Missinaibi River - Hawk Junction to Mattice

CanadaOntarioJames Bay south
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Additional Route Information
311 km
13 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
9820 m
Longest Portage: 
1500 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

The Missinaibi River can be accessed at a number of points. The Hawk Junction access point allows the use of Algoma Central Railway as an inexpensive alternative to a car shuttle.

Technical Guide: 

Hearst to Hawk Junction via Algoma Central Railway
P300M to McVeigh Creek
SW on McVeigh Creek to Hawk Lake
E on Hawk River to Manitowick Lake
NE through Manitowick Lake
P600M around Stony Portage Falls
NE to Little Stony Portage
NE through Dog Lake
P290M to Crooked Lake
N through Crooked Lake
P345M to Missinaibi Lake
NE through Missinaibi Lake to Missinaibi River
Missinaibi River to Brunswick Lake Portage
N through Brunswick Lake
N on Brunswick River
to Missinaibi River
Missinaibi River to Mattice

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 


The Paddlers: Steve, Blake and Frank. We all have had lots of flat water experience but little white water. We all took a weekend Black Feather White Water Clinic in early June, which was the perfect preparation for this trip.

Ingress/Egress: Steve and I drove from Orillia to Hearst and took the Algoma Central Railway down to Hawk Junction (near Wawa) to start the trip. This avoided shuttling the car and probably the cheapest way to do it. Frank took the VIA train from Capreol (just N of Sudbury) and met us at Peterbell on Day 5. At the takeout at Mattice, we used the Ontario Northland bus from Cochrane to Hearst to retrieve the car.

Algoma Central Railway: 1-800-242-9287 (to reserve space for the canoe), $50 each person and $36 for the canoe, 4 hr trip
VIA: $119 for one person and one canoe, 5.5 hr trip
Ontario Northland Bus: schedule is on Greyhound’s website, $5.35 from Mattice to Hearst

The River

The Route: Steve and Blake - 311 km over 13 days; Hawk Junction to Mattice
: Frank - 166 km over 8 days; Peterbell to Mattice
: Hawk L – Manitowik L – Dog L – Crooked L – Missinaibi L – Missinaibi R – Brunswick L/R – Missinaibi R to Mattice

The Portages: 31 totaling 9820M. We did 20 portages totaling 6190M. In general, the portaging was easy to moderate, with only two longish portages; the 1400M Greenhill R and 1500M Brunswick Lake portages.

The Rapids: We ran 32 rapids (this includes lining 4 or 5), starting out portaging the Cl II rapids and by half way, running them as well. Water levels were above average for this time of year.

The Campsites: We used Hap Wilson’s guidebook, which was fantastic. Some campsites sites shown in it no longer exist, particularly on the Lakes. The river sites for the most part are reflected accurately in the maps. There is now a permit required to camp on the river (permit through Missinaibi Prov Park Office, Chapleau; 1-705-864-3137, $7.50 per person per day). Some great campsites are: just past Peterbell, Wavy Rapids, Thunder Falls, Pond Falls, Devil Cap Falls and Glassy Falls. The Mattice campground is part of the Prov Park and requires a permit (it has showers, toilets etc, and lots of space)

The Wildlife: 3 eagles, 3 moose, 1 marten, 1 mink, 1 muskrat, 2 osprey, numerous loons and ducks, one encounter with a bear (although we didn’t actually see him, which is a good thing!), and hearing the wolves at Peterbell.


Travel Day – 10 Jul

Weather – Cloudy, @ 28C, clear evening, Dark @10:30 PM

Steve and I left Orillia @ 9:00 and drove 840 kms to Hearst, arriving at 18:30. It was an easy drive on Hwy 11 with little traffic. We were surprised at how flat the route was and how open it is around New Liskeard. We stopped N of Huntsville at the Near North Diner for breakfast ($3.99) (marvelous decor: we were paying for the food obviously, not the building or the service), and at New Liskeard for a Cdn Tire and Tim’s pit stop.
We stayed at Ceciles Campground just E of Hearst for the night and feasted on ham steaks, corn on the cob, potatoes and just a bit of wine for supper. After supper we sorted out our packs, which not surprisingly, were very heavy: food pack – 100 lbs, general pack – 65 lbs. We turned in at 22:30 when it was almost dark. The mozzies started an hour earlier.


