SK Historic Canoe Route 58
Lloyd Lake - Clearwater River - Warner Rapids (Saskatchewan Highway 955)
Length of Trip: 127 to 147 Kilometres (79 to 91 Miles) (Depending on selected starting point)
Time Required to Complete Trip: 6 to 8 days
Number of Portages: 3 to 9 (Depending on choice, and experience of canoeists)
Water levels and canoeing conditions on many Saskatchewan rivers and lakes vary from time to time, causing changes in the appearance of the various landmarks described in this booklet, as well as causing hazards not described herein. It is the canoeist's responsibility to proceed with caution and alertness, using discretion and good judgement at all times. The information in this booklet is intended to be of general assistance only, and the Government of Saskatchewan assumes no responsibility for its use. Canoeists are reminded that they travel at their own risk at all times.
Access to Starting Point:
Road access is via the northern community of La Loche where arrangements for the safe parking of vehicles can be made. The actual trip starts from the end of a 3.25 kilometre (2 mile) fair weather, soft sand road which leaves Highway 955 (gravel) heading east at a point 122 kilometres (76 miles) north of La Loche. Depending on condition of the fair weather road, a 1.5 - 2 km carry to the lake may be necessary. There are a number of cabins situated at the end of this road on the western shore of Lloyd Lake (Grid location 113596 - Map 74-F/6). It is not recommended that vehicles be left at this location during the trip.
Highway 955 (gravel) is a coarse, cut rock road. Two spare tires are recommended for travel in this region.
After canoes and equipment have been dropped at the lakeshore, canoeists taking vehicles to La Loche for parking may use a taxi service to return to Lloyd Lake.
Alternative starting points for trips on the upper portion of the Clearwater River:
The outfitter's camp located at (Grid location 198566 - Map 74-F/6) is accessible to both wheeled or float plane (NOTE: If using wheeled plane, clearance should be obtained in advance from the outfitter as this is a private airstrip located 1 kilometre (2/3 mile) inland from the lake);
Gibson Bay located at the eastern end of Lloyd Lake (Grid location 282568 - Map 74-F/7) and only accessible by float plane;
Careen Lake and the Virgin River (Grid location 660207 - Map 74-F/1) and only accessible by float plane (NOTE: there is a small airstrip at one of the outfitter's camps on Careen Lake; if using wheeled plane, clearance should be obtained in advance from the outfitter as this is a private airstrip located just back of the camp near the lake shore).
74-C/15 Mackie Rapids, 74-C/16 McArter Lake, 74-F/1 Neff Lake, 74-F/2 Pickford Lake, 74-F/7 Langley Lake and, optional (for starts from west or central parts of Lloyd Lake) 74-F/6 Preston Lake
About the Trip
: This is a challenging trip and it is not recommended for those with minimal canoeing skills, or with no whitewater experience. Many of the rapids encountered are shallow and rocky and may present varying degrees of difficulty depending on water levels. The river's flow usually peaks in late May to mid June and has declined by about 1/3 in early September. Therefore a late summer trip includes a greater potential for wading and lining certain sections to avoid damaging canoes. Conditions also vary greatly from year to year; during the summer months the highest recorded flows have been 150-260% of the lowest flows in any given month.
It should be noted that portages were found only past major navigational hazards such as waterfalls and larger rapids.
Canoe parties should be well equipped and prepared for self-contained wilderness travel and minimum impact activities. Adequate first aid, equipment repair and navigational equipment are required. Except for food consumed enroute, everything packed in must be packed out. Digging of garbage pits and cutting of tent poles are prohibited. Mandatory use of portable stoves may be instituted at any time by Park managers. Recreationalists will be expected to avoid interfering with traditional resource use activities of native residents.
Sport angling by persons holding a valid fishing licence is allowed.
This trip takes the canoeist on one of Saskatchewan's most outstanding wild rivers. Numerous opportunities occur for wildlife viewing and experiencing the Boreal Forest environment. Excellent fishing for northern pike, walleye and, in places, arctic grayling is reported.
In addition to the spiritual and heritage significance of the river for native Dene, Cree and Metis residents of the area, the Clearwater was a pivotal link during the height of the fur trade period. Peter Pond was the first European to cross the Methye Portage in 1778, after which this height of land, and the Clearwater River, became a prime exploration and trade route between the Hudson Bay and Arctic watersheds for over 100 years.
In this booklet, when referring to one side or the other of the river channel, a downstream direction of travel is always assumed.
The Canoe Trip:
Canoes may be launched from the beach or the dock near the cabins at the end of the fair weather road which leads off of Highway 955 about 122 kilometres (76 miles) north of the community of La Loche.
The canoe route leads east and southeast across Lloyd Lake for a distance of 20 kilometres (14.5 miles) to Gibson Bay at the outlet of the lake.
