For a downloadable PDF version of this guide CLICK HERE!
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 had the privilege of exploring 20km it. This trip 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.
Time Required: 3 days/3 nights
Location: 80km North of La Ronge, SK
Distance: 20km round trip
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
- BreadWe 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 camp fire.
- 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 sock, sweat pants, 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.
- 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.
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
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. Overal the trip was a huge success and we’d highly recommend a Northern Saskatchewan Canoe trip to anyone who loves outdoor adventures!
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Have fun out there!