Missinaibi River: Missinaibi Lake to Moosonee (22 days / 524 km)
The Missinaibi River is a Canadian Heritage River and one of the most iconic rivers in the country. The Upper Missinaibi weaves through the Canadian Shield, with dozens of whitewater rapids to paddle and several canyons and chutes to portage around. The Lower Missinaibi flows straight until it joins the Moose River, where it carves through Hudson Bay Lowlands, gradually widening and it reaches James Bay.
And as the shortest route between Lake Superior and James Bay, the river is full of history, as it was used for transportation for several First Nations and the fur trade.
This trip report covers the entire length of the Missinaibi River – from Missinaibi Lake all the way to the town of Moosonee, located where the river meets James Bay. We completed it over 22 days, however, our route probably could have been done 18 days.
Trip Completed: July 2017
Starting Point: Lake Mattice
Ending Point: Moosonee
Total Distance: 524 km
Duration: 22 days
The Missinaibi River begins at Missinaibi Lake, which is about 60 km northeast of Wawa and the Trans-Canada Highway. It flows north and northeast, passing underneath Highway 11. After more than 400 kilometres, the Missinaibi flows into the Moose River and ultimately empties in the James Bay.
Note: I’ve done my best to mark the general area of the campsites to illustrate our route, though please refer to the map or guidebook for the exact location of campsites.
Traditional Territory: The Missinaibi River passes through the traditional territory of Anishinabewaki, Abitibiwinni Aki, Michif Piyii (Métis), Cree and Moose Cree (source).
Maps & Resources
Guidebook: Definitely get a copy of Missinaibi: Journey to the Northern Sky by Hap Wilson. He has illustrations and detailed descriptions of every rapid, plus labels for where all the campsites are.
Maps: Seeing as this is a 524 km long river, there were a lot of maps. We photocopied the sections of the map that had the Missinaibi River onto 8.5 x 11 paper. Then we labelled the order and laminated each one. We still brought all the maps but kept them in a bag in my barrel to keep them safe. Here are the maps we referenced:
- 42 B/5 Missinaibi Lake
- 42 B/6 Makonie Lake
- 42 B/11 Peterbell
- 42 B/14 Ericson Creek
- 42 G/3 Opasatika
- 42 G/6 Rock River
- 42 G/11 Mattice
- 42 G/14 Shannon Lake
- 42 J/3 Thunderhouse Falls
- 42 J/2 Friday Creek
- 42 J/7 Soweska River
- 42 J/8 Wawa Lakes
- 42 J/9 McCuaig Creek
- 42 I/12 Pickett Creek
- 42 I/11 Onakawana
- 42 I/14 Moose River
- 42 P/3 Cheepash River
- 42 P/2 Bushy Island
- 42 P/7 Moosonee
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
To the Put In: We were dropped off at our starting point at Barclay Bay campground on Missinaibi Lake. The road was bumpy but could accommodate a 16-person passenger van pulling a trailer with 5 canoes.
From the Takeout: In Moosonee, we loaded our canoes into a freight car on the Polar Bear Express and took the train to Cochrane. I believe when you book your seats on the train there is an option to pay for gear transport too, however, give them a call if you are unsure. The train goes to Cochrane, where we were picked up.
We didn’t need an outfitter for this trip, since the gear and transportation were provided by the camp I was working for. However, if doing the trip yourself I would definitely suggest working with an outfitter to figure out how you will shuttle your gear to / from the river. There are a few outfitters that serve the Missinaibi River, however, I am most familiar with MHO Adventures.
The following trip report covers what we paddled / portaged each day in order to make it from Missinaibi Lake to Moosonee in 22 days. We took 2 rest days and had an extra two nights near Moosonee before leaving. I think 18 days is the fastest our route could be comfortably done.
We built our route plan on a spreadsheet, including details on the map coordinates of where we started, ended and the emergency access route. You can view our route plan here.
