SK Historic Canoe Route 34
Brabant Lake - Wapiskau River - Steephill Lake - Reindeer River - Churchill River - Sandy Bay
Length of Trip: 225 kilometres
Time Required to Complete Trip: 10 to 14 days
Number of Portages: 21 to 25
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 the presence of hazards not described herein. It is the canoeist's responsibility to proceed with caution and alertness, using discretion and good judgment 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:
The starting point for this trip is Brabant Lake on Highway 102 approximately 175 kilometres north of La Ronge. Canoes may be launched at the northwest end of Brabant Lake from the end of a short access road which leads to the east just after Highway 102 crosses the Waddy River. There is a Government of Saskatchewan radio station at this location and vehicles can be left there.
64D Reindeer Lake South and 63M Pelican Narrows.
About the Trip:
This is a long and demanding trip and definitely not for beginners. The first part traverses a relatively wild portion of river with many rapids and portages along the Wapiskau. This area has been burned over, but has regrown to such an extent that it is quite attractive and very rich in wildlife.
The Reindeer River portion of the trip is more like travelling down a big lake. There are few portages and no rapids to run. Historically this route has been much travelled and even today it is used a lot for travel between the Churchill River and Reindeer Lake.
The last part of this trip, the lower Churchill River, is very challenging with many hazardous rapids and frequent portages until the quieter waters of Sokatisewin Lake are reached.
Good camping and fishing opportunities abound along this route.
The Canoe Trip:
Starting from the northwest end of Brabant Lake, the canoeist travels south and east to the southeast part of the lake where the outlet is. This outlet which is at the northeast end of the most southeasterly bay of Brabant Lake is the start of the Wapiskau River.
As the outlet stream turns to the northeast a current becomes noticeable. Soon the canoeist enters a little fast water followed by a quiet stretch and then in about 800 metres the start of the first rapids. These should be surveyed carefully. The experienced may run them; the more cautious will portage.
Portage No. 1: (optional)
Approximately 15 to 20 metres long and over bare rocks. This very short carry is on the left or north side.
About 800 metres further downstream the next rapids start.
Portage No. 2:
Approximately 35 to 45 metres and in fair condition.
This portage starts on the right or east bank in a shallow rocky area. Wading may be necessary to reach the start of this portage.
Next the canoeist crosses a lake, working to its narrow outlet to the southeast and then travels east across a bay to the outlet on the east side. This requires eight to ten kilometres of paddling. In the outlet stream there is a minor riffle and then after about 800 metres the canoeist approaches rapids and a major waterfall.
Portage No. 3:
Approximately 125 metres long and in fair condition.
This portage trail starts on a rock on the north or left side of the main channel immediately above the rapids and by-passes the rapids and the 5 metre falls which follow the rapids. Within about 135 metres the canoeist passes the base of an in-flowing tributary stream and falls on the north side.
Two minor riffles follow within the next 800 metres and then in approximately four kilometres a substantial rapid.
It should be noted that on map 64D the Wapiskau River appears to be blocked by land at this point. This is, of course, not the case.
Portage No. 4:
Approximately 40 metres long and in fair condition.
This portage starts at a small sand beach 20 metres from the start of the rapids and on the north or left side. This rapid is split by a small islet with the main flow of water in the north channel. Some experts may elect to run this rapid after carefully looking it over. Another course of action is to carry over the rock islet a few yards and then wade below the islet guiding the canoe through the shallows to deeper water.
Within 180 metres another rapid follows.
Portage No. 5:
Approximately 25 metres long and in good condition.
This portage starts on a rock landing on the north or left side about 20 metres above the start of the rapids which are actually a small falls. The trail has a rocky ending about 25 metres north of the base of the small falls.
Next canoeists travel east across a small lake and into a narrows to the next rapids and falls.
Portage No. 6:
Approximately 70 metres long and in fair condition.
To find the start of this portage travel 400 to 800 metres north of the rapids along the north shore to a small horsetail-filled cove. Push into shore weeds on the north shore near the easternmost extremity of the cove to find the inconspicuous start of this trail.
