Canoeing in Saskatchewan

Where is Saskatchewan?

The Province of Saskatchewan is located in western Canada, geographically about mid-continent on the northern edge of the Great Plains of North America. The plains or prairies as they are known locally, occupy about the southern 1/3 of the province and the remainder is mainly forest and water. The popular image of Saskatchewan as a flat land of endless grain fields only applies to part of the province – the smaller part!

On the edge of the transition zone (called parkland) between southern prairie and northern forest lies Saskatchewan’s largest city, Saskatoon, situated in the beautiful South Saskatchewan River valley. Moving north from Saskatoon toward the geographic centre of the province, one encounters the boreal forest, a massive region of almost endless rivers and streams, lakes and wetlands – a veritable canoeing paradise!

Why Canoe in Saskatchewan?

Because Saskatchewan has a small population (just over one million) occupying a massive geographic area (651,903 sq. km), competition for recreational space is not too intense. This is especially true of remote wilderness areas where solitude and spaciousness predominate. A possible exception would be where a few major highways contact popular canoeing routes, causing minor congestion during the height of the summer. The reality of making reservations and “standing in line” to get onto popular canoe routes like the Bowron Lakes in British Columbia or Algonquin Park in Ontario, is unknown in Saskatchewan.

The semi-arid continental climate in Saskatchewan produces low rainfall, lots of sunshine and warm to hot weather in summer – all attributes that help make water sports like canoeing irresistibly appealing.

But the real attraction of canoeing in Saskatchewan is the unparalleled freedom that comes with uncrowded spaces, combined with a matchless abundance of waterways, most of which have escaped the ravages of industrial development & have retained their pristine character.

What do Saskatchewan Waterways Have to Offer?

First, the variety of rivers and lakes that course through the three distinctive geographic regions of the province provide choices and canoeing experiences that can be tailored to the seasons, to one’s tastes and abilities, and to a paddler’s pocketbook and available play time.

Sandbar beaches on the South Saskatchewan River near Saskatoon

Life is a beach in mid-summer on the South Saskatchewan River – a short canoe trip from Saskatoon

Prairie Rivers

The major prairie waterways in southern Saskatchewan – the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers with headwaters in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains and their outlet in Northern Manitoba’s Hudson’s Bay – present canoeing options ranging from a 2-hour float to a major expedition as they wend their way across the prairie and parkland regions. They are both rife with centuries of history: Aboriginal homelands, the fur trade, territorial battles and settlement stories. Although they both flow through a largely agricultural landscape, the valleys are broad and deep and a few kilometres beyond the cities situated along their length, a wilderness-like aura prevails.

Lakeland

A hundred and fifty or so kilometres (90 mi.) north of Saskatoon is an area known as Lakeland occupying the southern edge of the great northern boreal forest. The area is characterized by small rivers and streams feeding a great variety of lakes with canoeing opportunities. Included in Lakeland is Saskatchewan’s largest and oldest National Park – Prince Albert National Park, with attractive lake country, no cottages and regulated activity, including a few lakes that prohibit motorized watercraft. This makes for a more peaceful canoe trip and routes like the Grey Owl trip add an element of historic intrigue to the canoeing experience.

Canadian Shield

Robertson Falls on northern Saskatchewan's Churchill River

The Churchill River at Robertson Falls – the quintessential Canadian Shield river in northern Saskatchewan

Moving farther north into the rocky Canadian Shield region, opens up a vast array of waterways from small, timid streams and lakes to spectacular and remote whitewater rivers and everything in between. The famous Churchill River snakes its way across the province for some 1000 kilometres, providing the quintessential Canadian Shield canoeing experience, retracing the travels of indigenous people and voyageurs of centuries past. There’s a rapid and a portage for every inclination and a trip of a day’s duration or for days on end. Numerous other rivers like the Fond du Lac, Foster, Paull and Clearwater, to name a few, all have their own special character and ability to satiate the wilderness paddling addiction. Detailed resources by knowledgeable authors on northern Saskatchewan rivers can be found in Northern Saskatchewan Canoe Trips by Laurel Archer, and Canoeing the Churchill by Sid Robinson & Greg Marchildon.

CanoeSki offers canoe trips in all three of Saskatchewan’s major canoe tripping regions, providing a tour schedule to suit every taste and ability. Give us a chance to introduce you to an inimitable paddling experience on a fabulous Saskatchewan waterway!


What are Saskatchewan Canoe Trips like with CanoeSki?

Full Outfitting

You bring your sleeping bag and pad, personal effects, and rain gear; we supply the rest, including quality tents and waterproof portage packs to keep your gear dry. To help you prepare for an enjoyable adventure, we send a personal packing list when you book a trip. Our lightweight Souris River Canoes are easy to paddle and portage. We provide return transportation by passenger van from Saskatoon to the canoe launch point. Full outfitting includes competent tour leader/guides who accompany each trip and help create a fun time and a supportive learning environment.

Safety on the Water

Each tour involves pre-trip canoe safety briefings and paddling instruction. The amount of time spent varies with the relative experience of the group and the specific challenges of the route. Most programs continue with instruction in paddling, navigation and canoe-camping skills during the tour, in tune with your needs and interests. We use tandem (2-person) canoes, but you don’t need to sign up with a paddling partner. The trip leaders will match up paddling pairs based on considerations like compatibility, relative ability (e.g. more skilled with less skilled), prevailing weather, and safe, efficient travel on the water. Paddling partners can be mixed and matched during the trip based on paddling conditions and/or participants’ preferences. On the leadership side, our canoe guides are first-aid certified and are qualified canoeing instructors.

