by Spurgeon Root
Coghlan Falls is a series of 5 falls of varying heights through a spectacular gorge on the Johnson River as it empties into Pardoe Lake. I did a two day solo trip there in the beginning of Dec. but it could easily be stretched into a very casual week long trip.
The put-in is just before the bridge at Johnson River Camps on the west side of the highway, about 3.5 hours north of Misssinipe. It takes you past some minor rapids on the river and leaves only some very easy upstream attainment until you hit Pardoe Lake. The "road" was very wet through passable. Good clearance and 4 wheel drive is recommended thought not always necessary. It is safe to park at the put in on the river as it is a ways off the highway.
Navigation up Pardoe Lake is simple though a map and good navigation skills are still highly recommended. There are only a couple of bays one could wander off into and the late for the most part is just a long relatively narrow channel. There are no big crossings and it is easy to stay close to shore.
While I was up there it was cold and rainy but this would be an amazing lake on a hot sunny day. Approximately 7km from the put in is a large sand beach that would be great to camp at or hang out with the kids for a couple hours. There are several beaches in the next couple km before the lake narrows again and the shore become steep and rocky again.
There are a number of campsites along the way so it is possible to pick a spot based on how you are feeling and how far you want to travel in a day. As you near the end of Pardoe Lake you will find an esker cutting across the lake and on the other side about 2 km away you can see Pardoe Lake Fishing Lodge. This seems to be a private camp and it was closed up for the season when I went past. The esker has lots of possible tent spots and leaves you with about a 5km paddle to the falls. I camped on the south east shore away from the esker due to finding a very large pile of bear scat near my tent spot.
Once my camp was set up I paddled to see the falls and spent about an hour exploring. One could easily spend a day there but due to weather and time constraints I wasn't there very long. A fire went through this area several years ago but it was green and beautiful again when I was up there. At the end of the season the blueberries were plentiful and the cranberries were also abundant.
The falls themselves are spectacular and at this point I would say probably my favourite falls in the province. The first two sets of falls are quite large while the upper three are a little more typical of what one would expect in shield waterfalls.
In my opinion this is a great trip for an introduction to wilderness paddling. Other than the long drive to the put in it has everything one could want in a beginner wilderness canoe trip.
Spurgeon holds Moving Water Instructor (Intermediate Solo and Tandem) and Canoe Camping Leadership certification with Paddle Canada. He is one of CRCO's senior guides and instructors.