However, as with most backcountry outings, the trip did not go exactly according to plan. The following trip report is what exactly ended up happening, with as much detail as I have. There are a few places where we camped at unmarked sites or random gravel bars, so the exact locations of those are less known.
Day 1: Barclay Bay Campground to Quittagene Rapids (13 km)
Driving to the Put In: It was a long drive from Bala to the put in at Barclay Bay Campground in Missinaibi River Provincial Park. All through the drive, we had gorgeous blue skies, but as soon as we reached the park the sky turned dark and ominous.
Put In: Barclay Bay Campground. The put in was a pebbly beach, and wide enough for all our canoes.
Paddling to the River: We had about 14 km to paddle on the first day. Missinaibi Lake is pretty big and got a little windy / wavy at times. Once we were on the river it was narrow enough that the wind didn’t really matter.
There were no rapids or portages on the first day.
Campsite: We camped at a site directly upriver to Quittagene Rapids (around km 519). The campsite was fine; the fire pit was good, but the site had poor water access and tent spots.
Day 2: Quittagene Rapids to Long Rapids (13 km)
Since this was our first day with rapids and we wanted to do a few lessons on scouting, we didn’t plan for much distance on the first day. We didn’t leave the site until 11:00 am or so.
Quittagene Rapids (CII): This is a pretty chill CII, with a large wave train toward the end. There are some submerged vertical logs in the water (maybe supports for an old bridge?), so be careful not to hit those.
Cedar Rapids (CI) and Long Rapids (CI): These rapids are both straightforward. Cedar Rapids is only a couple hundred metres long and has a very obvious line; Long Rapids goes on for a full kilometre and has more rocks, but still an easy line.
In between the rapids the water was calm, although there was clearly some current.
Rapids / Portages Summary:
- Quittagene Rapids (CII or 185 m portage)
- Cedar Rapids (CI)
- Long Rapids (CI)
Campsite: We camped at a site downriver to Long Rapids, on river right and near Flying Post Creek (km 506). This was a nice campsite, with enough tent spots for four tents and a decent fire pit. The put in, on the other hand, was muddy and we found a few leeches – so swimming here.
Day 3: Long Rapids to Swamp Rapids (28 km)
On the third day, we covered about 25 km, with two notable sets of rapids.
Sun Rapids (CII): Sun Rapids extended about half a kilometre, and in deep water, it was easy to paddle (though there’s a big rock in the middle, so consult the map and scout).
Barrel Rapids (CII): Barrel Rapids had a few obstacles to avoid. There is an option to portage around the top of the rapid but with good water, it’s pretty straightforward.
A few kilometres after Barrel Rapids is Peterbell and a bridge for the Canadian National Railway line. We pulled off before the bridge on river left and climbed up a little hill (be careful to avoid the train tracks). There was an abandoned mill and Hudson Bay Company trading post here.
According to Hap’s guidebook, Peterbell Marsh is the most ecologically sensitive area on the entire Missinaibi River, and is an important breeding and feeding ground for several species – including moose! To my disappointment, however, we saw exactly zero moose.
There are a couple of nice campsites around here – one just before the bridge on river left, and one ~5 km after the bridge on river right.
Rapids / Portages Summary
- Sun Rapids (CII or a 450 m portage)
- Barrel Rapids (CII)
Campsite: We camped at a site just upriver to Swamp Rapids, on river right (km 481). The campsite was fine, but it would have been nicer to stay at one of the sites around Peterbell. The tent spots were fine and there was an okay fire pit, but there wasn’t a ton of space or a nice view.
Day 4: Swamp Portage Rapids to Greenhill Rapids (20 km)
This day started off well, though we knew it would be a long one since there were so many sets. Swamp Rapids is a little tricky, though there’s a 200 m portage to avoid it. Next is a series of four short CI / CI Tech.
Note: According to my notes, we ran Swamp Rapids. Though looking at the route now, it looks like there is a small ledge which isn’t something I’d normally paddle. Make sure you scout and paddle to your abilities!