Camping

Back country camping with no campground style facilities characterizes all CanoeSki trips. We try to select campsites that offer scenic appeal, privacy and natural amenities for comfortable wilderness living. Many of the sites we use are exclusive to our canoe groups. Accommodation is in quality nylon backpacking type tents provided by CanoeSki. Solo and 2-3 person tents are available depending on your preference. If you share a tent with someone you don’t know, we try to be sensitive to compatibility concerns.

Meals

Wilderness baking with a reflector oven and campfire

Breakfast “bonhomie” around the campfire awaiting wild cranberry cornbread baking in the reflector oven!

Careful planning and pre-trip preparation goes into each daily menu. Wholesome, nutritious and tasty meals are staple fare on all trips. There’s something about a hearty, well-cooked campfire meal that hits the spot after a day of invigorating canoeing! Not only pleasing to the palate, meals from the CanoeSki kitchen create the bonhomie that good food can inspire!

Drinking Water

Filters that remove protozoa and bacteria are used on northern waterways that have naturally clean water to render it completely safe for drinking. On southern waterways, drinking/cooking water is carried along with food.

Skills Needed

We try to accommodate all skill levels on most trips. The exception is whitewater trips which require previous experience or training. Beginners will find that a modest degree of fitness will enhance their enjoyment of paddling and portaging. Canoeing mostly involves upper body exertion, so arm and shoulder muscles should be conditioned several weeks before a trip if you are not doing regular upper body work-outs. Experienced paddlers will find the pace reasonably energetic, but not arduous. We can design custom tours to suit group needs and interests.

Daily Paddling Time

A typical day involves 4-6 hours of paddling. Actual time on the water is influenced by weather, paddling abilities, number of portages and distance between campsites. This reasonably relaxed pace allows time for rest breaks and instruction en route. It also leaves energy to enjoy activities in camp: swimming, exploring, relaxing or participating in eco-programming events. We select canoe routes that optimize the spirit of the Canadian wilderness in terms of scenery, solitude, wildlife and heritage value.

Canoeing the Spruce River in Prince Albert National Park

Family “voyageurs” negotiating the winding Spruce River in Prince Albert National Park.

Bathroom Facilities

With the exception of some trips in Prince Albert National Park where camping is restricted to designated sites with outdoor privies, all other toilet facilities are what nature provides. Since most groups are co-ed, we try to select campsite and rest stop areas en route that provide natural areas for privacy.

Minimum Impact

CanoeSki incorporates the backcountry ethic of minimum impact in all its operations. “Pack it in – pack it out” is standard procedure with food stuffs and non-burnable garbage. In dealing with human waste, we follow the individual “cat sanitation” method where the waste is buried in the biologically active soil layer and left to compost naturally. This provides an ecologically and esthetically acceptable disposal practice that works well in the low traffic areas we mostly frequent and where waste accumulation is not an issue. An Environmental Ethics Quiz (part of the trip booking info package) helps to bring everyone up to speed on ecologically appropriate behavior in the wilderness prior to the trip.

Swimming

Swimming in northern Saskatchewan

Taking a plunge in a northern Saskatchewan freshwater lake

One of the joys of canoeing on Saskatchewan’s freshwater lakes and rivers in summer is the chance to take a refreshing dip and clean up after a day of paddling. Northern lakes in Saskatchewan normally warm up to “swimmable” temperatures in early July. Rivers tend to warm up faster and during a heat wave surface water can become comfortably warm. Most of the time though, water temperatures on northern waterways are best described as “invigorating”!

Bugs

Don’t let bugs deter you from booking a canoe trip in Saskatchewan! Mosquitoes and black flies are a fact of life in Saskatchewan, but usually they can be managed so that canoeists can enjoy paddling without becoming unduly distracted. Mosquitoes are more prevalent in early summer; black flies in early to late spring. Their intensity is a function of prevailing moisture and temperature conditions. With typically hotter, drier weather in mid to late summer, mosquito populations decrease noticeably. Under most conditions, mosquitoes aren’t bothersome on the water or at shoreline campsites until after sundown. Repellent or bug jackets/hats are effective in reducing their annoyance, and a smoky campfire can be used to keep them at bay around the cooking area.

Canoeing Equipment

We use quality hand-crafted, Canadian-made Souris River Canoes in most of our programs. Designed for the discriminating paddler, these tough, lightweight kevlar, duralite and carbon fiber canoes in epoxy lay-up are on the forefront of today’s canoeing technology. CanoeSki is a dealer for Souris River Canoes and carries an inventory of new and used models. Contact CanoeSki to take a test drive!

Eco Programs

Canoeing involves interacting with nature in an elemental way. Paddling a river, hiking a portage trail and sleeping on the earth are intensely physical. But more importantly, canoeing unclutters the mind and frees the spirit for personal growth and renewal. Our programs add to this natural restorative process using resource interpreters who share their talents and expertise on eco-oriented themes in such diverse areas as wildlife watching, history, Aboriginal culture, archaeology and ethnobotany. You get a truly “value-added” adventure!

Discover the Last Canoeing Frontier!

Saskatchewan is Canada’s last canoeing frontier and best kept secret. Uncrowded, undiscovered, untouched… unbelievable!

No reservations necessary.

Over 100,000 pristine lakes and rivers await your voyageur aspirations.

Let CanoeSki take you on an Unforgettable Journey!

Misty sunrise on the South Saskatchewan River

September sunrise on the South Saskatchewan River

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