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This Texas-size province north of Montana and North Dakota is known for its prairies, but more than half of it is actually a forested canoe kingdom (think Boundary Waters on steroids). Canoes are to Canada as covered wagons were to America, and they remain one of the best ways to experience Saskatchewan’s wild country.
For the area’s best soltitude, rapids, and 300-year-old voyageur campsites, splurge for a one-hour float plane ride from Missinipe to sprawling Black Bear Island Lake. Then take four days to boat your way 56 miles back to town. In between long lake crossings, you’ll hit 20 class II-IV rapids. Portage any you choose, and scout everything. (Cheaper: Add at least three days and begin from one of the mostly unmapped car-accessible put-ins on SK-102 north of Missinipe.) Visiting is easy: No reservations or permits needed.
After getting dropped near High Rock Narrows, investigate ochre-colored Ojibway pictographs on a south-facing cliff in the narrows. Then canoe east across Black Bear Island Lake, past Pine Island, to map-marked campsites just beyond your first whitewater at Birch Rapids (class II, mile 14.2).
Day two, paddle northeast across Trout Lake, through four rapids near Stack Lake, to tree-shaded rock slab campsites just beneath Rock Trout Rapids (mile 29). Next morning, cross Mountney Lake, then whoop it up on two miles of class III rapids (most have easier sneak routes) to a 5.5-mile crossing of Nipew Lake to campsites near Selby Peninsula (mile 43).
On day four, complete your journey by crossing Hayman Lake, then turning south at the entrance of Burgess Bay down the continual, easy rapids of Donaldson Channel, through Barker and Devil Lakes, to finish in the powerful waves of Otter Rapids (class III), four miles north of Missinipe.
Maps GoTrekkers Churchill River, Sandfly to Trout Lake and Trout to Otter Lakes ($20CAD each; gotrekkers.com)
Guide Churchill River Canoe Outfitters; (877) 511-2726; churchillrivercanoe.com
Plane Osprey Wings Aviation; (306) 635-2112; osprey-wings-air.com
-Mapped by Steve Howe
- Distance: 90.1
Location: 55.635605, -105.69199
Get dropped off by float plane at High Rock Narrows. Scan the walls for rock art.
Location: 55.627182, -105.414769
Pine Island Resort
Location: 55.660074, -105.25546
Fur trade outpost ruin
Location: 55.700552, -105.207327
Location: 55.709537, -105.195687
Keep left to sneak around Little Trout Rapids.
Location: 55.702202, -105.168631
There are three channels around this island, and all of them are good. Tip: The right channel is the most scenic.
Location: 55.705074, -105.155207
Campsite below Rock Trout Rapids
Location: 55.708809, -105.127017
Large group campsite (with tarp poles) on Mountney Lake
Location: 55.725273, -105.107446
Here, you’ll find some cool marsh paddling up the northeast arm of Mountney Lake.
Location: 55.68853, -105.112061
Swift channels between Mountney and Nipew Lakes
Location: 55.678688, -105.107884
Location: 55.664722, -105.092868
Location: 55.688846, -104.966089
Location: 55.686182, -104.819954
Turn right/south down Donaldson Channel.
Location: 55.677995, -104.822616
Tip: The left-hand channel, dubbed “Chicken Out Creek,” avoids a powerful rapid.
Location: 55.675187, -104.827063
Location: 55.672867, -104.822525
At the Corner Rapid, sneak far right.
Location: 55.671628, -104.821526
Location: 55.663473, -104.800947
Location: 55.662639, -104.799267
Good camp on the northern end of island
Location: 55.647764, -104.736002
Otter Rapid. The Portage Trail begins on river left.
Location: 55.643474, -104.733885
Otter Rapid Portage Trail ends here.
Location: 55.644896, -104.734439
The route ends at Otter Rapids Campground (you’ll get cell coverage and your shuttle pick-up here).
CRCO office in Missinipe
Location: 55.600901, -104.772212