Churchill River - 12 Day
The Churchill River drains a third of Saskatchewan. The river is really a series of island filled lakes joined by short thrilling rapids or waterfalls. On this trip we are paddling only a short portion of the river. Our total trip is about 190 kilometers. The portion we will paddle flows through typical Precambrian Shield country. Beautiful rock outcroppings form great camping spots all along the river.
The Cree call the river Missinipe or Big Water. They have been it’s inhabitants for thousands of years and continue to live along it’s shores. We’ll visit many of their sacred rock painting sites along the river. The Churchill was part of the main voyageur route across the continent during the fur trade era. We’ll visit a site of an old fur trade post.
The trip is a great mix of thrilling whitewater and peaceful lake paddling. You’ll get to see eagles, pelicans, osprey, moose and bear. You will likely meet other groups on the river. But, the river is not busy until you get within a day of the end. The trip begins with a charter flight from Missinipe. This trip is run in co-operation with Black Feather.
Trip at a Glance
Lakewater with Whitewater options wilderness canoe trip
Length: 12 days
Skill Level: Novice/Intermediate
Dates: August 2 to 13
Trip Fees: $3995 CAD
Trip Rendezvous: Missinipe, Saskatchewan with shuttle service available from La Ronge
The Churchill River trip meets at Churchill River Canoe Outfitters in Missinipe, Saskatchewan. We will overnight there, before heading by charter flight to Pinehouse Lake on the Churchill RIver. The guides will review paddling strokes, canoe maneuvers and safety before we head downstream. At the first rapids we’ll go over river reading and route planning. From here on it is mostly lake paddling with some really fun rapids in between. Expect some portages each day at waterfalls, or rapids that we cannot, or you would prefer not to paddle. Most portages are less than 200m, but the last day, depending on the route we choose, and the skill of the group there could be a portage of 1100m. On our last day, we’ll be picked up noon by our van for our ride back to Missinipe (6 km) and for those who nee to, on to La Ronge to connect with late afternoon flights to Saskatoon. Some in the group may want to stay overnight for a celebratory meal together.
Day 1 Monday, August 2nd, 2021 - Travel to Missinipe, SK
- Flights from Saskatoon to La Ronge, CRCO shuttle pickup at the airport to Missinipe (80 km).
- Pre trip meeting, gear check, dinner, overnight at CRCO in Missinipe
Day 2 - Breakfast, charter flight to Pinehouse Lake
- Set up camp, canoe skills review
Day 3 to Day 11 - Paddle the Churchill River
- The unspoiled clear waters of the Churchill flow over a number of lakes and through rapids. There are many fun runnable rapids, and a few falls that we will have to portage. Each night, we will camp at a new site, surrounded by ruggedly beautiful scenery.
Day 12 Friday, August 13th, 2021
- The trip ends at Devil Lake or Otter Rapids. Shuttle back to Missinipe (5 km).
- Optional Group Dinner and overnight in Missinipe (own expense) or mid-afternoon departure from Missinipe to the La Ronge airport. That shuttle to La Ronge can also go the next day.