Allan Island (175 m portage): Allan Island is next and quite interesting. The river flows narrowly on the other side of it, creating two possible routes. If you take the river left channel, there is a chute that requires a 310 m portage and has a potential campsite. On the river right channel, there is a 175 m and an easy CI. We opted for the river right channel.
Wavy Rapids (CII): After Allan Island is Wavy Rapids which is a lot of fun. It is a wave train with humongous standing waves that could easily swamp a boat. There are no obstacles directly downriver though, so a low consequence tip.
Greenhill Rapids (CIII): This is a 1.4 km long rapid that starts as a CIII, then becomes a CII and finally ends with a small CI / swift. The portage trail wasn’t great (waist-deep mud in some parts – I got stuck scouting it) so we elected to run the rapid, scouting it in sections. Unless you are an expert, don’t do this; in hindsight, we should have portaged it. We had one boat tip at the top and another tip in the middle; one boat got pinned and we had people on both sides of the rapids. The whole thing ended up taking six hours.
Note: Do not run Greenhill Rapids. I have done a bunch of paddling in my life and this is the only rapid I regret attempting.
Rapids / Portages Summary
- Swamp Rapids (CII)
- Deadwood Rapids (CII)
- Allan Island (175 m portage)
- Wavy Rapids (CII)
- Greenhill Rapids (CIII or 1400 m portage)
Campsite: We were exhausted after our huge rescue and needed to get off the river, so we camped at the site directly downriver to Greenhill Rapids (at km 461). The campsite was at the end of the portage trail and was pretty nice. It had a lot of flat tent spots and a good fire pit. It was also very forested, so there wasn’t much of a view.
4/5, great space for a rest day with plenty of space, few bugs, very open space (wasn’t the intended campsite, but considering how late it was we camped five km behind schedule)
Day 5: Rest Day at Greenhill Rapids (0 km)
Everyone needed a break after the tips and long rescue from the day before, so we took an impromptu rest day.
Here the trip deviated from what was written in our original route plan. We could no longer afford the time to make a detour to Brunswick Lake and take our rest day there.
Campsite: Same as the above.
Day 6: Greenhill Rapids to km 422 (37 km)
To make up for the rest day, we had a long day of paddling ahead of us. We left camp around 9:00 am and didn’t make it to camp until after 8:00 pm (thank goodness for long summer days).
Shortly after Greenhill Rapids, there are two more CII rapids to paddle: Calf Rapids and St. Peter’s Rapids.
Calf Rapids (CII): Calf Rapids was mainly just a rock garden; definitely possible to pin a boat if you got broadside, but manageable if you stay straight.
St. Peter’s Rapids (CII): St. Peter’s Rapids was much shorter, but had quite a steep drop and a couple of big waves. Some people in the group elected to walk the portage, so I paddled multiple boats down this one.
There were also some CIs scattered on either side of the rapids, just to keep you on your toes.
Split Rock Falls (275 m portage): After St. Peter’s Rapids, there is about 4 km to Split Rock Falls, which is a definite portage and where we took lunch. It’s a really beautiful spot and one of the most iconic rapids on the river.
Thunder Falls (185 m portage): Another ~10 km we arrived at Thunder Falls (not to be confused with Thunderhouse Falls, which is further downriver). This required a small 185 m portage on river right. There is a small pool directly downriver to Thunder Falls, and then there is a short CII that can either be paddled or portaged.
After Thunder Falls, the Missinaibi River flows about 50 km without any rapids or portages. We paddled another 17 km before calling it a day.
Rapids / Portages Summary
- Calf Rapids (CII)
- St. Peter’s Rapids (CII or 75 m portage)
- Split Rock Falls (275 m portage)
- Thunder Falls (185 m portage)
Campsite: We stayed at a campsite on river right around km 422. It was an okay campsite, with sizeable and grassy tent spots.
Note: There are three campsites at Thunder Falls (km 440). The first is off of the 185 m portage and apparently not that nice. The second and third are on opposite sides of the pool, directly above the CII. This would have been a better place to camp if we hadn’t needed to make up for our impromptu rest day.