Weather – overcast, drizzle in the AM
Travel – 30 km in 6 hrs, no portages, good sailing wind

We were up at 6:00 and had a fresh breakfast of bacon & eggs. The bugs were bad until 07:30. We drove to the train station in Hearst for 08:00. Things are very casual in the North. You show up and throw your canoe and packs into the baggage car (well, except for the food pack which was struggled into the car). I was on my own for this phase of the operation as Steve’s timing for a Tim’s run was impeccable. The train had only 2 other passengers on it, but we picked up maybe another 10 at fishing camps along the way. The scenery was repetitive: trees, rock and water. Top Tip: don’t bother getting off at Oba.
The conductor came back to us enroute and said that they would let us off on the trestle beside Hawk L past Hawk Junction and save us a 300M portage and 2 km paddle – fantastic! They don’t do that in S Ont. We were dropped off successfully at the trestle over the river out of Hawk L. We got very detailed instructions from the Train Station Lady at Hawk Junction on where to catch pickerel. We didn’t have the heart to tell her that we weren’t going to fish right away. I think that everyone fishes up here.
We were on the water by 12:45 after being dropped off at the trestle. We paddled a couple of km along the river through a few riffles and pools until it widened out into Manitowick L. Early on it was apparent that there was lots of wind from the SW, so we put up a mast and sail. Although there were a few quiet spots; in general, fantastic! There was a very strong wind later in the afternoon. We covered 20 km by 16:30, when a nasty cross wind forced us to down sail. After it calmed down we covered another 10 km (we couldn’t find the campsite just past Red Rock).
We hit Stony Rapids at 18:30: 30 km in 6 hrs, just 12 km of actual paddling. There is a very nice campsite to the right of the rapids right on the lake. There was an old campsite right beside the rapids but it hasn’t been used for a while. Stony Portage Falls is very scenic: a nice spot for some pics and an evening brandy. We were in bed by 22:30.

Day 2 – 12 Jul: BEER AT ERNIE’S

Weather – Sunny, very hot (+ 30C), SW wind
Travel – 26 km in 8 hrs (2 hr stop at Missanabie), 2 portages (600M, 170M)

Steve was up at 05:30, and I was up at 06:00. We were moving slow though and didn’t get on the portage until 09:00. Big Stony portage was 600M, moderate difficulty (steep grade for the first third, then downhill; fairly good trail with some deadfall). After a km or so we portaged Little Stony Portage (170M, moderate, steep at the start and finish). Dog Lake was very calm. We covered 15 km to Missanabie Village by 13:00. We spent a week there in 2 hours: really has to be seen, to be appreciated. Ernie apparently owns the Village: Ernie’s Camping, Ernie’s Restaurant, Ernie’s Brewer’s Retail and Ernie’s Parking! We had a few beers at the restaurant. We were very disappointed though that the old hotel that Hap Wilson talks about in his guidebook, is closed. We were back on the lake by 14:30 or so and headed up Dog Lake and camped at km 577 about 17:30: 26 km later and very sunburned. It was a reasonable campsite, with room for only one tent. To this point; only a few pickerel fishermen for wildlife. Bed at 21:30.


Weather – overcast/rainy in AM, hot in the PM, SW wind switching to NE in evening
Travel – 30 km in 8 hrs, 2 portages (290M, 345M)

We woke to the sound of rain, so slept in a bit and were on the water by 09:30 when it was clearing. There was a strong following wind all day, so we covered the 22 km to Missinaibi L by 15:15. The Height of Land Portage at at Km 573 is an easy one (290M), but a little marshy at the start. Keep to the left as you hit the end of the lake (we tried a little creek on the right first with no success, although the mozzies appreciated us). The portage into Missinaibi L is an easy 345M that is signed on the right before a small island. It is well traveled: flat for the first half then downhill. After hitting Missinaibi L, we paddled to Reva Island against a strong SW wind, but couldn’t locate the campsite. We then checked out the pictographs at Reva point but couldn’t find them either. We did find the pictographs at Fairy Point though: very impressed.; worth seeing. We camped just past Fairy point about 3 km (it’s the second shown on Hap’s map, the first doesn’t exist anymore). It’s an excellent site with multiple fire pits, tent sites, picnic tables, and a box privy! Leeches in the water though. We didn’t see a soul all day: bed at 21:30.

