Mad River - Rainbow Campground to Edenvale

CanadaOntarioGeorgian Bay basin
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Additional Route Information
14 km
1 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
0 m
Longest Portage: 
0 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Not applicable
Not applicable
Background Trip Info
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Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

Many liftovers at log jams, probably wading and portaging in difficult conditions

Technical Guide: 

Start at Rainbow Campground, by Simcoe Road 10, or the bridge west of Angus where Simcoe Road 10 crosses the Mad
North on the Mad River
(numerous liftovers, and possible portages)
To junction with Nottawasaga River
North on Nottawasaga River
Finish at Edenvale

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

One Way Down the Mad River

By: Boris Swidersky

This article originally appeared in Vol. 21 No. 1 (Spring 1994) of "Nastawgan - Quarterly Journal of the Wilderness Canoe Association"

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Board of Directors of the Wilderness Canoe Association

In its upper reaches, the Mad River babbles over a gravel bed that makes it one of the best trout streams in Simcoe County. It it easy to find places to cross this wide stream with dry feet in ordinary rubber boots. The babbling becomes an angry roar during spring runoff or after a heavy rain as the Mad tears at its banks.

Farther downstream, near Angus, just before the Mad enters the 15,000 acre Minesing Swamp, its character changes and the river becomes a narrower stream with high mud banks.

The question I was asking last year was: can you take a canoe down the Mad to the Nottawasaga in the summer?

Representatives of the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority and the Ministry of Natural Resources said it would not be possible because of low water and numerous log jams. however, Bob O’Brien, owner of Rainbow Campground, Angus, said some of his campers had travelled down the Mad and had a wonderful trip.

There are two established canoe routes through Minesing Swamp. Over the years I have made several trips down the Nottawasaga River through the swamp. Late last spring Byron Wesson, and NVCA naturalist and swamp tour guide, took me down the second water route through the swamp, Willow Creek, famous as a British Army route during the War of 1812.

Low water was supposed to be a problem on Willow Creek in late spring and summer. Byron and I went down the creek in early June. The water was low enough to cause some anxiety. A trip scheduled for the next day by the Barrie Canoe Club was cancelled because it was considered there was not enough water. But the Willow trip is another story.

I did not have much trouble convincing Byron that it was worth exploring a possible third canoe route through the swamp.

On a sunny morning in early August last year, we headed down the Mad. Delightful is a word that could be used to describe the start of the trip as we launched the canoe in Rainbow Campground. It was like a gentle paddle through a park.

After about 20 minutes of paddling, we came to our first log jam. It was not a big one and we managed to slide the canoe over the logs without doing a portage, but not before Byron was soaked to the waist doing a log rolling act. The man is amazingly fast on his feet, but not quite fast enough.

To our surprise, log jams did not prove to be a major problem. We ran into only two or three small ones farther along the river. It was the giant willows that almost did us in.

Well into the swamp, the banks of the Mad are lined with massive Willows. As the trees become too large for their roots to hold them up in the wet swamp much and the river undermines the banks, these giants lean toward the river until their branches rest on the river bottom, creating a barricade.

At first we were able to dodge the branches. When this became impossible, we resorted to saw and axe to cut a way through the maze. Finally we had to portage.

This was the midst of Minesing Swamp. There was no walking out of here. Although it was early August and there had been little rain, there was little dry land. We were so far from any roads that no vehicles could be heard. The only sounds were the songs of numerous birds that nest in the swamp. Carrying the canoe around fallen willows and through nine foot high swamp grass makes one feel like an ant. Overhead, great blue herons would fly by, several at a time, like Pterodactyls. It is a different world in Minesing. It is almost enough to make one wonder if dinosaurs really are extinct.

Early in the trip, we had startled a great horned owl who took refuge in a large willow that was playing host to a convention of crows. They quickly and noisily sent him on his way. We saw two more great horned owls later in the day.

Narrower than upstream in the Avening and Glencairn areas to the west, the Mad carries a greater volume of water in the swamp as it is joined by small tributaries. As we continued, it narrowed yet again so the canoe was brushing against the overhanging swamp grass on both sides of the river. If the river became too narrow to navigate, there was no dry land at this point for portaging.

I tested the river`s depth with my paddle and found no bottom. Wading was out of the question. If we ran out of river, we would have to go back if that was possible.

We pressed on and to our relief, the river gradually widened. In the distance, we could see a messy tree-top stick nest of a great blue heron. Minesing Swamp has the largest great blue Heron population of any swamp in Ontario. The colony near the Mad River has about 150 nests.

For some time we had been noticing areas of trampled swamp grass that had a distinct odour of barnyard manure. I thought it must be deer, but Byron said he had never known deer to stay in areas that wet. As we rounded a bend in the river we discovered the identity of the grass tramplers when a large flock of Canada geese made a noisy exit.

There was a great variety of water fowl in the area, including mallards and blue-winged teal. Every time we rounded a bend, they took wing, startling us.

It took us seven hours to fight our way down the Mad to the Nottawasaga, and a further two hours to paddle and portage down the Nottawasaga to the takeout point at Edenvale. Tracks on the banks of the Mad at some of the portages, paint scrapes and fairly recent cuts on branches showed we were not the only madmen to try the route, arduous as it is.

Navigating the Mad River is a trip to be approached with caution. At low water, the river course is obvious, but levels rise fast after a rain, even in summer. During spring runoff, much of the Minesing is under water and the channel disappears. It is not unusual for careless fishermen or canoeists to get lost and spend a cold night in the swamp.

With some work the canoe route down the Mad could be the most interesting paddling trip through Minesing Swamp. if you should try it in the meantime, you are not likely to see anyone along the way.

You can launch at the bridge west of Angus where the Mad crosses Simcoe Road 10. If you want an early start, call Bob O’Brien at Rainbow Developments, Angus. Although Rainbow Campground is a seasonal trailer park, he will probably let you set up your tent in the field beside the launch spot in the campground.

Special Comments: 

There`s a good chance you`ll run out of water and have to backtrack out of this route. It is a swampy area and difficult to portage. Read the trip log below carefully before trying this route.


Post date: Wed, 04/30/2008 - 01:22


Go earlier in the is the prime time around April 15 or so depending on the season!