Day 7: Camp at km 422 to Two Portage Falls (40 km)
There were no features between our starting campsite at km 422 and our destination campsite at Two Portage Falls. There is a small CI around km 415, but then nothing until another CI around km 395. Without needing to stop to portage or scout, we moved quite quickly, paddling around 4.5 km per hour (there isn’t much current here).
Around km 394 we passed under a bridge for an old logging road. It looked pretty raggedy, so I’m not sure if it’s still in use. Just after km 390, the Brunswick River meets with the Missinaibi River.
Campsite: We camped at the first campsite at Two Portages Falls km 384. It’s located at the start of the portage trail on river right. The campsite was very large and had some logs around the fire pit, making it great for cooking. It was flat, so easy to find tent spots. It’s covered in trees, meaning in July it was very buggy.
Note: There are very few campsites in this section of the Missinaibi River. Between Thunder Falls at km 440 and Two Portages Falls at km 384, there are only two campsites (and neither of them is that nice).
Day 8: Two Portage Falls to Bushwacking at km 355 (30 km)
Two Portage Falls (200 m): We started the day by completing the portage around Two Portage Falls. If you’re an experienced paddler, you could portage only around the ledge at the top of Two Portage Falls (75 m), and then paddle the CII. It was a little too technical for us, with large boulders at the end and a sharp turn, so we portage the full 200 m.
Next, we had a series of rapids to paddle and portage around.
Pond Falls (200 m portage) and Devil Cap Falls (125 m portage): Pond Falls and Devil Cap Falls are definitely portages; Pond Falls is a high volume CIV and Devil Cap Falls is a short but serious ledge. We portaged both. Pond Falls had a bad put in and Devil Cap was steep but other than that they were easy.
Devil Shoepack Rapids (590 m portage): This one is directly downriver to Devil Cap Falls. A more skilled group of paddlers could paddle this rapid, however, there are some large boulders and a small ledge at one point; it’s a very technical rapid. We portaged 590 m around it instead.
Then we encountered a short, unnamed CII Tech with a ledge, however high volume on River Right meant we could paddle down it. There’s apparently an excellent campsite here (and, as it turned out, the last campsite for a while…).
The next few rapids we were able to paddle with some scouting. Z-Drag Rapids (CII) has a lot of obstacles but is short and manageable as long as you keep the bow pointing downriver. Upper Albany Rapids (CI) is really just a series of swifts. Lower Albany Rapids (CII) can be rocky in low water but is overall pretty straightforward.
Rapids / Portages Summary
- Pond Falls (CIII or 200 m portage)
- Devil Cap Falls (125 m portage)
- Devil Shoepack Rapds (CII Tech or 590 m portage)
- Unnamed Rapids (CII or 185 m portage)
- Z-Drag Rapids (CII)
- Upper Albany Rapids (CI)
- Lower Albany Rapids (CII)
Campsite: There were no campsites between Z-Drag Rapids and Big Beaver Rapids. We didn’t make it to Big Beaver Rapids before we had to call it a day, so we ended up bushwacking on the side of the river (I think we were around km 355, but that’s a guess). There was a grassy bank and that flat-ish. Anyways, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Day 9: Bushwhacking Site to Rock Island Rapids (26 km)
This was one of our longest days of paddling. We had to make a quick stop in Mattice to meet up with another group to exchange canoes (we had a broken yoke on one of ours) and their shuttle was coming at 2 pm. So we were on the water at sunrise (5:45 am, to be exact) and paddled almost nonstop to Mattice.
Big Beaver Rapids (450 m portage): First was Big Beaver Rapids, which requires a 450 m portage. There is the possibility to line the canoes on River Left, however, we just portaged instead. The portage was very steep.
Little Beaver Rapids (CII Tech): Directly downriver was Little Beaver Rapids, which is rocky and had a large boulder to watch out for, but overall was fine to paddle (especially with decent water levels).
