Massasauga: Moon River Loop (3 days / 33 km)

Trip Reports - Moon River Loop

This great little trip in the Muskokas is a fantastic weekend getaway that has all the hallmarks of a northern wilderness trip in the heart of cottage country. The chutes and falls along the lower Moon River provide an incredibly scenic backdrop for those looking to do a short trip without a lengthy drive from southern Ontario. It is not nearly as busy as Algonquin, the neighbouring Massassagua, or Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park which are a similar distance from the GTA. Best of all, the route is entirely on crown land and no permits or bookings are required. 

The route begins and ends at a public landing at Kapikog Dam between Healey and Kapikog Lakes.  

Trip Completed: June 2021

Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop
Trip Reports - Moon River Loop

Trip Summary

Starting Point: Kapikog Lake Dam. (45.161361, -79.904486) Parking and launching are free since this is a public boat launch. Drop your canoe and gear off at Kapikog Lake and then drive back down to the Healey Lake parking lot to park your vehicle. Walk the 400m back to your canoe and portage your gear 70m to put in above the dam on Kapikog Lake.   

Ending Point: As it is a circuit route, the trip ends again on Healey Lake where you can take out on the dock at the public boat launch. It can be done in either direction, but it is recommended to go clockwise to follow the flow of the Moon River. 

Total Distance: 33 km

Duration: The trip can be done comfortably in 3 days, but could also be done in 2 long days. 

Difficulty: Novice, though there are ten portages to contend with. One of them is over 1200 meters long.  


This route is located in Muskoka cottage country about 15km west of of the town of Mactier. The address for the parking lot is: 100 Kapikog Dam Rd., The Archipelago, ON P0G 1G0 

Refer to the map below for starting point, portage and route information. 

Tradition: This route is on the traditional territory of the Anishinabewaki and Mississauga. (

Maps & Resources


Map: Regional Topographic Maps, Unlostify – Massasauga  (Unlostify

Campsite Reservations: N/A – All sites are first come, first serve.

Permits: Permits are not required on the suggested route. Crown Land camping regulations apply. If the trip is to be extended to include campsites in Massasauga Provincial Park, permits and campsite bookings are required. 

Outfitters & Shuttles

No shuttle is required as this is a circuit loop. This route has no whitewater that is runnable but some difficult portages. Therefore, a lightweight kevlar tripping canoe is recommended. 

Contact the following for canoe rentals:

  1. Algonquin Outfitters  (Huntsville – Algonquin Outfitters – Outdoor Adventure Store)
  2. Swift Canoe and Kayak (Rentals – Swift Canoe & Kayak Outdoor Centres

Trip Report

June 11th, 2021 was the first day that camping was allowed after the long third Covid lockdown. I had a few trips booked earlier to do some spring trout fishing in Algonquin, but they had been cancelled. I had done several local day trips so far, but I was itching to get out for a longer trip further afield, despite facing the nasty bug conditions in mid-June.  So, when it was announced on June 8th that camping would be allowed, I immediately made plans to depart on a trip for the weekend. 

My daughter’s Christmas present that year was a copy of Hap Wilson’s Canoeing and Hiking Wild Muskoka: An Eco-Adventure Guide. Hap raves about the beauty of the lower section of the Moon River as it empties into Georgian Bay. After reading his descriptions, I had to experience it for myself and I would soon find out that Hap understated how wonderfully scenic it is. 

What made this trip even more alluring was that it could be done as a loop according to the route displayed on the Unlostify Map of The Massasauga. After all, with only three days’ notice from the Ontario government that it would allow camping again, it was difficult to find a canoe partner willing to go at the drop of a hat in peak bug season. Alas, I would be adventuring solo, and the loop option allowed me to do this without arranging a shuttle.

Day 1: Kapikog Lake to Buckhorn Lake (9 km)

I arrived at Kapikog Lake Dam at around dinner time on Friday, armed with Hap’s book, the Unlostify map and prints of some online trip reports. It had just started raining and the weather forecast predicted that I would have a wet paddle ahead of me. It was unfortunately correct.

