Shelburne River

CanadaNova ScotiaSouthwest
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Chris Johnston
Trip Date : 
Additional Route Information
55 km
4 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
0 m
Longest Portage: 
0 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

See Sheena Masson's Book - "Paddling Lunenberg and Queens" and the Keji National Park Backcountry Map.

Special Comments: 

Shelburne River

For the last two years I have been panning and running a river in the Maritimes with my finance. Being from Ontario this presents many fun challenges. This year we planned to run the Shelburne River in Nova Scotia. In February and March I started planning this trip by gathering information and speaking to people in Nova Scotia. What I heard from Park staff and local outfitters was that it would have to rain for a month straight before you could run the Shelburne in August. So I planned a 5 day trip in the Keji National Park instead of running the Shelburne, but what I really wanted was whitewater fun. The day that we were leaving and all packed for Nova Scotia I called park to make some final arrangements for our trip. When I asked about the water levels, park staff indicated that the water was as high in August as anyone around could remember and that it had been raining for a month straight.

Nice. A river runner’s dreams come true.

So what did we do; like a river runner I went home tossed the lakewater gear in the garage and grabbed all the river running gear. I was now excited and ready to run the last wilderness river in Nova Scotia.

We arrived at the Keji on the evening of Saturday August 5, 2006. The first night in country (Sunday) we stayed at a campsite in the Keji and relaxed a bit as we new we had a long day ahead of us. On Monday we paddled the remaining lakes in the Keji to our lunch stop at the Mason Cabin. This is a nice spot for the cabin, but nothing else, there are much nicer campsites either in the Keji or at Granite Falls on the Shelburne. Just a word about the portages in the Keji, they are easy, we tackled the 2300 meter portage on the way from Eel weir and being from Ontario I was ready for the worst, but the slopes are gradual and we even ran into a couple of guys with canoe carts.

From the Mason cabin and into the Tobi the scenery is somewhat like a Northern Ontario Bog, but not. It was amazing and something I will never forget. Before beginning our decent down the Shelburne River we paddled up to Granite Falls. It is a nice spot, perfect for camping if you were heading upstream into the headwaters of the Shelburne or heading downstream. This spot seemed to have some type of strange feeling almost spooky. Our hound “Blue” got freaked out, like he was seeing things in the bush. While we didn’t follow the portage all the way up to the next lake we did note that it didn’t seem very well traveled. This feeling followed me down the rest of the river. I like this feeling, it’s what every river runner strives for, it is very rarely found in Ontario, and it was a surprise to find it Nova Scotia.

As we headed downstream from Granite Falls and the current began to pickup and I got that feeling you only get when you are on a river you have been planning to run for six months.

As we paddled the section of the Shelburne from Granite Falls to Irving Lake there were a few small class one or so rapids which we ran all of, but there were a number of log jams, which were easily dealt with. As we entered Irving Lake we noticed behind us a dark sky beginning to chase us. We quickly paddled across Irving Lake; this is a really nice lake with no campsites, which is too bad, because it would be a good spot for one, as we learned that the next campsite wouldn’t be until Sand Lake. As we paddled out of Irving Lake and back on to the sheltered Shelburne River I was using the maps from the book “Paddling Lunenburg and Queens” by Sheena Masson. This book is somehow available free on the net for down loading. This was a bonus as at this point you paddle off of the Keji park map.

At this point I had come to the realization as I did last year that I wasn’t in Ontario. I remember last year trying to predict the weather on the St. Croix River in New Brunswick and was almost dead wrong every time. Usually in Ontario you can predict the weather by the clouds a day or so in advance. This is one note for non-Maritime paddlers, heed the warnings; be ready for any type of weather in the Maritimes and for it to change fast.