Sharp Rock Rapids (65 m portage): A kilometres further is Sharp Rock Rapids, which is a CIV chute and thus a definite portage (65 m). The portage itself is super easy, but a few sections require careful footing.
Glassy Falls 175 m portage): Next was Glassy Falls, which required a portage of 175 m. Glassy Falls is really pretty, and we took a quick swim and snack break here.
After Glassy Falls, there was about 17 km to Mattice. During this stretch, there were no rapids or portages, just a few rocky CIs and swifts.
Mattice: In Mattice, we met up with the other group and swapped canoes. We also made a customary stop at the variety store and bought ice cream sandwiches and chips. After almost ten days of trip food, it was so exciting.
Rock Island Rapids (580 m portage): After Mattice, we had about 5 km to Rock Island Rapids. This is a very technical CII-CIII rapid, with a 580 m portage on River Right. We portaged to the end of the rapid, where there were two campsites.
Rapids / Portages Summary
- Big Beaver Rapids (450 m portage)
- Little Beaver Rapids (CII Tech or 70 m portage)
- Sharp Rock Rapids (65 m portage)
- Glassy Falls (200 m portage)
- Rock Island Rapids (580 m portage)
Campsite: We stayed at a campsite just a couple of kilometres downriver to Mattice, on the River Right side of Rock Island Rapids (km 316). It was alright. It had that dusty soil that makes your hands and feet feel dry and there was an obscene amount of bugs. My notes say “difficult take out, not a great place to get water” – I’m not sure what exactly that means, so interpret it as you will!
Note: After Rock Island, there is a long stretch of river with lots of rapids, but without any campsites. Plan accordingly.
Day 10: Rock Island Rapids to Isabell Island (27 km)
Between Rock Island Rapids and Isabell Island, there are quite a few rapids, only one of which required portaging.
Black Feather Rapids (CI-CII): Following Rock Island Rapids, there is about 10 km of paddling before Black Feather Rapids (CI – CII), which has a 445 m portage and four campsites. We were able to paddle the rapid, though it was a bumpy, rocky time.
Beam Rapids (CII): Then there were a series of swifts / CI rapids before Beam Rapids (CII). There is also a 100 m portage on River Right that you can use to avoid the rapid.
Kettle Falls (225 m portage): Shortly after Beam Rapids was Kettle Falls, which requires a 225-300 m portage on River Left, depending on where you choose to put in.
Following Kettle Falls, we had about 7 km of paddling until we reached Isabel Island.
Campsite: We camped on Isabell Island, which sounded like it was going to be gorgeous but ended up only being okay. The campsite is in a grassy area surrounded by tall grasses and trees. It was a little tight for all of our tents, however for a smaller group is would be fine. The downside was that grass = bugs and bugs = unimpressed Mikaela. Also, there was no good swim spot. On the bright side, we reached site early and cooked up a really delicious dinner and even made S’mores Pie.
Day 11: Isabel Island to Thunderhouse Falls (25 km)
We left Isabel Island early and began paddling around Alice Island, a huge island the Missinaibi narrowly passing by on either side. We opted for the River Right channel around the island.
For the most part, there were no features other than CI rapids until Thunderhouse Falls. The exception was a short, unnamed CII rapid around km 269. We stuck to the middle and avoided some rocks with ease.
Thunderhouse Falls (1,645 m portage): Then it was only a few kilometres to Thunderhouse Falls, the most notorious feature on the Missinaibi. This waterfall was made famous by the government’s topographic map incorrectly labelling the portage, leading to a number of deaths up until 1993, when the correction was made.
The portage is on River Left, and you will see signs warning you to get to the left side and proceed with caution. There are some strong swifts upriver to Thunderhouse Falls, which makes paddling past the portage put-in dangerous.
The full portage is 1645 m. There are some options to paddle the CII and possibly the CIII at the start of the falls, however, this would only be doable if you were an extremely amazing paddler and would only shorten the portage by 200-500 m – thus even thinking about it seems idiotic to me. Just do the full portage.
