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Mackenzie River Guide – A Book Review

Have you ever considered paddling, either by kayak or canoe, Canada’s longest river – The Mackenzie River? If you haven’t, you will after reading Michelle Swallow’s The Mackenzie River Guide: A Paddler’s Guide to Canada’s Longest River.

"The Mackenzie River - from Great Slave Lake to the Arctic Ocean"
The Mackenzie River – from Great Slave Lake to the Arctic Ocean

Michelle takes you on an 1,850 kilometre journey that with good weather and moderate mileage, will take you a minimum of 48 days to complete – assuming you start in Hay River on Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories and finish in Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean.

"A heavily laden canoe on the Mackenzie River"
A heavily laden canoe on the Mackenzie River

Although this book is a guide book in the traditional sense, boasting over 60 beautifully illustrated maps, its got a whole lot more going for it.

Michelle expertly weaves in myths and legends of the native people, and adds in interesting quotes from people who have traveled before her. Traditional and highly unpronounceable – at least for me – place names are also used.

"Sunset over the Mackenzie River"
Sunset over the Mackenzie River

Michelle begins the book with all the useful information you really need to start your own trip planning.

When should you paddle the Mackenzie River?

Unless you want to paddle among icebergs the size of small houses, you really need to wait until mid to late June. Then for a few weeks, you and the mosquitoes can wage full scale war. But by July she says, it’s hotter and the mosquitoes are mostly kept at bay. September is stormy and colder and the bugs are pretty well gone.

Where should you start paddling on the Mackenzie River?

Not everyone has a whole summer to devote to paddling so Michelle offers a breakdown of the number of days it takes to canoe between each of the ten communities you pass through. As an example, you might decide to start in Fort Simpson instead of Hay River and save yourself nine to ten days of paddling.

Kayak or canoe?

Read her thoughts on the pros and cons of kayaking versus canoeing. It seems that kayakers are able to continue paddling under adverse wind conditions when canoes, under the same conditions, are forced to stay on shore.

But if you take a canoe you can take more food, wine…and your dog.

"Wonder if the dog is enjoying the ride"
Wonder if the dog is enjoying the ride

A guide packed with information

You’ll find the Mackenzie River Guide to be extremely thorough. Michelle provides great detail about the history and services available in each of the ten towns you pass through.

She’s a big proponent of taking the time to meet and talk to the locals, as well as supporting them by shopping in their communities. And if there is shopping available for food, you’ll know ahead of time and can plan accordingly. 

The same goes for transport, dining, camping and other accommodations and community services you might be interested in using.

"Dramatic cliffs along the Mackenzie River"
Dramatic cliffs along the Mackenzie River

Where are the best campsites?

Michelle shares her knowledge of where the prettiest campsites are located, on whether you should stay right or left on the river and all sorts of information on the wildlife you might encounter. She also reveals some of her low points so you have a sense of what the worst might be.

The book has many beautiful colour photographs in addition to lovely illustrations by artist Farah Denkovski.

"The Mackenzie River Guide"
The Mackenzie River Guide

This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is even remotely thinking of paddling the Mackenzie River. But I’d also recommend it for the non-paddler as there are plenty of photos and lots of history to make it an interesting read.

You can purchase The Mackenzie River Guide online here.

Further reading about paddling in Canada’s North



Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Can we practice Rafting in the Mackenzie River ?
    We Know Canada is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

    1. @Osa Peninsula You live in a very special part of the world as well – and what great bird life you have. I wonder how a Mackenzie River rafting trip would be.I have an inkling you may have to paddle quite a bit on it – and you need a whole summer to see the river. I know the people in the NWT would love to have you visit.

  2. Is there any way to get contact the author? I’m purchasing the book but would love to try connect with the author for some insight on this trip. I am in the beginning stages of planning this trip.

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