Nistoyãhk Odyssey — Churchill River Canoe Trip

Trip Overview

Stanley Rapids rock paintings on the Churchill River

Capturing the Stanley Rapids rock paintings on film  ©canoeski

The canoe trip starts and ends at the historically interesting Native Cree settlement of Stanley Mission (500 km north of Saskatoon), which also operated as a trading post and church mission during the fur trade era. A landmark historic attraction in the town is the Holy Trinity Anglican Church located on the banks of the Churchill River and open to visitors. It is a designated National and Provincial Historic Site representing the oldest church in western Canada. Stanley Mission is a beehive of river activity, but solitude and undisturbed wilderness are characteristic of the canoe route once beyond the reaches of the community.

The route follows a portion of the Churchill River, one of the most famous voyageur fur trade waterways in Canada. Along the Canadian Shield granite shorelines of the river, mysterious rock paintings provide evidence of centuries-old Indigenous culture and heritage. The initial part of the circular loop takes in part of the historic La Ronge to Stanley Mission trade route, traversing a series of small secluded lakes, portages and winding creeks with beaver dams and brilliant water lilies. The latter part winds through the islands in the north end of vast Lac La Ronge, following its drainage into the Churchill River and taking in several stunningly scenic rapids and falls, including Saskatchewan’s largest – Nistowiak Falls.

Boreal forest wildlife typical of the Canadian Shield, especially larger birds like bald eagles, great blue herons, white pelicans, and northern loons, are abundant along the route.

Total canoe trip distance is 80 km, with seven moderate portages. This trip length is easily managed over eight days (7 days canoeing, 1 day driving), permitting a leisurely pace and time for instruction sessions en route. Of all the canoe routes available in the Churchill River area, this one offers perhaps the best variety in scenic, cultural and historic highlights.

Trip Details
Duration: 8 days, 7 nights
Scheduled Dates: July 22 – July 29, 2024
Custom departure dates for groups can be arranged.
Geographic Area: Churchill River & Lac La Ronge in Lac La Ronge Provincial Park – northern Saskatchewan, Canada
Nearest Communities: Stanley Mission & La Ronge
Paddling Venue: Lake & river flatwater
Adventure Rating: Novice to Intermediate – a modest degree of fitness and upper body conditioning will help prepare you for rigorous physical activities like paddling and portaging
Minimum Age: 14
Paddling Distance: 80 km (50 mi.)
Accommodation: Wilderness camping in storm-proof nylon tents
Price per Person: $2225 plus 5% GST

Booking Info


Day 1 will involve travelling by passenger van from Saskatoon to Lac La Ronge where paddling and safety instruction and trip orientation will take place. The following morning, we’ll drive another 80 km (50 mi) north to begin the canoe trip.

Day 2, the canoe trip will launch at the First Nations community of Amuchewaspimewin, or Stanley Mission, as it is commonly called. We will visit the stately old church and from there head upstream on the Churchill River following a time-worn historic connection between Stanley Mission and La Ronge called the Four Portages Route. Today we will tread the first of the historic four portages and then paddle the length of the enchantingly pretty Hunt Lake to our evening campsite. All our camps on this route are wilderness style (no campground type amenities), situated on relatively unused sites in the boreal forest bordering the waterway or on islands.

Day 3, takes us through the 3 remaining portages into the north end of immense Lac La Ronge. The portages are relatively short, ranging from 250 m to 600 m and connect a series of scenic small lakes and winding lily-covered creeks with a small waterfall. Although portaging is physically demanding, it does provide a break from the repetitive activity of paddling. Chances of encountering wildlife are also enhanced by hiking through the forest during a portage in addition to travelling on the water.

Day 4 involves avoiding the wind around exposed points of Lac La Ronge and dodging between islands if the weather gets rough. A fine crescent beach for swimming is encountered while crossing the north end of the lake. Evening camp is set up after entering the lake’s exit into the Rapid River drainage channel.

Day 5 We follow the Rapid River channel known in the fur trade days as the Montreal River to the marine railroad portage with hand-powered trolley for transporting loaded canoes around another scenic series of rapids and falls. Continuing downstream, en route, we take a hike up to a unique cavern in a high Precambrian rock outcrop complete with local legends of small human-like inhabitants. Shortly after running a short rapid, camp is established on the lake shore.

Day 6 We paddle to majestic Nistowiak Falls, Saskatchewan’s largest waterfall where masses of frothing water pour into the Churchill River, a spectacular and powerful phenomenon. The entire Lac La Ronge drainage basin funnels through the Nistowiak gorge, amidst a background of dramatic scenery.

Day 7 Depending on progress and weather, this day may serve as a lay-over day to simply relax or take a side trip to Drinking Falls, about 7 km from our campsite on the Churchill River.

Day 8 Following the Churchill River upstream to our destination at Stanley Mission, we portage Stanley Rapids to find one of the most vivid and well-preserved Aboriginal rock art sites of many along the Churchill. Early afternoon finds us loading the van and homeward bound. A restaurant supper stop in Prince Albert en route, brings the trip to a finale at the CanoeSki base in Saskatoon in early evening.

Package Includes:

  • Canoeing and safety equipment
  • Storm-proof nylon tents
  • Waterproof packs for personal items & clothing
  • Park entry & camping fees
  • Nutritious meals prepared over an open fire
  • Certified instructor/guide
  • 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

Nistoyãhk Odyssey Trip Tale

Lac La Ronge Park Paddling Odyssey by Bryan St. George, July 2002

Listen to the loons, watch bald eagles soar and feel the spray of mighty Nistowiak Falls, says the trip description. Bryan did that and a lot more when he teamed up with his 14-year-old grandson for an 8-day canoeing vacation of a lifetime…>>>