Day 4 – 14 Jul: WIND AND WAVES

Weather – mainly overcast, cool in PM, showers evening, strong NE wind
Travel – 17.5 km in 7 hours

Steve and I were very tired and didn’t get up until 08:00. Some days you definitely feel your age. We got away at 10:08 against a very stiff NE wind, which blew all day, and didn’t calm until 19:00. We traveled to the Mary Island Portage but couldn’t find it. I would be interested in knowing if anyone has found it in recent years (we had intended to cross it and visit Barasso Lumber Camp). We continued up the lake and camped at the first campsite past the Barclay campground. It wasn’t marked but is a good site for 2 tents, and it has a privy (compared to Hap’s Guide, there are far fewer campsites on the lake, although the ones that do exist are well set-up). We pulled off the water at 16:15 when we got tired of fighting the wind and waves. There was another campsite that we wanted to get to about 2 km further, but it may as well have been 20. All in all, a hard day: bed at 21:00.

Day 5 – 15 Jul: LINK-UP WITH FRANK

Weather – variable clouds, hot, strong N wind
Travel – 36 km in 9 hrs, 3 portages (185M, 450M, 400M), 6 sets of CIs

We were up at 06:00 and on the water by 07:30. There was already a stiff N wind, and we had decided to try and make it all the way to Peterbell so we would be there when Frank got off the train at 23:00. He was coming in on the VIA from Capreol and we wanted to spare him a lonely night at the side of the tracks. It took us 2 hrs to make the 6 km to the end of the lake (with a short stop at Missinaibi L House. We thought that we were at the right spot, but if we were, it’s very overgrown. We didn’t find any ruins). By 09:30, we were on the river. We successfully took the low water takeout at Quittagene Rapids, having already decided to portage all the CII rapids, at least initially (by the time we hit Thunder Falls, we started doing CIIs for the most part). We managed all the CIs fine and especially enjoyed picking our way through Long Rapids. We scouted everything initially until we found our rhythm. All portages were moderate: Sun Rapids actually had a takeout below the first CI, but we didn’t know it was there until we passed it on the portage. The Barrel Rapids portage actually ran the length of the rapids (except for the lower part around the old bridge – no problems). The wind was against us the whole way, but we made Peterbell by 18:00, having covered 36 km: a good day. We saw a young bull moose on the way.
Because we had to meet Frank, we took the campsite by the trestle, even though it was a poor site: millions of mosquitoes. It is definitely worth taking the sites that are another 3 or 4 km downstream. They are very nice. We set up camp, had supper, explored Peterbell for a while, then waited for Frank. Every 3 hrs or so, a freight would roar through, then just before 23:00 we heard a westbound train and hustled up to the tracks. When we got there, the train had stopped and I spotted Frank’s pack by the tracks and lights further down the tracks towards the trestle. Frank was with the baggage guy, who was showing him an old train shed where he could spend the night (at this point he didn’t know that we we were there). Frank was very glad to see us. We got down to the camp and went to bed.
At 02:00, Frank and Steve heard something hauling the tarp off the packs (the food pack was hung thankfully). They turned on a light and shouted, then all was quiet. An hour later the wolves started howling. They were very close: I’ve heard wolves before but theses sounded like they were just outside our tent (in the morning we found tracks in the mud below the trestle about 200M away, and I figure one was up on the trestle howling). Although the wolves kept at it off and on for a couple of hours, Steve and I snored through most of it: we were zonked after a hard day. Frank didn’t get much sleep though.


