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  BIG OTTER CREEK - Hwy 43 to Port Burwell


Today (May 19, 2003), Mike and I paddled Big Otter Creek. The original plan was to paddle Big Creek, as outlined in Kevin Callan's book Gone Canoeing: Weekend Wilderness Adventures in Southern Ontario. However, my parents said that they would drive us down and pick us up again if we paddled Big Otter Creek instead, as they wanted to go to a restaurant in Port Burwell. So, I did a quick internet search for information on paddling Big Otter Creek. I found virtually nothing, except for mention of a canoe race from Vienna to Port Burwell. I assumed that this meant we could safely paddle that section with little worry. However, I was worried about starting further upstream, as there is the potential for logjams. I also found, on the Port Burwell Provincial Park website, mention of a 25km route ending at Port Burwell. From this, I assumed that the river would be reasonably free from obstacles, and so we decided to go for it.

I called Mike up at around 8:30, and he said he was pretty much ready to go. I loaded all of the stuff in the car, and my parents and I went to pick up Mike. He was ready to go shortly, so we drove to Richmond. The drive took approximately an hour. The original plan was to put in where the Creek crossed Highway 43 for the second time, just south of Richmond. However, we stopped at the first crossing to take a look, and decided to put in there instead. So, we unloaded everything and said goodbye to my parents, who were to meet us somewhere in Port Burwell when we got there. Mike and I hopped in my canoe and were on our way.

The river is quite different from the rivers that we usually paddle. The river has a sand bottom, and the banks tend to be very steep sand. This makes for a nice paddle, as there are very few rocks to hit. The river banks are largely forested, and the trees are representative of the Carolinian forest. We also saw quite a few birds, with ducks and geese present, but less common than on rivers like the Nith, Thames or Conestogo. We saw kingfishers, blue herons, goldfinches, Baltimore Orioles, Barn Swallows, and some others that we couldn't identify. We didn't see any otter (booo.. what kind of Big Otter Creek doesn't have otters??), but we did see a (dead) muskrat, as well as a groundhog. For the most part, the river is surrounded by forested banks, and since they tend to be quite steep, you can see very little of the surrounding countryside. This is nice, as the lack of visible human presence makes it feels more like a wilderness river. However, in some areas where the banks are lower, you can see fields beside the river.

The weather was beautiful all day, with the high being around 22oC, and the sun shining brightly all day. The river itself presented very few obstacles. I was pleasantly surprised to find that we could easily negotiate almost all of the log jams that we came across. In most cases there was a clear path through, although it often involved weaving back and forth between the fallen trees. In one spot, a tree had fallen across the river, but was not under the water. We went over the tree, and the canoe went under, with us hopping back in on the other side. There was one large log jam that was impossible to pass over without getting out. We had to hop out and hand-over-hand the canoe across while balancing on logs. It was interesting, as some of the logs were solid footing, while others were floaters, threatening to tip when stepped on. We got by without any soakers though! There was one other log which forced us to get out and lift over, but that was it! We had no problems with the water levels at all, with the average being just deeper then the length of the paddle blade. This was more than adequate, as we are used to less water than that! Also, the sandy (as opposed to rock and gravel) bottom made for softer scrapes when it did get shallow.

As we came to the next highway crossing (our originally planned put-in spot), we saw my parents sitting waiting for us. They had assumed we would be there quickly, but it had taken us an hour - the river had wound around for a total of 5.2 km before crossing the road again, and it had taken them only 2 minutes to drive from our put in to this spot. We stopped briefly to tell them how it was going, and soon continued on our way. They then left to head down to Port Burwell. We saw very few people in the first stretch of the river, although there were signs of other boats - you can see where they get pulled up onto the sandy beaches. The further downstream we went, the more people we saw. At one bridge (most likely the Hwy 45 bridge), we saw 2 canoes, with about 6 people and a big dog. They were on shore still, so we weren't sure if they were all planning on cramming into the 2 canoes or not. However, we soon passed them and came across another canoe. At first glance, I thought the canoe had 4 kids in it. However, we soon determined that there were three kids and their father, who was sitting on the bottom of the canoe, which made him look very short. They were going very slowly, so we passed them too. We asked the father how far it was to the lake, and he didn't seem to sure. He said only "Quite a long ways," so we didn't bother to ask for more specifics. As we got closer to Vienna, there were people fishing from shore, and a motor boat or two in the river. Even closer to Port Burwell, we saw two kayaks and a lot more people fishing from the shore.

We really had no idea how long the route would be, as we had only used the road map to plan. I had estimated that it would about 20 km, but since we had put in one bridge further upstream, 25 sounded like a good estimate. In the end, the paddle was almost exactly 30 km, and took us 5 hours and a few minutes. We didn't quite make it all the way to the lake, as we spotted my parents waiting for us at a park just past the main bridge in Port Burwell. We loaded up the car and tied on the canoe, and then went for ice cream. After that, we drove back to Sweaburg to unpack, completing another successful trip.

Todays portage distance = 0 m
Total portage distance = 0 m
Todays paddle distance = 30.0 Km
Total paddle distance = 30.0 Km


General Notes:
  • The river water contains a lot of run-off from farm fields, so I don't advise drinking the water, even if you filter or purify. It's much easier to take your own water on a trip like this.
  • Water levels can change drastically in the spring, so be careful! Be prepared for any possible conditions and don't push your skill level.
Maps and Info:
  This page was last updated on December 18, 2007 at 01:21 AM