When I looked at Sheena’s map I saw four distinct portages from Irving Lake to Sand Lake, but what we found was much different. The river/ creek was basically straight class one’s and possibly the odd class two section all the way to Sand Lake with no portage markers or worn footpaths as suggested by Sheena’s maps. While Sheena indicated that in this section there might be a number of class three’s. We didn’t encounter them, but did have a couple of sections where the sweet downhill rides were brilliant. We ended up losing our place on the map and running a lot of blind corners not knowing exactly what was behind the next corner. FYI, there are no waterfalls of large drops in this section to worry about. We were still very cautious using our eddy turn’s and ferry’s, but everything was scouted from the boat. I can see this section having a very fast current and some areas of largish standing waves during very high water. The main concern would be sweepers and log jams, which we encountered probably about a dozen of on the whole of the Shelburne. This night I had planned to camp somewhere along this section of river and had thought that at a minimum we could camp at the bridge which Sheena marked on her map at Indian Falls. When we got to Indian Falls, there was no sign of a bridge, a suitable campsite or a water fall for that matter. We proceeded down Indian Falls without portaging to the campsite marked on Sheena’s map at Sand Lake.

This was an okay site and that night we had a wicked electrical storm. There were at least six strikes that were extremely close to us. Thankfully, the storm had past in the morning, but clouds remained which looked like they could open up on us at anytime. From Sand Lake to Lake Rossignal it’s about a three or four hour easy paddle. We noted only one class one rapid at the bridge crossing. We stopped at the Hemlock old growth stand and lily dipped are way to Rossignal Lake where we stopped at the boat noted in Sheena’s description at the exit of the Shelburne River. The boat itself wasn’t all that big and was getting run down, but would defiantly do in a pinch at least for a place to play cards in the rain before heading into the tent.

Once we finished out tour of the boat we turned our attention to the Lake. Lake Rossignol is the biggest lake in Nova Scotia and one of the biggest lakes I have had the pleasure or something like that to paddle on. It was glass. So we did what any good river runner does when a lake is calm – go for it. It was about 8 km’s from the mouth the Shelburne to the mouth of the Mersey where we were going to begin traveling upstream. Lake Rossignol is a very big lake and with all the warnings in the back of my mind I had some reservations about it. I was again using Sheena’s map for navigation across the lake, but in retrospect I should have had the 1:50000 topo. I ended up navigating the lake fine, but more detail would have been nice. Anyone not practiced in reading maps should be cautious on this lake as its just water, trees, and granite and one could easily get lost especially if a fog rolled in.

After about 45 minutes of paddling on the lake, during which we were fully exposed to the east for about 20 km’s the wind had pickup and we were not paddling with a few white cap and some swells. We started to shorten our exposures to the wind as we ducked in behind islands etc... In short order we made it to the mouth of the Mersey. When we finally decided to pitch camp, which took a little while because my finance had to have the best beach site around, we looked at each other and both agreed that if the swells and whitecaps were present at the mouth of the Shelburne we wouldn’t have started out.

Again, be careful on this lake and for that matter the Shelburne as you are on your own if something happens.

That night, our 3rd and last night, my finance and I relaxed on the sand beach she had found and were treated to a beautiful moon rise. FYI, there are lots of good campsite on the islands at the mouth of the Mersey. The next morning we set out up the Mersey River. Again we were using Sheena’s map. At R4 or P3 there was no rapid and we paddled upstream under the bridge with no troubles. The flows on the Mersey were high and when we reached the area called the “Black Rattle” we ending up lining the canoe upstream for what seemed like forever, but was probably about 1 km or so. The highlight on the Mersey was Loon Lake Falls. Not really a falsl, but at the time an easy class two which I spent some time playing in. This one rapid was probably the best on the trip. The park campsite located on the west bank was also the best campsite we had seen on our trip, complete with a shelter. If you wanted to extend this trip this site would be an excellent campsite. From Loon Lake Falls to Eel Weir is an easy jaunt with a little bit more pushing and pulling.

Overall, this was a great trip. Short, but sweet. For people planning this trip I would suggest a saw, I forgot mine, to clear log jams and sweepers on the Shelburne River/Creek. It’s only going to get worse if river travelers don’t perform some maintenance and it would be shame if the river became impassable. Also, I wouldn’t have wanted to be on the Shelburne with river levels much lower, so be sure to take the advice of locals and park staff. Happy travels.