Dolbeau-Mistassini: Mistassibi North West (5 days / 114 km)
The Mistassibi is a beautiful northern river that flows through the boreal forest of Quebec. This route is fairly accessible for kids if they are paddling with moderately experienced adult paddlers. The river has many features from massive cliff sides, beautiful waterfalls, sand cliffs, massive sand dunes and great white water.
Trip Completed: July 2022
Starting Point: km 183 of the road | km 210 of the river.
Ending Point: Riviere Banc de Sable Take Out | km 96 of the river
Total Distance: 114 km
Duration: 5 days
Dolbeau-Mistassini, Crown Land
Traditional Territory: This route takes place on the traditional territory of Nitassinan (Innu) (source).
Maps & Resources
Campsite Reservations: All Crown Land. First come first serve
Know Before You Go
Season: We did the trip in July, ran it at a medium water level and it was great.
Cell Reception: None
Water: You will have to process your water.
Wildlife: Nothing out of the ordinary. Bear and Moose are probably what you are more likely to see.
Waste: You have to dig your own cat holes to go to the bathroom and you will have to pack out your garbage.
Outfitters & Shuttles
Shuttle: OrganiseAction – Le Quebec Hors Circuits
Day 1: km 210 to km 187 (23 km)
We woke up at the motel in Dolbeau-Mistassini at 6 am and were on the road by 6:30 because we did not want to miss the shuttle that was taking us up. The shuttle was planned for 10:30 am and we still had about 2 hours. Make sure to fill up your car in this town because you won’t come across any other fuel stations until you return to this town.
We met the shuttle service at Riviere Banc De Sable. The road up was very well maintained. The shuttle was a 15-passenger van with a trailer for the canoes and the barrels. Once all packed up we hit the road to road km 183.
The shuttle took about 2 hours and the roads were in really good condition. Wide flat logging roads. If I was to go back, I would consider doing the shuttle ourselves.
Once at the put-in, we portaged our canoes down to the water. There is a clear trail and the put-in is nice.
Once you are on the water, the first day of paddling is very easy. The river has a nice flow and it’s a beautiful meandering paddle down river with beautiful sand cliffs and sand dunes. There are plenty of campsites all along the way. We settled for the group site at km 187. It’s a massive sand dune on an island with a beautiful view of cliff sides in the distance.
Between the 10-hour drive up the day before, the shuttle upriver, and the 23 km paddle, we were pretty tired so we hit the hay as soon as we could after enjoying a little bit of a campfire on the beach.
Campsite: km 187 Groupe Site on the island
Day 2: km 187 to km 168 (19 km)
When I woke up the next morning I was still very tired from all the traveling of the past 2 days. We had a quick coffee and breakfast and started to paddle downriver. Just around the first major bend of the river, you come across one of the most beautiful and scenic sections I have ever paddled. Beautiful enormous cliff sides with a beautiful waterfall. The second day of paddling is very easy and relaxed with zero obstacles to go over. The fishing is good and the views are breathtaking.
We pulled up to camp at km 168 right at the opening of the large Au Foin Lake. Make sure to camp there because crossing the lake the next day is quite the event – it is often very windy and you can easily be wind bound there if the wind doesn’t cooperate.
The campsite is large on another beautiful sand dune. We fried our first fish of the trip that night and again we went to bed fairly early.
Campsite: km 168 – Massive Sand Dune
Day 3: km 168 to km 147 (21 km)
Waking up on the third day I finally felt rested for the first time. The wind was pushing south quite significantly and it made traveling down and across this enormous 12 km lake. We had a quick breakfast, packed up the canoes, and started to paddle. We had the wind at our back so it made traveling south possible. The kind of wind we experienced, if it would have been a headwind, it would have been impossible to cross. We chose to hug the right shore to travel down and found refuge in every little bay we came across. Both shorelines are pretty steep because you are paddling through almost what looks to be a fjord. It’s absolutely beautiful.
We managed to make it to km 155 and pulled into the large campsite on river right mid-afternoon just in time for lunch. After enjoying a bit of lunch we returned to the river and the wind had died down a bit. We rafted all the canoes together and traveled down the river using a tarp as a sail. This is by far one of my favourite highlights of all my canoe camping experiences. We sailed for 45 minutes and about 5 km. We then pulled up at our first set of rapids of the trip. A small Class I and we stopped halfway at km 147 to a decent size campsite on river left.
Had a great dinner and again went to bed after a small campfire.
Campsite: The campsite was ok. It’s in the woods so it’s fun to be off the sand but it’s also way buggier than on the sand dunes.