As the canoeist passes the opening of the long south bay of Lloyd Lake, an outfitter's buildings can be seen 7.5 kilometres (4 2/3 miles) away on the west shore of the lake. Both Gibson Bay and the outfitter's camp are alternate starting points for this trip
The first rapid, and optional portage, occur 6.5 kilometres (4 miles) from the entrance to Gibson Bay (Grid location 343565 - Map 74-F/7). This rapid consists of two Class 2 chutes and one Class 3 chute which, depending on water levels and experience of the canoeists, can either be portaged, run or lined.
NOTE: Care should be exercised when descending this rapid as a water survey station with a cable across the river is situated between the two top sections of the rapid.
Portage Number 1 (Optional):
535 metres (585 yards) long and in poor to fair condition.
This portage starts at an inconspicuous break in the shoreline willows in a bay to the left, or northeast, of the head of the rapid (Grid location 344566 - Map 74-F/7).
Two kilometres (1.25 mile) below Portage Number 1 a short Class 3 rapid occurs at a sharp bend in the river which, depending on water levels and experience of the canoeists, can either be portaged, run or lined.
Portage Number 2 (Optional):
70 metres (76 yards) long and in poor condition. This portage starts at an inconspicuous break in the shoreline willows on the right, or southwest, shore a few metres (yards) above the rapid.
One kilometre (2/3 mile) below Portage Number 2 a short Class 1 rapid occurs which should present no problem to the alert canoeist.
2.5 kilometre (1.5 mile) below Portage Number 2 another rapid occurs. This rapid should be carefully surveyed before any decision is made to run, line or portage it. The top part of the rapid is Class 3 and the lower part is a tricky boulder bed.
Portage Number 3:
600 metres (656 yards) long and in fair to good condition, though somewhat indistinct in parts.
This portage starts on the left, or east, bank at a slight break in the shoreline willows 75 metres (82 yards) above the start of the rapid and it ends at a sandy bank in a bay to the left of the foot of the rapid. The head of the rapid is not visible from the start of the portage.
A beautiful campsite is situated on an open sandy flat at the lower end of the portage trail.
For 37 kilometres (23 miles) below this rapid the river meanders to the south and southeast through a wide sandy valley with no major obstructions to navigation.
High granite cliffs and a sudden change of direction of the channel mark the approach to two short Class 2 rapids (Grid locations 572351 and 598337 - Map 74-F/1) which should be examined prior to running. No portage trails were found past these two rapids.
After the second of these rapids, the canoeist must quickly move to the right, or west, side of the river in order to reach the portage past a long set of rapids in a narrow gorge. These rapids must be portaged.
Portage Number 4:
1375 metres (1503 yards) long, steep in spots, and in poor condition due to windfallen trees.
NOTE: The landing on the left side of the narrow bay IS NOT the portage, it leads to an observation point at the 1.5 metre (5 foot) fall at the start of this series of rapids.
This portage starts at a steep bank by a distinct opening on the right, or west, shore of a narrow bay just upstream and to the right of the head of the rapids (Grid location 599336 - Map 74-F/1).
The first 275 metres (301 yards) of the trail crosses a wet marshy area, it then enters an extensive area of windfallen trees. The best option here is to cut left 200 metres (219 yards) to the river and carry or line the canoes for 500 metres (547 yards) along a Class 3 section of rapids to the foot of a 33 metre (100 foot) cliff. The rapids below this cliff are Class 4. The canoes and gear must then be laboriously carried to the top of this cliff. The remaining 367 metres (401 yards) of the trail is in good condition and ends at an open grassy area 100 metres (109 yards) below the end of the gorge.
In the 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) between this portage and the junction of the Virgin River, there are two short Class 2 rapids (Grid locations 604323 and 628300 - Map 74-F/1) which should be examined prior to running.
Another alternate starting point for this trip is Careen Lake. A fair 1500 metre (1640 yard) portage leads from the lake to the Clearwater River. This portage starts at some outfitter buildings (Grid location 660202 - Map 74-C/16) and ends 20 metres to the west of the inflowing Virgin River.
A good campsite can be found at the confluence of the Clearwater and Virgin Rivers (Grid location 648236 - Map 74-F/1) from which a 2.5 kilometre (1.5 mile) side trip can be made to the foot of a beautiful falls in the narrow gorge which drains Careen Lake. There is excellent fishing for grayling, pike and walleye in the pools at the foot of the falls. Excellent fishing and photographic opportunities exist from the numerous foot trails which parallel the southwest side of the gorge.
Just below the junction of the Clearwater and Virgin Rivers (Grid location 643237 - Map 74-F/1) there is a short Class 2 rapid which should be examined prior to running. If canoeists elect to run this rapid, the best route is the central chute at the top followed by a sharp left to avoid the central boulders at the foot of the rapid. A good portage trail by-passes this rapid on the left.
Portage Number 5:
80 metres (87 yards) long and in good condition.
This portage starts at a break in the shoreline willows on the left, or south, shore 10 metres (11 yards) above the head of the rapid.
About 3 kilometres (1.75 mile) below this rapid (Grid location 618222 - Map 74-F/1) the canoeist encounters a short Class 2 rapid which should be examined prior to running.
