Moisie River: From Lac DeMilles to Sept-Îles (21 days / 440 km)

Sometimes called the “Nahanni of the East”, the Moisie River lives up to the hype. Big whitewater, beautiful canyons and scenery, and its remoteness make this trip well worth doing. That being said, this is a serious trip, and experience paddling remote rivers is essential. Although renowned for being very wet, our trip was actually quite sunny and we generally had great weather. Our trip ran from August 3rd to August 24th, and we covered 440km’s in those days. Overall we had a wonderful time, with average water levels, loads of wildlife sightings, lots of really fun whitewater, and some big portages. There are a few ways to get to the Moisie, and this trip report covers the lake approach from Lac Des Milles (I’ll briefly mention some other ways below). 

Trip Summary

Starting Point: Small unmarked boat launch on Lac Des Milles (De Mille Lake on google) 53°02’29.2″N 66°34’10.6″W

Ending Point: Moisie Trailer Park (or paddle into the St. Lawrence)

Total Distance: 440 km

Duration: 21 days + 4 travel days

Difficulty: Expert. There is considerable whitewater & remoteness. Many long rapids and mandatory portages. Other than the put in and take out, river access is by floatplane or helicopter only. 

Location

The Moisie River is located in the Côte-Nord region of Québec. Lac Des Milles is located just on the Labrador side of the Québec/Labrador border. The nearest town to the put-in is Labrador City. The take-out is at Sept Îles, on the St Lawrence River.

Traditional Territory: This route is located on the territory of Nitassinan (Innu).

Maps & Resources

Map: WGS 1984 19U (topographic maps)

Campsite Permits: No permits are required for this route.

Outfitters & Shuttles

We used a bus company for the shuttle and used all of our own gear. As far as I know, there are no outfitters in the area. Setting your own shuttle is a very long prospect and a bit unrealistic, and so most people take their canoes on the train from Sept Îles (the take out) to the put-in near Labrador City and then paddle back to Sept Îles.

Editor’s Note: A quick Google search shows that Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway operates a train between Sept Îles and Labrador City twice weekly. More info can be found here.

Trip Report

Day 1: Height of Land

After finishing our drive we put in at noon and paddled south along the finger-like bay. We thought we’d have to portage over the height of land into Lac Ménistouc, however, we were able to follow a small creek and pull over a number of beaver dams instead. On the map, it appears a few tiny unconnected bodies of water. We camped at 670500/5865500, which looks like a small boot-like peninsula on the map. This seemed like the first non-swamp spot that could accommodate our group of 12.

Day 2 – 5: Lac Ménistouc to Lac Félix

In total there is about 100km of lake paddling to get to Lac Félix. We did it in 4 days, however, we were also generally very lucky with the weather overall. These lakes can get extremely windy, and I know of groups that have needed 7 days. There are a few sets in the long creek that connects Lac Ménistouc and Lac Opocopa as well as in Lac Opocopa. They are all relatively simple CI/CIIs, and one wavy CII/III right before Lac Opocopa (scout RR). There are many beaches and beachy/inset campsites along the way.

Day 6 – 9: The Waterfalls

After Lac Félix is the first of many waterfalls on the Moisie. Follow the left shore, along the shallow/rock set. We got stuck a lot and had to drag a little, although that could likely be the result of water levels. The portage is on the left and is roughly a 1500 m portage if you do the whole thing. There are multiple put-in / take-out options, we opted to do the whole portage.

A few short CI and CII rapids follow and then there is another, larger waterfall. On River Left again there is an 800 m portage. There are campsites at the put-in and take-out of this portage (a common theme on the Moisie). After this waterfall, there are several fun rapids ranging from CI to CII and then a CIII that can be portaged river right, followed by a large ledge-y CIV that you can scrape down left of the island.

At 649500/5791000 there’s another waterfall with a 1500 m portage (campsites at put-in and take-out). There are 2 more rapids (CIII then CII), and then there’s a pretty steep (up, then down) 400m portage. This brings you to the Pékans/Moisie confluence. This took us 3 days (4, including a layover day at the Pékans/Moisie confluence).

