Top Canoe Trips in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan is a paddling mecca – especially when it comes to white water. The province is cut through by thousands of rivers, creeks and lakes. In fact, we’re home to 100, 000 lakes.

Our northern river systems hold the history and stories of the Indigenous Peoples who have called this land home for millennia. These northern rivers also played a pivotal role in the adventures of fur traders and voyageurs in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Today, our waterways are a true wilderness escape for recreationists. For those looking to get out and explore the province by our waterways, I’ve put together a list of some of the top canoe trips in Saskatchewan.

*While I listed these as the top canoe trips in Saskatchewan, it’s also possible to kayak and paddleboard several of them. For northern trips, I recommend taking a canoe due to the prevalence of white water plus the ability to fit more into a canoe than a kayak or paddleboard when overnighting.

Sharing stories with Ric after a trip on the Paull River at CRCO.

Paddling Northern Saskatchewan

If you’re looking for a comprehensive book that covers 80 canoe routes in the province, check out Ric Driediger’s “Paddling Northern Saskatchewan” As the owner of Churchill River Canoe Outfitters, Ric is the province’s expert when it comes to paddling in the province – he’s either paddled it himself or he’s heard dozens of stories from those who have.

Saskatchewan Canoe Route Maps

For maps of many of these paddling routes, I recommend Go Trekkers. The company is owned by Ric’s son Dan Driediger and is the go-to choice for those who enjoy paddling in the north.

READ MORE: Non-Essential Gear to Take with you on a Backcountry Trip (Because Comfort Matters)

Paddle Routes in Saskatchewan

In Saskatchewan, there are thousands upon thousands of rivers and lakes to paddle. While access to the parts of the north is limited to flying in on a float plane, the south is much easier to drop in a paddleboard, kayak or canoe.

Here are the top canoe routes in Saskatchewan, listed from beginner to expert.

1. Lumsden to Craven

Distance: 18.7 km point-to-point
Portages: 0
Paddle Experience: Beginner
Time: 5-6 hours

The Qu’Appelle Valley is a gem for paddlers in the Regina area. Between the communities of Lumsden and Craven is a nearly 20-kilometre winding route on the Qu’Appelle River. This section is part of The Great Trail waterway.

The banks are steep and often muddy so choosing in and out points carefully is important. Launch points in Lumsden are possible from James Street under the bridge near Lions Gate Park, near the Snack Shack, at River Park Campground and south of TM’z Veterinary Clinic. (A quick paddle upstream from the vet clinic takes you underneath the trestle bridge and is worth checking out).

The water is often calm as the river is sheltered in the valley. A surprising wildlife sighting along the waterway is the Western Painted turtles that call this area home.

This route is best paddled in the spring and early summer when water levels are high. Depending on the time of year, there may be small beaver dams, tree debris, or shallow water sections to navigate around. An ideal take-out point is in the town of Craven near the bridge on Highway 20.

Paddling from Gardiner Dam to Saskatoon on the South Saskatchewan River

2. Paddling the South Saskatchewan River

Distances:
125km from Gardiner Dam
95 km from Outlook Regional Park
43 km from Whitecap Dakota First Nation
20 km from Fred Heal Canoe Launch
13 km from Poplar Bluffs Conservation Area
Portages:  None but if the river is low, you’ll have to drag your boat across the occasional sand bar
Paddle Experience: Beginner
Time: half-day to 3 days

A popular trip near Saskatoon is along the South Saskatchewan River on the Chief Whitecap Waterway which also includes a portion of The Great Trail waterway. Route distances vary from an afternoon outing to a multi-day trip depending where you put in. There are 5 popular launch points including Gardiner Dam at the north end of Lake Diefenbaker (125 km), the community of Outlook from their regional park (95 km), Whitecap Dakota First Nation (43 km), Fred Heal Canoe Launch (20 km), and Poplar Bluffs Conservation Area (13 km).

Camping on a sandy beach on the South Saskatchewan River.

While there are some campsites along the way, many paddlers choose to overnight on one of several large islands in the middle of the river. It’s a great route for a mix of leisurely paddling and sitting back and letting the flow of the river push your boat while enjoying views along the river. The trip is perfect for those who have limited paddling experience but are looking for a big adventure close to home. Even a few kilometres out of the city, you still feel like you’re out in the wilderness.

If the wind picks up (as it often does in Saskatchewan), I recommend staying close to one side of the shoreline to make paddling easier.

3. Bagwa Route

Distance: 26km loop
Portages: 3
Paddle Experience: Beginner
Time: 2 days, 1 night or 7-10 hours

There are several popular paddling routes in Prince Albert National Park. The Bagwa Canoe Route is one of the most accessible and paddle-friendly trips. The 26 km route starts on Kingsmere Lake and travels through Bagwa Lake, Lily Lake and Clare Lake. The route can be travelled in either direction and there are three portages to navigate. The first portage is one km in length and will need to be done twice (in addition to the other two portages). However, it’s made easier by a rail track with a boat cart to haul your boat. You may need to hike to the other end to retrieve a cart to start the portage.

There are three campsites to choose from along the way. Sites can be reserved in person at the Visitor Centre in Waskesiu. All sites are equipped with pit toilets, picnic tables, fire pit and bear cache.

Running rapids on the Churchill River.

