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The Churchill River system runs from Alberta, across Northern Saskatchewan and into Manitoba where it dumps into Hudson’s Bay. It is over 1600km long and we have had the privilege of exploring it on two separate occasions. The Churchill River has everything from lakes and rapids, to canyons and waterfalls. Don’t forget your camera as the sunsets in North Saskatchewan are incredibly beautiful. If you’re lucky, maybe one night the northern lights will put a show on for you.
Canoe Trip #1: Devil Lake to Corner Rapids
Canoe Trip #2: Stack Lake to Missinipe
Canoe Trip #3: Devil Rapids
Time Required: 3 days/3 nights (depending on your itinerary)
Location: 80km North of La Ronge, SK
Distance: 20km-50km depending on your itinerary
Difficulty: 7/10 – Route finding, portages, outdoor living.
Season: June to September
Additional Requirements: Camping equipment, canoe, PFD, paddles.
From Prince Albert: Head north on the number 2 highway out of Prince Albert. Follow that highway 240km to La Ronge where the highway becomes the 102 and winds its way 78km to Missinipe, SK.
WHAT TO BRING
- Comfortable Footwear: Water shoes. Bring a pair of water shoes for portages and a pair of hikers or running shoes for the nights when you’re outside camping. Your feet will be wet for most of the day so it’s really nice to put on a dry pair of shoes at night.
- Water: Having a good water purification pump or purification tabs are a good idea.
- Snacks/Food: The amount of people on your trip will determine the amount of food you should bring. Here’s a list of some basic foods we packed for our trip:
- Powdered milk
- Tang powder
- Beef Jerky
- Oatmeal/Brown Sugar
- Pancake Mix
- Fish Beer Batter
We also had the luxury of having Bush Pie makers with us. If you have access to them or can go buy some, we recommend it! Bush Pies make for a good lunch or evening snack. For our bush pies we had bread, cheese, pizza sauce and salami or sausage and we cooked them over the campfire.
- Weather appropriate clothing: Bring a raincoat! Learn from our mistakes. We got poured on and some of us didn’t have anything to keep us dry. A poncho will suffice. Also bring a sweater, toque, long sleeve shirt, T shirt, multiple pairs of socks, sweatpants, swim trunks, and maybe a bug net of some sort. Bring a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
- Camping Equipment: Knife, cutlery, plates, bowls, cups, pots, pans, grill to place over the fire, bush pie makers, camping stove, propane, gasoline, fire starter, matches, lighter, tent/hammock, sleeping bag, tarp, pillow if you have room, Ziploc bags to keep any valuables dry, lantern, compass and first aid kit. Totes and a sealed barrel are good for storing equipment and food. Pack any personal items you want to keep dry in a dry bag. Bring a fishing rod, tackle, and fileting knife. Great fishing up there.
- Canoeing Equipment: For every 2 people you need 1 canoe, 3 paddles, 2 PFD’s and 1 bailing bucket. Make sure you have an extra paddle in case you lose one. Even if you aren’t running rapids, you will get water in your boat so bring a bailing bucket. We rented all of our equipment from Churchill River Canoe Outfitters in Missinipe, SK. They were very helpful, reasonably priced, and even provided a shuttle that dropped us off with our canoes at the launching area. They also have experienced guides that will take you out and teach you the basics of whitewater canoeing and outdoor survival.
Phone number: (306) 635-4420
Address: Walker street, Missinipe, SK S0J 2P0
- Insect Repellent: Insect repellent can greatly improve your experience. A hat with a bug screen on it, or even a full mesh jacket is a good idea. The bugs in Northern Saskatchewan are huge and relentless. If you are not prepared for them, your trip may be very unpleasant.
- Maps: Take some handheld laminated maps and keep them connected to your canoe You can usually find something applicable to your trip for purchase at your local outdoor recreation shop.
- Bear Spray: You are in bear country. Always carry bear spray and keep it easily accessible.
- Camera: There are numerous photo opportunities you won’t want to miss.
- This Guide: Print a copy of this guide to reference throughout the trip!
Wildlife: You will be camping in bear country. It is always advisable to check in at the local Visitor Information Center to learn of any trail closures due to wildlife. Carry bear spray in an easily accessible location. The guides at Churchill River Canoe Outfitters will have the most up to date information on the last bear sightings and where they have been most commonly making visits. Camping on islands is the best way to avoid bear interactions.
Flights: For our second trip we booked flights. We flew into Stack Lake and then paddled back to Missinipe. We booked through a company called Osprey Wings. It is located right in Missinipe and they were very easy to deal with. Phone: (306) 635-2112 Email: Ospreywings@sasktel.net
Leave No Trace: It is important that we enjoy the outdoors responsibly and sustainably. Some key principles to consider when hiking to “Leave No Trace” are:
- Plan ahead and prepare: Proper planning allows adventurers to hike safely while minimizing damage to the land.
- Travel on durable surfaces: Stick to the trail when possible. If there is no trail, or you must travel off trail, stay on durable surfaces to reduce your impact.
- Dispose of waste properly: Pack it in, pack it out.