There is an 80m portage between Healey Lake and Kapikog Lake straight uphill over a giant culvert, the outlet of the dam above it. It didn’t look fun, so I drove up a cottage road for about 100m and unloaded my car at the bridge over the culvert. From there, it was less than 50 meters to the put-in. I subsequently drove my car back down to the parking lot below the culvert and hiked back up to my gear — easy, peasy.

Kapikog Lake was behaving nicely. Paddling in a steady drizzle is bittersweet. On one hand, there is no wind; on the other, it becomes a moist, mosquito rave party.

I arrived at the south end of the lake and easily found the take-out to Dunbar Lake (200 m portage). After about 100m, it comes to a cottage road. There, I turned right and followed the road for another 100m and then found a path down to the swamp…umm, I mean, lake. This was the worst part of the entire trip for mosquitoes, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned that the rest of the trip would be mosquito plague of biblical proportions. Thankfully, the bugs lessened dramatically as the trip progressed.

When I reached the 60m liftover at the south end of Dunbar to Juniper Lake, I got down on my knees and thanked the merciful canoe-tripping gods for the breeze that had suddenly sprung up, providing respite from the bugs and sweltering humidity. Okay, I didn’t do that, but I thought about it for a second. 

There was a campsite there that wasn’t half bad, but the water on both sides of it was pretty swampy. It did look like a prime spot for bass fishing though. I was two weeks too early for that, so I kept moving to avoid the biting critters. 

It was difficult to locate the 750m portage to Eagle Lake. There was no sign, blaze or flagging tape to behold. The south shore was a swampy mess, as was much of this section of the lake, and I simply went ashore at the only spot that allowed me to do so. From there, I ventured into the bush for about 30 metres or so and was able to spot a rock cairn next to a faint outline of a trail. Yippy-skippy, I had discovered the portage!

Not bringing a bear barrel on this trip and having my food stuffed in a smaller dry bag inside my large tripping bag, I decided to single-carry this longer portage in one shot. Thanks to the wonderful people who had placed rock cairns along the entire way, it was easy to follow. There were several little rocky ledges to negotiate along the trail, but other than that, it was fine.

The paddle through Eagle Lake was uneventful except that it started raining again. I hadn’t seen a single soul since the parking lot and I was enjoying the solace. The shores of Eagle Lake had some nice rocky bluffs on either side to camp on, but I was into the groove by that point and wanted to keep going. In the rain, it is better to paddle than it is to set up camp in my books.

The narrow strip of water leading to Vaughan Lake was interesting. The eastern side possessed a nice rocky shoreline and the plant life was plentiful and diverse. I noticed a lot of pitcher plants.

Vaughan Lake was pretty and sported two nice campsites on points across the channel from one another at the narrows where it opened up into a larger bay. One was occupied by three like-minded campers, but I waved and moved on, wanting something a little more private.

I followed a long, weedy, narrow channel at the south end of the lake after passing a hunt cabin on the eastern shore.

The 190m portage to Buckhorn Lake was at the base of a steep embankment at the southeastern tip of that channel. There were a couple of tin-can fishing boats there and I had to squeeze between them to take out. The portage was short but was tricky in a spot or two as it followed along the rocky ridge of the embankment. It led directly to a cabin. Not wanting to disturb anyone, I was able to put in quietly next to a small dock just to the right of the trail leading up to the cabin. 

I paddled to the island about halfway down the lake and was pleased to find the campsite there vacant. It appeared that I had Buckhorn Lake to myself! The site was an obvious fishing spot as there were three cleaning stations set up on it, but it was immaculately clean; not a speck of rubbish was to be found anywhere. Some old camping chairs that were carefully placed under a shelf and an old bucket were the only discarded items to be found.

It was nearing dusk and with that came even more mosquitoes. Luckily and unusual for June, there weren’t any blackflies. I quickly got my bug shelter and hammock in place. 

