Hike #40: Helenbar Lookout Trail

Distance hiked: 7km
Location: Mississagi Provincial Park, Ontario
Date: August 16, 2020

On June 29, 1946, Bill Mackenzie, an RCAF flight lieutenant made an emergency landing on Helenbar Lake when his Gloster Meteor (the first British jet fighter) lost his way in a storm. Just before running out of fuel, he ditched his plane in Helenbar Lake and spent 23 days in the wilderness and made a trail through the forest of Mississagi Park. He was rescued by local fishermen on the north shore of Semiwite Lake.

We camped at Mississagi Provincial Park the night before. After “hiking” the Flack Lake Nature Trail (I use this term loosely as it was more like bushwacking and we’re still not entirely sure whether we were hiking along an actual trail), we drove back to our campsite and set off to hike along the Helenbar Trail.

The Helenbar Lookout Trail (7km, rated moderate) leads through the forest and is reputed to feature interesting geological features and a great view over Helenbar Lake. The trail starts from the northern part of the campground.

The first part of the trail gradually ascends through the forest along a ridge. After a few hundred metres, the path passes by an erratic, a large boulder deposited here at the end of the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago.

Beyond the erratic, the trail continues to slowly ascend up the ridge. It’s a gentle incline and the path is free of rocks, roots and other obstacles. The trail was in good shape, better than we thought after hiking part of the Flack Lake Nature Trail, and is well signed with blue markers.

The first scenic lookout was a bit of a letdown as the views of Helenbar Lake were obstructed by trees.

The second scenic lookout was much better. There is even a picnic table here, which we sat on to take a break, eat a snack, and enjoy the views.

The trail then leads away from the lake and gradually descends the ridge. At this point the trail becomes more rugged with some rocky and muddy patches. There’s a small portage between Helenbar Lake and Semiwite Lake. We followed the signs and turned right at the junction towards Semiwite Lake.

There’s a small sandy beach at the junction. Beyond this point, the path is signed with orange markers and follows along part of the Semiwite Lake Trail.

The trail hugs the shoreline of Semiwite Lake and leads to the western side of the campground. Once we completed the trail, we just walked back to our campsite. Overall it took us two hours to complete the trail.

Mississagi is located in the middle of nowhere, but it was well worth the visit to hike along the Helenbar Lookout Trail. And for those that want more of a challenge, there is always the MacKenzie Trail (22km, rated strenuous), which was named for the pilot that landed here in Helenbar Lake.


My progress on the 52 Hike Challenge can be found here

24 thoughts on “Hike #40: Helenbar Lookout Trail

  1. Ab says:

    Reminds me a lot of Algonquin. And I love the lookouts and that brown lake water. And how thoughtful to have a picnic bench on that lookout. Can you imagine having to lug that up and to that lookout? 🤣 Enjoy your day. Almost the weekend!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The landscape does look like Algonquin with all its pristine lakes and wilderness. You really do get that feeling that you’re completely surrounded by nature. I’m always amazed to come across a picnic table, bench or viewing platform on a longer trail. I can’t help but think the same thing as you about how it probably wasn’t easy to lug it or the supplies up. Take care and have a wonderful weekend.

  2. ourcrossings says:

    This looks like a really wonderful and well maintained trail. Is there anything better than a hike though a tranquil woodland, and the trail that brings you all the way to the lookout? It’s been a while since the last time that we’ve hiked. At this time of the year most of our favourite trails are heavily drenched and muddy and travel restrictions won’t allow us to travel anywhere. Hopefully, that’s going to change next week. Thanks for sharing and have a lovely day. Aiva

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I was honestly surprised at how well maintained the trail was given that the park doesn’t get too many visitors. It also didn’t help that we hiked another trail earlier in the morning and the path was just covered with fallen trees and other debris. But then again, we’re not entirely sure whether that was the actual trail. We went hiking last week and many of the trails were muddy and wet. Then I remembered that this is why we typically don’t hike during this time of the year either. Thanks for reading. Take care.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Mississagi doesn’t get too many visitors since it’s a bit out of the way, but we’re glad we made the trek up to visit. We’re thinking of returning next summer, likely towards the end of the summer when the bugs are less aggressive. Perhaps our paths will cross.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It rained overnight and was overcast in the morning. Everything just seemed so calm and quiet, including the water. Glad the skies cleared up mid-way through our hike and were able to get some shots with the sun shining. Thanks for reading.

  3. alisendopf says:

    I LOVE the story of the downed RCAF airman. That’s a long time to be wandering around the wilderness. The second cool bit is the erratic. Do you have any idea where it started from? We have a gigantic erratic on the prairies called Okotoks (first nation for Big Rock). The geologists have traced it back to a specific mountain in Jasper National Park. I suppose with all the granite out there, this might be harder than it was for us, as most of our rocks are made of limestone.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s pretty amazing how he was able to survive in the bush for over three weeks. And very fortunate that he was rescued given how remote Mississagi is. We have a few erratics here in Ontario, but that’s nothing in comparison to some of the massive ones like Okotoks. I tried to do some googling to see where it came from and wasn’t able to find anything specific, only that it was left behind by melting glacial ice.

      • alisendopf says:

        Oh, thanks for looking. Your mountains are so incredibly ancient compared to the Rockies. I remember hiking in Nova Scotia, way up on a high bluff above the ocean. The rock was scoured with water ebb/flow marks, which meant it was once under water. Now that’s old rock!

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Ontario may not have the tallest mountains, but some of them are quite popular for skiing or hiking. And yes, they are pretty old. We visited a few places on our Northern Ontario road trip that had similar water ebb/flow marks. You could see the ripples in the ridges as this area was once under water. Geology rocks!

      • alisendopf says:

        I know! Geology is so fascinating! At one time your rocks were definitely bigger than mine. The Rockies are already shrinking. Such a short life span in the BIG picture.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We were a bit concerned that this trail wouldn’t be in the best of condition given that the park doesn’t receive a lot of visitors, but it was very well maintained and well marked. The terrain wasn’t too bad either. And those views of the lake were lovely.

  4. Lookoom says:

    The 23 days of wandering are not really reassuring when it comes to venturing off the marked trails. Luckily you have found your way back more quickly 🙂

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I have such a terrible sense of direction and always appreciate trails that are well signed. There are a few trails that connect with this one, including a multi-day 22km trail, so I’m glad the junctions were all marked, otherwise who knows where we’d be!

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