Nepisiguit River

CanadaNew BrunswickGulf
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Additional Route Information
70 km
3 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
1000 m
Longest Portage: 
500 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

Access is via Highway 385 from Plaster Rock or Highway 180 (Road to Resources as it is affectionately known) from either Bathurst or St Quentin. Highway 180 is gravel, but is readily passible for all vehicles. 385 is paved until just before the park enterance. Access the park through the entrance at its westernmost point and travel east through the park to Bathurst or Nepisiquit Lake. Put in at the head of Bathurst Lake or shave off 2-3K by putting in at the channel connecting Bathurst and Nepisiguit Lake. This channel is where the road ends and is marked with a skidoo bridge...don't even think of crossing it with a vehicle. On the other side of the channel (some 250 m further)is a private camp where we stayed the first night as one of the members of our group knew the owner. For ferrying the vehicles, travel back to the park entrance and take Highway 180 east to Bathurst. There are numerous take-outs to choose from just south of the town. A word of caution. There is NOTHING on Road to Resources (180). No shops, no stores and certainly no gas stations. Make sure you have plenty of fuel as you can rack up 200-250K on an in-and-out trip before you hit the next gas station.

Technical Guide: 

This is the best ww river in NB, bar none. The route begins in Mount Carelton Provincial Park and ends just south of Bathurst, some 75K downstream

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Day 1

The first couple of hours of paddling take you east on Nepisiguit Lake towards the headwaters of the river.

Nepisiguit Lake is rather grotesque as it is only several feet deep and has a muddy bottom. The tiny whirlpools created by each paddle stroke stir up a grimmy brown trail behind each canoe. Thankfully, one can look back over the lake at majestic Mt Carelton and there is a realisation that the lake section of this trip is mercifully brief.

By late morning, one can notice a faint but percetable current in the reeds on either side of the narrowing lake. Around lunch time, a skidoo bridge is encountered, part of the vast network of trails in NB.

By mid afternoon, the southeastern branch of the Nepisiguit flows in from the south and there is a substantial increase the current although there are few obstacles and no rapids of note. Also, mountains begin to loom up on either side of the river giving it a majestic feel.

A good campsite can be found river left, just upriver of a logging bridge and across the river from the NBNR depot. This is a popular spot and there may be several motorhomes that have braved the trip in on the logging road.

Beware of bears at this site. We had an up-close, personal experience with Blacky who got into our maple syrup during the middle of the night. After we stored our food on top of a vacant motor home, he voiced his displeasure by banging on the bottom of the ABS canoes that were turned upside down on the shoreline.

Day 2

Similar to Day 1, the river is quiet with only minor rips although a swift current helps eat away the kilometers.

A good spot to lunch is Poplar Depot on river left
Back in the canoe, it is only a brief trip down to the rock garden above Indian Falls. It is here that the fun begins.

Although the rock garden are runnable for the advanced intermediate/expert, a scout is in order along the portage trail on river left. I led the gang, picking a line river left, making it with ease but leaving some ABS behind. My father picked a line river right. As much as I hate to admit it, this proved to be a more suitable line.
Total distance for the rock garden is is 800-1000m

For those not comfortable with this technical run, take the portage (1000m) river left from the top of the rock garden to below Indian Falls.

Although most people who run the garden take out onto the portage trail at the point just above Indian Falls, a better alternative is river right where you can carry the canoe over a steep but short rock outcropping, cutting serious time and distance off the length of the portage.

For those experts who think that the falls (a series of several drops) have a seductive edge, your right. A friend and I scopped the last two drops for 45 minutes before attempting it. After setting up rescue boats, we ran a line river-left. A nasty rooster tail at the bottom of the second drop makes things interesting. Empty and with a spray skirt, only serious bracing brought us through afloat although we were sloshing significant water.

After the excitement of the afternoon, a comfortable campsite can be found several K downriver at a tributary entering at river-left.

Day 3

After the excitement of yesterday afternoon, the river calms down although there is considerable current to push you along. However, by early afternoon, this ends as you pass under a huge bridge and enter the headwaters of the Nepisiguit dam which are couple of k in length.