The humidity hadn’t broken yet, and I was positively drenched in sweat and bug repellent when I had finished. I jumped into the lake for a swim to wash off. It was glorious. The water was unseasonably warm for the second week of June; Ontario had experienced an incredibly hot spring. Just as I was emerging from the lake, the clouds broke and the sun came beaming in from its position low in the western sky. It was after 9 pm and that was my omen to finally get some food in my belly.

I tucked into a lovely dinner of pepper steak with gravy, salad, and naan bread, accompanied by a nice Czech pilsner. I capped off the night with a couple of gentle sniffs of whiskey in the bug shelter as I watched darkness engulf the lake and the mosquitoes fruitlessly trying to get at me. It was a fantastic end to an otherwise wet and buggy day. 

Campsite: It is a small, pine-clad island site in the middle of Buckhorn Lake that appears to be used often by the local fishing community. It has room for a number of tents. At the time, it had some fish-cleaning stations, but was clean. There is a steep, deep-water access to the site on the west side of the island which is suitable for swimming. There was an active beaver slapping his tail throughout the night on the east side of the island!

Day 2: Buckhorn Lake to Chimney Falls (10 km)

I wish I could say I woke up feeling refreshed but I can’t. I woke up at around 2 am and ended up tossing and turning most of the night after that. The active beaver slapping his tail just a few meters from my hammock might have had something to do with that. I heard the birds chirping and saw the first rays of light when I finally drifted off again. I got up at 9 am feeling quite tired and berated myself for not getting a better night’s sleep.

Every year, the first night out on my first trip of the season, it often takes a while to settle down and get used to being in the backcountry again. By the second night, after two days of being in the wilderness, I usually feel more in touch with my surroundings and I sleep like a baby. This trip was no exception.

It wasn’t until 10:30 am that my tired and sorry carcass departed the island and I moved closer to the Moon River.

I paddled to the south end of Buckhorn Lake, enjoying the sunshine that was absent the day prior. I noticed 3 or 4 aluminum fishing boats resting near and on a dilapidated, half-submerged dock at the southwest corner of the lake. There, I got out precariously on the dock, hoping it would hold my weight. It did somehow, and I loaded up for the long single-carry to the Moon River that headed south from the dock into the bush.

The portage from Buckhorn Lake to the Moon River (1200 m) was not a fun one. (Are any of them “fun”?) It was a wide ATV trail that was a giant bowl of mud. A high ridge was on the left and my map demonstrated that the ruins of a fire tower sat upon its crest. The trail had deep tire gashes all over it from the countless ATVs that run amok on it; with all the rain the previous day, it felt like I was negotiating a series of ponds. To make matters worse, after about 1100 meters, a side trail veered to the left, but I kept following the main trail as it turned right, running parallel to the river. I went a few hundred meters like this before realizing that this trail wasn’t going to meet the river but rather run the high embankment next to it. Knowing I had made a mistake, I was forced to backtrack and take the left turn that took me down to the river where I unloaded with a sigh of relief. I had turned a 1200m portage into about 1700 meters. Don’t do this! And did I mention that I had to stop twice on the portage, once to douse myself in Deet and then again to put on my bug jacket? There were a few friends along the way.

The put-in was at a grassy, tree-lined section of the river. I was surprised at how wide the river was at that point.

A few hundred meters downstream, I startled a large doe grazing on the south bank. It darted into the bush upon seeing me and then let out a couple of ominous and weird bleating noises that approximated an intoxicated goat. I thought about answering back but didn’t, just in case I wasn’t alone on the river. You never know who might be around the corner! 

After about 15 minutes of paddling, the river began to narrow, and the banks started getting a little rockier with more coniferous trees. I was happy to get back into the Canadian Shield terrain that I know and love. I almost immediately spotted the top of Curtain Chutes ahead.

