Two people padding on Saugeen River

10+ Reasons You Need to Experience Fall Along the Saugeen River

For many, the Labour Day weekend signifies the freedom and warmth that comes along with summer. While the days may be getting shorter and the nights a little cooler, fall is the perfect time to explore the Saugeen River. There is plenty of opportunity for adventure so don’t put your tents and paddles away too early and plan a visit to the Saugeen River in September or October… or both!

Over 100 Kilometres To Explore

Bruce County is home to over half of the entire length of the Saugeen River with multiple access points throughout. Just east of Walkerton, you’ll find the Saugeen River Access #4 and the first in Bruce County. From there, the river snakes its way in and around town before embarking through lush greenspace to Paisley and lastly, Southampton. The distance between some access points is just a few kilometres or you can go for the whole shebang!

Choose Your Own Adventure… and Length

With 14 access points scattered along its shorelines and many campgrounds and conservation areas to choose from, the possibilities for a fall trip along the Saugeen River are endless. Enjoy a leisurely afternoon exploring close to a launch point like those in Paisley or Walkerton where you can enjoy the perfect mix of small-town charm and adventure on the water. Or you can go the extra mile and plan to camp for the entire weekend with a canoe in tow to cover more ground. If you’re really feeling adventurous (and have the experience), you can always tackle the entire river for one epic adventure!

Few Rapids Here, Mainly Calm Waters

When it comes to a canoe trip, for many folks their mind wanders to rigorous routes of whitewater rapids and portaging for kilometres at a time. That’s not the case here! The Saugeen River is full of twists and turns but they all add to the tranquillity you’ll experience as you paddle. The adrenaline junkies out there might be sighing in disappointment but we guarantee you’ll forget all about chasing the water as you’re surrounded by the pristine natural views you’ll uncover as you paddle. You will come across the odd set of gentle rapids so be prepared!

A Plethora of Perfect Camping Opportunities

There are five fantastic campgrounds for outdoorsy folks of all experience levels to enjoy. In Walkerton, you have the Saugeen Riverbank Campground just east along Highway 4 featuring 25 campsites and park amenities like a general store, children’s playground, catch and release pond, horseshoe pits and more. Lobies Park Campground is in the heart of town with 44 serviced sites and within walking distance to grocery stores, restaurants and any camping supplies you may need.

Similar to Lobies Park in Walkerton, Paisley’s Rotary Riverside Campground is in the heart of this quaint town and is just steps from the main artery where you’ll find restaurants, shops and other attractions. Next, there’s the Hidden Valley Campground approximately ten minutes outside of town with 20 sites to host you as well as eight rustic cabins. Lastly, Saugeen Bluffs Conservation Area is the largest campground along the Saugeen River with 181 sites nestled within a gorgeous 100 hectare sugar maple forest.

…And You Can Camp For Free

You just have to work for it! If you’re planning on a multi-day paddle, setting up camp at the McBeath Conservation Area is the perfect way to end your day. This conservation area is located just north of access point #8. It’s inaccessible by road meaning you’ll only find fellow paddlers around!

While it is free to camp at the McBeath Conservation Area, there is a donation box if you wish to contribute during your stay. All of the funds raised go back into maintaining the park. Also, don’t forget to do your part and leave your campsite in better condition than when you arrived!

Very Little Portaging Here

Person standing in front of river beside canoe and paddles

Yes, you read that correctly. One of the pain points for many starting out with extended distances is difficult portages but that’s not the case along the Saugeen River canoe route! There are just three short portages: 50 metres at the Maple Hill Dam between access points #3 and #4, 30 metres at the Hydro Dam between access points #3 and #5, and 150 metres at Denny’s Dam between access points #15 and #16. The Saugeen River is a great spot to ease your way into the process of portaging.

It’s Easy to Plan

With the abundance of campsites on its shores, easy access to the waterway and a number of communities along the way, planning a fall trip to experience the Saugeen River is a breeze. Book a bed and breakfast or enjoy the smell of campfire and making s’mores over the fire while you explore your surroundings. The charming small towns and natural wonders of Bruce County are waiting for you and the possibilities are endless!

If you want to go the canoe trip route, you’re in for an easy adventure on the water. The most complicated part of canoe tripping on the river is getting back to your vehicle! If you’re travelling with friends then you’ll be all set parking one at each end of your trip. However, if this isn’t the case – never fear. Thankfully, Bruce County has some local outfitters to make this easy for you! They have shuttles throughout the day from put-in and take-out spots all along the river and can get you back to your car for a minimal fee. Some Bruce County companies include Thorncrest Outfitters in Port Elgin and OuterVision Adventure Tours in Lion’s Head. They’ll happily help you arrange your route and ensure you get back to your car safely.

And The Fishing is Fantastic

What you may not know is that the Saugeen River is home to one of the largest runs of migratory Rainbow Trout and Steelhead in the entire province. The characteristics and biology of the Saugeen River alongside the efforts of the non-profit organization, the Ontario Steelheaders, have created this crown jewel of Ontario fishing. Through an intensive local stocking program and ideal river conditions that encourage wild-born fish, the annual run of trout is estimated to be over 30,000 fish. Though this isn’t the only species you’ll find! The Saugeen River is also home to salmon, pike and Saugeen Musky.

