Maguse / Padlei Rivers

Submitter & Author Information
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Additional Route Information
322 km
14 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
3500 m
Longest Portage: 
2400 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Start at South Henik Lake (fly-in from Arviat)
P into Ameto Lake
Noomut River
Lake 185
Padlei River (72 km with much wading / dragging / lining)
P 2400 m around canyon with unrunnable rapids
Kinga Lake
Maguse River
Upper Maguse lake
Maguse Lake
Maguse River
Hudson Bay
Finish at Arviat

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

What follows is a brief, day by day , account of our canoe trip from South Henik Lake to Arviat, NWT, via the Padlei and Maguse Rivers. The route was approximately 200 miles in length, and was travelled for two weeks in early to mid July of 1996. The origin and terminus of this trip was Arviat, NWT. Arviat was reached via scheduled flight out of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Once in Arviat, we were attended to by John Lyndell, owner of Eskimo Point Lumber Co. We spent one evening in his bunkhouse and flew to South Henik Lake the next day, by one of the pilots in his employ. The following is only a very brief description of the events of that trip, and is not to be considered a mile-by-mile "tripticket". This chronicle will provide the reader with the essence of the country and a description of some of the major features and points of interest. To describe the trip in intricate detail would deprive any would-be voyageur the keen sense of discovery that one feels when a trip like this is taken.

Friday, July 4.
We waited all day in town for our canoe to arrive via scheduled flight from Thompson, Manitoba. By 5PM, we were finally in the air, crammed into a Cessna 210, Skywagon. As we packed our gear aboard the plane, the pilot (obviously not extremely experienced) insisted that we put the canoe spray deck on the boat before it was lashed to the strut. Against our better judgement, and bowing to the pilot`s insistance that we do so, we covered the boat and tied it to the plane. Fifteen minutes after we were in the air, the plane shuddered, and the sound of ripping nylon could be heard above the roar of the engine. We were forced down quickly on a small, unnamed tundra pond. We removed the damaged cover and retied the canoe. After a very tense take-off, down a shallow, rock studded lake, we were once again airborne. An hour later we were unloading on a beautiful sand beach, just above the narrows between North on South Henik Lakes. The two large lakes still being frozen, this was one of the few areas of open water. We set up camp and then hiked to the summit of the hill just south of the narrows for an unbelievable view of the rolling tundra. A large white wolf was seen near camp, within an hour`s time of our arrival.

Saturday, July 5
Left camp and proceeded through the narrows into South Henik. Fishing in the narrows was spectacular as we landed one large lake trout, after another! Stopped to explore the remains of Henik Lake Lodge. Lots of equipment, including a mint condition early 1970`s Jeep, remain there as testimony to someone`s lost dream. Paddled a short stretch of moving water and down into South Henik, where we found the trout fishing to be truly world class! We landed one large (6-10 lb) trout after another. Numerous fish could be seen beneath the canoe, in the clear waters. Paddled a few miles eastward and crossed a short portage into Ameto Lake. Travelled the entire length of the lake to its outlet at the start of the Noomut River, which at this point, was very shallow and rocky. Dragged through and on into Lake 185 and encamped on a beautiful esker a few miles down the lake.

Sunday, July 6
Had a long discussion, and because of low water in the Noomut, we decided to forego the ninety plus miles of that river, and to change our plans in favor of the shorter route down the Padlei River. According to earlier trip reports, submitted in the early 1970`s, we knew that the Padlei was also a very shallow stream, with many bad spots, but because of its shorter length (approx. 45 miles) we opted for it. We were now on our own, and in case of trouble, no one would know of our whereabouts. Good or bad, this did add another element of adventure to our excursion across the barrens! Entered into the Padlei drainage over a very picturesque portage, through a boulder strewn, parklike landscape. Entered the Padlei River a few hours later and dragged and waded several "rapids" and traversed several small lake expansions. Camped on a level terrace near the river. Reminders of the Caribou Inuit were all around, in the form of old tent rings, inukshuks, and discarded caribou bones. We surely were not the first to camp here. A truly magical spot.

