ARCTIC HEADWATERS "Where Rivers Run North"
In the heart of the Canadian Shield country is the divide between the south flowing waters of the Great Lakes and Atlantic Watershed, and the long rivers flow North to the Arctic Sea. This is the Arctic Headwaters, the natural starting point of countless rivers, lakes and streams.
For paddlers, it means wilderness trips by canoe or kayak. Day trip opportunities are limited, as there are no roads through much of the Arctic Headwaters. However access is often by bushplane or by a Canadian Train, and trips range from a few days to a few weeks. The landscape is rugged, the boreal forest impenetrable, the wildlife viewing and fishing unmatched.
Along the height of land, small streams and ponds drain the granite bedrock, to empty into large headwater lakes like Missinaibi, Horwood or Biscotasing. The headwater routes are best traveled by canoe, and represent wilderness lake to lake tripping. Parks like Missinaibi, The Shoals, Obatanga, Halfway Lake or Wakami are typical of headwater canoe trips, and have maintained canoe routes in their interior. The larger lakes, many of which have established backcountry campsites, are suitable for exploration by sea kayak or canoe. The Chapleau Crown Game Preserve, a 2 million acre wilderness reserve has been set aside to protect the regions wildlife, contains many excellent paddling routes.
The rivers that drain the headwaters alternate between quiet flat sections, and challenging rapids. It is this variety that makes for some of Canada's finest canoeing rivers. River trips on the Spanish or Mississagi Rivers into the North shore of Lake Huron, or the north flowing Groundhog, Mattagami or Chapleau Rivers are exciting wilderness adventures.
The 600 km Missinaibi River, a Provincial Park and Canadian Heritage River, is a trip of a lifetime. From its source in the Chapleau Game Preserve to its outflow into James Bay at Moosonee, the river is only crossed by one road and two railway tracks, and has no dams or human habitation. With 80 sets of rapids and fewer than 20 portages, it can be paddled in 3 weeks. Guided expeditions run this remarkable river as three one-week trips, using train and bushplanes to access the river.
Ontario's Arctic Headwaters give paddlers a taste of the true northern wilderness, yet is close enough to fit into a manageable timeframe.
- Click here to see a Paddling.net Trip Report on the Missinaibi River.