Missinaibi River: Brunswick Lake to Mattice (4 days / 100 km)

I realize the Missinaibi River is a very unconventional destination for such a short canoe trip. In 2017 I paddled the entire length of the river (a total of more than 500 km), but we’d had to skip over a detour to the beautiful Brunswick Lake. So when my friend suggested we make a quick canoe trip to the Missinaibi and start at Brunswick Lake, I was definitely keen.

This route begins at the southwest corner of Brunswick Lake, almost 100 km south of the town of Mattice and Highway 11. From there, the route goes north through the rest of the lake and then travels down the Brunswick River until meeting up with the Missinaibi River. Next, the route passes through a 70 km stretch of the Missinaibi and features a handful of rapids, a few portages and some beautiful campsites.

Although an unconventional canoe trip, we had a ton of fun, saw a ton of wildlife and no other people. We’d actually budgeted 6 days for the route, but finished the route in four days instead.

Trip Completed: June 2021

Trip Summary

Starting Point: Brunswick Lake Access Point

Ending Point: Mattice

Total Distance:

Duration: 4 days / 3 nights

Difficulty: Intermediate

Location

This route takes place in a section of Missinaibi River Provincial Park south of Highway 11. The nearest community is Mattice (which sits on the shores of the Missinaibi River), however, the nearest town is Kapuskasing (about an hour to the east).

Traditional Territory: This route takes place on the traditional territory of Moose Cree, Cree, Anishinabewaki and Michif Piyii (Métis) (source).

Maps & Resources

Guidebook: Missinaibi: Journey to the Northern Sky by Hap Wilson

Map: Chrismar Adventure Map – Missinaibi River 1: Missinaibi Lake to Mattice

Campsite Reservations: If you’re going to be camping your first night on Missinaibi Lake itself, you need to reserve your campsite through the Ontario Parks Reservation System.

Camping Permits: You need permits from Ontario Parks to be on the Missinaibi River. On the booking portal, click the last tab labelled “Backcountry Registration. The river is divided into 8 zones and you’re supposed to book a zone for each night of your trip (though the map isn’t clear and you may change your route due to weather or tippings, so don’t stress too much over it being exact).

You can pick up your permits at the main campground or there are a few local businesses that can issue your permit. Click here for more info.

Note that permits cannot be changed once completed, so be confident in your dates before paying.

Outfitters & Shuttles

Outfitter: We had all of our own gear so we did not need to use an outfitter for gear rentals.

Shuttle: We had Missinaibi Outfitters help shuttle us to Brunswick Lake. We met the owner at their building in Mattice and then drove our vehicle to the put-in. Once we launched the canoe, he drove our vehicle back to Mattice and stored it in a small, fenced-in parking lot. The shuttle to the river took about 2 hours.

Trip Report

Day 1: Put In to Brunswick Lake (3 km)

Our day started bright and early; we departed from Orillia at 5:00 am and drove all the way to Mattice. We made a few bathroom, gas and food stops, but still made it to Mattice around 2:00 pm. We drove straight to the Missinaibi Outfitters homebase, where we met the owner who would be helping us with our shuttle.

Kris, the owner and I drove Kris’ car to the put-in on the southeast corner of Brunswick Lake. This put in is about 2 hour drive from Mattice, largely on gravel logging roads in somewhat decent condition. We arrived at the put-in, which had a wide gravel boat launch. It’s a popular fishing spot, so the boat launch can accommodate small motorboats in addition to canoes. There was a group of locals taking out at the same time; they and the owner of the outfitter commented on how ambitious our route appears (“Here to Mattice in 6 days? Good luck!”).

Once we launched the canoe in the waters of Brunswick Lake, the outfitter began the drive back to Mattice. Missinaibi Outfitters has a locked, fenced-in parking lot with motion sensor to keep cars safe while paddlers are on the river.

It was so nice to be back on the water! The first kilometre or so was through a creek that brought us to the actual lake. The water was calm and glassy, the trees short and spiney. We didn’t plan on paddling far on the first day, as we had only started at 4:00 pm.

There are two island campsites about 3 km from the put-in. We paddled to the campsite on the larger island, and it looked nice, but it was pretty far in the forest and we thought bugs might be an issue. The campsite on the smaller island was much nicer.

Campsite: Brunswick Lake around km 420. This campsite was lovely. There was a large expanse of granite rock to pull up the canoe and another one that led to an excellent swim spot. The area around the fire pit and the tent spots was surrounded by trees, but open enough that we got some breeze and the bug weren’t too bad. There was even a table.

The only downside was that it’s obvious the campsite is used by locals for cleaning and cooking fish. There were a few fish bones at the take-out and some garbage in the forest. The thunderbox was not very nice.

After rehydrating a big bowl of chili for dinner, we took the canoe out for a little sunset paddle and tried catching some fish. Brunswick Lake is the best place along the Missinaibi River for fishing. However we were not successful in catching anything (although we weren’t exactly trying that hard).

Day 2: Brunswick Lake to Pond Falls (41 km)

We awoke to a fairly overcast day. We were on the water quite early (8:30 ish) after each finishing a bowl of oatmeal. We began the day by paddling northeast on Brunswick Lake.

The bottom half of Brunswick Lake is sort of shaped like an inverted W. Most paddlers stick to the east side of the lake, since the portage from the Missinaibi River ends of the bottom east corner of the river. Since we’d started on the bottom west corner, we were paddling a portion of the lake not normally paddled. There were some beautiful islands and we saw some fishing boats darting by.

The top half of Brunswick Lake is a single long stretch and on the west side is the historic site of Brunswick House, an HBC Trading Post operated in the 19th century. We were traveling with a map from 2001 and a guidebook from the 1990s, both of which suggested that there were still remains (artifacts, building foundations, ovens, trenches) from Brunswick House. After over an hour of searching, we finally found what would have been the site (we later learned that all of the remains had been removed).

From there we continued north to where Brunswick Lake flows into Brunswick River. We actually made a wrong turn first, accidentally going down a wide creek a little southeast of the river – so be mindful of that! Brunswick River is about 15 km total and can be quite winding. The current is calm, but noticeable, and there are a few CI rapids along the way. All of the rapids were short and could be scouted from the boat, however, a few had rocks that need to be avoided so stay alert.

About halfway down the river we rounded a bend and saw a moose on the river bank. We slowly floated by while I snapped a bunch of photos. The final feature on the Brunswick River is Pike Falls, which both the guidebook and map said was a mandotary portage. We scouted the falls nonetheless and determined that we could safely line / lift over on the River Right side.

Shortly after Pike Falls, Brunswick River met the Missinaibi River and I was reunited with the river I’d be daydreaming about for years. There’s this amazing energy on the Missinaibi River and I felt this sense of energized calmness as soon as we were on the river.

Above five kilometres downriver was Two Portage Falls (200 m), where we’d initially planned on camping. The top of Two Portage Falls is a large ledge and needs to be portaged, and the bottom of the rapid can either be portaged or paddled depending on your ability. I stayed at one of the two campsites the site on my previous trip.

The campsites were way worse than I remembered them being: small, buggy with some discarded camping gear. We both felt pretty good and decided we could push on to the next campsite. We portaged the canoe and gear over both sections of Two Portage Falls.

Once we were in our canoe again, we looked at the shoreline again and saw a female moose. Popping out of the trees we could also see a bit of a calf. They watched us for a moment before walking into the forest. I’d been on the Missinaibi River for less than 24 hours and had already seen more wildlife than on my previous 22 day trip!

From Two Portage Falls, it took us a little under an hour to get to Pond Falls (200 m). Pond Falls is a short, but large, rocky waterfall with a CII rapid after it and is best portaged.

Campsite: The campsite at Pond Falls (km 379) was really nice. There was plenty of space for 3-4 tents, the fire pit was nice and there was tons of dry wood. There was also a nice swim spot above the falls, although the rocks were sharp on my feet. We made Pad Thai and chocolate brownie for dinner, and just as we were done cleaning it started to rain lightly.

Day 3: Pond Falls to Upper Albany Rapids (20 km)

We woke up around 7:00 am to light rain, which was disappointing as we hadn’t set up a tarp the night before. We quickly (but unenthusiastically) packed our sleeping gear and set up a tarp. Kris made breakfast while I took down the tent. Although the rain was light, it’s was really cold. We’d later learn that it snowed in Mattice this day.

Kris had already portaged the canoe to the end of Pond Falls the day before, so each of us grabbed a barrel and we walked to the end of the portage. Directly after Pond Falls was Devil Cap Falls, which has a 125 m portage that we completed in a speedy 20 minutes.