Pack your tackle box and head out to get “hooked” with some Saugeen River fishing. You never know what may bite when you cast a line. Though we think it’s safe to say that this gives Bruce County the right to claim that we have some of the best fishing anywhere in Southern Ontario, if not the Great Lakes!

The Stunning Fall Colours

Bruce County is home to a number of tree species such as Dogwood, Sassafras and Red Maple, all of which ignite the forest via breathtaking transformations come autumn… and paddlers get to enjoy the views from a whole new angle. Plus, the calm waters of the Saugeen River add an extra layer of magic with reflections that amplify the brilliant amber and vermillion shades of its tree-lined shores!

Birds a Plenty

Many bird species call Bruce County home either for an extended period of time or temporarily as they complete their migration patterns in the fall. With long stretches of the Saugeen River only being accessible by water, this creates an idyllic atmosphere for a number of birds that you may not see on popular hiking trails or other destinations throughout the area. Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, Whip-or-Wills, Great Blue Herons… keep your eyes peeled as you paddle since you never know what you’ll see!

A Lack of Bugs

One of the biggest perks of fall is the dissipating bug population. Those cool nights may mean you need to pack a few extra layers but we can all agree it’s worth it for the low chance of bug bites! It’s still a good idea to bring along some spray, especially as ticks are still active until the temperatures begin to drop below five degrees Celsius. You just won’t be devoured like you may be in June or July, especially if it’s been a wet and stormy spring!

The Endless Memories

An important waterway for the Saugeen Ojibway Nations and other Indigenous communities since time immemorial and at one point, an important barge route, the Saugeen River is now enjoyed by many people from all walks of life. Disconnect from everyday life and reconnect with yourself, your family, your friends and your surroundings by creating cherished memories along this brilliant flume you’ll cherish for your lifetime.

Planning Your Fall Saugeen River Adventure

Regardless of which access you choose along Bruce County’s picturesque Saugeen River, you’ll be greeted by tree-lined shores, stunning cliffs and some easy paddling. Ready to hit the water but aren’t sure where to start when planning your trip? We have you covered.

For Paddlers

a group of people paddling on the river framed by out of focus foliage with purple flowers
Saugeen River

The Saugeen River isn’t explored nearly as much as it should be around both Paisley and Walkerton so we highly recommend starting there. Snag a campsite in either town and venture out on day trips from there or plan your route and enjoy a multi-day adventure along the Saugeen River! One thing to know is that the majority of the Saugeen River is quite shallow, so much so that you can stand up in it. This makes it a great route for beginners and even families who are looking to enter the foray of multi-day paddling trips. While it’s just a 20 minute drive by land, the waterway snakes its way through pristine greenspace to create a 40 kilometres journey between Walkerton and Paisley with the McBeath Conservation Area in between.

Whatever your paddling plans look like, don’t forget to pack everything you need! The weather and water conditions can change quickly so we recommend bringing appropriate clothing as well as water shoes or sandals (not flip flops!) in case you need to guide the canoe by foot through shallow waters. Bear, bug and tick spray is a must to ensure smooth sailing as well as water and firewood. The water is not drinkable right from the Saugeen River unless you have an apparatus such as Lifestraw to treat it with. It’s best to purchase these items close to wherever your Bruce County home base may be so pop into the Paisley Freshmart or the Foodland in Walkerton to grab anything you may need. Whatever you choose to bring, pack out everything you pack in – no littering!

Before you depart, check to ensure you have all the safety gear required by Transport Canada such as your lifejacket, bailer and whistle. Take a look at their website for a full list of equipment. Be aware that the majority of the shorelines are privately owned so have a route planned. Let a friend or family member know the details of your trip as well as when they should expect to hear from you. Be sure to download the What3Words app to your phone in case you run into any trouble so that first responders can quickly identify your location in case of an emergency.

For Non-Paddlers

People with tubes on Saugeen River
Tubing at Saugeen Riverbank Campground

We get it, paddling isn’t everyone’s forte and the idea of taking on the Saugeen River might be overwhelming to some. If you’re reading this and nodding your head, there’s another way you can enjoy the beauty of this iconic Bruce Peninsula waterway that’s a lot less work… Saugeen River tubing! Head to the Saugeen River Campground in Walkerton where you can rent an inner tube and float your way down the river for 2.5, 3 or 4 hours.

For Those Looking to Stay on Shore

Person walking up staircase in forested trail

While we believe the best way to experience the Saugeen River is on the water, there are plenty of adventures to be had if you’re not looking to get wet! Bring your fishing gear and cast a line to see what bites from the shore. Enjoy the views from riverside trails like the Bluffs Lookout and Riverside Loop in the Saugeen Bluffs Conservation Area. Of course, you can always grab a meal to go from one of the local restaurants and enjoy a picnic along the riverbanks. Make sure it’s at a public park though as a lot of the shoreline is private property!

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