Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada.
April 2021 was cruel. On one hand we had a very early ice out and unseasonably early warm spring weather; on the other, we could not take advantage of the extended shoulder season because the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic was rampaging through Ontario -- mostly in the form of more dangerous and contagious variants. On April 3rd, the Ontario government (a day late and a dollar short, in this author's humble opinion) declared a state of emergency and locked down the province, yet again. Ontario Provincial Parks were available for day use only and camping was prohibited. My May 1st booking to run the Mississauga River got cancelled for the second year in a row. By April 15th, the government also prohibited camping on crown land...again. Had the government taken stricter measures earlier, when the number of cases were climbing, we might not have been in the most dire situation since the pandemic started. It was beyond frustrating to be over a year into the pandemic and not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Well, with another spring paddling season highly compromised, one had to make the best of it. My family had been quite diligent about social distancing since the fall and everyone was getting fairly stir-crazy by that point, so I decided to do as many day paddling trips in my area of the province as I could. One of the more interesting days out was the one where my daughter, Tanya, and I decided to head down the Little Mississippi River from the Boulter Road Bridge to Loney's Chute and back again.
Shortly after 9:30 am, we arrived at McArthur Mills on Highway 28, about 20 minutes east of Bancroft. There, we headed north on Boulter Road for a few minutes until we came to a bridge, our put-in spot. We parked on the west side of the bridge, unloaded the car and put in on the south bank. Though water levels were comparatively lower than other years, they were still high enough to show evidence of spring flooding and the river had a substantial current. At the put-in, we immediately entered a swift and needed to duck low in the boat so as to not decapitate ourselves while heading under the bridge. Once past the bridge and houses along Boulter Road, we entered into the beautiful wilderness of the Little Mississippi River Conservation Reserve.
The upper part of the river from the bridge to Norway Bay was very scenic and interesting. The river was quite narrow there and the current was strong. The river banks were dotted with a mix of cedar and pines, some of which were old and very large. What made this part of the trip fun was the fact that there were a number of sweepers and blow-downs in the river though none of them completely barricaded the route. It made for quite a little obstacle course. It was a great refresher run for Tanya, who hadn't been in a canoe since our French River trip the previous July.
Our pace downstream was relaxed. We enjoyed riding the downstream current, wanting to conserve our energy, knowing full well that we would have to use our elbow grease against the flow on the return journey. Within a half-hour, we rounded a bend and entered a widening of the river called Norway Bay.
On the eastern shore of the bay, we paddled past an old trailer with a retrofitted wood stove that someone seemed to permanently leave there, probably as a hunting/fishing outpost. I'm not sure how one is allowed to do this on a conservation reserve, but there it was, nonetheless. Maybe it belonged to those who manage the reserve, but it certainly didn't look official. I don't think I am the first to wonder about this trailer, because it did have the Ontario Plate numbers spray-painted on the side, perhaps in an effort to show the legality of its existence.
We exited the bay to the northeast and came across a large group of Canada geese that lost their minds as we approached. I think I still hear their honking in my ears. There, the river got much wider and the topography of the river banks transitioned from woodland coniferous forest to low-lying wetlands predominately made up of silver maples.
On the first bend in the river, I was feeling the need to purge the two large coffees that I had on the way up in the car. We quickly noted that with the river still in the stages of spring flooding, it was quite a chore to find a solid bank to actually stand on when we wanted to get out of the canoe. Luckily, we spotted a rare, rocky point at the base of Salt Mountain. As I was happily doing my business, I spotted something white on the ground about ten feet into the forest. Upon investigation, I discovered it was the remains of what was most likely a deer after encountering an apex predator.
For the next 45 minutes or so, the river meandered through the wetlands and would have been quite monotonous if it weren't for all the fantastic wildlife. Along this stretch we saw loons, mallard ducks, blue jays, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, an otter, a fisher and a number beavers. There might have been a beaver lodge every 200 meters along this stretch, and, boy, were they busy!
No sooner had I just commented on what a fantastic wilderness experience the river had been thus far, when we came upon the only signs of privately-owned land enroute. On the northern bank, for a stretch of about 500 meters, there were a few cottages, homes and a trailer park, but it didn't take long to paddle past and it soon felt like you were in the wilderness again.
A couple of kilometers past the trailer park, the marshy wetlands started to show evidence of forested woodlands and rocky shoreline again. There, we stopped for sandwiches and a short rest. The river narrowed again and picked up its pace. We rounded a bend and could hear running water and knew we were approaching Davey's Rapid. It was only one little drop in the river and had a nice little tongue down the center that was easy to run in the high water. Immediately below the swift was the only real spot where one could camp enroute. An ATV trail ran up to it and it was on a high grassy bluff under a beautiful big pine tree. It appeared to be a regular spot for trail bashers who left their plastic lawn furniture all over it.
Past Davey's Rapids, the river seemed to move even faster. Within a half-hour we rounded a bend and could hear the rushing water of Loney's Chute and spotted the remains of an old bridge that once traversed the rapids.
The Little Mississippi was used to transport logs back in the day. The logs would head downriver to the York River system and from there continue into the Madawaska, which empties into the Ottawa River. Evidence of these times can be found at the top of the rapids.
At the top of the rise, overlooking the falls, there was a wonderful, massive old pine tree. What a beauty!
Below Loney's Chute, though the area is listed as part of the Little Mississippi River Conservation Reserve on the Crown Land Use Policy Map, there is a cabin and maintained land that looked like it might belong to someone, so we were reluctant to go investigate the area more in case it was someone's private property. Perhaps it was managed by the local township, but we were at our turnaround point and begrudgingly knew we had to start our upstream paddle.
Our trip back to the car took about a half-hour longer than the downstream leg, due the current working against us. Unfortunately, the rain came in a little harder, as well. On the bright side, Tanya and I went into beast mode and we were able to paddle up Davey's Rapids without having to get out of the canoe! My daughter impresses me more and more on every trip. At this rate, she'll be replacing my seat in the stern seat soon enough!
Shortly after 4 pm, we veered around a twist in the river and saw the Boulter Road bridge and our vehicle ahead. It was a welcome sight. We had paddled 30 kms, half against a fairly strong current and had been on the river for 6.5 hours. A 30km paddling day is long, even when one is in good paddling shape and not fighting a river upstream. This was my first long day of paddling after the Covid winter and I was feeling it! Tanya, even at the immortal age of 17, was feeling it as well. She slept most of the way back home, even though it wasn't a long drive.
The Little Mississippi is a fantastic day trip and is highly recommended. It would have been even better had we brought a second vehicle and paddled right to Conroy Marsh without paddling back upstream, but we decided to save that for another time. It could also be a part of a larger trip involving a trip down the York, or starting at Weslemkoon Lake.
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