- Leave what you find: Leave rocks, plants, archaeological artifacts and other objects of interest as you find them.
- Respect wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance. Never feed wild animals.
- Be considerate of other visitors: Be courteous to others to allow everyone to enjoy their outdoor experience.
To learn more about “Leave No Trace” visit http://www.leavenotrace.ca
ADVENTURE DIRECTIONS: CANOE TRIP #1 (DEVIL LAKE TO CORNER RAPIDS)
Summary: This guide will contain information on what we did on our trip. The beauty of canoeing in North Saskatchewan is having the option to explore hundreds of rivers and lakes. There’s no right or wrong route to choose. Your skill level and physical condition will determine the route that is most suitable for you to take. This route we took is for the intermediate canoer. It requires lining up rapids, portaging, and ferrying across weak class rapids. There is also the option to run some higher class rapids if you want a challenge.
Our trip started at Churchill River Canoe Outfitters on a Friday evening. We had 6 guys, 3 canoes, and we got dropped off at Devil’s Lake boat launch (Route marker #1 on the map) at about 5pm. We paddled northwest across Devil Lake and around Manitou Island to our first portage at Mosquito Rapids. This was only about a 4km paddle and took less than an hour. The portage around the rapids is a short 100m on a well trafficked trail. We launched our boats back in the water, continued paddling passed Murray Falls (we could only hear it because we were upstream) and to the end of Muchaye Island where we found an awesome campsite (Route marker #2 on the map).
The next morning, we took off from our campsite and paddled across Barker Lake and around the north side of Barker Island to a point called Hank’s Hotel. There are nice campsites at Barker Island and at Hank’s Hotel. We continued up the rapids, ferrying across to the North side of the river, and then stopped at a little island before getting out and lining our canoes up the South side of that island. Once passed those rapids it was a straight shot to Surf City (Route marker #4 on the map). Lining our canoes over Surf City was a little more challenging.
After passing Surf City we headed North passed Carla’s Rapids and then West toward Scouts Island (Route marker #3 on the map). This was where we spent most of the afternoon. We shot Corner Rapids a few times to get some confidence and practice our white water skills. Then we tried a short set of rapids beside Ric’s Falls that didn’t go as well.
After an afternoon of adrenaline and fun, we decided to head back to Surf City to camp. We found a great campsite above the rapids. After jumping in the rapids and going for a ride a few times, we grabbed our fishing rods to catch dinner. There is an eddy on the North bank of the rapids that was very generous with fish. We had beer battered fish for supper before calling it a night.
When we woke up the next morning it was raining. Some of us weren’t prepared for the rain and a raincoat or poncho would have been very nice. We paddled down Surf City, across Barker Lake, then around the South side of Muchaye Island. We portaged our gear around Mosquito Rapids on the same trail we went up the day before, but left our canoes at the top. After transporting all our gear we got back in the canoes and paddles all the way around Muchaye Island to the Murray Channel on the north side of the island. The Murray Channel has four sets of rapids all in a row. The rapids are class 3, then 2, then 3, then 1 and there are little eddies after each set to stop and wait for your comrades. After the second class 3 set of rapids there is a whirlpool as a result of the waterfall and rapids meeting. If you stay left you can avoid it, but paddle hard!
After coming out of Murray Rapids we headed right around the corner of Muchaye Island to where we had left our gear from the portage. We packed up and continued East across Devil Lake to the top of Otter Rapids. At this point we decided we needed shelter from the rain and found a perfect spot at the Otter Rapids campground (Route marker #5 on the map). There’s a portage on the East side of the river before the rapids begin that will take you up to the bridge. The campground is on the road just passed the east end of the bridge.
Before drying off completely we had one last thing to check off the bucket list. Jumping off of the Otter Rapids Bridge has been on our to-do list for some time, and we did it. There are signs on the bridge written in spray paint pointing out the safest place to jump. This is a dangerous activity and we only recommend jumping if you are a strong swimmer and the water level is high.
The next morning, we shot the Otter Rapids before getting picked up by the Churchill River Canoe Outfitter’s shuttle. Overall the trip was a huge success and we’d highly recommend this route to anyone looking to go on a Canoe Trip in Northern Saskatchewan.
ADVENTURE DIRECTIONS: CANOE TRIP #2 (STACK LAKE TO MISSINIPE)
Summary: This guide will contain information on what we did on our second trip. The route we took is for the intermediate canoer. It requires navigating through small to medium rapids, portaging, and long lake paddles. There is also the option to run some higher-class rapids if you want a challenge.
Our first day began with us hopping into two float planes, getting dropped off in Stack Lake, unloading our gear from the plane, and then loading it into the canoes. We made our way Northwest to our first campsite at the “Slick” or “Rooster Tail Rapids” (Route marker #1 on the map). We dropped our gear off there, launched our canoes and headed Northwest to a portage that would eventually dump us into McIntosh Lake.
We paddled all the way to the South end of McIntosh Lake, where there is a set of Class 2 rapids. These rapids dump into Trout Lake and were a good starter set to run because they were the right mix of challenging yet makeable. From there we passed Trout Falls, Little trout rapids (very easy), and then made our way back to the Slick (our first night campsite). The Slick is a fun set of rapids with minimal risk that is great for beginners to learn on. We played on these rapids a few times before calling it a night and setting up camp.