The portage around the dam is several hundred meters. This is an alternative take-out for the trip if so desired as it is easily accesible from Bathurst, although you will miss the best ww on the river if you do so. A more sensible option is to leave a vehicle here to deposit your gear in so that you can run the last portion of the river empty.

Day 4

For expert canoeist, this is the creme de la creme of the trip.
Although we were transported several K downriver of the dam by a friend, there are some CIV rapids located just down from the tailrace of the dam Sorry I can't comment on them from personal experience.

After several K of relatively flat, you hit a 250-300 m stretch of CIIIs, although these can turn into a CIII+ with higher water mainly from the massive standing waves in the center of the river.
For those wishing to portage, there is ample opportunity on the right hand shore although it may be possible to alleviate those fears by hugging the same shoreline thus missing the worst(best?) of the rapids.

A couple of K downriver, the river makes a sharp right-hand turn through a rock outcropping. Just above the bend is a CII+ set of rapids while just below around the bend is a bridge. An alcove river right and just upriver of the bridge is a potential spot for lunch or you can continue down to the falls.

Another 1-2 K and the river suddenly speeds up to 8-10
kpH as it races towards Nepisiguit Falls, a 15 ft cataract (CV). Hug the shore river left to allow you to access the flat rocks which rise from the river near the falls. This tends to be a popular hang-out spot so expect teenagers milling about.

The portage follows the left hand shore for some 500m, by- passing the falls and the CIV rapids that lead out of the minature canyon. Although the falls would strictly be for expert kayakers, it is possible for canoeists put in just below the falls and run the 300m CIII-IV stretch. 3 canoes in our group (sprayskirted) ran it river left followed by a ferry to river right just above the CIV portion, reaching the relative safety of the far shore.

A friend an I took a similar line river left down to the CIV w/o a sprayskirt. However, instead of ferrying across to the right shore, we decided to press our luck and bullied our way through the big stuff. We managed to barge through with heavy duty bracing although we took on lots of water. Just to make sure our success was no accident, we repeated the same line a second time in a friend's canoe with similar result. I should add that for all canoes, we had rescue canoes in place at the bottom of the rapid. Furthermore, such a line would likely be impossible at higher water levels.

For those looking to do the CIII-CIV in two steps, there is large eddy in an indentation of the "cliff" river left, just above the CIV. This will allow you to bail or just catch your breathe. Be forewarned that you will have to work hard to get out of this eddy as it is a keeper. Furthermore, it is closer to the IV than one would like, necessitating some heavy-duty paddling to line up the IV or the ferry across to river right.

Immediately around the corner from the "canyon" is a moderate class II to calm down the nerves after the last run.

After some 2-3K of flatwater, ther is another CIII although this could be CIII+ in high water. Run this river-left take advantage of the pool below the rapids to bail.

Take out some 500m further on river right just above the bridge. When we were here last, there was a natural waterslide created by the river that was great fun to relax in.

Maps Required
Other Maps: 
Pick up the Canoe NB map of the Nepisiguit. These maps have all the details you will ever need including relief (I'm not sure of the scale although I believe they are 1:50,000) and are waterproof to boot. They are well worth the 8-10 dollar charge and you can pick them up at the park entrance.
Special Comments: 

This is a great river for the advanced ww paddler. Although you might get bored over the first couple of days, don't give up hope as the river gets progressively more boisterous the further you go, culminating in a slew of rapids (CII-CV) on the last day.

Although this might sound odd, because the river is quite docile in its upper reaches, it is a great river to teach novice and intermediates some more complex ww techniques. the nature of the river will allow them ample opportunity to put these into practise later in the trip and portages are well-marked around the more difficult rapids and falls.

That being said, the river deserves respect. A couple were recently killed (June '03) on one of the rapids in the river, although I did not hear which one.

Given the size of the headwaters, the Nepisiguit can be run into mid July providing it has not been an overly dry summer.
Although I have not done so, I have had several friends run it on the May long-weekend. The smile on their face said it all. I later learned that everyone had gone for a swim.

Although sprayskirts are a good idea in the spring, they are optional later in the summer.