- Overnight in Saskatoon (own expense) or flights home
What is Included in the Trip Price
•Overnight stay at CRCO in Missinipe on August 2
•Guides - 5:1 ratio
• Excellent meals from Day 2 lunch to Day 12 lunch
• 17’ Prospector expedition canoes
• Paddles, PFD, helmets (you may bring your own)
• Throw lines and other safety accessories
• Camping Equipment:
• Tents - free standing custom expedition dome tents - 2 per tent
• ‘Kitchen’ - tarp, fire box, cooking stoves, utensils, dishes, etc
• First aid and repair kits, communications equipment (satellite phone)
• Canoe rescue gear
• Charter flight to Pinehouse Lake on the Churchill River from Missinipe, Saskatchewan
• Transportation to and from the La Ronge airport and Missinipe
• Transportation of guides, group gear, canoe etc to and from trip
What is not Included in the Trip Price
• Saskatchewan tax: 11% of the trip fee
• Personal clothing and gear - a recommended clothing & equipment list will be provided
• Travel between your home and the trip rendezvous - La Ronge, Saskatchewan
• Accommodation in Missinipe SK after the trip (approx $60 per person based on double occupancy)
• Any meals in Missinipe after the trip
• Any additional expenses or costs incurred as a result of delays to the trip caused by factors beyond our control - i.e. wind, waves, unsafe paddling conditions, forest fire, pandemic, etc
• Any costs associated with your emergency evacuation from the trip - please contact us at CRCO for more information
• Gratuities - we recommend $12-$15 per day per guide
The portion of the Churchill River we will be paddling is typical of northern Saskatchewan’s Precambrian Shield. The forest is mixed of black spruce or white spruce, jack pine, trembling aspen and white birch. The forest floor is usually a thick layer of moss. The island filled lakes give the river an intimate feel. The granite of the Shield country is everywhere. The water in the Churchill River is clean and warm, normally reaching temperatures of the low 20s C by mid summer.
The Churchill is a unique river. In Precambrian Shield country the rivers tend to follow the grain of the shield, usually northeast to southwest or vice versa. The Churchill, instead of following this pattern, it cuts across it. In Precambrian times, numerous ranges of mountains cut across the land running from northeast to southwest. The Churchill of that day filled the valleys between the ranges and looked for a place to break through. These place became the rapids and waterfalls of the Churchill. What we are left with is a river that is made of beautiful lakes filled with islands). These lakes then flow over ancient ridges into the next lake forming the rapids and waterfalls common to the Churchill.
The portion of the Churchill River we are travelling on this trip begins where the Churchill flows into the Precambrian Shield on Pinehouse Lake. The route goes through some of the most complex, island filled lakes on the Churchill, namely Sandfly Lake and Black Bear Island Lake. Black Bear Island lake is also home to numerous pictograph sites and several other first nations sacred spots. This lake also carries the stories of the mythical little people of Cree legend. There is the remains of a trading post on Trout Lake, pointing to another era in the history of the Churchill.
Even though this is primarily a lake trip, there are many rapids that can be run. These rapids tend to be short. There are many that are very easy, Class 1 or an easy 2. There are also many that are much more difficult. Any of the more difficult ones can be easily portaged. In some cases the group will portage the gear and run the canoes through. In total there are 6 mandatory portages and even a few of these may be run in empty canoes.
The trip ends at highway 102 at either Devil Lake or Otter Rapids.
Before the explorers, fur traders, and voyageurs arrived in the mid 1700s, the Churchill River (called the Missinipe by the local Cree people) was a very quiet place. Not many people lived along the Churchill. There were a few small Cree villages. It was a difficult place to make a living. To the north were the vast herds of caribou and to the south were the huge herds of bison. The Churchill was a area in between. Those who lived along the Churchill did most of their travelling and visiting in winter when the lakes were frozen. During the summer, travel was much more difficult. They had canoes, but they were small. Birch don’t grow very large here. And beside the canoe was considered a woman’s craft.
Things changed very dramatically during the fur trade. The name of the river changed from the Missinipe to the English River. Many first nations people moved to the Churchill because it became the major highway across the country. Many brought pemican from the south and traded it with the voyageurs as they travelled through. First nations people became involved in trapping during the winter months. This became a way of life for nearly everyone living in the area. The voyageur way of life began to disappear from the Churchill River in the early 1900s. But the fur trade and trading post way of life hung on until the 1970s. And the name of the river changed again in the early 1900s from the English River to the Churchill River, named after the first governor of the Hudson Bay Company.
Now tourism has taking over life on the Churchill River. You will definitely meet other groups on this trip. This is especially true as we get closer to the road and the end of the trip.
Any bird or animal that eats fish is common on the Churchill River. Loons, pelicans, bald and golden eagles, osprey, grebes and merganzers are all fish eaters, these are common. You may also see mink, otter, fisher and martin. And seeing a black bear is also not uncommon. If you’re lucky you may see a moose, woodland caribou, lynx or wolf. Canoers often expect to see more wildlife than they do. Fish is the only easy food. And there are lots of fish, mainly walleye and northern pike.
