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Canoeing from the Cameron River Ramparts to Yellowknife

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The Northwest Territories offers some of the best canoeing in the country. But almost all of the canoe routes require an expensive float plane ride. I wanted to do something that didn’t cost a lot. With some help from Gary at Overlander Sports I put together an itinerary that only required a one hour van shuttle from Yellowknife to KM 55 on the Ingraham Trail (also known as Highway 4). The plan was to spend four nights and five days canoeing from just above the Cameron River Ramparts all the way back to Yellowknife.

We launched about half a kilometer above the Cameron River Ramparts. There’s nothing like a portage within minutes of launching to question whether you made the right decision to paddle this part of the river. But within 25 minutes we were on the water again. And the Ramparts were well worth seeing.

"The Cameron River Ramparts , NWT"

The Cameron River Ramparts were much bigger than I anticipated

"Beautiful scene at the bottom of the Cameron River Ramparts"

Beautiful scene at the bottom of the Cameron River Ramparts

"Standing in a safe place to see the Cameron River Ramparts"

Standing in a safe place to see the Cameron River Ramparts

It was back in the canoe for a short paddle until we reached another short set of rapids. They were way too shallow to paddle but it was a quick portage to get by them. From there it was 6.7 kilometers to reach the Cameron Falls takeout – which is on the right before the pedestrian bridge. Miss it at your peril.

"Cameron River canoeing, NWT"

A section of calm water on the Cameron River was next

"Paddling the Cameron River"

The water below us was so clear we could see large trout swimming

"Beautiful reflections as we approached Cameron Falls"

Beautiful reflections as we approached Cameron Falls

"The start of the Cameron Falls portage"

The start of the Cameron Falls portage

"Looks are deceiving as Cameron Falls can't be seen or even heard from where you start portaging"

Looks are deceiving as Cameron Falls can’t be seen or even heard from where you start portaging

"Cameron River Falls"

Looking across the river to people visiting the falls

"Portaging beside Cameron Falls"

One of the more scenic portages we’ve ever done

"Me at the bottom of Cameron Falls"

Me at the bottom of Cameron Falls

After Cameron Falls it was a short paddle to where we made camp, on a headland before the rapids into Prelude Lake.

"Cameron River"

Paddling over beautiful grasses

"More beautiful reflections"

More beautiful reflections

"View from above our campsite on the first night"

View from above our campsite on the first night

"Another view from our campsite on the Cameron River"

Another view from our campsite

The weather was so perfect and we figured we had the time, so we made a 24 hour detour to Hidden Lake Territorial Park. Access was via two portages, the first of which was close to the campsite pictured above. The 24 hours in the park was one of the highlights of our summer.

"Sunrise over Hidden Lake"

Sunrise over Hidden Lake

Our third day out took us from Hidden Lake, along the full length of Prelude Lake (about 19 kilometers) to a fantastic campsite on River Lake. Prelude Lake is big and when the winds blow up, you could get easily get wind-bound for a day. We had to pull over very quickly and find a place to put up our tent, as we encountered a huge thunderstorm, one we heard later had knocked out the power in Yellowknife.

From Prelude Lake you follow a slow flowing, peaceful river into River Lake. At the southwest end of River Lake there are numerous campsites on rocky points.

"An easy portage into Prelude Lake"

An easy portage into Prelude Lake

"A rest stop on Prelude Lake"

A rest stop on Prelude Lake

"Crystal clear waters of River Lake"

Crystal clear waters of River Lake

"Our smoky sunset"

Our smoky sunset on River Lake

"smoke on River Lake in the NWT"

Lighting about 30 minutes later with visibility markedly decreasing

"The next morning the smoke is gone to be replaced by fierce winds on River Lake"

The next morning the smoke is gone to be replaced by fierce winds

After a smoky night, one where we went to bed with our face covered with a towel, we woke to big winds. We knew it was going to be a tough day ahead as we had the sometimes treacherous, Prosperous Lake to paddle. To get there we did two short portages around two waterfalls, followed by a paddle around an un-named lake.

"Our first set of waterfalls en route to Prosperous Lake"

Our first set of waterfalls en route to Prosperous Lake

"The second set of waterfalls end in rocks"

The second set of waterfalls end in rocks

Small rapid on the way to Prosperous Lake"

Looking back at an easy rapid we paddled

"Arriving at Prosperous Lake, NWT"

Arriving at Prosperous Lake

On our arrival at Prosperous Lake all we could see were whitecaps in the distance. Common sense took over and once again we put up the tent in the middle of the day – and had a three hour nap waiting for the wind to abate. It did eventually so we hurried out to take advantage of the relative calm.

Prosperous Lake has a huge reach so once we turned the corner out of the calm, we were back into whitecaps. Still, this time we continued with John doing his damnedest to steer a course.

"We took a breather on this protected bay in Prosperous Lake"

We took a breather on this protected bay in Prosperous Lake

"A quiet bay on Prosperous Lake"

A quiet bay on Prosperous Lake

Another hour of hard canoeing put us at the Tartan Rapids – with signs of civilization once again. They were easy to portage and I was in no mood for trying to get the perfect line to get through them in a canoe.

"The entrance to the Tartan Rapids"

The entrance to the Tartan Rapids

"The Tartan Rapids look like nothing from this angle"

The Tartan Rapids look like nothing from this angle

After the Tartan Rapids portage we were on the Yellowknife River. The paddling was easy but it was at least an hour until we found a campsite. The one we stayed at was okay though it lacked the scenic quality of the others.

"Easy paddling on this part of the Cameron River"

Easy paddling on this part of the Cameron River

"Wild hair after a day of wind"

Wild hair after a day of wind

"More of these beautiful grasses"

More of these beautiful grasses

"View from our last campsite on the Cameron River'

View from our last campsite

Our final day of paddling was easy from our campsite on the Yellowknife River until we got through Yellowknife Bay. Then we had a repeat performance with the wind. I counted strokes to keep my mind from thinking about flipping the canoe with a full load.

It was absolutely wonderful to see the Yellowknife skyline. We literally paddled to a residential community where we pre-arranged a canoe drop. After unloading the canoe we picked up our bags and walked a few kilometers into downtown Yellowknife. It’s not often you can do that on a canoe trip.

Despite a few super hard days of paddling, I loved this paddling trip and highly recommend it if you have the right mix of skills. Portaging skills should be good and you must be comfortable paddling on big lakes if you want to do the full trip from the Cameron River Ramparts to Yellowknife. There is the option of pulling out at Powder Point on Prelude Lake and organizing a return shuttle. And there’s a pullout where you can get picked up, so you don’t have to paddle any of Great Slave Lake.

"A very tough last 90 minutes paddling on Great Slave Lake to Yellowknife"

A very tough last 90 minutes paddling on Great Slave Lake to Yellowknife

"Yellowknife at last"

Yellowknife at last

What’s the best canoe trip you’ve ever done?

You can rent canoes from Overlander Sports for $45/day. Barrel rentals are $15. Camping is free and the shuttle service will run you approximately $1/kilometer but you must pay for a return trip.

Canoeing the Cameron River Ramparts to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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