12 Great Canadian Canoe Trips


One of the best ways to discover Canada in the summer is via a canoe. If you’re looking for adventure and a means of communing with nature then any of my suggestions should do the trick. From single day outings to month long epic canoe trips, Canada has it all covered.

"Sunset at Elk Island National Park in summer"

Here are 12 great Canadian canoe trips.

The Nahanni River is a classic. Located about 500 kilometers west of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, it is the star of the Nahanni National Park Reserve. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As National Geographic explains – The South Nahanni is what Everest is to mountaineers – remote, breathtaking and mystical. Highlights of a two week canoeing trip are the Virginia Falls (twice the height of Niagara Falls), the Tufa Mounds, Pulpit Rock as well as spectacular canyons and hotsprings. You need basic whitewater canoeing skills to attempt this one. Most people go with an outfitter. Wildlife is also great – 42 mammal species and 180 bird species.

"Virginia Falls, North West Territories"

Virginia Falls, North West Territories – Photo credit

The Thelon River is a remote barren lands river that starts in the Northwest Territories and flows for over 900 kilometers through Nunavut to ultimately drain into Hudson Bay at Chesterfield Inlet. The Thelon is famous for its fantastic concentration of wildlife in a pristine wilderness environment. Muskoxen, caribou herds, wolves, grizzly bears and thousands of birds can be seen on this trip. Because of the logistics – one that requires a float plane deposit and pick-up, consider going with an outfitter.

"Me canoeing - on a hot summer day on the Thelon River"

Me canoeing – on a hot summer day on the Thelon River

The Mackenzie River offers an 1850 kilometer journey that with good weather and moderate mileage, will take you a minimum of 48 days to complete – assuming you start in Hay River on Great Slave Lake (the 10th largest freshwater lake in the world) in the Northwest Territories and finish in Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean.You can’t even start until into June – or you’ll be dodging icebergs the size of small houses. There are many options for starting and ending this trip depending on how much time you have. For a detailed account you can check out The Mackenzie River Guide: A Paddler’s Guide to Canada’s Longest River.

"Dramatic cliffs along the Mackenzie River"

Dramatic cliffs along the Mackenzie River – Photo credit: Michelle Swallow

The Bowron Lakes Circuit in British Columbia: Outside Magazine calls this one of the world’s Top 10 canoe trips. It’s the equivalent of a Boston Marathon for a runner or the Annapurna Trek for a hiker. The Bowron Lakes attract an international crowd looking for adventure and solitude. The 110 km (72 mi) Bowron Lake Circuit is typically paddled over 6-10 days. The journey involves six major lakes and two rivers linked by numerous portages with the Cariboo Mountains serving as a backdrop. It’s easy to do on your own – though there are lots of outfitters too.

"Paddling down Isaac Lake - the longest and deepest in the circuit"

Paddling down Isaac Lake – the longest and deepest in the circuit

The Churchill River in northern Saskatchewan is a series of lakes joined by rapids and falls – and is part of the route the Voyageurs followed so many years ago. It’s 105 kilometers long and perfect for all levels as the more difficult rapids can be portaged. A total of nine portages are required, averaging 300 meters in length. You need about a week to do it.

The Bloodvein River in Manitoba, probably named for the red granite bedrock, takes you through the Canadian Shield from the Ontario-Manitoba border through Atikaki Provincial Wilderness Park and a swath of the boreal forest en route to Lake Winnipeg. It’s suitable for novice through to expert paddlers. Highlights – apart from the fact that the river is pristine – are pictographs, seen on the longer trips and a sweatlodge ceremony at the end. You need 9-15 days to do it.

The French River – a historic river  running from Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay, Ontario was my first overnight canoe trip. It’s a great trip for novice canoeists and families. Whitewater is easy – or should I say in hindsight it’s easy as we tipped and dented our canoe in the biggest rapid when I stopped paddling – and the swimming is excellent. Campsites are beautiful too. You can do a section of the French River over a long weekend.

"The French River in Ontario

The French River in Ontario – Photo credit

Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario boasts over 2000 kilometers of canoe routes. Not only are there picturesque lakes but there are rivers – perfect for the whitewater canoeist including the Petawawa River. Friends of Algonquin Park put out a map with suggested canoe routes but the possibilities are endless. Paddle for a weekend or an entire summer – it’s all up to you.

"Algonquin Park canoeing"

Algonquin Park canoeing – Photo credit

Killarney Provincial Park offers a gorgeous backdrop for canoeing – brilliant white quartzite cliffs, windswept pines, and red granite shorelines. Over a weekend you can get a taste of the park but take a week or 10 days to explore the close to 50 lakes and 40 kilometers of portages available. Friends of Killarney publish a map and guide to help you make the most of your time.

"Beautiful rock & pine scenery in Killarney Provincial Park"

Beautiful rock & pine scenery in Killarney Provincial Park – Photo credit

Quetico Provincial Park located 160 kilometers west of Thunder Bay is difficult to get to and as a result sees only about 10,000 visitors per year. Its southern border is shared with the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota. Your reward for traveling here is access to 600 plus lakes and over 2000 wilderness backcountry campsites. An infinite number of canoe trips are possible – and if you stick to the larger lakes you can avoid most of the portages.

"Full moon over Lake Kawnipi in Quetico Park"

Full moon over Lake Kawnipi – Photo credit: Traveling Ted

La Vérendrye Reserve, located in Quebec, about a three hour drive north of Ottawa, sports over 800 kilometers of canoe friendly routes including many circuits. It’s quiet and peaceful and outside of long weekends you’re not likely to run into anybody. It offers short trips to multi-week long adventures.

"La Vérendrye Reserve"

La Vérendrye Reserve – Photo credit

Kejimkujik National Park in Nova Scotia is best explored by canoe. Its renowned for it’s flat water – perfect for beginners. But it’s got plenty of backcountry available for exploring too. The Peskowesk Lake System offers 48 kilometers of paddling in a landscape more reminiscent of Canadian Shield country – with windswept islands of red and white pine. If you’re just looking for a day’s outing this is a perfect place to start.

"Kejimkujik National Park canoeing"

Kejimkujik National Park canoeing – Photo credit

Where would you like do have a great Canadian canoe trip?

Leigh McAdam


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