Our menus are delicious and nutritious. Everyone helps out cooking meals over a wood fire or camping stove from a combination of fresh, dried and freeze-dried products. Breakfasts consist of cereal, fruit and a main course such as blueberry pancakes or eggs and bacon. At lunch you will enjoy a selection of breads (rye bread, bagels, tortillas) with cheeses, sliced meats or veggies ... and of course, good old peanut butter and jam, followed up by cookies or fruit. Dinner consists of hors d’oeuvers, a main course then dessert. Entrees include chicken stir fry and pesto / pine nut / red pepper pasta. Perhaps we’ll have a salad and finish up with brownies or a lemon desert. On cooler days, a hearty mug of steaming soup is always available, along with tea, coffee, hot chocolate or cold drinks. If you have food allergies or dietary restrictions you should contact our office. You will be required to assist in your menu preparation. We don’t want anyone going hungry or reduced to eating boring food!
Your Black Feather and CRCO guides are exceptionally qualified. Each principal guide has an extensive outdoor background, formal training and leadership experience. On most expeditions there will be an assistant guide. The guides are always ready to provide coaching and helpful advice on any aspect of the trip and will attempt to maximize the spirit of adventure for each individual. Your safety is their prime concern and your guide will make decisions with this in mind. We must stress that listening carefully to instructions given by the guide is your responsibility and in the best interest of you and the group. Each group member is encouraged to contribute to the tasks of the canoe trip and your guides will act as helpful resource people. Lastly, as this is your holiday, the Black Feather and CRCO guides have a real sense of fun and excitement, and will help to make this your trip of a lifetime!
The Churchill River region often has idyllic summer temperatures, but not always. Expect temperatures to range from 15 C to 32C, but averaging from 20 - 25 C. A good rain suit is a must, along with some warm clothing for cool days and nights. The water temperature in mid summer is usually about 23 C.
The Churchill River trip meets at Missinipe, Saskatchewan. Some will be driving to Missinipe. There are daily flights from Saskatoon (YXE) to La Ronge via Transwest Air. From La Ronge we will arrange a shuttle to Missinipe. You should arrive in Missinipe on Monday, August 2nd and can depart on or after Friday, August 13th, 2021. Churchill River Canoe Outfitters is located in Missinipe. CRCO has cabins and a hostel to rent. The town has a restaurant, a small convenience store and float plane base. We will reserve a cabin for you for Night 1 on us. We can also reserve a cabin for you for Night 13, the cost will be approximately $60.00 per person.
This Trip is rated Novice/Intermediate Skill Level - Previous experience is not necessary but a great asset.
This trip is best for paddlers with canoeing experience that want a longer more challenging adventure. Experience in lake paddling would certainly be an asset. You will learn to paddle in rapids. But previous experience in whitewater is not necessary. There are 6 mandatory portages. Some of these can be in poor condition, and will undoubtably have poor footing and mud. You should be prepared to carry your share of the group’s load. The pace will be somewhat relaxed therefore we will have time for instruction and coaching along the way. At the campsite everyone pitches in with setting up tents, collecting firewood, preparing meals, telling stories etc. The guides coordinate things and are always ready to assist you in any tasks. On the river they will provide expert coaching and lots of personal attention.
YES, we highly recommend you to purchase 1) Emergency Medical/Evacuation Insurance, 2) Trip Interruption Insurance and 3) Trip Cancellation Insurance. Many credit card companies offer limited interruption/cancellation insurance, so please consult with yours before you book your trip to ensure you are adequately covered. Please also note that some types of insurance are only valid if they are purchased within a short time of making a non-refundable payment towards a trip. More information about these can be obtained through your preferred insurance provider. Prior to confirming your trip’s departure, we will ask you to sign a waiver stating you have either purchased adequate insurance or that you will be personally responsible and financially liable for any costs incurred as the result of any delays/cancellations/evacuations to you on your trip.