Wind River - Peel River to Fort McPherson

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Additional Route Information
520 km
14 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
300 m
Longest Portage: 
300 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Not applicable
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Start at Mayo, Yukon. Float plane to McKlusky Lake. 300m portage north to unnamed creek. Run/line down creek 3km to Wind River. River is quite shallow and braided to start. Watch sweepers for the first 10kms especially. River flows north for about 200 kms to confluence with Peel River. Peel River flows east for about 70 kms past Bonnet Plume and turns north when the Snake River enters the Peel. Another 250 kms north across the Arctic circle and onto Ft. McPherson. Road access at Dempster Highway ferry crossing near McPherson. Drive about 500 kms south to Klondike Highway and another 200 back to Mayo to retrieve vehicles or drive about 180 kms north to Inuvik and scheduled air service.

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

The float plane dropped us off on the north side of McKlusky Lake near an old outfitters cabin. There is a trail leading north from this cabin for about 300 metres to an unnamed creek that flows into the Wind River. It took about 2 hours to paddle and line down the creek to reach the Wind River proper. There is another outfitters cabin opposite where the creek flows into the Wind. We used it to eat a quick lunch out of the rain. Generally it is acceptable to use remote cabins like this as long as you leave them the way you found them! At this point the river is quite shallow and braided. Although the whitewater is easy, the sweepers are a hazard for the first 10 kms or so. Be ready to back ferry and/or jump out of the canoe into the shallow water. The mountains in this area are quite colourful with various shades of grey and black, with some sections quite red.

About 10 kms downriver we stopped for the day. We camped on a large gravel bar across the river from a sand bluff. We spent a couple of nights here and did a great day hike up the mountain to the west of our camp. This area is good for wildlife as the hill overtop of the bluff has some sort of mineral lick, and there is a small lake on the east side of the river that is great moose habitat. We spotted 4 caribou and 5 moose while we were at this campsite.

Our next camp was only about 15 kms downstream across from Bond Creek. There are spectacular views, great camping and any number of hikes that are possible in this area. This river section is incredibly slow moving for a northern mountain river. In what would become a pattern (for the first 10 days) of paddling a day then hiking a day, we did a day hike up one of the steep peaks east of our campsite.

Our next day of paddling was again a short one. This is a normal strategy for the rivers in the Peel watershed. The upper sections of the rivers are usually the most spectacular with the best hiking. Many people spend short days on the river with lots of off days to hike and then pay for it by pulling 12 hour/ 80-100 kms days on the less interesting Peel River. We camped for a couple of nights on a huge alluvial plain on river left just downriver of Angel Lake. This is a great area to explore. We saw a couple of wolf pups, and a couple of moose. Although we didn’t see any, there were lots of signs of sheep as well.

Another short day of paddling found us at one of the several good sites on river right opposite Royal Mountain. A day hike up the valley to the east rewarded us with close views of about 30 Dall sheep. We are nearing the end of the mountainous section on the Wind River. Unlike the neighbouring Snake and Bonnet Plume rivers, the current on the Wind actually increases after it leaves the mountains and enters the Peel plateau. The Wind River also passes a couple of isolated mountains as it works its way towards the Peel River.

We had planned to spend our last off day doing a day hike up Mount Deception. This meant an 80 km day which we covered in about 8 or 9 hours. The river was moving quite quickly and was very braided, making it difficult to find the best channel at times. We passed the confluence with the Little Wind River - looked like a nice area to camp. In Ken Madsen’s “Paddling in the Yukon” two rapids between the Little Wind River and Mount Deception are noted. We didn’t notice anything that stood out as particularly difficult, but different water levels might change things. The constant braiding and cutting of new channels in this section of river also means that the river can change from year to year, and even from month to month. We didn’t pass through anything that I would regard as more difficult than straightforward class II. The wide open braided nature of the river also means that it is quite easy to spot whitewater well ahead and avoid it by lining or wading your canoes past the more difficult section. Keep your eyes ahead to pick the best channel and watch for hazards.

As we approached Mount Deception we had been warned to stay river left. The river splits into two main channels about 500 metres before it goes past the mountain, and you must stay left if you want to stop and hike. We camped at a mediocre, rocky site on river left just past the mountain. The next day we enjoyed a great hike up Mount Deception. After 10 minutes of bushwhacking you are into an open, old burn area and fairly quickly into the open alpine. There are hours of ridge hiking available here, and the views across the flat Peel plateau extend to the Bonnet Plume and Peel Rivers if the sky is clear.
The Wind ends about another 35 kms north as it joins with the Peel River. Beautiful orange and yellow bluffs on river right signal the entrance to a small canyon that opens up again as you hit the Peel. We camped here and enjoyed the sun setting on the colorful sand formations.

We floated through the canyon into the Peel the next day, and paddled past the confluence with the Bonnet Plume to the Peel canyon. The canyon contains the last rapids of any consequence on the trip. At the lower water levels of our late August trip there were 3-4 foot standing waves on river left in a couple of spots that were easily avoided by staying right. Apparently these standing waves are higher and extend further across the river at higher water levels. I suspect that river right would still be the safest route, and there is nothing other than big bouncy waves to deal with. The canyon itself is impressive and there are a couple of gravel bars on river right inside the canyon that allow you to pull off the river and enjoy the scenery.

The farther you paddle on the Peel the less interesting it gets. The current gradually slows until it is almost nonexistent by the time it reaches Fort McPherson. There are lots of high sand bluffs as you continue past the Snake River, but the topography flattens out more and more. The camping also gets poorer the closer you get to McPherson.

We were short of time on this trip, so we had arranged for a boat shuttle from the Caribou River to McPherson. From the Peel canyon, we paddled two long days to cover the 180 kms. We rafted up for lunches and finished the second day camped on a gravel bar very close to the Arctic Circle. We celebrated with a quick dip in the river, and spent our last night watching a black bear foraging on the opposite bank for a couple of hours.

It took 7 hours in a motorized river boat to reach Fort McPherson. We saved at least 2 long days paddling allowing us to spend 2 extra days hiking in the mountains. From a previous trip down the Snake River, I can tell you that the last 2 days to McPherson are long, slow and boring. Passing even a poor camp site in this section of river can result in a couple of hours until the next poor campsite.

We split up in McPherson – 3 of us had arranged for a friend from Whitehorse to pick them up, while 2 of us got a ride up to Inuvik and caught an Air North flight home. Overall it was a great trip. The only complaint I have is the weather. As you can see from the pictures, we had rain most days. Maybe this was because of the late August date that we left, or perhaps we just had bad luck. I look forward to another trip on the Wind and better weather.

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:250,000): 
106 D Nash Creek 106 E Wind River 106 K Martin House 106 L Trail River 106 M Fort McPherson
Special Comments: 

The Wind River is a great trip in the Wernecke Mountains of northern Yukon. It is the easiest of the Peel River tributaries (the Bonnet Plume and Snake being the best known of the others). Although the river can be easily done in less than 2 weeks, the great hiking begs for more time to be spent on the river. 3 weeks for a leisurely paddling/hiking trip down the Wind and Peel Rivers is recommended. Some paddlers choose to get picked up by float plane somewhere along the Peel River (often at the confluence of the Snake and Peel). It is also possible to arrange a shuttle from any point along the Peel to Fort McPherson by Gwich'in river boat.