality down time. The site has plenty of space for five tents or more.

Orange campsite sign with group sitting in lawn chairs around fire in background.
Your group will have lots of room to spread out on Reynold's Creek campsite. Photo: Colin Field

Reynold’s Creek

The camp at Reynold’s Creek is a lovely spot to spend the night. It’s a nice large flat area under some evergreens with plenty of room for up to seven tents. If you hike a little ways southeast into the woods you’ll discover some incredible old growth forest that’s worth exploring. Give a giant tree a hug while you’re there!

Trip Planning Resources

Outfitters

If you don’t have all the gear you need, don’t worry. Wherever there’s a great river to paddle, there are great outfitters. And the Spanish River has plenty of options for gear rental.

  • Spanish River Outfitters offer shuttles, rental boats and gear, plus they know the river really well and can help during your planning stages.
  • Agnew Lake Lodge operates Paddle the Spanish River, which offers shuttles, rental boats and parking for the end of the run if that’s where you finish off. It is definitely the most logical place to end a Spanish River paddle.
  • Laurentian University rents outdoor gear during the summer months from their Sudbury Campus. They have everything to get you on the river; canoes, barrels, dry bags, paddles, PFDs and safety kits.
Canoes unloading from a train next to the water.
The most fun way to start a canoe trip. Photo: Colin Field

Guided Trips

If you don’t have the skills to paddle some whitewater, or if you simply don’t want to deal with shuttles and logistics, then going on a guided trip is an amazing option. Just show up, listen to your guides and relax. Food will be prepared, tents set up and river guides make sure all your needs are taken care of (just don’t forget to tip!).

  • With over 30 years of experience guiding wilderness trips, MHO Adventures is a staple of northern Ontario river tripping. MHO offers a host of scheduled- and custom canoe trips with incredible meal plans. The Adventurous Women on the Spanish River trip is an incredible way for women of all ages to get on the Spanish. There’s truly something for everyone.
  • Black Feather Wilderness Adventures is another legendary guiding company that celebrated 50 years in 2022. Black Feather offers trips around the world, but their headquarters is in Parry Sound and they know the Spanish really well. They offer a West Branch trip that starts with the Budd Car train, then heads downstream for 4.5 days.

Maps

There are a couple different versions of Spanish River maps. Chrismar Mapping’s Spanish River Adventure Map is waterproof and provides thorough information for the canoeist. It’s a bit confusing to use as north is not always up on the map, but once you get used to it, there’s no denying it’s the right map for the trip.

Many Ontario outfitters stock the map including Algonquin Outfitters, Agnew Lake Lodge, Spanish River Outfitters, Ramakkos, Chutes Provincial Park and MEC. For a general overview of the region check out the Onaping - Levack Spanish River Map by Coordinate GIS.  

About Colin Field

Colin is an award-winning photographer and writer, specializing in outdoor travel and adventure. He is the editor-at-large with Mountain Life Magazine. He is based in Collingwood, Ontario. 

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