The Best Canadian Adventures: Paddle Ontario's Missinaibi

High water

Northern Ontario     Photo: Aaron Peterson

Of the 50 sets of rapids studding the Missinaibi River’s 350-mile route, only two absolutely must be portaged. The rest are fun Class II–III affairs, which is what makes the Missinaibi one of the world’s best canoe trips: it’s tough to find that many moderate rapids all in one place. A centuries-old trade route between Lake Superior and James Bay, the Missinaibi cuts through thick birch and spruce forest, rimmed with granite bedrock that makes for clean, level campsites. One July, I led a group of teens down the river for a canoe camp, and we spent a day hauled out at one of those mandatory portages. Thunder-house Falls is a spectacular three-tiered maelstrom and an ideal place to lay over for a few days, listen to the falls’ roar, and yank walleye out of the water below. Which is what we were doing when a camper ran up shouting that one of our canoes had floated away and another one was about to. The river had flash-flooded overnight. I waded nipples deep into the swollen current and dragged one escapee back to shore. We loaded the remaining boats to the gunwales and wobbled downstream in search of the other. Then, slowly spinning in a wide eddy just a few hundred yards above the nasty, appropriately named Hell’s Gate gorge, there was our missing green canoe, upside down but intact. It being summer camp, we celebrated that night by hog-tying a camper to a tree. (Sorry, Will.)

GET THERE: You can paddle the entire 350-mile route from Missinaibi Lake to Moosonee in 20 days—or split the trip in half by putting in at Mattice, where the river is crossed by the Trans-Canada Highway. Rent boats from Missinaibi Headwaters Outfitters in Chapleau (US$240 per week), which also offers shuttles. At Moosonee, load your canoes into a boxcar on the Polar Bear Express train—there are no roads here—and head to Cochrane, where your shuttle awaits (US$60 plus US$100 for the shuttle).

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