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The Next Morning The Smoke Is Gone To Be Replaced By Fierce Winds

Canoeing the Cameron River to Yellowknife, NWT

The Northwest Territories offers some of the best canoeing in Canada. But almost all of the canoe routes require an expensive float plane ride. I wanted to do something that didn’t cost a lot. With some help from Gary at Overlander Sports I put together an itinerary that only required a one hour van shuttle from Yellowknife to KM 55 on the Ingraham Trail (also known as Highway 4).

The plan was to spend four nights and five days canoeing the Cameron River from just above the Cameron River Ramparts all the way back to Yellowknife.

We launched on the Cameron River about half a kilometre above the Cameron River Ramparts. There’s nothing like a portage within minutes of launching to question whether you made the right decision to paddle this part of the river. But within 25 minutes we were on the water again. And the Ramparts were well worth seeing.

The Cameron River Ramparts were much bigger than I anticipated
The Cameron River Ramparts were much bigger than I anticipated
Beautiful scene at the bottom of the Cameron River Ramparts
Beautiful scene at the bottom of the Cameron River Ramparts
Standing in a safe place to see the Cameron River Ramparts
Standing in a safe place to see the Cameron River Ramparts

It was back in the canoe for a short paddle until we reached another short set of rapids. They were way too shallow to paddle but it was a quick portage to get by them.

From there it was 6.7 kilometres to reach the Cameron Falls takeout – which is on river right before the pedestrian bridge. Miss it at your peril.

A section of calm water on the Cameron River was next
A section of calm water on the Cameron River was next
The water was so clear canoeing the Cameron River we could see large trout
The water was so clear canoeing the Cameron River we could see large trout
Beautiful reflections as we approached Cameron Falls while canoeing the Cameron River
Beautiful reflections as we approached Cameron Falls
The start of the Cameron Falls portage
The start of the Cameron Falls portage
Looks are deceiving as Cameron Falls can't be seen or even heard from where you start portaging
Looks are deceiving as Cameron Falls can’t be seen or even heard from where you start portaging
Looking across the river to people visiting the falls
Looking across the river to people visiting Cameron Falls
One of the more scenic portages we've ever done
One of the more scenic portages we’ve ever done
Me at the bottom of Cameron Falls
Me at the bottom of Cameron Falls

After Cameron Falls it was a short paddle to where we made camp, on a headland before the rapids into Prelude Lake.

Paddling over beautiful grasses
Paddling over beautiful grasses
More beautiful reflections seen while canoeing the Cameron River
More beautiful reflections seen while canoeing the Cameron River
View from above our campsite on the first night after canoeing the Cameron River
View from above our campsite on the first night
Another view from our campsite on the Cameron River
Another view from our campsite on the Cameron River

A worthwhile detour to Hidden Lake Territorial Park

The weather was so perfect and we figured we had the time, so we made a 24 hour detour to Hidden Lake Territorial Park. Access was via two portages, the first of which was close to the campsite pictured above.

The 24 hours in the park was one of the highlights of our summer.

Early morning on Hidden Lake
Early morning on Hidden Lake

Day three canoeing the Cameron River

Our third day out took us from Hidden Lake, along the full length of Prelude Lake (about 19 kilometres) to a fantastic campsite on River Lake. Prelude Lake is big and when the winds blow up, you could get easily get wind-bound for a day.

We had to pull over very quickly and find a place to put up our tent, as we encountered a huge thunderstorm, one we heard later had knocked out the power in Yellowknife.

From Prelude Lake you follow a slow flowing, peaceful river into River Lake. At the southwest end of River Lake there are numerous campsites on rocky points.

An easy portage into Prelude Lake
An easy portage into Prelude Lake
A rest stop on Prelude Lake
A rest stop on Prelude Lake
Crystal clear waters of River Lake
Crystal clear waters of River Lake
Our smoky sunset on River Lake
Our smoky sunset on River Lake
Lighting about 30 minutes later with visibility markedly decreasing
Lighting about 30 minutes later with visibility markedly decreasing
The next morning the smoke is gone to be replaced by fierce winds
The next morning the smoke is gone to be replaced by fierce winds

A tough paddle on Prosperous Lake 

After a smoky night, one where we went to bed with our face covered with a towel, we woke to big winds. We knew it was going to be a tough day ahead as we had the sometimes treacherous, Prosperous Lake to paddle.

To get there we did two short portages around two waterfalls, followed by a paddle around an un-named lake.

