The province of Saskatchewan offers many world-class canoe and kayak routes, particularly in its northern reaches. Rivers like the Churchill and the Clearwater are famous for their unspoilt wilderness, technical challenges and abundant fish and wildlife. Here, you can paddle for days at a time without seeing another human being. Other rivers, such as the North and South Saskatchewan, flow right through some of the province’s biggest cities, allowing for easy access and trips of virtually any length.
There are also tens of thousands of gorgeous lakes scattered across Saskatchewan – Prince Albert National Park, in particular, is known for its lake paddling. Even Saskatchewan’s rarely talked about creeks are good for a paddle during spring run-off. Below we have listed 11 paddling routes to check out in Saskatchewan, from epic, world-famous routes to hidden, rarely-paddled waterways.
Known as the quintessential Saskatchewan canoe trip, this is typically a week-long, fly-in trip that incorporates everything from glassy, tranquil lakes to one of the province’s highest waterfalls, the 24 metre (78 ft) tall Nistowiak Falls. While you will certainly want to portage around those, there are plenty of rapids along the route that are suitable for all skill levels, and the trip can be broken up into any number of shorter sections for those not wanting to commit to the entire length. However, we recommend spending as long as possible on this beautiful river in order to enjoy the sights and sounds of Saskatchewan’s northern wilderness.
Another legendary Saskatchewan River, this historic route normally takes one to two weeks to complete and includes the famous Methye Portage, the longest Voyageur portage trail in Canada. Over its 300 km (186 mi) course the river transitions from rugged Precambrian shield landscape to Boreal plain, leading you through a wide, majestic valley carved out by ancient glacial movement. The entire river is protected by Clearwater River Provincial Park, which offers no services, so wilderness survival skills are required. Narrow gorges and long rapids make this river a challenge, but soaking in the fading glow of a sunset while freshly caught fish sizzles on your campfire makes everything worthwhile.
Flowing for 160 km (99 mi) from Cree Lake to Black Lake, this is a calm river that is known more for its incredible fishing than its rapids or falls. At the river’s headwaters you will find high numbers of monster lake trout, while Arctic grayling, northern pike and walleye all hold their respective territories along the remainder of its length – you will be able to see your dinner swimming right underneath you through the river’s crystal-clear waters. Don’t forget your favourite lure on Saskatchewan’s premiere angling adventure, a paddle along the Cree River.
Fond du Lac River
Twisting and turning through the Athabasca Plain, the Fond du Lac is rife with rapids, rock gardens and boulder fans making it an exciting run for experienced paddlers. In particular, the Manitou Gorge creates one of the most scenic rapid runs in the province as it carries you through a narrow cleft of ancient rock. This historic First Nations route was first run by a European when cartographer and explorer David Thompson descended it in the 1700s. Camping amid the towering Jack Pine forest on the river’s edge is guaranteed to take you back in time.
Grey Owl Canoe Route
Found in Prince Albert National Park, this 16 km (10 mi) trip is not an epic multi-day paddle like the other routes we have described in this list, but its historical significance makes it a draw for canoers from all over the world. Grey Owl, AKA Archibald Delaney, was an English-born conservationist who achieved celebrity status in the early 20th century. Though controversial, Grey Owl was a leading voice for the protection of our natural surroundings and a re-evaluation of our relationship with the wilderness. The historic canoe route takes you to the site of the cabin where Grey Owl lived and died, complete with an indoor beaver lodge.
South Saskatchewan River
If you do not feel like chartering a floatplane or spending weeks at a time in the wilderness, the South Saskatchewan River offers some excellent paddling and flows right through the city of Saskatoon. There are several excellent put-ins found just a short drive from the city, including Poplar Bluffs (11 km/7 mi to Saskatoon), Fred Heal Canoe Launch (20 km/12 mi to Saskatoon), Paradise Beach (25 km/16 mi to Saskatoon) and the Pike Lake Pumping Station (42 km/26 mi to Saskatoon). When the sun is shining and the breeze is light, the South Saskatchewan is a much-welcome escape for city-dwelling paddlers looking to get away from it all for an afternoon, a day or longer.
North Saskatchewan River
Flowing right through Prince Albert, this is another easy-access river that makes for an enjoyable paddle, particularly in early July when the air is warm and the river is still swollen with meltwater. There is a convenient put-in just east of the Highway 2 bridge in Prince Albert and from here it is a 60 km (37 mi) paddle to the confluence with the South Saskatchewan, making for a perfect overnight trip. There are plenty of sandy beaches to make camp along the way. As you approach the forks, the river becomes windier and more challenging, though still suitable for beginner paddlers.
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park
Although southwest Saskatchewan is not known for its paddling, there are still some interesting routes to check out, particularly if you are already planning on visiting Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park (well worth the trip even without any paddling). Carefree Adventures, a family run eco-tourism company, even offers guided kayak trips on Reid Lake, Lac Pelletier, Cypress Lake, Eastend Dam, Swiftcurrent Creek and the Frenchman River. For a family-friendly, relaxing paddle in one of southern Saskatchewan’s most scenic natural areas, dip a paddle in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park.
When this creek swells with meltwater in the spring, it makes up one of Saskatchewan’s many little-known seasonal paddling routes. The window of opportunity for creeks like this one is short, so plan your trip for just after the snow is gone. This particular paddle will take about four hours, with a few technical spots that should be no problem for novices, and a take-out found on Highway 784. With a bit of preparation and the right timing, even southern Saskatchewan offers up some surprising paddling opportunities that are sure to excite any canoer or kayaker!
Hanging Heart Lakes Canoe Route
This 18 km (11 mi) trip can easily be done in a day, but we recommend stretching it into a leisurely overnight trip and taking advantage of the Crean Kitchen campground on Crean Lake. The Hanging Heart Lakes are a series of three calm, sparkling lakes that are home to a variety of wildlife including beavers, otters, eagles, ospreys and pelicans. You can also continue on and explore the many bays and islands of Crean Lake, extending your adventure within Prince Albert National Park. To the south, Waskesiu Lake offers some excellent paddling as well.
Although this large lake has its fair share of strong winds and motorized boat traffic, it can still be a lot of fun to explore its coves and bays. There are numerous parks and recreation sites that line the shores of this man-made lake, making for easy put-ins and plenty of camping options, including Douglas Provincial Park, Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park and Prairie Lake Regional Park. No matter where you choose to put in, gorgeous scenery awaits.
Did we miss your favourite Saskatchewan paddling adventure? Let us know in the comments below or share your paddling adventures with us on Instagram using #brmblife for a chance to be featured on our feed and win prizes. You can explore the routes listed above and many more with the help of our Saskatchewan Maps, which give you detailed descriptions that include access, highlights, portages and more, along with our industry-leading cartographic detail.