Dog River (Ontario)

Location: Ontario, Canada
Length: 45 miles
Days: 5
Class: IV-V
Craft: kayak, canoe
Season: Snowmelt, depending on the year, late April into June for good whitewater.  Canoe trippers run it quite low in June, with more bugs.
Permitted: No
Gauge: Pukaskwa River Below Fox River
Map: click here
Stephan Sabo cruising a big bedrock chute on day 2. Photo: Jon Rugh.

The Dog River is a great introduction to the whitewater of the north shore of Lake Superior that features powerful and varied whitewater and a deep wilderness feel. You’ll experience big water maelstroms and tight channelized boulder moves, still lakes and marshes that you can get lost in, and fast moving currents over cobble beds. And of course, a beautiful paddle on Lake Superior to finish it off.


Most of the trip reports and descriptions of this river are written by and for canoeists who report many “character building” portages. I could imagine going at low summer flows in July in a canoe with little whitewater experience and dragging around countless rapids while getting molested by mosquitos and black flies being…difficult. But for whitewater kayakers, it’s a great trip, with the classic mixture of marshes, lakes, and big rapids commonly found in Ontario and Quebec.

The whitewater builds up gradually from day one, so you get a chance to warm up and get used to your heavy boat. Since the river is often run with canoes, there are generally unmaintained portage trails around the bigger rapids which were pretty easy to follow.  

It’s a rarely run river, so you must always be on your toes watching for logs, especially in the tighter areas when the river splits around islands.  There are several bigger rapids that demand attention and safety setting, with lots of fun river miles in between.

Denison Falls, a massive series of drops just before you reach Lake Superior, comes about two miles below the Jimmy Kash River enters on river left. It is a difficult and time-consuming portage that took us around 5 hours to complete — plan accordingly in terms of daylight! It’s just over another mile from the end of the portage to an excellent camp site on Lake Superior.

It’s a roughly 15 mile lake paddle to the takeout and there’s more great camping along the lakeshore.

Jeremy Hutchins feeling good at the start of the Denison Falls portage. Photo Jonathan Rugh.
Jeremy Hutchins feeling good at the start of the Denison Falls portage. Photo Jonathan Rugh.

Shuttle & Logistics

We put in where Paint Lake Road crosses Iron Creek, just above its confluence with the Dog, though other access points in that general area are possible. Hiring a shuttle driver through Naturally Superior Adventures in Wawa Ontario was easy and affordable, and we were able to take out at their main lodge on Lake Superior. The drive from the take out to the put in was a simple 90 minute drive. You read that right: a 90 minute drive gives you a 5 day wilderness paddle.


While the river flows through Nimoosh Provincial Park, there do not seem to be any regulations concerning backcountry travel except for fishing regulations. As always, follow leave no trace practices and clean up after yourself. For a full explanation of the park regulations, see the Ontario Parks website.

Harrison Whitten styling one of many boulder gardens on day 2. Photo Stephan Sabo.
Harrison Whitten styling one of many boulder gardens on day 2. Photo Stephan Sabo.


Along the river, it was a bit tricky to find good campsites. You will see a few rock fire rings in the lower section, but they are rare; it’s fairly easy to make your own camp as needed. At our water level, there were no sand or cobble beaches in the river corridor. The forests in the region are very dense. The best openings in the forest are where there are rock mounds, so we always kept an eye open for those spots, but never found any good ones when we were actually ready to camp at the end of the day. Every campsite required a little pruning to make room for ourselves. Once you hit Lake Superior, though, there are numerous glorious campsites on massive beaches along the lakeshore. Some of them even have nice big fire rings and somewhat maintained pit toilets (especially at the mouth of the Dog).

The lakeshore. Photo Jon Rugh.
The lakeshore. Photo Jon Rugh.


There is no gauge on the Dog, and everyone uses the Pukaskwa (pronounced Puck-a-saw) as a corollary. It is recommended that 5.0m-4.5m on the Pukaskwa gauge would be ideal for kayaking. That said, we had flows starting at 4.95m and dropping to 4.3m over the course of the trip following a large rain event and found the river very high. It is possible that the correlation holds differently depending on the source of the flows (snowmelt vs. rain-induced peak flow event, etc.).

"Hey, point at that giant wave so when people see this photo, they think we ran this rapid." Photo Stephan Sabo.
“Hey, point at that giant wave so when people see this photo, they think we ran this rapid.” Photo Stephan Sabo.

Other Useful Links

  • A video from a 2016 descent
  • You can download a map layer including rapid locations from the Canadian government here (nhn_rhn_02bd000_kml — it’s a giant file that covers the whole region, you’ll probably want to trim it before importing it to Gaia or similar)
This article was contributed to by Jon Rugh.

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