Our first set of waterfalls on route to Prosperous Lake
Our first set of waterfalls on route to Prosperous Lake
The second set of waterfalls end in rocks
The second set of waterfalls end in rocks
Looking back at an easy rapid we paddled while canoeing the Cameron River
Looking back at an easy rapid we paddled
Arriving at Prosperous Lake
Arriving at Prosperous Lake

On our arrival at Prosperous Lake all we could see were whitecaps in the distance. Common sense took over and once again we put up the tent in the middle of the day – and had a three hour nap waiting for the wind to abate. It did eventually so we hurried out to take advantage of the relative calm.

Prosperous Lake has a huge reach so once we turned the corner out of the calm, we were back into whitecaps. Still, this time we continued with John doing his damnedest to steer a course.

We took a breather on this protected bay in Prosperous Lake
We took a breather on this protected bay in Prosperous Lake
A quiet bay on Prosperous Lake
A quiet bay on Prosperous Lake

Tartan Rapids

Another hour of hard canoeing put us at the Tartan Rapids – with signs of civilization once again. They were easy to portage and I was in no mood for trying to get the perfect line to get through them in a canoe.

The entrance to the Tartan Rapids
The entrance to the Tartan Rapids
The Tartan Rapids look like nothing from this angle
The Tartan Rapids look like nothing from this angle

After the Tartan Rapids portage we were on the Yellowknife River. The paddling was easy but it was at least an hour until we found a campsite. The one we stayed at was okay though it lacked the scenic quality of the others.

Easy paddling on this part of the Cameron River
Easy paddling on this part of the Cameron River
More of these beautiful grasses
More of these beautiful grasses
View from our last campsite
View from our last campsite

Canoeing into Yellowknife, NWT

Our final day of paddling was easy from our campsite on the Yellowknife River until we got through Yellowknife Bay. Then we had a repeat performance with the wind. I counted strokes to keep my mind from thinking about flipping the canoe with a full load.

It was absolutely wonderful to see the Yellowknife skyline. We literally paddled to a residential community where we pre-arranged a canoe drop.

After unloading the canoe we picked up our bags and walked a few kilometres into downtown Yellowknife. It’s not often you can do that on a canoe trip.

Canoeing the Cameron River requires the right mix of skills

Despite a few super hard days of paddling, I loved this paddling trip and highly recommend it if you have the right mix of skills. Portaging skills should be good and you must be comfortable paddling on big lakes if you want to do the full trip from the Cameron River Ramparts to Yellowknife.

There is the option of pulling out at Powder Point on Prelude Lake and organizing a return shuttle. And there’s a pullout where you can get picked up, so you don’t have to paddle any of Great Slave Lake.

A very tough last 90 minutes paddling on Great Slave Lake to Yellowknife
A very tough last 90 minutes paddling on Great Slave Lake to Yellowknife
Yellowknife at last
Yellowknife at last

Rent canoes and gear in Yellowknife

You can rent canoes from Overlander Sports for $45/day. Barrel rentals are $15. Camping is free and the shuttle service will run you approximately $1/kilometre but you must pay for their return trip.

Further reading on canoeing in Canada

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Canoeing the Cameron River to Yellowknife, NWT

 

 

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 16 Comments

  1. Stunning, beautiful shots as always but you know what caught my eye? Your shoes! I did order us similar pairs after you wrote about them and we’ve had them with us in Greece and local trips as well. . .glad to see you wearing yours!! 😉

  2. Those rapids are seriously incredible, and I LOVE that you can see the grasses as you paddle over, so breathtaking! I haven’t done much canoeing in my life (I need to fix that!) I did go canoeing as part of a botany class I took back in college, and my friend and I got stuck in the middle of the lake in the middle of a thunderstorm!;-)

    1. @Jess Thunderstorms and canoes are not a great mix – and perhaps that’s why you haven’t been back. There are lots of canoeing trips that aren’t hard to do and those are the ones I’d recommend starting with.

  3. Wow, this is some of the most stunning scenery I have seen in any of your posts,which is saying a lot. Very similar to Quetico, but even more beautiful. Makes me want to jump in a canoe and paddle all the way to Yellowknife.

  4. What an incredibly beautiful country we live in! I have never been on a canoe trip – I think I will have to start with one that’s a lot easier than this. So many beautiful photos but I love the one with the inukshuk wearing a cap!

  5. I am in awe at every beautiful, postcard-worthy photo you took on this trip. Absolutely stunning scenery and what a great way to slowly see them. I’ve only been on one canoe trip but my husband did all the work 🙂 I think I need to start somewhere a bit smaller than this. Love those sunset and reflection shots!

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