Hap’s guidebook warns of the approach and mentions how canoeists have even died by accidentally going over the falls; but on this particular day in June, after a very early, hot and dry spring, the river was probably at mid-July water levels rather than the dangerous torrent of water that it would be shortly after ice-out. The falls looked benign. In fact, there was a father and his young son playing around in the water and on the rocks at the top of the falls.

I portaged on river-left after scraping my boat over some exposed ledges to get to the take-out. The portage rose up a steep bluff where there was a nice campsite in the woods and then descended to the river past the rapids. Upon completion, I rock-hopped back up the river along the bank to get a better look at the falls. It was hard to believe that the “falls” that I was seeing could result in death, but it just goes to show the extent of the change of flow that this river can possess. At that time, in lower water levels, it looked like a Class II rapid rather than a waterfall. 

On the stretch between Curtain Falls and the Twin Falls, I dawdled. I was enjoying the fantastic paddling conditions and fished quite a bit. I caught a couple of small bass and pike, but nothing to write home about. I caught up to a trio of young fellows and we small-talked a bit. They were also taking it slow while fishing and managed to haul in a large pike. They stopped at the campsite at the large widening of the river where it splits into two channels. There, they fried up their catch for a shore lunch. Jealous, I moved on, hoping to catch an eater myself.

The rocky banks of the river on that stretch were gorgeous with beautiful red and white pine trees riding the ridges.

By the time I arrived at the top of Twin Falls, it was about 2:30 and I was hungry. I had read in an online report that taking the Upper Twin Falls portage on the north branch of the river was a mistake because it leads to the impassable Chimney Falls — a veritable gorge. However, I still wanted to get a glimpse of the falls, so I paddled to the portage, left my boat and gear at the take-out, grabbed my food bag and hiked up past the campsite to have my lunch above the falls. It certainly was a great spot to enjoy a couple of wraps.

After lunch, I went back to my canoe and did the short paddle to the south branch portage that bypassed the Lower Twin Falls, the prettier of the two in my opinion.

The portage running to the right of these falls was a steep, rocky scramble that involved a bit of boulder and log hopping to get to the water. I had to tread very carefully there!

After fishing at the base of the falls for a while and losing a very large fish (sigh!), I eventually continued downstream and soon came to a couple of small rapids. The first was a small ledge that I easily ran, but the second required a liftover as it emptied into a beautiful little bay where the two channels of the river reconnected again. 

On the right bank was a nice, rocky slope that had a campsite at the top. Looking around at the stunning scenery, it took a microsecond to decide to spend the night there. Even though the fabled Moon Falls was just a further 10-minute paddle downriver, I knew the sites in that area would be busy on this first weekend after the lockdown. On the other hand, where I was, I had the entire area to myself with an awesome little campsite above a gurgling rapid just a stone’s throw away from Chimney Falls. Moreover, I had a beautiful little bay where the two channels met that would be excellent for fishing. I was in heaven!

I quickly set up camp and washed off the day’s sweat by jumping into the river below the small rapid and letting the current carry me downstream. Fun! Then, I got back into my canoe with my fishing gear and explored the area. Paddling below the Chimney and looking up into that gorge was something to behold.

I was not wrong about the fishing, either. Unfortunately, I had all my success after dinner when I was full, so I didn’t bother keeping any to put in my belly. I caught four nice pike and one beautiful yellow walleye. I even had a muskie smash my lure earlier in the day, but couldn’t keep that guy on the line. 

There was enough of a breeze to keep many of the mosquitoes away until dusk. I don’t think I saw a single blackfly. The deer flies were another story, however. Those vermin were out in abundance. It seemed that we were getting July in the second week of June.

I enjoyed a sip of whiskey in the bug shelter, venturing out only to catch the sun retiring over the trees to the west. I stayed up just long enough to catch the sliver of a yellow, crescent moon and unlike the night before, slept like a log in my hammock until 6:30 am. I am happy to report that those first-night camping jitters had been swept away down the Moon River. (a very cheesy end to the paragraph, I know, but it’s true!)

