Michipicoten river 2

CanadaOntarioLake Superior basin
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Dave Greene
Trip Date : 
Additional Route Information
96 km
6 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
4115 m
Longest Portage: 
1400 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Lake superior, Michipacoten harbour, Michpatocen river, Manitowik lake, Whitefish lake, Dog lake, Missanabie

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

When I was fifteen years old I went on my first canoe trip with Outward Bound, we paddled down the Michipicoten, it changed my life. From this inspiration I dreamed of returning and travelling up it, over the height of land and down to the sea. That dream came true this summer when my wife, 2 friends, our dog and I paddled from Lake superior to James Bay following in the footsteps of the voyageurs. We paddled the historic route via the Michipicoten and Missinaibi rivers. This trip report follows our upstream work.
Virtually no information was available on paddling the Michipicoten river so we relied heavily on Hap Wilson’s guide book Journey to the Northern Sky and my faded memories.

Day 1, June 12th: 11km, 4.5 hours
Weather: fog, clearing, hot, rain, fog, clearing, cold

We started our trip on the shores of Lake Superior in a thick fog that allowed for no views at all. The staff at Naturally Superior welcomed us to leave a car, pack our gear and launch from their beach. Through all our planning, logistics, food prep, the one thing we had no control over was mother nature and she out did herself this year. A hundred year flood this past spring had littered Michipicoten Harbour with uprooted trees and had completely blown out the sand spit that can usually be found at the mouth of the river.
We pushed off later then we had wanted to, turned left and headed upstream. The current was fast but manageable, using the eddies to our advantage, having to wade only few times in the cold water. We past under the highway 69 bridge and continued upstream for another couple of hours. With the day slipping away we found a really nice campsite on a gravel bar above the river and began to settle into life on trip.
Relaxing soon became difficult because the river began to rise quickly. We had expected this to happen in the evening and in the morning due to a higher demand of electricity on the hydro dams further upstream, but had no way of knowing just how high or fast it would rise. We all went to bed hoping we wouldn’t wake in a puddle.

Day 2: 15km, 9 hours
Weather: warm, cloudy, clearing to hot

We woke in the morning not in a puddle but to the sight of a river that was completely different from the day before. The small swift that was immediately down stream of us the night before was now a legitimate rapid and the gravel bar upstream was completely gone.
With our heaviest loaded canoes of the whole trip, our out of paddling shape winter bodies and no warm up, we pushed off with some apprehension into a new beast of a river. Today the banks could not be seen, water lapping up around the trunks of trees, silted water and a driving current that offered little or no options of eddies. This could be one of the hardest days of paddling I have ever had.
Paddles twirling like windmills, we edged our way upstream one bend at a time. At times the stern person would be pushing with a pole and the bow person clinging to branches of trees, pulling the canoe forward. The river offered very poor bottom for a pole, the banks lined with thick rows of alders and water flowing around their trunks. At one point we were forced to drag the boats through the bush around an impassable log jam/ rapid. With considerable effort we passed the beginning of the historic “long portage” now barely noticeable behind a small island, clearly impassable after a hundred years of no use. A little further on found us at our limits and at the beginning of our portage around Scott Falls dam.
A much shorter portage (RR) is possible in lower water levels from the base of the dam. But this high water extension saved our butts. 1400 meters later and a steep elevation gain brought us to the top of our first portage. From here we continued upstream through 2 reservoirs, around High falls Dam (500m, RL), and McPhail dam (300m, RL). All this hard work had a few (all) of the team members a bit cranky by days end and looking for a good place to sleep and eat food. With these two essentials taken care of we fell quickly into a deep sleep.

Day 3: 10km, 6 hours
Weather: Clear skies and beautiful

Muscles were sore this morning as we enjoyed a few kilometers of lake (reservoir) travel this morning to ease back into it. This however was quickly replaced by more grunt work upstream.
The river here, above the first 3 dams, changed considerably. Although still fast and strong the sediments were gone and a more natural feeling settled over the river giving it a much more inviting feel then downstream.
Our ferrying techniques were polished as we paddled under the ACR train bridge. Other obstacles included today was a surprise portage (RL) around a rather narrow section of fast river, the highway 101 bridge which we tracked the boats underneath, and few more kilometers of wading and lining the boats, often times up to our shoulders in the water. Our hard work was about to pay off, only 1 more portage (800m, RR) would see us into Manitowik lake and the end of the serious upstream work.
What an incredible feeling it was to glide freely across the surface of a lake with little resistance to our forward motion. We camped at an old hunting camp that night, enjoying the luxuries of a fire pit and a picnic table to dry out some gear and rearrange the twenty days of food we had loaded into our boats.

Day 4: 30km, 7.5 hours
Weather: Calm as glass all day long
An incredible day today. Our time travelling up a river has taught us a few things, one of which is that when the going is good, go as far as you can. Today we did just that. We had incredible weather all day today, paddling across these big lakes. Manitowik lake and Whitefish lake are more like one really big lake, now that the rapids and subsequent dam have been flooded over in the making of this large reservoir. Nothing too exciting happened to us today, much to our relief, except for perfect paddling conditions, great company and some good fishing. Camp tonight was at a really old hunting camp this time, long abandoned but stacked with cut wood, and a fire pit.

Day 5: 18km
Weather: Tailwind, showers, Thunder storm, headwind

We woke today and paddle away early, hoping to reach a good campsite in the afternoon for some much needed R & R, after all the toil of upstream travel. My heart goes out to all the old timers who travelled our rivers from coast to coast, upstream with a pole. Those guys were the definition of tough.
Soon after leaving camp this morning we were at our first portage, Stony Rapids (RL, 615m). This spot was absolutely stunning and I would highly recommend spending time here if you travel through. This section of river up to Dog lake is one of the most beautiful sections of river between Lake Superior and James Bay, not to missed. Fast flowing, cedars down to the water, excellent fishing and pretty well untouched, left exactly how it has always been. At the bottom of Little Stony Rapids (RR, 200m) is a gravel spit, a more idyllic spot is hard to imagine.
Thunderstorms chased us up Dog Lake, where we found shelter on the west side of the lake, protected from the days passing storms. A very nice spot but if weather was coming in from anywhere but west, you would want to look elsewhere. Our evening was filled with fresh bread out of the oven and a healthy ration of rye.

Day 6: 10km
Weather: breezy, cool, clearing to calm and nice

On our way to Missanabie today we stopped at the site of ancient petroglyphs hiding on the west side of Dog lake. We took special care to approach them slowly, leave an offering of tobacco and be on our way. It was another special spot on this historic route.
This trip report will leave you here in the fishing outpost of Missanabie, from here it is a short paddle through the remaining bays of Dog lake to reach the height of land portage, crooked lake and the salty water of the sea beyond.

Special Comments: 

We travelled this route upstream. There are a lot of variables on a river controlled by dams that are remotely operated 1000's of km away. There are many big lakes to cross, bad weather would slow you down considerably. I wouldn't recommend travelling up the Michipicoten below Manitowik lake or Whitefish Dam, Unless, you REALLY want to.