The Petite-Nation River is located in Québec, Canada, originating in the Laurentians and ending in the Ottawa (Outaouais) River. The river is approx 97km in length with the flow being controlled. The river has a series of falls and rapids including the falls just before Plaisance (chutes de Plaisance) near the Ottawa River which is a bit of a tourist attraction ($).
A section of this river is our go-to for whitewater canoe daytrips from Ottawa, or when introducing people to whitewater canoeing and navigating rapids. It has Swifts, RI, RII and RIII rapids between easily accessible put in/out. Our only gripe is that the more difficult RII-RIII is the second rapid you encounter so it can be rough to start and for teaching we often skip it (or part of it). (On this map, Put in is at “J” take-out is at “M”)
It takes a bit less than 1hr drive to get there (including a 12$ ferry ride, which could be avoided if you cross to the Quebec side downtown ). Leaving early in the morning, we can get back home mid-afternoon after completing one run and eating a sit-down lunch in St-André-Avellin (le bistrot has good food and great pizza).
Before heading out, it is recommended to check the rivers flow rate here. As usual, flow rates are highest in the spring and taper to a minimum around the end of September before climbing again. A big flow rate means more water, stronger currents but some rapids may be flooded. Extra floatation is always good to have to avoid your canoe becoming a submarine!
Surprisingly, the section we run can be done at very low flow rates (our minimum so far has been 3.3m3/s) although there is a bit of searching for the channel with enough depth in the Swiftwater/R1 sections, generally it can be run without needing to hop out too frequently. The larger rapids remain runnable but quite technical with big changes of direction required to avoid rocks with little wiggle room.
It is ideal to have 2 or more vehicles so you can have one at the take out and one at the put-in. If not, it’s a really long walk (or bike ride?) back to the car. I heard that in previous years you could park at the adventure camp just after the 3rd rapid, portage up and spend the day running the first RII-RIII without needing a 2nd car. However, it seems like this is no longer an option (as of 2022) with the camp closing or changing direction during the pandemic (I could be wrong?).
If you have one vehicle capable of carrying all the gear/people, you can head straight to the take-out and leave a car there before going to the put-in. (Again don’t forget keys!!!)
For the put-in, take highway 50 and take exit 205 (from Ottawa, turn right, from Mtl, turn left), when you get to the stop for hwy 321, turn left. You will shortly cross a bridge over the Petite-Nation, and take the St-Joseph Est road on your right.
The challenge here is finding parking. Before the bridge was replaced (2021) it was easy to put in right next to it. Now, it is still doable but there are a lot of large rocks so less pleasant. While we used to park off St-Joseph in the old street near the Canada Post community boxes, the owner has flagged that he now makes use of the land and has asked not to park there. Options are parking on the shoulder of the 321 or, further down St-Joseph.
In our last trip, we parked near an asphalt plant further down the road, it’s a bit steep from the road to the river but it’s easy to park cars out of the way and there are no ankle-breaking rocks. Just make sure the car is placed as far off the road as possible as there are large trucks passing by to get to/from the plant.
In any case, when you find the right spot, time to get the equipment out, place the dry clothes/towel in the take-out car and start driving to reposition. (Don’t forget to have the keys accessible so you don’t get stuck on the way back!)
To get to the take-out take highway 50 and take exit 197 (Montée Papineau/Plaisance). Head North on Montée Papineau (if coming from Ottawa turn left, if coming from the put-in/Mtl turn right) and turn left onto Rang St Louis, right after crossing the bridge, there is some spots to park on the right, this is the take-out.
Alternative route from the put-in (it’s a tiny bit slower but nicer drive) head North (away from the 50) on the 321 and turn left on to Rang St Joseph Ouest (first road), keep going until you hit the stop for Rang St-Louis, turn left and shortly you will see the parking spots on your left just before the bridge.
We have a whole bunch of videos/trip reports from running this river which you may be interested in available here. So far, the flow rates for these runs have been between 3.3m3/s up to 28m3/s so you can take a look at the one that more closely resembles what you will encounter :).
Starting from the put-in, there is a bit of flat to warm up and get the rust off.
Shortly after we find the first rapid, a nice RI with takeout to the right immediately after to scout the RII-RIII. Although it is an RI, at some water levels it can be really fun, and theres an optional fun drop at the end on the left side.
We often say this next rapid would be ideal at the end of the run since it usually is the most difficult. Scouting is necessary here as it is blind around the middle island and it can be blocked. Typically you want to run the RII to the left side around the island but scout first. In one case, a tree had fallen on top of the island between the island and shore and only at low water could you pass underneath. Another time, a log was stuck in between shore and the lsland and was completely impassable. You can portage (or rope depending on water level) and put in below the island where the RIII starts. This one has an entry on the left side and zigzags a bit, travel towards the right side and cut back towards the middle before the last drop. There is typically a lot of water in this rapid so be prepared. If it looks too much you can always portage the entire rapid. If you enjoyed it, this is an easy one to portage back up and run again!
The next up is a quick and easy RII (middle right entry, straight down) there is a portage to the right, we’ve never used, it looks rough though.
A couple RIs/swift, nothing too difficult but enjoyable.
The next big rapid is called portes de l’enfer (Hell’s Gates) which is classified as an RII-RIII. The portage is to the right (there is a sign but it’s steep) there is an alternate scouting spot/portage a bit further ahead which is preferred in low water. Scouting for this one is useful to see where the obstacles lay depending on the water level especially since most of the rapid is behind two big rocks (Hell’s Gates?) Typically entry is left side around the large rocks keep left/middle left to cross the first few then head over to the middle/right and back towards the left again.
After this rapid, another series of Swift’s/RI and some flat to get to the take-out. You can easily spot the take-out when you see the bridge, both takeouts are before the bridge. For the “old” takeout, just keep going straight ahead towards shore instead of following the river to the left. It’s a bit muddy, a bit wider and maybe a bit less steep but watch out for the ground being super slippery (we bailed once trying to get out of the canoe)! Usually you’ll want to take the “new” takeout which is just a few meters further on the rock formation next to the bridge. There is even a rope guide installed on one side so you can hold on to.
Once you get back up, you will (hopefully) find your car and have remembered to bring your keys and will be ready to pack it up and go get the car at the put-in (or do a 2nd run?). If timing is right, a short trip to St-André-Avellin for some beverages and good food before heading back home 😉
Hope this was useful! Let us know how your experience went or if we missed anything in the comments!