Clearwater Heritage Canoe Trip

Trip Overview

Contact Rapids - Clearwater River

Contact Rapids on the lower Clearwater River  ©canoeski

Of the panoply of great whitewater rivers in northern Saskatchewan, the Clearwater has the distinction of being Saskatchewan’s first Canadian Heritage River. The conjunction of outstanding natural features and historic/cultural attractions is unparalleled. The ever-changing dramatic scenery throughout the Clearwater River Provincial Wilderness Park is a photographer’s dream. Needless to say, the Clearwater River canoe trip should be on very paddler’s “bucket list”!

The Clearwater geography and access allows it to be easily split into upper and lower sections; this trip covers both parts. The upper part runs on a general north/south track, has less gradient, less demanding rapids, fewer portages and requires more paddling effort. Chances are better on this section of encountering wildlife. The lower part runs on a general east/west track, has more gradient, more challenging rapids, more falls and mandatory portages, and more dramatic scenery, but requires less energy to keep moving.

The 12-day trip starts at Lloyd Lake about 800 km (480 mi) from Saskatoon and proceeds down the Clearwater taking in four separate pictograph sites early into the trip. This slower section ends at the confluence with the Virgin River where the Clearwater takes an abrupt turn to the west and begins to speed up. Access to the river at the Warner Rapids bridge denotes the faster, more popular and more dramatic lower Clearwater. The trip progresses through a series of spectacular rapids and falls, and limestone canyons and gorges in an ever deepening former glacial spillway with awe-inspiring and uncharacteristic Saskatchewan topography. At the point where the ancient fur trade portage trail from La Loche touches the river, a hike is taken up the valley to admire the vista that early explorers would have enjoyed. The trip ends in Alberta at the last major set of rapids on the Clearwater.

Class 2 and 3 whitewater skills and paddling experience on remote wilderness rivers are necessary to cope with the challenges encountered on the Clearwater. This is necessary for your own enjoyment and to allow the group to move downriver with minimum delays.

Trip Details
Duration: 12 days, 11 nights
Scheduled Dates: Note: this tour not available this season
Geographic Area: Clearwater River Provincial Wilderness Park – northern Saskatchewan, Canada
Nearest Communities: La Loche
Paddling Venue: Wilderness whitewater & flatwater
Adventure Rating: Intermediate to advanced whitewater skills – a modest degree of fitness and upper body conditioning will help prepare you for rigorous physical activities like paddling and portaging
Minimum Age: 16
Paddling Distance: Upper Clearwater 140 km (85 mi.) Lower Clearwater 118 km (71 mi.)
Accommodation: Wilderness camping in nylon tents
Price per Person: N/A

Booking Info


Day 1 involves an early morning departure by passenger van from Saskatoon and travelling all day to reach the launch area on Lloyd Lake. There is a 7 km paddle to reach a campsite that evening.

Day 2-4, we paddle across the lake to reach the mouth of the upper Clearwater River, where a succession of rapids and rock paintings are encountered until reaching a lengthy, meandering wetland area before arriving at The Gorge. A major portage around this lengthy boulder-strewn channel is the longest and most arduous of the entire trip. After by-passing the gorge, the next stop to make is at the confluence of the Virgin River where the cascade tumbling out of Careen Lake abounds with fish, including arctic grayling.

Day 5-7, we continue from the junction of the Virgin River heading toward the bridge at Warner Rapids. After the Virgin River outlet, the Clearwater gradient begins to drop, with more challenging and more lengthy rapids, including a falls and a short gorge. After running several sets of the Mackie rapids, the hwy 955 bridge at Warner Rapids marks the start of the lower Clearwater.

Day 8-10 As we begin paddling the lower Clearwater, the gradient steepens even more and the paddling gets more intense as does the scenery. The itinerary is slowed down over these days to take full advantage of several of the spectacular natural features that the Clearwater has become famous for: Smoothrock Falls and the polished rock and potholes of its abandoned channel; Skull Canyon’s dramatic and picturesque limestone cliffs; and Contact Rapids where Devonian-era limestone cliffs meet Canadian Shield granite and where walleye fishing is unparalleled. As we leave Contact Rapids, the river valley widens and deepens and the river slows to a crawl as it meanders on a glacial floodplain till reaching the Methye Portage. Here we stop to take a hike out of the valley following in the footsteps of centuries-old explorers and voyageurs.

Day 10-12 Leaving the historic trail behind, we follow the meandering river to Whitemud Falls, where the river suddenly takes a dramatic drop through another impressive limestone gorge. Our journey continues through another series of spaced out shallow rapids ending below Cascade Rapids where our floatplane pickup takes place at the start of our final day. The balance of the day is spent driving south for an evening arrival in Saskatoon.

Package Includes:

  • Canoeing and safety equipment
  • Nylon tents
  • Waterproof packs for personal items & clothing
  • Park entry & camping fees
  • Nutritious meals prepared over an open fire
  • Certified instructor/guide
  • Floatplane charter
  • Return transportation by passenger van from Saskatoon

Prices shown in Canadian Dollars; applicable taxes extra
Advance booking required, subject to availability

To book your space on this trip, please see Registration

Packing List, Liability Waiver and Detailed Trip Info – contact Cliff Speer 306-653-5693 or

Clearwater Geology, History & Archaeology 101 by Cliff Speer

Being a Canadian Heritage River, the Clearwater clearly has many outstanding attributes that qualified it for national recognition. This short article with eye-catching photos, looks at the river’s unique character in more detail. Read on to discover the wild and wonderful secrets that this special protected waterway holds for adventuring paddlers …>>>