Mississagi River

Total Distance: 150 km from the put-in on Spanish Lake to Aubrey Falls and requires a shuttle to the put-in

Duration:  7 days (though I recommend it in 8 or 9)

Number of Portages: 27 (including some extras if done in low water, some can be avoided if running rapids)

Total Port. Distance: 6 km

Level of Difficulty: Moderate (some challenging portages, skill needed in running or lining rapids, wind on Rocky Island Lake)

Ever since I started canoe tripping, I had always wanted to paddle the Mississagi River. I mean, what canoeist wouldn't? Remote lakes, far-flung outposts, rapids and waterfalls, Grey Owl's cabin, and the muse for Tom Thomson to become a wilderness landscape painter are just a few reasons.

Dad and I wanted to tackle two trips in the summer of 2021 and we discussed several options. The Steel River Loop was high on the list, but after having a wonderful solo trip in the Algoma Highlands earlier in the summer, I was eager to go back to the area. Besides, by mid-July, forest fires and low water levels were starting to be an issue in the northwestern area of the province, so we decided to keep our trips further east for the summer. Unfortunately, our plans for Wabakimi would have to be put off. The only issue was trying to arrange a shuttle with outfitters. Many were still not offering the service due to Covid.

However, thanks to an online trip report, I learned that Northern Skies Resort (formally Kegos Camp) was offering the shuttle service. A couple of phone calls later, we were booked for a shuttle to our put-in on Spanish Lake.

Day 1 -  The Drive to the Put-in and Spanish Lake (2 km of paddling to our campsite )

Images taken from Google Maps and its data providers.

So, on a Saturday in mid-July, we left Peterborough at 6:30 am. With only a few stops along the way, we were able to reach Northern Skies on Highway 129 by 1:30 pm. Soon after, Mike Allen, the former owner (his daughter has taken over running the camp) pulled in and introduced himself.

We followed Mike in his car for about 45 minutes to the take-out location near the Aubrey Falls Dam. There, he parked his car, hopped in mine and we began the 3-hour trip to Spanish Lake.

About 30 minutes later we saw an adult bear hanging out by the side of the highway. It was our only bear encounter on the trip though we did see bear scat on the majority of the portages, some of which were quite fresh. I guess that is not a bad thing; while portaging, this is the only evidence of bears that one wishes to see.

Just past Wenebegon River Provincial Park we turned east onto Highway 667 and passed Wakami Provincial Park. These both contain routes that are also on my bucket list, so it was interesting for me to see where they were located. Just before we reached the hamlet of Sultan, we turned southeast onto the Sultan Industrial Road. There, we stopped at a small cemetery where Mike showed us the grave of a local soldier who had survived WWII only to meet his demise, ironically, a short time later at home.

The scenery on the Sultan Industrial Road was disheartening. Logging truly had taken its toll on the wilderness in the area. Vast tracks of the landscape appeared as if the entire area had been bombed. Mike explained that clear-cutting is no longer legal and the logging companies have to leave a certain number of trees intact in a designated area; however, to my admittedly ignorant eye, I couldn't see how the trees that had been left behind could survive. There weren't many of them and they looked little and sick. I felt depressed by the time we crossed the bridge over Spanish Chutes.

I had been somewhat concerned about taking my Santa Fe on the Sultan Industrial Road, but Mike assured me it could handle the trip and, indeed, he was correct. In fact, we were quite surprised and bemused to see small, 4-cylinder vehicles on the road with little clearance. The road was in fairly good shape, but there were still several potholes to negotiate. The only mishap occurred when we turned south toward Spanish Chutes and I came over a rise and nailed a formidable pothole doing about 60. The road had been good to that point and I was getting overconfident. The suspension and alignment survived, luckily. Earlier, upon turning onto the road, the warning sign pictured below did little to assuage my apprehension though.

Maps provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada. I have marked my route in blue and portages in red. 

Mike said that he knew of a place a few kilometers past the bridge where we could portage from the road into the lake for about 200m, thus allowing us to skip about 1000 meters of portaging upriver from the lake had we put in at the Spanish Chutes bridge. Needless to say, we took him up on his suggestion.

We found the access portage easily and unloaded. I handed the keys over to Mike, he turned the vehicle around and we said our goodbyes. Mike was great. He is a wealth of local knowledge and a nice guy. His family has been in the area for generations. His fee for the shuttle was very reasonable considering that it was about an 8-hour return trip for him from his house. Later that evening, using my Zoleo device, I was able to text Mike and he replied saying that he had made it back to our take-out spot without incident and our car was safe and sound. This gave us peace of mind at the start of a long trip.

On the portage into the lake, a couple of lads passed us in ATVs. They were returning from fishing on Spanish Lake. These would be the only humans we would encounter for the next few days.

We put in next to a few aluminum fishing boats and made our way northeast out of the back bay that we were on. A half-hour later we saddled up to a little island in the centre of Spanish Lake and made camp. It was close to 7 pm and we had driven about 11 hours that day. Once we had set up on our home for the night, we enjoyed a nice evening consuming my dad's marinated steak and a couple of beers that were still frosty in our cooler bag as the sun retired in the west.