Weather – Overcast, drizzle at the day’s end, N wind
Travel – 22 km in 7 hrs, 3 portages (200M, 175M, 145M), 6 rapids

We were up late and didn’t get on the water until 10:30. The noise in the night had been a bear as we suspected. It had dragged the tarp off the packs, but there didn’t appear to be anything touched. That was until Steve was looking for his daypack and couldn’t find it. He went up the trail into Peterbell (with the bear spray), and found his pack about 100M away. It had been ripped into, one strap sheared in two, and his ziplock bag with toilet paper chewed open. He later found his glasses case (which was right in the middle of the pack) was mangled by the pressure of the bear’s jaws on the pack, and sported a very nice set of teeth marks. The food packs that we had hung hadn’t been touched (we were very particular about how we did that for the rest of the trip)
Once on the water, we had a pretty good day; although we faced a N wind again. Frank soloed for the morning, then I took it. I was a little apprehensive about soloing the rapids but found that it was no problem. We lined the CII part of Swamp R and ran everything except Swamp R and Wavy R. We took the right side of Allan Island (there was a log jam before the one shown in the guide book where we had to lift over a log). By the time we hit the Wavy R portage; it was drizzling. The portage is easy and the campsite is very good. We stayed there and found a good brandy rock by the rapids for our evening refreshment before we turned in for the night.

Day 7 – 17 Jul: SPLIT ROCK VISTA

Weather – Hot and sunny, S wind
Travel – 17 km in 5 hrs, 2 portages (1400M, 150M), 4 rapids (lined the first part of St. Peter R)

We broke up camp in reasonable time and were on the water by 09:00. We had a vigorous portage around Greenhill R (moderate to difficult) that we covered in1hr 20 mins and ran Calf R with no problems. Water levels on this trip were very good; higher than normal. Frank and I alternated running the rapids solo: lots of fun. We pulled in early about 14:00 at Split Rock Falls and enjoyed the view from the upper campsite (the lower one didn’t exist though the sign had been put up this year). There was a spectacular view and an outstanding brandy rock!


Weather – variable cloud, hot, SW winds
Travel – 11 km in 2 hrs, 1 portage (180M)

We broke camp in a leisurely fashion, had a pancake breakfast and were on the water by 10:30. We only had 11 km to do, so got to Thunder Falls @ 12:30, did the easy portage and set up in the campsite across the pool below the falls. It is a fantastic campsite, lots of room and an outstanding view of the falls (although Steve felt that the branches should be thinned a bit around the privy in order to improve the view of the falls). The mosquitoes were very bad though and we started to develop elaborate procedures to do our business at the privy; something akin to an Olympic event actually – speed was of the essence; no time wasted reading a book or anything (plus judicious use of bug spray in the right places didn’t hurt either!).
It was here that we encountered the Austrians for the first time: a group of 4 that intended to go from Missanabie Village to Moosonee in 14 days ( we were highly skeptical that they could do this and in the end when we ran into them at Mattice, they had adjusted their schedule).
After a very relaxing afternoon, in the evening we tried our hand at running the CLII rapids below the falls empty before we attempted it loaded the next day. We got some good pics and decided that we could run the majority of the CL II rapids for the remainder of the trip (which we did). We paddled over at sunset to the brandy rock of all brandy rocks, overlooking the falls and felt it necessary to have a double ration in the presence of such outstanding scenery.

Day 9 – 19 Jul: WIND AND WAVES – PART II

Weather – overcast and scattered drizzle, SW wind switching to strong NW wind by mid aft, evening storm
Travel – 23 km in 7 hrs, 1 portage (into Brunswick L, 1500M), 1 rapid