We portaged our canoes to the end of the portage and then portaged our gear to our campsite.
Campsite: There are four campsites at Thunderhouse Falls. The first and last are not that nice, and the middle two are amazing. We stayed at the second campsite, with views of “The Squeeze” and Conjuring House Rock. There were great campsites, an excellent fire pit and the most incredible view.
Day 12: Rest Day at Thunderhouse Falls (0 km)
This is definitely the best campsite to take a rest day at. We all slept in and then cooked cinnamon buns for breakfast. We had blue skies and warm weather, so we did a little camp laundry to freshen up our clothes.
In the afternoon we walked to the end of the portage trail to the water and had a swim.
There’s a path down to the cliff adjacent to Thunderhouse Falls that provides an excellent vantage point for watching the sunset.
Campsite: Another night at an amazing campsite.
Day 13: Thunderhouse Falls to Hell’s Gate (10 km)
For me, this was the hardest day of our trip – despite only travelling 10 km. With over 3 km of portaging, and (initially) two sets of rapids to run, it was a long day, to say the least.
We started off the day portaging the rest of our gear from our campsite to the end of Thunderhouse Falls, and then immediately had an easy set of rapids.
Conjuring House Rapids (CI): The Thunderhouse Falls portage ends at the top of Conjuring House Rapids, an easy CI.
Stone Rapids (800 m portage): Stone Rapids is a CII-CVI that can’t be run. The portage is very flat, though narrow in sections. There is a fork in the trail at one point, allowing you to portage all the way to the next rapid – pay attention to your map. We went about 300 m down the wrong path before realizing our mistake and doubling back.
Following Stone Rapids, there is just a kilometre or so until Hell’s Gate Canyon.
Hell’s Gate Canyon (2,350 m portage): This is a long, although well maintained, portage. With the exception of a steep start, the trail is gradual and easy to navigate. We had to take two trips, and in total it took our group 5 hours to complete.
Our original plan was to continue paddling after Hell’s Gate Canyon, passed Long Rapids and camp on Bell’s Bay (which Hap says is an excellent campsite). However, by the time we finished the Hell’s Gate portage we were all far too exhausted to handle another set of rapids.
Campsite: So we ended up camping at the end of the Hell’s Gate portage trail. I would definitely not recommend doing this; it’s not an actual campsite so there are no tent spaces. We set up our tents on a small field of apple-sized rocks. In hindsight, we should have just retraced our steps to the very nice campsite along the portage trail. I’m still confused as to why we didn’t do this.
Day 14: Hell’s Gate to Small Creek at km 200 (55 km)
After a previously difficult day, we had another long day – paddling a total of 55 km. We started at 9:45 am and paddled until 7:45 pm, for a total of 10 hours on the water. This wasn’t due to a lack of campsites (this section of the river actually has a lot of them), but we were just taking advantage of the easy paddling.
Long Rapids (CII): True to its name, this is a long rapid. The start and end are both short CIIs, and there are continuous swifts in the middle. I don’t believe there is an option to portage, but even though it’s a CII the rapid is pretty easy.
Honestly, after Long Rapids, the river has no portages, no rapids and flows in an incredibly straight line – for over 160 km. This is a great place to hang a tarp and try your hand at sailing a canoe.
Despite the monotony of the river, the surroundings were still beautiful. With each passing day, the Missinaibi takes on an increasingly northern characteristic. The trees become shorter, the shorelines sandier, and the terrain flatter.
Campsite: We stayed at a campsite around km 200, which our guidebook had labelled as a nice spot. We only rated it 2/5, as it had a makeshift fire pit and was just flat enough for our tents, so I wonder if we found the actual campsite or not.
Day 15: Small Creek at km 200 to Opasatika River (33 km)
We paddled 33 km with only a handful of bouldery swifts.
Campsite: We camped a little downriver to where Opasatika River flows into the Missinaibi, around km 170 on River Left. Considering tent spots on this section of the river are mostly grassy gravel bars, this one was really nice, with good tents spots and a nice fire pit.