Note: In Hap Wilson’s guidebook, he labelled Devil Shoepack Rapids as 1.5 km long. The Adventure Map has marked Devil Shoepack Rapids as a short rapid, but it is directly followed by Devil Base Rapids and Devil Base Falls. Same thing, different names. Below I’ve used the Adventure Map names.

Devil Cap Falls directly flows into Devil Shoepack Rapids and Devil Base Rapids, a CI-CII tech that can be a little tricky. We did a really short scout before hopping back into the canoes and eddy-hopped on the River Right side, breaking the rapid into sections.

Shortly after was Devil Base Falls, which is really more of an inconvenient and rocky ledge. We paddled to a rocky outcrop in the middle of the river and lined the boat around it, lifting the canoe over a few rocks on the downstream side. Anything to avoid a portage!

Next, we had Z-drag Rapids. This is a real sneak because there is no portage trail, so you expect the rapid to be fairly tame. Do not be fooled! We approached from the River Right side where there was a large, dark V. The current picks up quickly and there is a sudden, large rock directly in front of the V with a rocky ledge on the River Right side. Although very short, this rapid required a tight and speedy manoeuvre to avoid the rocks.

After Z-drag Rapids, things got weird. The bends in the river are quite gradual and we couldn’t really tell how fast we were moving with the current, gnarly headwind and increasing rain. We kept waiting to reach Wilson Bend, which was supposed to be a swift with a sharp bend afterwards and would be a good marker, but we didn’t encounter any swifts.

At this point, I was becoming unbearably cold and mildly hypothermic. My rain jacket definitely should have been re-waterproofed and my fleece sweater was soaked underneath. If I stopped paddling I would shiver aggressively and I was losing dexterity in my hands.

We estimated we were a little upriver to Upper Albany Rapids, meaning there was no campsite for at least another 20 km. We pulled to the side of the river and I changed my base layers and added a dry fleece. That’s when Kris realized the pit zips on my rain jacket were also unzipped! Oh my goodness, rookie mistake. Anyways, with the pit zips closed and the additional fleece, my core body temperature was beginning to recover. I was still dreading the distance between us and the next campsite.

But then things changed. I was heads-down in the bow paddling into the wind and the rain when Kris called out “A campsite!”. Sure enough, there was a campsite on River Left, unmarked on either map. We were in the middle of a large boulder garden with minimal current and figured we must be inside an underwhelming Upper Albany Rapids. Yet, there was no campsite in the area labelled on either map. We also didn’t recall passing Mattawitchawan River, which flows into the Missinaibi River on the left, just upstream to Upper Albany Rapids.

Campsite: This mysterious, heaven-sent campsite was definitely a proper campsite. It had a fire pit, some (old) trash from previous occupants and a thunderbox. My estimation puts the location of the campsite around km 359, however, I can’t be sure because we weren’t carrying a GPS.

Despite it only being 2 pm, we were both ready to make camp. We quickly set up the tent, changed into warm clothing, ate a wrap and took an hour-long nap in the tent. When we woke up, the rain had stopped and there was an incredible rainbow on the other side of the river. I managed to build a fire with wet wood (!) and we cooked up a big pot of pasta while watching a stand-up comedy show I’d downloaded. That night we had a beautiful sunset and I even went swimming.

Day 4: Upper Albany Rapids to Mattice (36 km)

We woke up around 7:00 am the next morning and thankfully there were blue skies and only a few clouds. We made Egg McMuffins and took our time breaking down camp. We had 37 km to get to Mattice and could either arrive in town that day or break it into two days, depending on how we felt.

Shortly after leaving the campsite, we had a CI rapid. Although the current wasn’t strong, there were a lot of protruding rocks to avoid, some of which could tip a novice canoe group if they got broadside. I figured this was Lower Albany Rapids.

We had a long stretch of calm water before arriving at the next rapids, which very clearly was Big Beaver Rapids (450 m portage). We did a quick scout to see if it was runnable… and it definitely isn’t! It’s really more of a chute / small waterfall and is absolutely beautiful. The rapid itself was beautiful, and there were so many wildflowers at the campsite and along the portage trail. The campsite was small and had a fair amount of trash around it, and there’s an ATV trail leading to the campsite, so we assume it’s frequented by locals.

Next, we had Little Beaver Rapids which was a short and technical CII rapid we paddled. There are some big waves and exposed rocks you need to be mindful of, and there is a 70 m portage trail if it’s beyond your abilities.