Campsite: The site is on a rocky slope that overlooks a small, ledge rapid as it drops into the pool. There is a small tent pad at the top of the ridge in the woods that can hold one, maybe two tents. Chimney Falls is short walk around the corner and can be heard easily on the site. It overlooks the pond where the two channels of the Moon River rejoin. There is another site in the woods on the south side of the pond that is in view of the site. At the time, it didn’t seem to be used often.

Day 3: Chimney Falls to Healey Lake (14km)

Dreaming of a walleye breakfast, I immediately returned to my fishing hole when I awoke. I guess I didn’t build enough good fishing karma by releasing that walleye the night before, because on my first cast I managed to tangle my line in a fairly horrendous way. I subsequently discovered that pine sap had fallen onto my reel in the night and when I cast it out, mayhem ensued. (Note to self: NEVER leave your rod under a pine tree again). By the time I dealt with my fishing travesty, it was time for bed again. Well, it didn’t take THAT long to sort out, but it pretty much erased my allotted time to fish for the morning, so I broke camp and got back on the water. I knew I would be paddling bigger water closer to Georgian Bay and wanted to take advantage of the morning lull before any big wind whipped up.

Just after 9 am, I was paddling the beautiful rocky channel leading to the top of Moon Falls. I could hear the falls well before I spotted them. I located the portage fairly close to the top of the falls on the right. There was a vacant campsite there, as well. Knowing there would be a lot to investigate and see on the return trip, I decided to double carry this one and explore the area on the return walk for my canoe. I’m glad I did because the falls and the steep rapids below them are quite special.

The falls drop over two sections; the first is quite dramatic and the second drop is a gurgling froth of twisting whitewater. The views from the top over the surrounding area is magnificent.

Moon Falls

Below the falls, it was tent city. Not quite as busy as Algonquin Park in August, but nearly. I was very grateful that I had made the decision to camp upriver in my own private oasis.

I moved west through the center of Arnold’s Bay and was back in motorboat territory again, unfortunately. The wind started to emerge a bit and I could smell the big lake. I find that the Great Lakes have a unique odour that lets one know BIG water is on hand. Every campsite on the northwest shore of this area was occupied.

Getting into Moon River Bay in very favourable conditions, I was firmly back in cottage country. That is a bit of a misnomer in this case because the structures on the eastern shore of the bay couldn’t really be classified as cottages — exquisite upscale waterfront mansions would be more appropriate. It might have been the first time I had seen security cameras installed at the ends of docks. I waved to them as I paddled past.

I found the narrow creek at the east end of the bay and paddled up it a couple of hundred meters. Just before the creek veered to the right, I exited my canoe next to a very creaky old dock and yanked it ashore on a grassy area covered in goose poop. I was bound for Healey Lake, or at least I thought I was!

Knowing this portage was close to 1000m, I strapped in my paddles and fishing rod to load up for the single carry. I walked up a dirt road toward a cottage and turned left on the road there. I couldn’t really see anywhere else to go so I simply followed the road thinking this was part of the portage. 

 I kept walking and looking for a path on the right that would be a portage to Healey Lake. Before I knew it, I had gone about 1000m, mostly uphill, and saw no signs of a portage, lake or anything else resembling part of a canoe route. I unloaded and consulted my GPS. I hadn’t realized, but I was moving due north away from the lake. I was going the wrong way!

After a few choice words to no one but the trees and the mosquitoes, I humped it back down to the cottage. I looked around. There was no sign of a portage anywhere. Again, I looked at my map and my GPS. Yes, I was in the correct place. I was at a loss.

I decided to try and consult the owner of the cottage, praying that Hacksaw the Doberman Pincer and his brothers were away at the kennel. Walking closer to the door, I called out several times. I couldn’t see a vehicle. When no one answered, I sat down for a moment, somewhat dejected with my head down. It meant I would either have to do a crazy bushwhack somewhere, but it seemed to be all private property, or paddle quite a distance further north into Wood’s Bay and Blackstone Harbour and circle back into Healey Lake. This would add a couple of hours to my trip. Then, I heard, “Are you looking for the portage?”