Day 16: Opasatika River to McCuaig Creek (32 km)
We paddled 32 km and there were only 2 small CIs (my helmet started getting lonely from lack of use).
Campsite: We camped at an “almost non-existent” site near McCuaig Creek (km 138); poor take-out, easily missed from the river, although it did have some tent spots. Neither the site nor the creek was labelled on Hap’s maps, which may explain why it looked like it hadn’t been used in a while.
Day 17: McCuaig Creek to to Portage Island (43 km)
Finally something interesting to paddle! We came to Deception Rapids a few kilometres downriver from our site.
Deception Rapids (CII): I think this paddle gets its name because it is deceptively tricky. It’s a somewhat high-volume wave train, through which you can mostly keep centre and then left. However, after so many days since paddling a rapid, the force of the water really catches you by surprise.
After Deception Rapids, we had another 40 km of easy paddling to our site on Portage Island.
Campsite: We camped on Portage Island, which is right at the confluence of the Missinaibi and Mattagmi rivers, which then flow into the Moose River. If it’s available, definitely take this campsite!
Surrounding the island is a gravel bar, and the island has steep ledges on all sides. It’s a little tricky getting the gear up the ledge (you’ll likely need one person at the bottom and one person at the top to grab the bag / barrel). Despite the difficulty, this campsite is amazing. It’s large and has flat tent sites. And there’s a 360-degree view of the Missinaibi, Mattagami and Moose Rivers, which is beautiful at sunset.
Day 18: Portage Island to Louise Island (26 km)
Once we left Portage Island, we officially said goodbye to the Missinaibi and commenced paddling on the Moose River.
Unlike the Lower Missinaibi, which maintains a fairly even width throughout, the Moose River gets increasingly wide. Due to damming on many of the rivers that flow into the Moose, the water level is really low.
Multiple times per day we would get stuck on sand bars. There were even a few times when we had to walk, pulling our canoes because the water was barely ankle-deep in its widest parts.
My co-guide told me when he paddled the Moose River five years prior, the water level had been so low that they couldn’t paddle at all and didn’t even make it to Moosonee. Although unlikely, it’s worth inquiring about water levels ahead of your trip.
In the early afternoon, we started hearing thunder, although there wasn’t any rain or even that many clouds. It was bloody humid – the hottest canoeing I’ve ever done – so for an hour we set up a tarp on the side of the river and hung out in the shade until the thunder stopped.
Moose Crossing: There is a bridge that crosses the length of the Moose River, which at this point is incredibly wide. Occasionally the Polar Bear Express whizzes by (and in a few days, our last image of the river would be from a train on this bridge).
Right after Moose Crossing, there are Gypsum Caves on either side of the river. I’m not familiar with geology, but apparently, the exposed, iridescent stone is quite unique. What I can tell you is that it looked cool.
Campsite: We camped at a makeshift site on a gravel bar upriver to Louise Island. There was actually a lot of soil and relatively few rocks, so it was easy to make a nice tent spot. There wasn’t a fire pit (it may not have been an actual campsite) so we built one out of stones.
There is a proper campsite on a small island just downriver to Louise Island, however, these small island sites tended to be too small to accommodate a group of ten (especially regarding bathrooms and privacy).
That night we had the most violent thunderstorm of my entire canoeing experience. I seriously thought my tent was going to rip open from the wind.
Note: If building your own fire pit, minimize the number of rocks you use as the fire will scar them. Dismantle your fire pit when you leave the site.
Day 19: Louise Island to Wayne’s Cabin (35 km)
Although this section of the river didn’t have any features, I found it really interesting. The river becomes increasingly wide and additional rivers empty into the Moose.
Campsite: Wayne is the mayor of Moosonee and he has a property along the river. He hosted us at his property for the evening and taught us about the history and culture surrounding the Missinaibi.
If you don’t have the same connections, there is apparently a great campsite at Wikikanishi Island in the same area.
