CanadaSaskatchewanLower Churchill
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120 km
7 days
Loop Trip: 
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0 m
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0 m
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Route Description
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With loaded canoes and the vehicle parked, we started the journey late afternoon at the end of July where Brabant Lake meets Highway 102 (56º06’49”N, 103º44’36”W), a few dozen metres from CanAm confectionery and outfitters. From there we paddled 11km across a glass lake in stifling heat. We found a decent campsite looking south onto Trask Bay (56º01’12”N, 103º44’09”W).

Day 1
Our first full day started on a slightly wet note. The preceding week’s heat not surprisingly was followed by a wicked bedrock-rattling thunderstorm that had us awake earlier than we otherwise wanted. We set out against a SE wind to where the Wapiskau River begins, Lavender Rapids (documented portage #2) – which we descended, in turns, with an empty canoe. En route, we passed through beautiful terrain, especially between West and East Knight Bay’s, where an established and oft-used campsite was noted (55º59’N, 103º39’W).
Just south of the mouth of Lavender Lake we camped on a long rock ledge extending into blueberry-coated bush (56º01’09”N, 103º35’20”W).

Day 2
We crossed the lake to come to a major rapid and magnificent waterfall (5-6m drop). The portage (#3), a little over 100m long, was well used and there was an excellent campsite near the outset (55º59’08”N, 103º31’00”W). The next portage (#4) was confusing because of the outdated (or just plain incorrect) details given in the documented route description (the documentation speaks of a sand beach and small islet creating two channels. This may be a mistake, the author referring perhaps to portage #3. In any case, there are no such features and the rapid – actually a small fall – is, in my opinion, certainly not runnable). At this rapid/fall we set up a tarp and had lunch at a decent campsite (56º00’36”N, 103º28’33”W).
The next rapid was simple, but we had to make our way to river-left quickly to avoid going over yet another spectacular 5-6m vertical drop. The short portage (#5) over bare rock was almost like ancient steps down the face of a rock-hewn temple.
The next rapid was hardly a rapid and, once again, is confusingly marked as a portage (#6). It became obvious that the water levels were very different from when the route description was written (In fact, I have no idea what the author is referring to with the description of portage #6 except for the observation of what once was, perhaps, a former portage at the easternmost extremity where there are indeed reeds. I seriously suggest that the description be completely omitted; #7 best describes what is actually encountered).
We stopped just after this at a major, but easy, portage (#7) around a set of rapids/falls.
The excellent campsite (56º00’08”N, 103º24’47”W) was perhaps the best we encountered.

Day 3
This morning we came upon a bald eagle’s nest perched atop a tall, vertical rock coming out of the narrow river.
Shortly after we came to the first rapid of the day (#8) which we descended, for fun, with an empty canoe.
The next portage (#9) is well described in the documentation. The falls drop significantly and spectacularly over a 30-40m length.
The next portage (#10) goes around another fall of 4-5m.
The next portage (#11) goes beside a vertical fall of 5-6m, after which another rapid (#12) is channelled into a narrow gorge.
At the following portage (#13) we hauled pickerel after pickerel from the bottom of the rapid/fall.
Finally, we set out across White Lake, passing two cabins immediately on the north shore (56º00’27”N, 103º18’40”W). Portage #14 is also a natural campsite (55º59’20N, 103º15’11”W).

Day 4
We pointed our bows to Steephill Lake. This would be the beginning of our open water traverses. This would also be the day we left the Wapiskau River system for the Reindeer River system. To our incredulous delight, the wind was more or less at our back to the very end. We stopped for lunch and fishing just before turning due north (55º57’50”N, 103º06’50”W). At this point, facing SE, we could observe, on our left, the clear, blue waters of the Reindeer River running into, on our right, the dark, murkier waters of Steephill
Lake and the Wapiskau River that feeds it. It was a clear indication that we were entering different territory.
With the same stiff north wind (not to forget that we were now paddling upstream) we struggled to the bottom of the narrows leading to Royal Lake. Exhausted, I even contemplated sleeping in the dilapidated and hornet-infested cabin on river right (56º01’38”N, 103º05’22”W). However, we continued against the strong current and were rewarded with a terrific established campsite (56º01’52”N, 103º06’02”W) overlooking the lake.

Day 5
We cleared camp early to tackle the length of Royal Lake and pleasantly surprised to find that the wind had yet again changed in our favour. The beginning of the next length of narrows was tricky to find due to the opening being hidden amongst the reeds. This is one situation where neither compass nor GPS can assist.
There are virtually no campsites on the stretch between Royal and Fafard Lakes. The terrain is marshy and it’s a burn area. The day was getting on and our energy was on the wane. Again, at the opening of the river before Devil Rapids, the reeds effectively concealed the opening to the river mouth. The opening is at the NE end. Devil Rapids are fairly insignificant but it isn’t possible to paddle directly up them. The portage (#15) was nearly non-existent and it was clearly over the high, thickly forested ridge as can be seen on the map. I surveyed the rapids from atop the small cliff overlooking the river. I designed a way to go up them with some strong thrusts of the paddle in two segments (1-river centre, 2-river right) and finished with a 15m carry over bare rock. This way, we avoided the 425m bushwhack (#15) over the +30m ridge so, up the rapids we went.
The prospect of a good campsite was no better as we entered Fafard Lake but we got lucky not far on (56º12’07”N, 103º08’30”W).

Day 6
The day’s paddle began with another scouting and easy navigation of the reeds to approach Whitesand dam (follow west shore). As we came to the dam there were the first glimpses of people and civilisation since five days prior.
On Marchand Lake, we made a make-shift camp on an island in the narrows (56º16’01”N, 103º13’11”W).

Day 7
The paddle to Southend was short and ended at the SERM dock on river left. We then hitched back to CanAm.

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
63 M/13 63 M/14 64 D/6 64 D/3 64 D/4
Topo Maps (1:250,000): 
64 D 63 M Other Maps There is a high resolution image covering a portion of this route available on Google Earth, including most of the portages.
Special Comments: 

This is SE documented canoe route #35.


Post date: Sun, 07/05/2009 - 16:48


Four of us canoed this route, in the same direction, in about 1998. It was one of our favourite canoe trips, with a good mix of open water and river paddling. The falls on the Wapiskau, particularly the first we encountered, were awesome. The Reindeer River, on the other hand, was rather drab, with mostly muddy shores and a burned out forest most of the way.

Oddly enough, we found the directions in the route documentation to be perfect and extremely helpful, since several of the portage starting points were impossible to see from the water. The water levels were very high that year, so that might account for the difference.

We actually encountered two extremes of water level. Once we left the Wapiskau River and entered Steephill Lake and the Reindeer River, the levels were extremely low, which was rather puzzling. We discovered the reason when we reached the Whitesand Dam, which was completely closed. We learned that the Churchill River was so high that the hydro dam at Sandy Bay was maxed out, so the inflow from the Reindeer was being kept to the absolute minimum. In fact, the Reindeer was so low that we grounded our canoe a couple of times--in the middle of Royal Lake!

We had been dreading what looked on the map to be an arduous portage at Devil Rapids, but when we got there, it turned out there was hardly a riffle in the water, I guess because of the low level. We paddled easily up them, after I caught the biggest fish of my life, a 15-20 pound jack, at the foot of the "rapids".

Once above the dam, the water level was again high and the forest untouched by fire, so we finished the trip on a high note.

Post date: Mon, 07/27/2009 - 22:43


We are two, have two touring kayaks, novice paddlers but willing to explore. Was wondering if this route was suitable for us. We live in Meadow Lake Sk. Thanks