We broke camp in good time as we had a fairly big day ahead of us. We ran the Cl II below the falls without problems and paddled down the winding route to the portage into Brunswick L. We made good time hitting the portage around 11:00 or so. The weather started to deteriorate a bit as we started across, making an already boggy portage just that much wetter. Still, we made good time, doing the 1.5 km in 3 legs and a little over an hour. This same portage has been in use for hundreds of years. The staff from New Brunswick House up the lake used to set up an exchange point between the brigades from Moose Factory and those from Michipicoten on L Superior (not much different than military logistics today – same principles).
Once through the boggy 1 km or so before the lake opened up, we found a good tail wind and made good time up to where the lake narrowed at a “Y” junction. We left Frank to fish and make his way up to our intended campsite at Red Pine Island: wonderful site but already occupied. Steve and I decide to check out the island 2 km to the N, which showed a campsite on Hap’s map. Unfortunately, this site and the next site on the next island didn’t exist. By this time, we were 4 km up the lake and the wind was shifting to the west and building in strength. I dropped Steve off to set up camp on a small island and started back to find Frank. I was paddling against a nasty cross chop and found Frank halfway back to Red Pine Island. We rested, then fought our way back almost straight into a strong NW wind by this time, getting to Steve about 15:30. Steve had set up a rather comfortable spot given the circumstances, and the fact that we could almost spit across the island (we affectionately called it Shangri La).
Later in the evening after supper, there was an eerie calm and odd light. Frank commented that it was like being in the eye of a storm, which it turned out we were. The wind started to howl and we could see the storm moving across the lake from the N. We battened down the hatches and rode it out. The rain had stopped by bedtime but the wind blew hard all night. During the day, Frank saw a bald eagle, and Steve and I saw a marten on a rock point.


Weather – unsettled in AM, strong N wind diminished by noon
Travel – rest day, moved 5 km up lake to new campsite

As we intended this to be a rest day, and the wind was still blowing hard out of the N at sunrise, we slept in to 08:00 or so. Throughout the morning the wind was gradually dropping so we planned to break camp and find a better site up the lake after lunch.
Frank did some fishing during the morning . Just before lunch, he caught a small pike that obviously wanted to stay in the boat with Frank, because it set one of the rapala’s treble hooks into Frank’s thumb. Now, Frank had a thrashing pike on one end of the rapala and his thumb on the other, so he stomped on the pike’s head to quiet it down before things got out of hand. He came back to camp where I got out our well kitted out First Aid kit, and anticipated my first operation. Instead, Frank relegated me to a supporting role (getting the hook off the split ring, sterilizing the knife, bandaging etc), preferring instead to work on it himself. A few painkillers and a stiff shot of Southern Comfort later, he had the hook out. We were all relieved.
After lunch it was getting sunny, so we moved up the lake to the last campsite that Hap shows on the lake. It wasn’t signed and didn’t have a privy, but was a great site on an island point, about 1.5 km across from the New Brunswick House site. Steve and I did some exploring there (although we didn’t find any ruins) while Frank fished. We had pickerel and pike for supper and watched a pretty decent sunset right above the old fort location from a yet another excellent brandy rock at the end of the point. We finished the day by the ritual of hanging the food pack on a tree leaning out over the water, when I somehow managed to fall over the bank in the process, landing on my back on an old metal barrel or tub laying along the shore. After a few anxious seconds of checking myself out, I realized that I was OK other than a slight twisted ankle. Bedtime.


Weather – variable cloud, light rain in the PM, warm, strong SW wind
Travel – 27 km in 8 hrs, 1 portage around Two Portages Falls (50M),numerous swifts, 1 Cl II rapid

We were on the water around 08:00, relieved to find that during the night the wind had shifted back to the S. We flew the 5 km to the end of the lake and were on the Brunswick river before 09:00. There are some fun swifts along the way. Most had center channels cleared of boulders long ago (probably over 200 years ago) by fur traders, yet this back breaking work helps us to this day. We took a break at the logging road bridge over the river and walked up to look at the clear-cutting. We joined back up with the Missinaibi R early in the afternoon and had our best day of wildlife viewing on the trip: 2 bald eagles, 2 moose, a mink, a muskrat and an osprey. The eagles were particularly special. We ran the rapids below Two Portages Falls, and put in to the campsite at Pond Falls before 15:00. The campsite at the takeout is very nice (right beside the falls and a rather good brandy rock) and had been worked on recently by the Jr Rangers: lots of firewood. A group of 12 came through shortly after though, and set up at Devil Cap Falls just below us: a large very nice site as well. The Austrians were hot on their heels, but continued on. We had fish for supper and I tried my hand at cooking bannock, which turned out rather well if I do say so myself. Another evening brandy in another spectacular setting, then bed.