Day 20: Wayne’s Cabin to Moose Factory (34 km)
This was our last day of paddling before we arrived in Moosonee / Moose Factory. The final push to James Bay needs to be coordinated with the tides – ideally, you want to be paddling north, toward Moosonee, while the tide is receding.
The last section of the Moose is really interesting. The proximity to town means there’s an increase in boating activity and the occasional home on the shore. But most notably, the sides of the river are very sandy and there are areas with sand dunes and tall grasses.
Our last day also brought us to our last set of rapids.
Kwetabohigan Rapids (CII-CIII): This CII is a real trickster. After more than a hundred kilometres without rapids, this one surely can’t be that big, right? No need to scout? Well, get ready to brace because the drop has some big waves (4-6 ft according to Hap).
Campsite: We had planned some Indigenous culture workshops with the Cree Cultural Interpretive Centre to wrap up our trip. This meant we were able to camp on their property on Moose Factory for the final two nights of the trip.
Another common option is to camp at Tidewater Provincial Park (supposedly there is a good site on Charles Island) and then paddle to Moosonee ahead of catching the train.
Day 21: Rest Day in Moose Factory (Aug 1)
The CCIC hosted the group for some interesting workshops on Moose Cree Culture. We went to a community event, attended a lesson on Cree history, cooked a traditional meal and slept in a log house. We also did a quick tour of the Hudson Bay Trading Post.
Campsite: Same as above.
Day 22: Leaving Moosonee (6 km)
On our final morning, we paddled from Moose Factory to Moosonee. It’s a short paddle, but there’s a lot of boat traffic so you need to be mindful of crossing channels.
Polar Bear Express: We first had a quick portage from the boat launch in Moosonee to the train station. When we arrived at the train station, I spoke to the person operating the ticket booth / information kiosk and they were able to help me find the train car that our gear went in.
Then we loaded up our canoes, barrels and packs into a cargo car on the Polar Bear Express. Ensure when you book your train tickets that you book a car for your canoe!
What Went Well
Your route is going to change: While it’s important to create a detailed route card before your trip, your route will definitely change. Bring a map with campsites labelled (Hap’s Maps have them labelled plus some detail on how nice the campsite is) so you can adjust your route as necessary.
After Hell’s Gate Canyon, there are essentially no portages or rapids: Without these features, the paddling goes really quickly. And the river is straight enough that you could set up a tarp for sailing if the wind is right. All this to say, you can be more ambitious with the number of kilometres you do these days. Our longest day was about 55 km, which was longer than I would have liked but was manageable.
It is spectacularly beautiful: I am convinced this is the most beautiful river in Ontario. The scenery changes throughout the trip and it’s hard to say which section – the Canadian Shield or the Hudson Bay Lowlands – was nicer. If you can, try to paddle the entire river, rather than just a section of it.
What Could Have Gone Better
We had really long days: On a typical day, we were up between 7:00 and 7:30 am and were on the water between 8:30 and 9:15 am. We usually got to the campsite between 4:00 and 5:00 pm but had a few days where we didn’t get to the site until 6:00 pm. This didn’t leave us much time to set up the site, cook and do dishes before it got dark. When planning your route, think about how long you want each day to be and how many kilometres you can reasonably paddle / portage in a day.
Know your paddling abilities: Greenhill Rapids was definitely beyond my group’s paddling ability (though not beyond my rescue abilities, so I don’t regret running it). But the long rescue meant we had to take an impromptu rest day and we didn’t have time to make a detour to Brunswick Lake which would have been nice. Ensure your group paddles sets to their abilities and at least a few people in your group know whitewater rescue techniques.
This looks like an awesome trip Mikaela! Your love for this river has really made me want to paddle it. I have been debating it for the past few years but need to find the right group of people to paddle with.
If you can wait til I’m back in Canada I’d 100% do it again! It’s an amazing river 🙂
Whenever you are planning to be back and want to paddle it let me know 🙂 I would love to!