Pékans / Moisie Confluence

Just after the confluence is another 400 m portage around a waterfall. There is a site at the start of it that’s incredibly scenic and is definitely worth staying at.

Day 10 – 15: Waterfalls 2/Canyon 1

After the Pékan/Moisie confluence, the Moisie has fewer waterfalls and more rapids that allow you to stay at river level. There are many longer rapids from hereon in, and strong boat scouting skills are an asset. There’s a lot of current on the flat sections which help balance out the days with lots of whitewater. You’ll also start seeing more hunting camps and fishing lodges; generally, they are very welcoming to visitors, and if you do stay please leave it better than you found it. We used Lester Kovac’s maps as a guide and found them very accurate.

There are a few points of interest that I’d like to highlight.

  • There is a nice site at 650800/5780000, on River Left by the marked CIV, on the portage trail.
  • There’s a marked waterfall at 679500/5731500, portage on the left (there’s a campsite on the trail). Expect to spend some time navigating the rapids after (2 CIV’s), we lined on river left.
  • On the CII rapid following this waterfall, stay left as you approach the bend as there’s a carry-over option for a large ledge. River right is a canyon wall.
  • At ~686000/5709000, or km 190, there’s a longer canyon stretch. We worked our way down the River Right side by using a mix of lining, portaging, and running the rapids.
  • It took us 5.5 days to get to the Caopacho/Moisie confluence.

Caopacho / Moisie Confluence

There is a wonderful campsite on the island right after the confluence. Just before the confluence, you’ll start seeing more and more gravel bars that offer convenient camping options.

Day 16 – 21: Caopacho / Moisie Confluence to Moisie Trailer Park

The Salmon Ladder

Portage left or right. The right portage is shorter, but steeper up and down, and puts you above a CIII, whereas the left portage is longer, flatter, and puts you below the CIII. Be mindful of the stairs on the left portage, in 2018 they were sketchy at best. There is a small cabin and helicopter pad at the end of the portage on the right, as well as a path to check out the salmon ladder (highly recommended). 

Canyon 2 (Train Tracks/Trestle Rapids)

There are many rapids in between the Salmon Ladder and this last section of whitewater. They are mostly long swifts and CI’s with a few CII’s & CIII’s that are either short land scouts or boat scouts and one short portage (marked). It took us 4 days to travel from the Caopacho/Moisie confluence to the site on River Left at roughly 699000/5580000.

After enjoying some long stretches of flatwater, this last chunk of whitewater is lots of fun. Bear in mind that all the sets flow into the next one, so make sure you’re on your game with rescues. It’s possible to paddle from here to the trailer park in one day, however it’s a big day. There’s a small cabin mid-way down the canyon, but few sites afterward. Depending on water levels there may be lots of beaches.

The first rapid is right before the campsite at 699000/5580000, and you can scout it from the left shore. After the short pool is a large ledge with a very convenient carry-over route on the left side. From here, everything happens on the right-hand side for the last 7 rapids. We used a mixture of lining, portaging along the shore, and running to get down. That being said, all of these rapids are generally runnable depending on the water levels and your ability. 

Moisie Trailer Park

On the right, halfway around the big bend, and before the bridge. They welcome campers and have hot showers!

Reflections

This trip was done with a summer camp and we were a group of 10 campers and 2 guides. As such, we generally made fairly conservative decisions and moved at a slower pace than a smaller group might. Additionally, we took 2 full rest days and 2 half days. Strong paddlers may find they do less portaging than we did — especially below the Pékans/Moisie confluence.

I would strongly recommend bringing a camera because the scenery is super beautiful. There’s also lots of cool hiking potential, so some sturdy footwear wouldn’t be too much. The weather can be very cold and wet, so be prepared. There is lots of amazing fishing, but make sure to read the rules before heading out. We saw plenty of black bears (and other wildlife), keep a keen eye out and keep your sites clean. Lastly, make sure to check the forest fire situation before heading out, as the Moisie has had some big fires.

Gallery


Author Bio

Gregory Nettleton is a whitewater canoe guide and instructor from Toronto, Ontario. He’s been guiding and instructing for over 7 years. He splits his free time by paddling some more, skiing, taking pictures and reading anything he can get his hands on. You can find him on instagram at @greg.nett.

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