Tired of full campgrounds and crowded southern lakes? This summer, travel north for an unforgettable expedition beneath the midnight sun. With a bit of wilderness experience and careful trip planning, Canada’s northern rivers are accessible for competent canoe trippers. The hardest part may be choosing your route. Mountain or tundra? Technical or not? Guided or do-it-yourself? Browse our shortlist to get started on the northern trip of your dreams.

A side trip from canoeing Canada's northern rivers
Wind River hike overlooking the river. | Feature Photo: Charlotte Jacklein

5 best canoe trips on Canada’s Northern rivers

1. Wind River, Yukon

From the rugged Wernecke Mountains, the Wind River tumbles northward into the wide expanse of the Peel River valley. Accessible only by floatplane, canoeing the Wind takes you through spectacular mountains, sweeping taiga and ultimately down the imposing Peel Canyon. While the river only has a handful of class II rapids, its icy current, braided channels and numerous sweepers still require quick wits. Keep your camera handy for caribou wandering through camp, bears gorging on blueberries or playful fox kits watching from riverside dens.

GO GUIDED: Ruby Range Adventures | 22 days, $5,595

DIY: Up North Adventures

2. Thelon River, Northwest Territories/Nunavut

Once a veritable highway for nomadic Inuit hunters, the legendary Thelon River travels 900 portage-free kilometers from Whitefish Lake, NWT, to Baker Lake, NU. En route, it travels through the vast Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary—home to huge herds of caribou, musk-oxen and rare Arctic wolves. Most paddlers end their Northern Canada canoe trip at the town of Baker Lake, though it’s possible to continue right to Chesterfield Inlet on the shore of Hudson Bay.

GO GUIDED: Nahanni River Adventures | 12 days, $8,135

DIY: Lynx Tundra Lodge

3. Thomsen River, Northwest Territories

More than 1,000 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, the Thomsen River is the northernmost navigable river in North America. Located on Banks Island, the westernmost island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the Thomsen flows through the newly designated Aulavik National Park. Not a technical river, it’s merely reaching the Thomsen that can be epic. Sweeping northern skies and fearless herds of muskox reward intrepid travelers.

GO GUIDED: The Great Canadian Adventure Company | 15 days, $9,800

DIY: Contact local charter airlines and consider bringing a folding boat.

4. Horton River, Northwest Territories

Flowing parallel to the Coppermine River, the Horton River traverses tundra, eskers and ancient Inuit campsites. Though relatively gentle, air and water temperatures create added challenge. The region is home to muskox, grizzly and the 50,000-strong Bluenose caribou herd. En route to the Arctic Ocean, paddlers pass the eerie Smoking Hills, an area where huge lignite coal deposits combust spontaneously as the tundra winds expose them to oxygen.

GO GUIDED: Canoe North Adventures
 | 12 days, $5,950

DIY: Arctic Chalet

5. Churchill River, Saskatchewan/Manitoba

Long used as a trading route by First Nations people and voyageurs, the Churchill River travels more than 1,600 kilometers through northern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The river flows across the granite Precambrian Shield through a series of lakes connected by short rapids, which can be portaged or run depending on water and skill levels. Many paddlers begin their northern Canada canoe trip in the hamlet of Missinipe and some continue all the way to historic Fort Churchill on the shores of Hudson Bay.

GO GUIDED: Churchill River Canoe Outfitters | 7 days, $2,495

DIY: CRCO also has self-guided options.

This article was first published in the Early Summer 2011 issue of Canoeroots Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

 

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