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Canoeing the Churchill River

15 Great Canadian Canoe Trips

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One of the best ways to discover Canada in the summer is via a canoe. If you’re looking for adventure and a means of communing with nature then any of my suggestions should do the trick. From single day outings to month long epic Canadian canoe trips, this country has it all covered. 

Canadian canoe trips can be an affordable way to explore the country. Canoes are relatively inexpensive to rent, camping is cheap and you have to eat. Unfortunately northern trips can be expensive but an exception is the Cameron River with a gorgeous side trip to Hidden Lake Territorial Park near Yellowknife.

The next morning the smoke is gone to be replaced by fierce winds
The smoke is gone to be replaced by fierce winds on the Cameron River canoe trip in the NWT

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Location map for the Canadian canoe trips

                       

The Nahanni River canoeing trip is a classic

Located about 500 km west of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, the Nahanni River is the star of the Nahanni National Park Reserve. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As National Geographic explains – The South Nahanni is what Everest is to mountaineers – remote, breathtaking and mystical.

Highlights of a two week canoeing trip are Virginia Falls (twice the height of Niagara Falls), the Tufa Mounds, Pulpit Rock as well as spectacular canyons and hot springs. You need basic whitewater canoeing skills to attempt this one. Most people go with an outfitter. Wildlife is also great – 42 mammal species and 180 bird species have been sighted.

Virginia Falls, North West Territories - Photo credit: Viaje a Canada on Flickr
Virginia Falls, North West Territories – Photo credit: Viaje a Canada on Flickr

Thelon River, Northwest Territories – one of the most remote Canadian canoe trips

The Thelon River is a remote barren lands river that starts in the Northwest Territories and flows for over 900 kilometres through Nunavut to ultimately drain into Hudson Bay at Chesterfield Inlet.

The Thelon River is famous for its fantastic concentration of wildlife in a pristine wilderness environment. Muskoxen, caribou herds, wolves, grizzly bears and thousands of birds can be seen on this trip. Because of the logistics – one that requires a float plane deposit and pick-up, consider going with an outfitter.

Canadian Canoe trips and a look at what lies ahead on the Thelon River
A look at what lies ahead on the Thelon River
Canoes tied off for a lunch break on the Thelon River, NWT
Canoes tied off for a lunch break on the Thelon River, NWT

Canoeing the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories

The Mackenzie River offers an 1850 kilometre journey that with good weather and moderate mileage, will take you a minimum of 48 days to complete.

That’s assuming you start in Hay River on Great Slave Lake (the 10th largest freshwater lake in the world) in the Northwest Territories and finish in Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean.

You can’t even start until into June – or you’ll be dodging icebergs the size of small houses. There are many options for starting and ending this trip depending on how much time you have. For a detailed account you can check out The Mackenzie River Guide: A Paddler’s Guide to Canada’s Longest River.

Canadian Canoe trips and dramatic cliffs along the Mackenzie River"
Dramatic cliffs along the Mackenzie River – Photo credit: Michelle Swallow

Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit in British Columbia

Outside Magazine calls the Bowron Lakes Circuit in British Columbia one of the world’s Top 10 canoe trips. It’s the equivalent of a Boston Marathon for a runner or the Annapurna Trek for a hiker.

The Bowron Lakes attract an international crowd looking for adventure and solitude. The 110 km (72 mi) Bowron Lake Circuit is typically paddled over 6-10 days.

The journey involves six major lakes and two rivers linked by numerous portages with the Cariboo Mountains serving as a backdrop. It’s easy to do on your own – though there are lots of outfitters too.

Beautiful backdrop for paddling
One of the lakes you paddle on the Bowron Lakes Circuit
Looking down the Bowron Lakes
Looking down the Bowron Lakes

Churchill River – a classic Canadian canoe trip

The Churchill River in northern Saskatchewan is a series of lakes joined by rapids and falls – and is part of the route the Voyageurs followed so many years ago.

It’s 105 km long and perfect for all levels as the more difficult rapids can be portaged. A total of nine portages are required, averaging 300 m in length. You need about a week to do it.

Read: Canoeing the Churchill River in Saskatchewan

Canoeing the Churchill River
Waiting for the storm on the Churchill River
Decked out in a head net for the portage with Sluice Falls in the background
Decked out in a head net for the portage with Sluice Falls in the background

Reindeer Lake canoeing, Saskatchewan

Canoeing Reindeer Lake, the ninth largest lake in North America, really isn’t something very many paddlers would consider but I threw it in here for the true adventurer.  If you’re into big water and solitude and you don’t try the loop we tried, you could have a really good time. There are 5,500 islands, often covered in thick lichen and moss, swimmable water come summer, a total lack of people and plenty of beautiful campsites. This fishing is second to none as well.

The lake is accessed from Missinipe – where you can rent a canoe. From there it’s a two hour drive on a good dirt road to a launch site. Plan on at least a week to as distances are huge and the lake is often very windy.