Monday, July 7
Paddled, dragged, and waded (but no portaging, per se) the remainder of the Padlei River. After a beautiful day in truly wild country, we finally reached the terminus of the Padlei River. Just before it enters Kinga Lake, the Padlei drops 200 vertical feet, through an interesting mini-canyon. This forces the paddler to make the longest portage of the trip, approximately 1.5 to 2 miles in length over the open tundra. We carried all gear and canoe to a point were the river becomes navigable again, one mile, or so, above Kinga Lake. Made camp with Kinga Lake visible in the distance.

Tuesday, July 8
Paddled the last mile of the Padlei into Kinga Lake. The river, at this point is reduced to a class 1-2 stream, which passes through a stand of remarkably thick spruce as it merges into the lake proper. A short paddle down Kinga brings the traveller to the remains of the historic Hudson`s Bay Post of Padlei. Several well preserved buildings invite the tripper to wander the grounds and get a feel for the old days. The buildings have been used by trippers and locals alike throughout the years, and while exploring one of the old structures, I was greeted by the footprints of a recent visitor. The unmistakable, muddy prints of a barrenland grizzly wandered lazily from one room to another! A feeling of unease came over me as I backed out of the entrance and returned into the bright, afternoon sunlight. I walked quickly through the head high willows back toward the canoe. Paddled eastward down the lake and entered, for the first time, the Maguse River. We decked out the canoe ( with the torn cover) as a safety precaution, and paddled our first real rapids, which consisted of three class 2 drops. Very open, with some larger waves and holes, that were easily avoided. We made camp at the foot of the third rapid, next to a very old tent ring. Several impressive inukshuks overlooked us on a nearby hill. We also saw a large gray wolf on an evening hike, that ended with a spectacular tundra sunset, at 11PM.

Wednesday, July 9
Woke up at 4AM to bright sun and very warm temperatures. The mosquitoes and blackflies were merciless as we attempted to sew our ripped nylon spraycover, while fully enshrouded in our bug jackets and hoods. Broke camp and headed a few miles downstream to the most rugged section of the Maguse. It was, by far, also the most scenic. In the next several miles, as the river tumbles toward Turquetil Lake, we encountered a dozen, or so, major rapids. A few of theses were runnable, but the majority required a combination of scouting, carrying, and lining with a few of the smaller drops being, very judiciously, run. Having only one boat, we were extremely cautious. The river, at this point has a very considerable volume. This, coupled with the fact that many of these drops consisted of waterfalls varying from 6 to 30 feet, made it imperative for us to become very conservative in our paddling. The scenery along the wild, boisterous stretch of the Maguse was unbelievable! After descending the river most of the day we finally reached Turquetil Lake and our camp on one of its dramatic eskers. Tracks in the sand showed evidence of heavy usage by the local wildlife. The golden setting sun highlighted the uncountable prints of caribou, wolf, grizzly and many smaller animals and birds that use the eskers as their highways.

Thursday, July 10
After breakfast we paddled a few miles north, on Tuquetil, to an active gold mining exploration camp. Had coffee and talked to the staff in their bug-free mess hall. We were informed that Maguse Lake (of which we had to traverse the total 60 miles of its length) was totally ice-free. This had become a concern, of sorts to us. As we flew out of Arviat, our pilot had pointed out far to the north, toward a large ice covered lake and informed us that it was Maguse Lake! Luckily for us, it turned out he was wrong. We arrived back at our esker camp in the late afternoon and as the wind died, and the bugs came alive, we decided to break camp and head for Upper Maguse Lake. Paddled in the late afternoon and made several miles. We made camp at 11PM, as the sun slid below the horizon.

Friday, July 11
Paddled the calm waters of Upper Maguse Lake, through its narrows, and into Maguse Lake. We had a close encounter with a caribou calf that had become separated from its mother. Judging from the large amount of caribou hair in the water, and the extensively trampled vegetation on shore, we just missed a lake crossing of a considerably large herd of animals. We got some close-up videos of the young calf before he again was reunited with its mother. Paddled out onto the lake and enjoyed a dinner of lake trout at the foot of a beautiful esker. Once again, inukshuks watched over our activities. Napped for a while before we headed downlake to the next esker 3 or 4 miles away. Camped on a beautiful, terrace snugly protected from the rising winds, by the high esker above us.

