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CHURCHILL RIVER CANOE TRIPS

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From the windows of our Osprey Wings float plane, the Churchill River looks like a series of lakes, joined by streams, rapids, rivers and waterfalls. Forests of poplar, birch, fir, spruce and jack pine surround the Northern Saskatchewan river.

Aerial view of falls, rapids and forested islands in river
Aerial view of falls, rapids and forested islands in river
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The best way to experience the Churchill is on a canoe trip. First Nations people paddled along the river in birch bark canoes long before Europeans arrived. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, canoe travel enabled voyageurs, such as Frobisher and La Verendrye, to establish fur trading routes.

On canoe camping trips, you can retrace their original routes, camping at the same sites, making the same portages and running the same rapids. You see the remains of fur trading posts, examine First Nations rock art and visit Saskatchewan's oldest church at Stanley Mission.

Saskatchewan Voyageur Certificates

To encourage adventure-seekers to explore these legendary canoe routes, the Department of Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment and Resource Management awards Voyageur Certificates to individuals who canoe any of the more than 50 documented routes.

Canoeist receives a Saskatchewan Voyageur Certificate.
Canoeist receives a Saskatchewan Voyageur Certificate.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

To obtain a Voyageur Canoe Certificate, check in at one of the registration points before starting your canoe trip. Registration points include Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management offices, in locations like La Ronge and Prince Albert, the La Ronge Visitor Information Center and Churchill River Canoe Outfitters in Missinipe.

Pick up booklets describing the routes in detail (start and end points, number of portages, length of trip, historic and scenic sites, fishing opportunities, special precautions etc.). After your canoeing holiday, visit a registration point to pick up your Voyageur Certificate.

While some of the documented canoe routes ply other historic rivers, such as the Clearwater, the Churchill River provides the greatest variety, from easy flat water trips for novices, to challenging rapids for experts.

Missinipe Outfitter

"The Churchill is a very forgiving river," says Sheila Archer at Churchill River Canoe Outfitters. "Compared to large lakes, like La Ronge, the water is quite warm, about 70 degrees F (21 degrees C)."

You would also find it difficult to go hungry here. "If you had a bent pin and a piece of string you would be able to catch enough fish to survive," she adds.

Fisherman pulls a northern pike from the Churchill River.
Fisherman pulls a northern pike from the Churchill River.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The Churchill River is known for good fishing, primarily for walleye (pickerel), northern pike and lake trout. It also attracts abundant wildlife: moose, deer, beavers, bears, osprey and bald and golden eagles. (The eagle population is so great that eagles have been shipped to the United States to replenish their dwindling numbers.)

Canoe school

Are you a rank beginner? No problem. Churchill River Canoe Outfitters offers guided canoe trips, as well as a canoeing school for novice and advanced flat water and white water paddling.

Owner, Ric Driediger, arranges tours to match the experience of participating paddlers. Most canoeing trips run between May and September.

The outfitter also rents canoes and accessories, like PFDs (personal flotation devices) and spray covers. He offers cabin rental for before and after your trip, and rental of tents, cooking utensils, satellite phones and other gear for use during canoeing vacations.

You can also buy detailed information on canoe routes, as well as topographical maps to plan canoeing holidays.

Guided trips

Although Churchill River Canoe Outfitters offers guided canoe trips throughout Saskatchewan, in northern Manitoba and southern Nunavut, one of the best paddling trips for beginners is on the Churchill River.

What can you see on Otter, Ducker and French Lakes? Paddlers view Robertson Falls, Twin Falls and Rattler Bay rock paintings. Fishing pelicans are highlights of the wilderness canoeing route between Sandfly Lake and Otter Rapids.

Robertson Falls
Robertson Falls
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

What should visitors planning to canoe the Churchill River bring with them? "Rain gear," says Sheila Archer. "Although the weather is usually beautiful during the summer and early fall, it's amazing how fast people can lose their good attitude if they're cold and wet."

If you like to canoe rapids, you will want to attend the annual Whitewater Festival, at Barker Lake, located near Missinipe. Dates for the 2014 Whitewater Festival are June 27-29.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Churchill River Canoe Outfitters: www.churchillrivercanoe.com

Tourism Saskatchewan: www.sasktourism.com

More things to see & do in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan Vacations - What To See and Do

Canadian Fly-in Fishing - Sportsman's Lodge Saskatchewan

Jet Boating in Churchill River from Otter Lake Resort

Regina Saskatchewan Tours - What To See and Do

Hike Trail to Grey Owl's Cabin in Prince Albert National Park