Day two we set off East and South through some channels and hit Rock Trout Rapids (Route marker #2 on the map). There is a portage that takes you across the first set of rapids. We portaged our gear and then ran the rapids with empty boats. These rapids were a challenge, and we had multiple wipeouts. After Rock Trout Rapids we reached Little Rock Trout Rapids which we shot with gear in our boats. After some more paddling we popped out into Mountney Lake.
We paddled our way to the South end of Mountney Lake. After leaving the lake there were a few small rapids that we shot with gear (Upper and Lower Chief Rapids), both class 1+. After these rapids we were in Nipew (Dead) Lake. Dead Lake is roughly 10km long and can be quite a challenging paddle depending on wind direction. We headed straight East to the end of the lake, keeping Boyes and Boyle Island to the North of us. Straight ahead at the East end of the lake is Devil Rapids Lodge.
We made our way through the channels at the Northeast end of Nipew Lake to find a campsite for the night. There are two campsites around there. One on the North side of the river on the mainland, and one on an island that we chose to stay at a little bit farther downstream (Route marker #3 on the map).
Day three we set off and paddled around the south side of Two lake Island with the hopes of making it to Sluice Falls for lunch. We made it through Hayman Lake and stopped at the portage trail at the top of Sluice Falls (Route marker #4 on the map). Sluice Falls, and the rapids before it, is a long set of rapids too treacherous for a canoe. Most people portage around this. You’ll find this 850m portage on the West side of the river just before the rapids start and there is a great campsite at the other end.
This is where our trip takes a turn. During our lunch break at the Sluice Falls campsite, we were approached by a man in a jet boat telling us that we had to evacuate due to the spreading forest fires and smoke rolling in. We packed up our bags and motored back to Missinipe in the jet boat (Route marker #5 on the map). That was the end of our trip.
If our plans didn’t get interrupted by fires, we would have continued to Corner Rapids, Surf City, through Barker Lake and finished with Otter Rapids. During our first trip we made it to Corner Rapids and finished at Otter Rapids, which was the intended last leg of this journey. So, in other words, if you combine Canoe Trip #1 and Canoe Trip #2, we completed everything from Stack Lake to Otter Rapids. It was a little unfortunate as some of our team had never paddled Otter Rapids before, but the positive is that we didn’t get burnt down or caught in a forest fire.
ADVENTURE DIRECTIONS: CANOE TRIP #3 (DEVIL RAPIDS)
Summary: This guide contains information on where we travelled for our third canoe trip down the Churchill River system. The route is relatively easy, in the same general area as our previous trips, but hits a few different sets of rapids (Great Devil and Little Devil). We would rate this route as beginner to intermediate as far as canoeing skill level.
We rented our canoes from Churchill River Canoe Outfitters (like every previous year) and got them to drop us off at the Devils Lake Boat Launch (Route marker #1 on the map). We loaded up the canoes, launched, and paddled to the northwest corner of Devils Lake where we entered the river system.
From Devils Lake we paddled upstream to Little Devil Rapids. Little Devil Rapids consists of three class II rapids. There is a portage on river left at the bottom of the rapids, but the portage trail is long, about 800m, and is often muddy with a lot of mosquitoes. We recommend a quicker and easier alternative route up Little Devil Rapids. When approaching the rapids, there is a little bay on river right and a portage (100m) to the top of the last set of rapids. From there you can paddle upstream to the next set of rapids where you can line the canoe up river right again. From this spot you have two options. 1. ferry across to river left and line the canoes up the last set of rapids or 2. paddle upstream to another (not as travelled) portage trail on river right. We took the portage trail on river right, option 2, because we were worried about flipping our fully loaded canoes on the rapids.
There are two islands between Great Devil and Little Devil Rapids. We found an awesome campsite on the northern one (Route marker #2 on the map) and stayed there for two nights. Great Devil Rapids is very close to that campsite.
The portage trail for Great Devil (Route marker #3 on the map) is on river left about 150m north of the bottom of the rapids. This portage trail is muddy, full of mosquitoes and 1150m long. It was brutal. At the bottom of the rapids there is a waterfall/Class V rapid that can be run but is very challenging in a canoe. The rest of the rapids are rated as Class III. The rapids can be run without hitting the waterfall, but you have to be sure to steer your canoe to river left before the river turns right and heads towards the falls. We ran the class III rapids but did not run the falls.
We ran Great Devil and Little Devil Rapids (Route marker #4 on the map) multiple times before heading back towards Missinipe. On the way back we went the same way as we came, eventually crossing Devil Lake to get back to the boat launch where we had parked. From the boat launch it’s not far to Otter Rapids. Otter Rapids are a long set of class III rapids. You can gain a lot of experience running them while having a lot of fun.
For our last night we played around on the rapids and then camped at Otter Rapids Campground (Route marker #5 on the map). Hope this guide helps and hope you enjoy your trip!
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Have fun out there!