Saturday, July 12
Winds continued to gain in strength during the night, and by morning we were wind bound for the first time. Several storms passed over during the day and brought with them some heavy downpours. Late in the day, one particularly impressive storm moved through. We watched from the top of the esker as a very black, spooky cloud built in the distance and moved toward our camp. When lightning started to get nearer we retreated to the bottom of the hill and into the tent to ride out the storm. It was over in a matter of minutes, and bright sunlight and calm waters followed closely. We decided to break camp and head down the lake. Made several miles before nightfall and camped, once again on another parklike esker. We were about half way through our Maguse Lake traverse.

Sunday, July 13
Broke camp with hopes of reaching the end of the lake today, while taking advantage of favorable wind conditions. We had no particular desire to become windbound for any length of time on this large, open, tundra lake and wanted to put Maguse behind. Very careful navigation was required as we approached the end of the lake and the resumption of the river. Keeping close track of our position on our topos, by midafternoon, we entered the strong current of the Maguse once more. Stopped at the head of the first rapid and donned our river clothes and spraydeck once more. Had a quick bite to eat and on downstream through some very nice runnable class 2-3 rapids. Made camp on a very nice river terrace and tried our luck at fishing. Although the river held some very "fishy" spots, we were able to catch only one laker and a couple of smallish grayling.

Monday, July 14
Up early to another beautiful sunrise. Had breakfast and donned our soggy river running clothes, and shoved off for the bay. The river, from here to saltwater was extremely large and powerful. We encountered several impressive rapids in the miles below camp. Once again, on the conservative side, we scouted most of the drops. A few were runnable with large waves and holes, and still others were navigable only through judicious lining and some easy, short carries. The last rapid on the river consisted of a very large ledge with a monstrous hole below. We ate our last lunch on the river here and caught several very nice grayling, keeping two for dinner. Once again, as we approached the bay, we were careful to keep track of our position through the many confusing channels. After several hours and many more miles we finally reached Hudson`s Bay. A late afternoon rainbow arched over the open waters of the calm ocean. Conditions still favorable, we decided to make a few miles toward Arviat. Stopped at an Inuit summer camp and talked to it two elderly occupants, who were out from Arviat, trying to get a few arctic char. Several of the red fleshed fish hung on a nearby drying rack. Pushed on for a few more miles, riding an ebbing tide. As the tide dropped lower, we finally set up our last camp on a sandy, grass-covered ridge above the high tide mark. We had a most enjoyable dinner of grayling and rice as darkness fell over the sea.

Tuesday, July 15
Awoke in the middle of the night and saw in the distance, the lights and radio towers of Arviat. As the tide rose in the early morning, we were once again blessed with perfect paddling conditions; calm seas and light breezes. We were on the water by 5AM and paddled the remaining miles into Arviat, and civilization, without incident. Checked in with John Lyndell and caught the afternoon flight back to the "real" world.

This trip was very much a learning experience for my partner and myself. Having read volumes about the barrens we thought we knew what to expect. At first we were rather intimidated by the vastness and complexities of the land and its waterways. But as we moved onward, and the days progressed, we started to feel more at home. By trip`s end we were more in tune with our surroundings and had laid the groundwork for our next tundra adventure. Using the knowledge we had gained on our first trip to the barrenlands, our next foray should be even more rewarding.

Jerry Kuceyeski Phil Kowalski

Special Comments: 

Arviat is accessible by flight from Winnipeg.


Post date: Sat, 12/08/2007 - 21:31


This route is part of a trip described in the book From Reindeer Lake to Eskimo Point By Peter Kazaks, Natural Heritage Books

Post date: Tue, 03/25/2008 - 17:07


Read your journal w/ great interest as I am gathering info to do my own little fishing/hiking/paddling whatever excursion. I am targeting brookies and arctic char and wondering if you've ever (or know someone who's) been on the Nelson near Hudson Bay? ANyway, thanks for the vicarious experience.


Post date: Sat, 01/01/2000 - 07:00


Enjoyed reading your trip log.

Speaking of the Henik Lake region, check out our website at