Nine Bucket List Paddling Routes in Northern Canada

Northern Canada is home to some of the world’s largest remaining expanses of unbroken wilderness. With few roads running through the area, travel by water is often the only way to access this breathtaking backcountry. From the long-distance river routes of the Yukon to the white water of the Northwest Territories and the incredible sea kayaking of Nunavut, paddlers in Northern Canada have a huge variety of routes to choose from. To give you a brief overviews of what to expect while canoeing and kayaking through the region, here are a few of our favourite routes:

 

Yukon

 

Alsek River

One of the Yukon’s most iconic paddling rivers, the Alsek flows southward from its source at the confluence of the Dezadeash and Kaskawulsh Rivers through the breathtaking glacially formed valleys of the St. Elias Mountains. Glaciers still hang overhead, making for some of the most impressive scenery you will see in your life, and your surroundings only become more majestic as you meander through Kluane National Park, eventually joining with the Tatshenshini River in BC and continuing on to Alaska. A stunning Yukon wilderness paddle, the Alsek needs to be canoed to be believed.

 

Alsek River. Photo by Maxi Kniewasser / pyranha.com

 

Bonnett Plume River

From the put-in at Bonnett Plume Lake, nestled among the Mackenzie Mountains, this technically challenging Heritage River offers some of the Yukon’s finest white water paddling opportunities. Leading you through a pristine wilderness shaped by ancient glacial activity, most paddlers spend a couple of weeks on the river, which stretches for 500 km (310 mi) to the take-out at Fort McPherson. Sheep, caribou, moose and grizzly bear will likely cross your path more often than another human.

 

Bonnet Plume River Route – Backroadmapbooks YK GPS Maps

 

Teslin River

Starting at the put-in at Johnson’s Crossing on the Alaska Highway, this river flows for 200 km (125 mi) to its confluence with the Yukon. Perfect for beginners, this crystal-clear river leads you past numerous historical attractions including mining camps, abandoned steamships and ancient First Nations encampments. Picture perfect campsites are found throughout the river’s course, and an abundance of Arctic grayling, northern pike and salmon means dinner is never too far away.

 

Teslin River. Photo by Frits Meyst / meystphoto.com

 

 

Northwest Territories

 

South Nahanni River

The South Nahanni is known as one of the country’s most spectacular paddling rivers, flowing from a group of ponds near the Yukon border all the way to the Liard River some 600 km (370 mi) away. Along the way the river leads you through 50 km (31 mi) long rock gardens, canyons up to a kilometre deep and past Virginia Falls, a 90 metre (295 ft) cascade that dwarfs famous waterfalls like Niagara. For intermediate paddlers who don’t mind spending a week or two in the wilderness, the South Nahanni can be the canoe trip of a lifetime.

 

South Nahanni River Route – Backroadmapbooks Northern Canada GPS Maps

 

Coppermine River

This river has served as an important travel route for thousands of years, with archaeological sites found all along its 640 km (400 mi) length that date back to the Pre-Dorset culture. Stone tent rings, animal traps, kayak racks and hunting blinds are some of the features you may wander across on the riverbank. The river itself is full of character, with calm paddling along tundra lakes turning to exciting white water as you near the Arctic Ocean. Caribou and muskoxen can often be seen grazing along the shore, while golden eagles and gyrfalcons circle overhead.

 

Coppermine River. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Slave River

Flowing with 10 times the volume of the Colorado River and four times that of the Fraser, this mighty waterway is known for its elaborate white water sections, challenging even the most experienced kayakers. With names like Rapids of the Drowned and Land of a Thousand Holes, you can expect some technically challenging terrain, but there are plenty of smaller waves and holes throughout the river that accommodate amateur paddlers as well. A legendary river that has earned the respect of kayakers from around the world, the Slave should be on any white water paddler’s must-run list.

 

 

Slave River Route – Backroadmapbooks Northern Canada GPS Maps

 

 

Nunavut

 

Pond Inlet

Located on Baffin Island’s remote north coast, the community of Pond Inlet gives you access to the beautiful sea kayaking opportunities on Eclipse Sound. Once the thick arctic ice finally melts in mid summer, paddlers can explore the many fjords and bays that line the coastline, with foxes, caribou and bears visible on shore. These are also the summering grounds of the mystical narwhal, with pods of up to 100 of these creatures visible at one time. The abundant wildlife and the rugged arctic landscape make this an unforgettable sea kayaking adventure.

 

Narwhal near Pond Inlet. Photo via blackfeather.com

 

Kazan River

This Heritage River flows through the heart of Nunavut’s Barren Lands, stretching all the way from Kasba Lake to the Arctic Ocean some 850 km (530 mi) away. Rolling, lush tundra turns to exposed Canadian shield rock as you navigate a mix of calm lake water and swift flowing rapids. Waterfalls like the Three Cascades and the 25 metre (82 ft) Kazan Falls punctuate the river’s route. If you are running the river at the right time of year, you may come across the Qamanirjuaq caribou herd on their annual migration. Wolverines, muskoxen and peregrine falcons are a few of the other creatures you will likely encounter on this extended wilderness paddling trip.

 

Kazan River – Backroadmapbooks Northern Canada GPS Maps

 

Thelon River

Stretching for 900 km (560 mi) between its source in the Northwest Territories and Baker Lake, which drains into Hudson Bay, this majestic river leads paddlers through boreal forest valleys, along expansive, sparkling lakes and through the barrens of the treeless tundra. These are some of northern Canada’s most important ecosystems, supporting an amazingly diverse collection of wildlife in an area of incredible beauty. Huge sand embankments, boulder beaches and terraces make up the river’s banks, with ancient Inukshuks marking traditional crossings, lookouts and campgrounds.

 

Thelon River. Photo via landoftheancestors.ca

 

 


Backroad Mapbooks is pleased to offer paddlers a brand new navigational tool for finding their way across the country’s north – our Northern Canada GPS Maps are now available and contain a wealth of paddling information along with the most detailed topographic maps available for the region.

 

 

Pick up your copy today!