Monday, August 27, 2012

Review: Mississagi Provincial Park

Trail to lake from Campsite #20
Location: 1/2 hr North of Elliot Lake
Website:  Ontario Parks
Map: Google Maps
Camping Facilities: Backcountry and Car Camping
Grade: B+ (car camping)
Stargazing: Excellent
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).

Campsite #20
This trip was strictly car camping, since the park was not my principal destination.  I was quite surprised that I could reserve a very nice site during the peak of the camping season (a Monday night in early August) just days in advance.   As you can see from the pictures, the site (#20) is large, has decent privacy (excellent for car camping) and has it's own direct access to the lake.  Obtaining a site of this quality south of Sudbury is nearly impossible because they either don't exist or would be snatched up so fast on the reservation site that you'd never have a decent chance.  There are plenty of high quality sites here; some of the best seem to be Site #s 1-4, which are actually positioned directly on the lake with good understorey providing segregation between sites.

View from waterfront of site #20
I suspect the backcountry camping is probably exceptional as well, given the limited development in the park, the low traffic and the good dispersion of the sites.  I'd be very interested in hearing from people who have stayed in the interior.
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.


  1. Update for August 2013 - we just stayed here for the weekend, it was up and running, full of happy campers, and we had a great stay! Sites #23 & 24 are gems.

    1. Erika, thanks for the campsite recommendations and for the great news that this amazing park is still operating. Glad to hear that you had a great time!

  2. Hi there - we are looking at a reservation for summer 2014 - OntParks is still taking reservations. Are sites 1-5 on a dead end, or does that road connect to something? Its not clear on the OntParks website.

    Thanks! Chris

    1. Chris, I'm not certain, but I seem to recall a dead end at the end of that road. I'm glad to hear that they've committed to keeping the park open another season. Have a great trip!

  3. Hello Umo! Thank you for the review. I'm hoping all is operating normally for July 2014 when I'm there. Or planning to be there anyway.

    1. Glad to help William, hope you can check it out. From my experience, there probably isn't a better car camping experience in Ontario than what you'll find on some of the lakefront sites.