4. Devil’s Lake & Barker Island

Distance: 6 km
Portages: 1
Paddle Experience: beginner to advanced
Time: 2 days, 1 night

They say northern Saskatchewan has some of the best whitewater in Canada. If you’re into whitewater – or want to get into whitewater – you’ll likely find yourself up at Devil’s Lake and near Barker Island, 80 kilometres north of Missinipe. Paddlers leave their vehicles behind at the Devil Lake campground and launch from the Devil’s Lake dock.

READ MORE: Learning to Paddle Saskatchewan’s White Water

Portaging on the Paull River.

The paddle across the lake takes less than an hour. There is a well-maintained 200m portage trail past Mosquito Rapids. From there, the opportunities are endless. Barker Lake and the surrounding Churchill River system have several areas to play in with runnable rapids that range from class 1 to 4+ depending on your skill level. (A map of the area is necessary to navigate all the rapids and portages).

The campsites on Barker Island are well-used but there are many other sites in the area to choose from. As this is a popular location throughout the summer months, it’s not uncommon to see others paddling and playing in the rapids.

Practicising how to do a canoe rescue.

If you’re new to white water, I highly recommend taking a Paddle Canada moving water course. I took my introductory courses for tandem and solo canoeing with Geoff Horn from the Prairie Summit Shop. He offers a variety of flat water, family canoe and white water courses.

This is also the location of the annual Whitewater Festival hosted by CRCO at the end of June. CRCO puts together a great weekend of paddle clinics and hot meals. They even bring in a band by boat for an outdoor solar-powered wilderness concert on Barker Island.

5. Nistowiak Falls

Distance: 40km round-trip
Portages: 1
Paddle Experience: Intermediate
Time: 2 days, 1 night

The most popular way to reach Nistowiak Falls in the summertime is by canoe. While there are several multiday trip options, the most popular and quickest route is to paddle 20 kilometres one-way from Stanley Mission with an overnight on Drope Island.

A highlight midway is the red ochre pictographs found on the rock. You can find them on the north side near Stanley Rapids where the river narrows. The pictographs will be just above the water level. They were painted by ancestors of the Woodland Cree who live in the area today. There are several markings including bison, moose, elk and human figures.

Scouting rapids on a river in northern Saskatchewan.

There is one portage you’ll have to make. Skilled paddlers may be able to run the rapids depending on water levels. The short portage at Little Stanley Rapids has a boardwalk ramp with rollers to slide your canoe and gear along so you won’t need to unload.

From the portage, there are several spots to camp on Drope Lake including on one of the islands in the lake or on the downstream side of the portage. Be aware of wind on this lake as it can create big waves that make it more challenging to cross. From Drope Lake, cross into Frog Narrows and then on to Nistowiak Lake.

If you’re looking for a guided canoe trip, Ric at Churchill River Canoe Outfitters can connect you up with a multi-day guided tour based out of Missinipe.

READ MORE: How to Get to Nistowiak Falls in Any Season

6. Paull River

Distance: 65-100 km
Portages: up to 8
Paddle Experience: Intermediate
Time: 4-6 days

The Paull River is one of the top rivers to paddle in Saskatchewan if you’re looking for a bucket-list fly-in experience. It’s one of the most affordable because it’s a relatively short distance to fly that only requires a one-way flight. The paddle takes you all the way back to Devil’s Lake near Missinipe. Most paddlers choose to fly into Taylor Bay, Paull River Wilderness Camp or Tuck Falls depending on the time and distance.

Sluice Falls on the Churchill River

The paddle is roughly 65-100 kilometres depending on where you get the pilot to drop you off. It takes most people 4-6 days. The river offers a good mix of easy runnable rapids with up to 8 portages. The longest portage is 1.1 km but the view of the class 4 rapid at Sluice Falls is worth the effort of lugging your gear along the trail. Tuck Falls is also a highlight.

Keep an eye out for the dozens of eagles you’ll spot on this paddle.

Flights can be booked with Osprey Wings right in Missinipe and cost roughly $1500 for a Turbo Otter with 2 ties ons, depending on fuel rates. The trip is most economical with 6 people on board, nesting a smaller canoe inside a larger canoe.

READ MORE: How to Visit The Sand Dunes in Saskatchewan

Portaging past rapids along the river

7. Clearwater River & Methye Portage

Distance: 120 km
Portages: up to 13 portages
Paddle Experience: Expert
Time: 7-9 days

The 300 km long Clearwater River has a bit of everything – untouched wilderness, adrenaline-inducing whitewater and a link to Canada’s historic fur trade and the Indigenous communities who have used this waterway for millennia. It’s also the location of Canada’s longest portage.

The Historic 19-km long Methye Portage is not well known today, but 200 years ago, it was a vital link during the fur trade. The plateau here links the Churchill and Arctic watersheds along the continental divide. While it’s mainly used by quadders, you can still see the tracks left behind from oxen-pulled carts.

To paddle the entire river, it would take nearly two weeks. However, most paddlers focus on “the lower Clearwater River,” a 120 km stretch beginning at Warner Rapids Bridge to Cascade Rapids. Most trips require a float plane for access but you can also arrange for a shuttle to Warner Bridge. It’s worth the time and effort to experience the canyons, gorges and waterfalls on this paddle route.

Loading the float plane before a trip out in northern Saskatchewan

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