Standing before me was the owner of the cottage and what an interesting man he was. Sporting a long grey beard, this Gandalf-like man pointed me in the right direction. He apologized for not coming out sooner and pointing the way. He explained how he sold part of his land to the municipality so that the portage could still exist. Wow! He was so nice! We chatted a bit and he wished me well as I thanked him profusely. Perhaps, erecting a sign would solve a lot of problems, but I suspect the man might like to have a chat with the canoe adventurers passing through. 

So, if any readers of this blog are planning to do the route, here is how to find the portage in case the man isn’t home: From the creek where I took out, walk up toward the cottage, turn left and walk about 20 or 30 meters along the cottage road. On your right, you’ll see a grassy meadow between the forest and the man’s cottage property. Turn right into the meadow, following the forest tree line on your left. The trail is hardly discernible.  (Wear long pants on this port…a lot of long grass that might hold ticks.) When you run out of the meadow and come to the forest, the faint remains of a logging road appears in the forest. It is overgrown with grass, but wide and easy to follow to Healey Lake, where a lovely dock awaits you to put in above the dam! Easy Peasy! (Ya, sure, easy…I had turned an 800m portage into about 3000m of walking with a full pack and canoe. Doh!)

Healey Lake is a big cottage country lake. It took well over an hour to get back to Kapikog Bay at its south end. I found this part the most difficult to paddle anywhere on the trip because of the endless parade of massive motorboats blaring country music whilst towing screaming people on gigantic inner tubes. They seemed to care little about the fellow in the red canoe, worming his way up the shoreline and hanging on for dear life as their wakes wreaked havoc. Oh well, it didn’t bother me that much though. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon after a long lockdown. I was just happy to be on the water. I smiled and waved to them nonetheless. Why wouldn’t I? I was wrapping up one of the best weekend trips I’ve ever had.

I unloaded at the landing dock, immediately located my swimsuit at the top of my bag, and jumped in the water off the dock to christen the end of a fantastic trip.


I’m not sure if it was because I was itching to get out on the water after a long Covid lockdown, or if because I had incredible weather on Saturday or Sunday, but it was one of the more memorable weekend trips I have ever had. Sure, the mosquitoes were pretty bad in the middle of June, but I was prepared with the bug shelter when they became unbearable in the evenings. My bug shirt helped in this respect on the portages. 

The lower Moon River itself is certainly the highlight of the trip. The series of falls and chutes are a must-see as it finds its way dropping into Georgian Bay. Hap Wilson was right in his book. In the heart of cottage country is one of the most scenic and amazing trips a paddler can have over a weekend, and I was so grateful to have experienced it!

About The Author

Steve writes the Canoe Daddy website where he shares his canoe trip reports in an effort both to encourage others to try the routes themselves so that interest in the routes may help protect them from industrial exploitation and to just simply remember what happens on them! He has been an outdoor and adventure travel enthusiast all of his life. Born and raised in Peterborough, Ontario, Steve spent nearly 20 of his adult years living abroad and has traveled much of the world. Upon returning to his hometown in 2014, Steve began avidly canoe-tripping and hopes to see all of Canada one lake and river at a time. You can read about his canoe trips on his blog (

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  1. I’ve been planning to do this route the week heading into the may long weekend. Your accounts of the 1200m mud hole have me reconsidering this decision. Would you advise against?

    1. Hi Bill. It was muddy but not of the boot-sucking-sink-up-to-your-thighs type. I’ve definitely had more difficult ones in that respect. Just try to avoid the ATV tracks. Also, keep in mind I that did it the day after a heavy rain. What made it rough for me was the June mosquitoes and the fact that I missed my turn and extended it by a considerable distance. I certainly wouldn’t let that portage deter you from experiencing such an incredibly scenic route. Besides, if the port. is a little tough, you’ll have a good story to tell! 🙂 Hope that helps you with your decision. Steve