|Trail to lake from Campsite #20|
Website: Ontario Parks
Map: Google Maps
Camping Facilities: Backcountry and Car Camping
Grade: B+ (car camping)
Summary: Car camping at its best
Thoughts: I've owned the Chrismar map for the Mississagi for probably 8 years without ever having the opportunity to explore the park. The apparent seclusion, availability of backcountry camping and exceptional scenery convinced me that having this map would be a good idea, since I'd inevitably want to check this place out. The only problem is that the park is quite far from Southern Ontario and the Golden Horseshoe area (where I live), so it took quite a while before I could convince myself to make the trip up past Elliot Lake. And I tell you, fellow camper, the park is well worth the 6+ hour drive (without traffic).
|View from waterfront of site #20|
|View from 3rd lookout on Helenbar trail|
With regards to hiking, I was able to do half of the Helenbar trail during my stay and can report that it is one of the finest hikes I've done in Ontario, with an absolutely outstanding view (including a picnic table to enjoy it from) at the 3rd lookout. I started at the trailhead at the northern part of the campground loop and just doubled back after reaching the 3rd lookout. This shortens the time on the trail to roughly 1 1/2 hours, including some time at the lookouts (though I must warn, the first few lookouts are quite obstructed and can't even be compared to the 3rd). Pictures do not come close to capturing the serenity of the spot, nor the remarkable view. This would be a fantastic place to just sit by yourself and think/read/meditate.
|Resting at the 3rd Helenbar Lake lookout|
My one disappointment with the park was the need to boil water at the car campground; I had to make this trip without my trusty water filter (which was out of service at the time), and my chlorine dioxide backup was not sufficient to treat the microbes in the water supply. The notices at the park suggest that a new filtration system is in the works, but no fixed timeline is given (sigh, the realities of an underfunded parks system).
In sum, if you can justify the drive, you need to make a trip to Mississagi. The scenery is tough to beat in the central Ontario region and chances are you'll have the trails and interior sites mostly to yourself; in a camping destination as busy as Ontario, it's a rare and amazing experience.
Update - Oct 2012: It is with great sadness that I must report that this gem of a car campground will be closed in the 2013 camping season, and Mississagi will be available for day use only. What isn't clear is whether registration will be required for the backcountry, or it will be free to access or if access will be prohibited altogether.
Update - Mar 2013: From what is currently posted on the Ontario Parks website, this park is now gated shut, with access to the interior by foot only. It says that this park is for day use only, however, given that this is still a protected area and interior sites require relatively little maintenance, I'm still not clear if the backcountry sites are available for use. It would be a tragic thing if they were not, given that this government-owned protected space would now be less accessible than crown land.
Update - Jan 2014: From the Ontario Parks site, normal operation of the park seems to be continuing for this year as well. Great news! It seems the town of Elliot Lake has taken over operation of the park - great to see a municipality pitching in to protect a natural resource, given its touristic value.