From below these falls, travel about 1,600 metres east to the outlet. At the outlet there are small rapids which are in two stages about 20 to 30 metres apart. These can be looked over from the rocks on the south side and then run with caution or canoes may be easily let down over the rocks on the right side.
About 180 metres below this small set of rapids a falls occurs.
Portage No. 7:
Approximately 80 metres long and in fair condition.
This portage starts on the left or northeast shore 25 metres from the start of the rapids above the falls.
Roughly 180 metres below the falls there are more rapids in a double set. These should present no problem, but look them over before running them and if in doubt, wade down instead.
About 400 metres below these rapids there is another larger rapid.
Portage No. 8:
Approximately 20 to 30 metres. The portage is over bare rocks.
This portage starts on the southeast side close to the start of the falls and may require wading to get to its start.
After paddling about one and a half kilometres and passing a small rocky island the next set of rapids and falls are approached.
Portage No. 9:
Approximately 40 metres long and over bare rocks.
The start of this portage is on the northwest or left side of the rapids above the falls. The actual start is reached after descending through some fast water at the first part of the rapids. This falls has an identifying distinctive rock shelf projecting in its centre.
About 1,600 metres below this falls the next falls occurs.
Portage No. 10:
Approximately 25 metres long and in fair condition.
This portage starts on the north or left side at a rocky landing at the start of the fast water.
Following this portage the river flows quietly for several kilometres, opening out into a lake and crossing to its outlet on the east side.
There are three falls in the next portion of river leading to White Lake.
Portage No. 11:
Approximately 70 metres long and in fair condition.
This portage starts about 25 metres northeast of the falls on the left side. The next portage is within 135 metres.
Portage No. 12:
Approximately 70 metres long. This trail is over open rock with some scrub growth along it.
This portage starts on the southeast or right shore on rocks at the start of fast water. The approach to the start of the portage is very shallow. The falls occur in a narrow gorge only five to six metres wide in places and there is an eagle's nest above this gorge.
Within a few hundred metres the last falls before White Lake occurs.
Portage No. 13:
Approximately 30 metres long and in fair condition.
This portage starts on a large flat rock on the south shore immediately above the falls. Stay close to the right or south shore in approaching the start of this portage.
The canoeist should now travel about five and one half kilometres in a southeast direction across White Lake to its outlet.
Portage No. 14:
Connecting White Lake to Steephill Lake. Approximately 35 metres long for the shorter trail over pole skids and about 70 metres long for the longer alternative trail.
There is a short trail with pole skids to facilitate dragging big boats. This short trail starts on the rocks immediately to the right or southwest of the rapids. It is, therefore, a safer landing than the short trail. Both trails soon join together and end on a flat rock west of the base of the rapids.
Canoeists should travel east and south across Steephill Lake to its outlet on the southeast shore.
Portage No. 15 - Around Steephill Rapids:
Connecting Steephill Lake with the Reindeer River below Steephill Rapids. Approximately 160 metres long and in excellent condition.
This portage starts as located on map 63M near the island on the north or left side of the outlet at the southeast shore of Steephill Lake. The landing is sandy.
The character of the trip changes travelling down the Reindeer River. The current is negligible and the width of the river makes it seem like a lake much of the time. The next portage occurs after about 50 kilometres of downstream travel at Atik Falls. There is no settlement at The Two Rivers.
Portage No. 16 - Around Atik Falls:
Approximately 210 metres long for long trail and 90 metres long for short trail. Both are in good condition.
The portage around Atik Falls, which is actually more of a rapids than a falls, starts on the west side and not as shown on map 63M. There is a portage landing on the west shore about 150 metres above the rapids. About 125 metres closer to the rapids and after passing through some fast water with rocks, at a location about 25 metres from the start of the rapids a second short portage trail starts. This shorter trail has skid poles laid down for dragging boats across. Both the short and long trails join together and have a common ending about 65 metres below the rapids.
Canoeists should travel on downstream to the junction with the Churchill River and turn east into Iskwatam Lake.