We paddled another 2 km or so to Sharp Rock Rapids (65 m portage), which is another mandatory portage. The portage trail looks like it might trace the shoreline over super sharp exposed rocks. This is not the trail! The actual trail is directly above the canoe landing (look up and you’ll see it) and requires a few large steps to reach. Once those few steps are done, the rest of the trail is straightforward.

After another 6 km, we arrived at Glassy Falls (200 m portage), the final major feature on the river before Mattice. Photos always make Glassy Falls look pretty small, so some people (myself included) approach Glassy Falls thinking “Maybe we can line it?”. You cannot. It’s actually really tall and the current is aggressive.

Glassy Falls is home to the last campsite before Mattice. The falls are beautiful, but the campsite is only okay and there is a lot of sand (and I hate sand0. Plus, I think this campsite is also accessible by ATV, because we noticed some trash that wouldn’t have been brought in by canoeists. It was around 2:30 pm and we had already decided we were going to push it to Mattice. We had just enough cell service to call the outfitter and let him know we’d be arriving in a few hours.

The next 15 km to Mattice were largely uneventful, however, we did have stunning blue skies and a mild tailwind. There are some CIs and swifts along the way, including the short Crow Rapids. The routes were a little technical, but only because you wanted to move around the river to avoid bottoming out in some shallow sections. We saw two bald eagles fighting – talons out – which was pretty spectacular.

We arrived in Mattice (km 323) at 5:30 pm, much to the surprise of our outfitter. Our ‘ambitious’ 6-day route had been completed in four days. The outfitter drove Kris’ truck to the landing in Mattice, and we loaded the boat onto the truck. By 6:15 pm we were ready to leave Mattice and stopped for burgers and fries in Kapuskasing. Rather than driving home, we decided to explore a little crown land camping over the next two days.

Trip Video

Coming soon!

Reflections

Overall, we had a fantastic trip and loved being on the river. We are a few takeaways / observations made along the way.

Weird route choice: There are three amazing things about the Missinaibi: the numerous amazing rapids of the Upper Missinaibi, the gorgeous waterfalls and gorgeous of the Lower Missinaibi, and the expansive beauty of the Moose River. This route didn’t go through ANY of that! We had less than a week that we could take off work, I really wanted to see Brunswick Lake since I’d skipped it on my last trip, and Kris wanted anything on the Missinaibi (though she’ll definitely be back to do more of it). So in all honesty, although we had an amazing time on the river, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this route to anyone else.

I under-estimated our speed: Since we were arriving late on Day 1 and would have had a long drive home on Day 6, I had budgeted 5-10 km for each of those days, leaving 80-90 km to be paddled over four days. 20-25 km per day? Sounds reasonable to me. Wow, big mistake. Kris and I had never paddled together, nor had we done many trips with just one other person. It’s amazing how much distance we could casually cover in a day when it was only one canoe and we both were strong paddlers.

Systematic portaging: We did this trip with one canoe, two barrels and two personal 5 L dry sacks. For every single portage, we carried the gear in the same way, playing to our strengths and eliminating any time spent discussing what we would do. Kris absolutely hates carrying barrels, and I’m not too fond of carrying canoes. So I would carry one barrel and the paddlers, while Kris carried the canoe behind me. I could double back really quickly and grab the second barrel and dry sacks, while Kris put the boat in the water and loaded the first barrel. (Note: Our barrels were really heavy so we didn’t try carrying both a barrel and whitewater canoe at the same time.)

Long days: Even though we were only eight hours north of Orillia, it was amazing how long the days were. The sunrise was before 5 am and it didn’t get dark until 11 pm. This means that you could have really long paddling days if you wanted.

Pack warmly: That said, being further north also means it can be much colder. Mattice got light snowfall in June! Pack an extra fleece and bring a warm sleeping bag – it will get chilly at night! My sleeping bag is rated to -9C and I rarely wear full base layers inside it. Yet on this trip, I found myself wearing fleece pants and a fleece sweater.

Mysterious campsite: There is an unmarked campsite somewhere around Upper Albany Rapids. Though perhaps I have a guardian angel who was looking down thinking “this drenched shell of a person needs a campsite or she will crumble” and then miraculously conquered one out of the forest. That, or the maps need an update.

Gallery


Author Bio

Mikaela is the voice behind Voyageur Tripper, an outdoor adventure blog that enables people to improve their skills in the backcountry. She previously worked as a wilderness guide, leading trips in Ontario, Quebec and Nunavut. Mikaela is also the founder and operator of Trip Reports.

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