Day 4: km 147 to 129 (18 km)
Day 4 is an all-day white water day! We had a quick breakfast and since it wasn’t super warm we still needed jackets on even though we knew we were going to get wet. We started to paddle. From km 147 to km 133 there is a stretch of 14 km of fun Class Is, Class IIs, and swifts. This is just the perfect section to get you warmed up for the bigger rapids to come below. There aren’t really any portaging trails for this section of the river. All the rapids have many different lines you can take. It’s a good place to practice reading the river in sections and running sections because the last day of rapids is similar but with larger rapids at times.
At km 133 you come to the first Class III of the river. You can either go to the portage trail on river right or you can rope it over the ledge on river left. We went river left to scout the rapid from the rock. It was a bit hard to scout from there because the river is a bit large and the line is right on river right. We still managed to read the line fairly easily though and decided to run it. This is a fun wave train with a couple of obstacles to avoid. Fairly easy to run and very fun.
We then paddled on and about 3 km downriver we stopped at the group campsite by the old trapping cabin on river left.
Had another great evening at camp sharing good food and a fun little campfire before we all went to bed.
Campsite: The campsite was nice. Had many flat areas and was again a bush site so it was fun to be off the sand. The shoreline is filled with alders so the put-in isn’t the best but I have seen way worst.
Day 5: km 129 to 112 (17 km)
By the 5th day, we had settled into a pretty good routine. Wake up, quick breakfast and coffee, morning ritual…. Pack up camp and start paddling!
The first 10 km of the day were a series of swifts and Class I that was very easy to just run without getting out of your canoe. At km 119 you come to an interesting Class III. The portage trail is on river left and we also scouted it from the rocks on river left and then ferried across to river right to get a second look. Essentially it’s a small wave train with a hole at the top and after the hole you need to paddle left to avoid hitting the big hole at the bottom. I completely misread this line and hit the big hole at the end. The kids were quite surprised by the hit actually as you can witness in the video below. But nonetheless, we hit it straight with speed and a good low brace and we survived.
For the next kilometer, you paddle through swifts, and right around the first bend of the river you come across a beautiful Class III rapid. The portage trail is over the rocks on river right. This is one of my favourite sections of the river. We ran that Class III down the middle 4 times each and enjoyed a long lunch on the beautiful rocks. This rapid has zero consequences so it’s a good opportunity to try a few things and not be scared of swimming!
For the next kilometer, we paddled through some swifts and a beautiful maze of islands and found the group campsite at km 112 on river right.
We stuck to our bug shelters that night and enjoyed a nice dinner and went to bed once again fairly early.
Campsite: km 112. This was a nice bush group campsite. Tones of places for tents and hammocks. No sandy beach for swimming and the put-in is on rocks.
Day 6: km 112 to km 95 (17 km)
The last day of the trip was a rainy one. The kids were pretty tired by then, it wasn’t warm either but we still had Class Is, IIs and IIIs to get through. Up until km 102, it’s pretty simple paddling but then you come across a section of 1.5 km of Class II with two Class III sections. The portage for the first Class III is on river right. For the second Class III section, there is no portage trail but if you stick to river right it’s an easy Class II.
For us, we just read the river section by section from our canoes. Took all the easiest runs and chicken passes we could because I just didn’t feel like getting colder, especially because it was raining. We ran that section little by little and by finding shelter in eddies. It went really well.
You then finish with a nice Class I and II and land in a large opening of the river.
Take out is at km 96 on river left.
Take Out: To reach the take out you have to paddle up Riviere Banc De Sable. It comes in on river left at km 96. I don’t know if it’s always like that but that kilometer of paddling up river was by far the hardest I paddled all trip. That current was not easy to get up. Once you reach the road you have to walk about 1 km to your car and drive it to the takeout so you don’t have to portage your gear too far.
This is a great canoe route. If you are a beginner to moderate paddler with the guidance of advanced paddlers you can get away with not having to do any portages. The scenery is amazing and the whitewater is fun. Looking back at the trip I would say that for my kids this wasn’t the best trip for them. Just getting up to the river was quite the event and it definitely tired us quite a bit.
Second, it’s far enough north that it’s not really that warm, swimming is not that inviting because the water is actually cold and the bugs are pretty bad. Not ideal considering my kids like camping more than canoeing. I would say that these were long days for them to get through. We still had a great time but something to keep in mind depending on the kind of trip you are looking for.
Marty Morissette. Online content creator. Push your limits | Create Memories