Day 12 – 22 Jul: A HARD DAY’S NIGHT

Weather – wet, very strong N wind until late afternoon
Travel – 34 km in 9.5 hrs, 2 portages (200M,125M), 9 rapids (lined Z Drag R, the Cl II Tech (No. 36) and Cl II (No. 42))

We were on the river by 08:00 in anticipation of a long hard day, because there just aren’t any campsites between Devil Cap Falls and Big Beaver R. To our dismay however, we were heading right into the teeth of a strong NW wind and driving rain. This kept up until late afternoon. I was in the solo canoe and had my hands full running Devil Shoepack R: I’d pick my line in the rapids, then the wind would shove me around. I got through them OK, but the day was grueling: particularly the stretch just before Albany R where I think that we could have walked along the shore quicker than we paddled. The boulder garden at Albany R is impressive, but I’d hate to go through it in very low water conditions. As it was, we marked the channels with lots of green paint for others to follow. There were several Cl II rapids that had short sharp drops over ledges that we elected to line. It just wasn’t the kind of day to push any limits, so we erred on the side of caution. By the time we hit Big Beaver R, I was pretty well done in from paddling solo for 34 km into the wind and rain. Normally, I’m the cook, but Steve set up our tent and cooked supper while I relaxed: very much appreciated! There are 2 campsites at the rapids, an upper overlooking them, and one at the put-in. The group of 6 canoes (we were inspired by two 70+ year old gentlemen in that group that had been canoeing buddies for years and paddled the Missinaibi many times: something to aspire to because it means that we have over 20 years of padding left!) that we had been leap-frogging all day, took the bigger lower site, so we enjoyed the view. The evening cleared up and we enjoyed our last brandy overlooking Big Beaver R, figuring out how we would run the Cl IV (like in our dreams!). A suitable ending to a very hard day, and our last night before Mattice.

Day 13 – 23 Jul: THE EMPIRE HOTEL

Weather – overcast in AM, rain and hail in PM, SW wind variable at times
Travel – 25.5 km, 3 portages (450M, 65M, 200M), 5 rapids, lots of swifts

After a good night’s sleep, we were on the river shortly after 8. The Big Beaver portage has 2 trails, an upper, and a lower: the upper is steep and greasy, while the lower is flatter but overgrown; take your pick. We ran the Cl I and Little Beaver R early on, then made good time with a following wind. At Glassy Falls we bumped into the group of 12 again. There’s a nice campsite with a fantastic sand beach there.
We hit Mattice at 13:30; the return to the noises of civilization a little jolting after so many days on the river. We set up camp at the campground on the river (it has showers and porcelain!) in town and set about trying to get Steve linked up with the Ontario Northland bus (easier said than done as nobody seemed to know exactly when it came by. Even the bus driver had to ask Steve how much the fare was, as I guess that he never had anybody get on in Mattice before!) to Hearst so Steve could retrieve the car from the train station. While he did that, Frank and I set up camp, had a few beers and tried to stay dry in the driving rain and hail (glad we were off the water). We had our last conversation with the Austrians who were just leaving Mattice for Moosonee after provisioning. They had adjusted their schedule and were pressing on: what an experience for them. When Steve got back, we went up to the Empire Hotel for some refreshment and supper. Another great N Ontario watering hole that has to be experienced to be truly appreciated! Bed at 21:30.

Travel Day – 24 Jul

Weather – sunny and warm

After getting the car loaded and 2 canoes on top, we headed down the road towards Capreol to drop Frank and I off at his car at the train station so we could head on to Petawawa and Ottawa. Breakfast at Smooth Rock Falls, lunch S of Timmins, and several Tim’s stops later, we got there @ 16:00. Frank and I got to Petawawa around 20:30 and I got into Ottawa just before midnight after a nice steak supper at Frank’s.

Special Comments: 

This route is well documented. The intial portion of the trip involves extensive lake travel although prevailing winds are favourable (when they prevail!)