One kilometre (2/3 mile) below this rapid (Grid location 607218 - Map 74-F/1) there is a 1.5 metre (5 foot) fall which must be portaged. This fall is divided into three chutes by two islands. The portage trail is on the right, or northwest, side of the right hand channel.
Portage Number 6:
115 metres (126 yards) long and in good condition.
This portage starts from a small bay on the right side of the right hand channel just a few metres (yards) upstream of the falls.
500 metres (547 yards) below the end of Portage Number 6, the canoeist encounters a long and difficult Class 3 rapid. It is advisable to examine the entire length of this rapid prior to deciding whether to run or portage it.
Portage Number 7:
135 metres (148 yards) long and in good condition.
This portage starts at a small bay on the right, or west, side of the river immediately above the head of the rapid.
In the 9 kilometres (5.5 miles), prior to where the river runs through a granite gorge, there are two minor stretches of fast water which should present no problem to the alert canoeist.
The gorge (Grid location 553203 - Map 74-F/1) contains Class 3 to 4 rapids which should be portaged.
Portage Number 8:
300 metres (328 yards) long and in good condition, though running through the area of a 1983 forest fire.
This portage starts at a rocky landing on the right, or north, side of the river 15 metres (16 yards) prior to the start of the gorge, and 75 metres (82 yards) prior to the rapids. The trail ends at a marshy area a few hundred metres (yards) north of the end of the gorge.
Three kilometres (1.75 miles) below Portage Number 8, there is another Class 3 chute which can be run to the right of centre after careful examination from shore. There is a good portage past this rapid.
Portage Number 9:
95 metres (104 yards) long and in good condition.
This rapid starts on the left, or southeast, shore at a break in the shoreline willows a few metres (yards) above the head of the rapid and ends in a grassy bay 50 metres (55 yards) below the rapid.
In the remaining 44 kilometres (27 miles) prior to the end of the trip at Warner Rapids, all the rapids encountered are Class 2 with numerous boulders. The exception to this is the second part of Mackie Rapids (Grid location 297101 - Map 74-C/15) which contains a number of Class 3 ledges. None of the rapids in this section have portages, therefore those not wishing to run some of them will be obliged to line their canoes.
11.5 kilometres (7 miles) downstream from Portage Number 9 the canoeist encounters Bielby Rapids (Grid location 478134 - Map 74-C/15).
This rapid is in two Class 2 sections: The first section is a large, but short, boulder field which can be run down the centre. The second section is separated into two channels by an island, the left channel appears to be the best to run.
1.5 kilometre (one mile) below Bielby Rapids (Grid location 463139 - Map 74-C/15) another Class 2 rapid split by an island is encountered, the right channel appears to be the best to run starting on the right and moving to the left near the bottom.
Two more short Class 2 bouldery rapids occur below Bielby Rapids and before Olson Rapids (Grid locations 450140 and 429126 - Map 74-C/15), these should present no great problem to the alert canoeist.
Three kilometres (two miles) below this last rapid the canoeist encounters the start of Olson Rapids (Grid location 402113 - Map 74-C/15), a 4 kilometre (2.5 mile) stretch of Class 2 shallow bouldery rapids. These should present no great problem to the alert canoeist.
In the next three kilometres (two miles), further Class 2 rapids are encountered (Grid locations 350094 and 345096 - Map 74-C/15) which should present no great problem to the alert canoeist. The first one is best run right of centre. The second rapid is divided by an island. The left, or south, channel is too shallow to run, but the right channel can readily be run starting at the centre and moving to the right nearer the bottom.
3.5 kilometres below this last rapid (Grid location 313104 - Map 74-C/15), the canoeist encounters the first part of Mackie Rapids. This is one kilometre (2/3 mile) section of shallow fast water which should cause no problems to the alert canoeist.
One kilometre (2/3 mile) downstream, the main section of Mackie Rapids is encountered. This section is a strong Class 3 rapid separated by an island. The left channel is the best one to run, after careful examination from shore. At periods of low water, it may be necessary to line the bottom part of this rapid.
As no portage exists past this rapid, those not wishing to run this rapid may line down the right channel.
5 kilometres (3 miles) below the end of Mackie Rapids, the canoeist encounters the start of the upper section of Warner Rapids (Grid location 270074 - Map 74-C/15). There is no portage past this 3 kilometre (2 mile) section of bouldery Class 2 rapid. Therefore those not wishing to run it must line down the shoreline.
The end of this trip, at the bridge over the main part of Warner Rapids, occurs one kilometre (2/3 mile) below the last rapid.
Canoes may be unloaded either above or below the rapids at the bridge. These rapids form a Class 3 chute that may include partly exposed boulders during periods of low water. A campground is located adjacent to the bridge on the north shore.
Transportation out from the Highway 955 bridge will have had to be arranged prior to the start of the trip, likely with the taxi service used at the start of the trip.
Those contemplating continuing downstream from this point should refer to Trip-40 for information.
WRITTEN BY: Original script in 1990 by Historic Trails Canoe Club, from 1986 field notes.