If you love the great Canadian outdoors then Missinaibi Provincial Park should definitely be on your bucket list!
The big lake
It begins at the height of land which divides the Great Lakes watershed from the Arctic watershed, northeast of Lake Superior. Small lakes and streams don’t travel very far before they empty into big Missinaibi…
Missinaibi Lake is a long and seemingly endless stretch of lake surrounded by boreal forest. “Big Miss,” as the locals and park staff call it, is very big — 40 km long, with another stretch — Baltic Bay — measuring 20 km.
The lake is shaped a bit like a “Y” or wishbone, following massive faults in the earth crust formed by shifting continents millions (or even billions) of years ago. Parts of the lake are as deep as 100 m because of this fault.
Despite its size, Missinaibi Lake easily fits within the Chapleau Crown Game Preserve, the largest game preserve in the world. Hunting and trapping are not permitted here. The preserve was created in 1925 to conserve fur-bearing animals, as the fur trade had greatly depleted populations throughout Ontario.
Wildlife viewing from Missinaibi Lake is good, with regular sightings of Moose, Bald Eagles, Osprey, Canada Lynx (on occasion) and Black Bears.
In fact, Missinaibi is bear country. Visitors must be diligent about keeping food away from animals. In the campground, there are animal-proof storage lockers on each site. In the backcountry, food must be hung from trees to keep it out of reach. Keeping a clean campsite is key to avoiding unwanted contact with animals.
Barclay Bay Campground in Missinaibi Provincial Park is a small (35 sites, plus a group camping site), well-kept, rustic, road accessible campground.
Sites sit on the northeast shore of the big lake, about 80 km northwest of the town of Chapleau, so best to stock up on supplies before heading up to the park.
Barclay Bay has a boat launch as well as an extensive dock system capable of handling larger boats, making it a great base for boating or fishing excursions out on to the lake.
There are also more than 20 backcountry campsites that dot the lake’s extensive shoreline. Each backcountry site has a fire ring, a picnic table and a pit privy.
Missinaibi Lake has great Walleye and Northern Pike fishing opportunities. The deep waters can also yield Lake Trout and Whitefish early in the season, or later in summer with the right fishing gear.
And the fish cleaning house at Barclay Bay Campground makes preparing your catch an easier task at the end of the day.
This was the route of the voyageurs.
The Missinaibi River was an important fur trade link between Lake Superior and James Bay/Hudson Bay for 200 years. The lake itself is large enough to paddle for several days (65 km long) and it’s also a part of several longer canoe routes, including:
- Little Missinaibi Lake — by paddling southwest from Barclay Bay campground to Whitefish Falls, the Little Missinaibi River can be portaged and paddled up to Little Missinaibi Lake, which is remote and accessible only by canoe or float plane. Little Missinaibi River has many rapids that can be challenging, so a fun alternative is to take the VIA Rail train to the Shumka siding, portage and paddle through Little and Big Missinaibi Lakes to the rail-side village of Missinabie (with a slightly different spelling), and get back on the train
- Missinabie Village to Barclay Bay Campground — a three- to four-day paddle from Dog Lake, across the height of the land between the Great Lakes and Arctic watersheds, through Crooked Lake and into Missinaibi Lake. It can be extended to the rail stop of Peterbell, which is a couple of days further to paddle, with nice sets of rapids to run. This requires a vehicle shuttle
- Upper Missinaibi River to Barclay Bay — the starting point for an eight-day canoe trip down the upper Missinaibi River, with lots of whitewater to run, scenic falls and rapids. Don’t worry — there’s still plenty of flat water to paddle. Being on the Canadian Shield, the Missinaibi is what is known as a “pool and drop” river. It contains long stretches of flatwater, then drops through rapids or over waterfalls, and then back to flatwater again. This route can also be accessed by train at Peterbell for a six-day trip north to the village of Mattice on Hwy 11
The fun things to do!
Some of the most popular things to enjoy at Missinaibi Lake include:
- Paddling — the lake has many coves, bays, and little rivers that lead from the boreal forest surrounding the lake — watch for wildlife!
- Hiking the old growth forest — Reva Island is covered in an old growth pine forest that’s been protected from fires from the mainland
- Learning about Indigenous heritage — Fairy Point, in the central part of the lake, has one of the largest collections of Indigenous rock paintings in Ontario. This is a powerful, sacred place, where water, rock and sky all meet
- Learning about the history of the fur trade — Missinaibi House was first built in 1777 by the Hudson’s Bay Company on the lake to trade with local Indigenous trappers. The site was abandoned in the early 1900s and is now an open grassy area with hummocks and hollows that were once trading post buildings. One of those buildings was a dairy…did they bring cows in by canoe!?
- Relaxing on the beach — Barclay Bay has a beautiful, uncrowded, sand beach near the campground, and there are many sandy coves and islands out on the big lake
- Fishing — Missinaibi Lake provides anglers with good Walleye and Northern Pike fishing opportunities from a boat, canoe, or kayak
- Stargazing – at night, the stars are so bright and so numerous that you feel like you’re in a snow globe. With no nearby towns to throw off light, every cloudless night is ideal for watching the stars, and the lake’s northern latitude provides a chance for spotting the Northern Lights throughout the summer
Barclay Bay Campground is open from early May to mid-September, and reservations are not required for car camping or backcountry sites.
There is one large group campsite located right on the water. Campers can keep canoes, kayaks and boats moored right at their site.
Your group will have its own private washroom. This site can be reserved by calling the park.
Here’s how to get your backcountry permit for Missinaibi Provincial Park:
- Stop at the gatehouse/park store in the main campground on Missinaibi Lake when you arrive at the park; open daily from 9:00 am — 4:00 pm. Or they can be obtained through our self-serve system (cash only) outside of office hours, at the main campground
- Call our Chapleau office (705-864-3137) and order the permit prior to your departure
- Secure your permit from one of our outfitter partners (below) who sell interior permits on behalf of the park
Planning your trip…
Maps are essential for planning your trip, and for navigating safely. Purchase yours by:
- ordering online
- ordering over the phone by calling the Chapleau MNRF Office at 705-864-3137
- visiting the Chapleau MNRF office in person
- visiting the Barclay Bay campground park store
Barclay Bay campground has boat and motor packages available for rent by the day or week, for use on Missinaibi Lake. Please call ahead (1-705-864-3137) to reserve a boat and motor as they are in high demand.
Also available at the park are molded polyethylene recreational canoes and kayaks. These are for lake use only — not recommended for river travel. For river trips, please contact one of our outfitters (listed below).
Local outfitters that can assist you with your trip include: