Gibson-McDonald Canoe Route Notes
*Authors Note: The frequent reference to beer and the consumption of alcohol in this article is intended only to add levity and humour. Please do not follow the directions about beer consumption and always drink responsibly. If you are offended by drinking, please don’t read this article.
Steve! I thought I would put some notes together for you that I’m hoping will help you enjoy your first trip around the Gibson-McDonald Canoe Route. The route description below is by no means the best way around the loop, but Dave (Welte) and I have learned through some hard knocks and thought that I would share some ‘pro’ tips with you. Each point listed below corresponds with a number on the map. Just a quick note, you’ll need beer, and lots of it, to successfully navigate the route. These trip notes begin at Six Mile Lake Provincial Park. You can register at the main gatehouse and you will need to pay for overnight parking.
- The first year that Dave and I did this route we missed this turn and ended up heading a long way off route. When you paddle past this section it doesn’t look like it opens up to anything (looks just like a bay). Don’t be fooled by looking for something that is wide open and obvious. You have to snake around the corner to get into Six Mile Lake. At this point I would recommend having a beer…you’ve been paddling for 20 minutes and you’re probably thirsty. Look out on Six Mile Lake as there are a lot of cottages and unfortunately a lot of
dumb assboaters who don’t care you’re in a canoe and the chance of getting swamped is high. Make sure you quarter their wake or your beer will be sinking to the bottom.
- The entrance to Hungry Creek can also be a little challenging to find. My advice would be to keep the small islands of Six Mile Lake on the left and right. If you keep shooting them then once you go through the two last smaller islands, you can take a left right up into the Hungry Creek. Dave and I have found that navigating the lake is much easier with a cold beer (they won’t stay cold for the whole trip so enjoy them while you can). Depending on the water levels in the creek you may have to plough through some thick weeds. Progress can be slow so make sure you stay hydrated.
- There is an old dam with an easy portage (about 15m). It’s kind of cool to check out the dam and walk along the top. Nice place for a semi-cold beer and a quick snack.
- The last couple of times there has been a beaver dam in the lake just before the portage across Muskoka Road 35 into Gibson Lake. You may experience this, but it’s just been a quick push over in the past. There are no portages in the area (trust me we’ve looked for them). It’s best to have your open beer finished by this point or you might spill some. And you don’t want to spill any precious beer.
- Gibson Lake is a nice big lake. There is not too much boat traffic on it, but I’ve found it can be pretty windy (usually a head wind – welcome to canoeing). This means you’ll have to grind it out. You’ll work up a thirst so have plenty of beer on hand.
- The northwest side of the lake hides the entrance to the Gibson River. Similar to the entrance to Six Mile Lake this can be easily missed if you’re drinking a beer. Look for the small island on your left and make sure you take a left hand turn before the island. Worst case scenario you can make a U turn around the island and follow the shoreline into the Gibson River.
- A short way into the Gibson River you will find your first ‘big’ portage on the left. It’s aggressive (rocks, roots, up and down). You will want 2 guys on the canoe (especially if it’s the Duct Tape Princess). Take a couple of trips on this one and enjoy a nice warm beer once completed (each trip, each way that is).
- There is an overflow damn on the right side where the Musquash River empties into the Gibson. I’ve only seen it open once, but if you find it open watch out! The result is heavy side flow from the right. You will really need to grind through this to keep control (or at least as much control as you can keep). Before passing the dam you can land on the right side of the river and investigate it. Kinda cool. A quick beer shotgun to fortify yourself is always a good idea.
- Three Rock Chute - this is my highlight of the trip. There are few people up in this area. There is an awesome site on the left just before you get to The Chute. Lots of open space, wood and some great views of the rapids. It’s cool to swim down the river from the site to the rapids and check them out. Make sure that if you’re swimming with an open beer that you don’t get any lake water in it. You don’t want Giardia. I would highly recommend this campsite. It’s the crown jewel of the trip. Portage is on the right side which is kind of annoying when you pack out, but it’s well worth it. Don’t forget the breakfast of champions; beer!
- Welcome to Georgian Bay. Watch out here if it’s windy. There is some big open water between islands so take care. Simply paddle south through the islands. Dave and I have always powered through this section for fun. Try to see how fast you can get going. You’ll find it much easier with the majority of your beer supply gone (L). The good news is that you should make a beer offering to your stomach when you go past the shrine. I would also recommend making an offering when you pass the memorial as well.
- You now find yourself in McCrae Lake which is familiar territory for you Steve.
- This is a familiar portage for you into McCrae Lake (in this case out of McCrae lake). Dave and I always set up camp on the hill where we would start our portage into McCrae. Its fun to just hang out, drink beer and watch all the Noobs try to portage all their crap. We always liked to play a game called “count the coolers”. You’re also close to the rapids and it’s nice to get that portage out of the way.
- For some reason there is usually camping shit set up on this portage right at the beginning. One year we actually portage right through some noobs dining tent when they were having breakfast (it was pretty epic actually). This portage is typically wet and muddy and there are lots of bugs. Don’t spend too much time drinking until you get to the other end. There are also a number of ways to get from point A to point B. They all get you there, but I’ll leave it to you to decide which is best.
- There is nothing worse then having to back track near the end of a journey. Again in the open bay it can be difficult to tell where you are going. Avoid heading down into any of the bays or you will be losing out on drinking time. Shoot the first gap and then once you get to the long mainland portion keep that on your right hand side until you get back to Echo Rock.
Congratulations you’ve completed the route. I’m going to assume that you will not be starting from Six Mile Lake. Parking costs are about $9.00 a day so if you want to save that start at the Crooked Bay access point. I’ve never done the route from there before, but I think that you will be challenged to make it up to 3 Rock Chute on the first day.
Basic equipment is required but you might want to lean out some items that you don’t necessarily need. Save some room for beer. A little hard liquor is nice as well. I would try to pack as conservatively as possible. If you can get your gear into 1 or 2 bags it makes the portaging much easier.
Enjoy and remember to pack out your empties.