Read: A Canoe Trip in Canada You Probably Won’t Want to Do 

One of the pretty spots to stop for a break
Beautiful place to stop for a break
I feel like I'm paddling an infinity lake
I feel like I’m paddling an infinity lake – it’s almost disorienting with the reflections

Canoeing the Bloodvein River, Manitoba

The Bloodvein River in Manitoba is probably named for the red granite bedrock. The river takes you through the Canadian Shield from the Ontario-Manitoba border through Atikaki Provincial Wilderness Park and a swath of the boreal forest en route to Lake Winnipeg.

It’s suitable for novice through to expert paddlers. Highlights – apart from the fact that the river is pristine – are pictographs, seen on the longer trips and a sweatlodge ceremony at the end. You need 9 – 15 days to do it.

The Powell Forest Canoe Route

If you’d like to paddle a loop – with a small shuttle – that includes eight lakes and five portages over about five days, put the Powell Forest Canoe Route on your must do list. The portages are in great shape with canoe racks every 100 – 150 metres. There are plentiful campsites, and none need to be reserved. And though not as wild as some canoe trips, there is lovely mountain scenery and plenty of old-growth rain forest to admire.

Read: The Powell Forest Canoe Route Guide

Dodd Lake is about 7 km long
Dodd Lake is about 7 km long
One lucky paddler gets a canoe rack at Horseshoe Lake
One lucky paddler gets a canoe rack at Horseshoe Lake

Exploring Ontario’s French River by canoe

The French River is a historic river running from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay, Ontario. It was my first overnight canoe trip. It’s a great trip for novice canoeists and families.

Whitewater is easy – or should I say in hindsight it’s easy as we tipped and dented our canoe in the biggest rapid when I stopped paddling – and the swimming is excellent. Campsites are beautiful too. You can do a section of the French River over a long weekend.

Read: The French River & The Lodge at Pine Cove

Having fun in a kayak on the French River
Having fun in a kayak on the French River
Cottages on the French River at the Lodge at Pine Cove
Cottages on the French River at the Lodge at Pine Cove – Photo credit: Rob Stimson

Algonquin Provincial Park – a much beloved park for Canadian canoe trips 

Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario boasts over 2,000 km of canoe routes. Not only are there picturesque lakes but there are rivers – perfect for the whitewater canoeist including the Petawawa River. An early season canoe trip in May is ideal to beat the bugs and the crowds – at least on popular routes.

Friends of Algonquin Park put out a map with suggested canoe routes but the possibilities are endless. Paddle for a weekend or an entire summer – it’s all up to you.

An early season canoe trip in Algonquin Provincial Park
An early season canoe trip in Algonquin Provincial Park
Another beautiful campsite on Head Lake in Algonquin Park
A beautiful campsite on Head Lake in Algonquin Park

Killarney Provincial Park paddling

Killarney Provincial Park offers a gorgeous backdrop for canoeing – brilliant white quartzite cliffs, windswept pines, and red granite shorelines.

Over a weekend you can get a taste of the park but take a week or 10 days to explore the close to 50 lakes and 40 kilometres of portages available. Friends of Killarney publish a map and guide to help you make the most of your time.

12 Great Canadian Canoe Trips
Paddling the Georgian Bay section of Killarney Provincial Park
Lots of kayakers and canoers paddling past our 2nd campsite
Lots of kayakers and canoers paddling past our 2nd campsite

Canoeing in Quetico Provincial Park 

Quetico Provincial Park located 160 km west of Thunder Bay is difficult to get to and as a result sees only about 10,000 visitors per year. Its southern border is shared with the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota.

Your reward for this Canadian canoe trip is access to 600 plus lakes and over 2,000 wilderness backcountry campsites. An infinite number of canoe trips are possible – and if you stick to the larger lakes you can avoid most of the portages. There is something for everyone in this park – and a large number of snapping turtles.

Read: A Week Long Canoeing Trip in Quetico Provincial Park 

Best canoe trips in Canada includes Quetico Provincial Park
Beautiful canoeing in Quetico near Burnside Lake – one of the great Canadian canoe trips
Canoeing in Quetico Provincial Park
Canoeing in Quetico Provincial Park

Canoeing La Vérendrye Reserve 

La Vérendyre Reserve located in Quebec, about a three hour drive north of Ottawa, sports over 800 kilometres of canoe friendly routes including many circuits. It’s quiet and peaceful and outside of long weekends you’re not likely to run into anybody. It offers short trips to multi-week long adventures.

La Vérendrye Reserve
La Vérendrye Reserve – Photo credit

Canoeing in Kejimkujik National Park

Kejimkujik National Park in Nova Scotia is best explored by canoe. Its renowned for it’s flat water – perfect for beginners. But it’s got plenty of backcountry available for exploring too.

The Peskowesk Lake System offers 48 km of paddling in a landscape more reminiscent of Canadian Shield country – with windswept islands of red and white pine. If you’re just looking for a day’s outing this is a perfect place to start.

Lots of islands filled with beautiful pine trees
Lots of islands filled with beautiful pine trees

A few things that would be useful on any one of these paddling trips

Further reading on canoeing trips in Canada

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13 exceptional canoeing trips in Canada

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