The two sets of rapids encountered upon entering the west end of Iskwatam Lake are no problem. The two sets are a few hundred metres apart. Canoeists should stay to the right or south side. Travel east on Iskwatam Lake staying south of the three large islands. The set of rapids shown south of the big island on which the word "Lake" is printed on map 63M are only fast water. The first real rapids are between the most easterly of the large islands on Iskwatam Lake and the south shore.
Portage No. 17: (Not shown on map)
Approximately 20 metres long. This is not a real portage trail but just a carry along the shore rocks past the worst part of the rapid.
This portage starts on a rock on the left or north side about six metres above the small drop. Experts could run these rapids after looking them over.
The next rapids are a series about 800 metres further down. After looking them over experts may decide to run these down the left or north side. Others should line and wade past them along the north shore.
Within about 270 metres a more severe set of rapids occurs which must be portaged over shore rocks.
Portage No. 18: (Not shown on map 63-M)
Approximately 35 metres long and over shore rocks.
This portage starts at any safe landing spot on the north or left shore above the rapids.
The next moderate rapids are split by an island. The more cautious will lower their canoes through several small rapids and channels in the protruding rocks along the northwest shore. Experienced canoeists will decide to run the chute close to the island.
Within another 270 metres the canoeist comes to the next set of rapids. After looking these over they can be lined on the left or north shore or they can be run.
The set of rapids shown on map 63M as occurring south of elevation spot 1039 are not evident.
Shortly the river opens out and swings to the south with several islands in evidence. The outlet of this area is through a narrows to the northeast. Double rapids are indicated on map 63M at these narrows, but, in fact, there are no rapids at this location.
The next rapids are shown on map 63M as starting at BM 1048.
Portage No. 19:
Connecting quiet waters below series of rapids east of Iskwatam Lake with Wapumon Lake. Approximately 990 metres long and in good condition.
The start of this long portage is incorrect as printed on map 63M. The portage actually starts several hundred metres southeast and after passing through the first part of the rapids. After descending through preliminary rapids, stay close to the left or north shore and make a sharp left turn into a rocky cove. The portage trial starts at an obvious break in the poplars along the shores of this cove. The portage ends in an extensive grassy area. It is worthwhile to take the time to walk to the gorge and see the scenery.
An alternative to making the 990 metre portage is to follow the course of the river to Wapumon Lake. This is somewhat dangerous and should only be considered by skilled canoeists. The choice of following the river's course to Wapumon Lake still requires making two alternate portages.
After descending down the rapids which pass the cove from which the long portage starts, stay close to the left shore and enter a quiet, willow-lined bay above the next rapids.
First Alternate Portage (Not shown on map)
Approximately 80 metres long and in good condition.
This portage starts from the most easterly part of the bay and is 360 or more metres from the start of the rapids it by-passes. It ends in a very narrow channel which leads to the main channel. Canoeists should keep to the left side and cross a small bay approximately 90 metres wide and go to the east shore.
Second Alternate Portage (Not shown on map)
Approximately 400 metres long and in fair condition.
This portage starts several hundred metres above the rapids (gorge) that it by-passes. It starts up a hill through alders and birch on the east shore of the bay and ends on a projecting rock ledge north of the base of the fast water. Below this ledge there is more fast water which can be run with caution.
There are good opportunities for fishing in the pools below the gorge and berry picking along its top in season.
Below the gorge there are several sets of rapids leading to the south part of Wapumon Lake. These can be run after looking them over or descent in stages, wading when necessary.
Canoeists should cross Wapumon to its outlet at the southeast side. The rapids between Wapumon and Wentigo Lakes are not serious and can be safely run by alert canoeists.
Canoeists should paddle across Wentigo Lake to the outlet on the east shore as shown on map 63M.
Portage No. 20 - at Outlet of Wentigo Lake: (Not shown on map)
Approximately 40 metres long and in good condition.
The first portage out of Wentigo Lake starts on the right or south shore in a cove 35 metres above the start of the rapids.
After this rapid the river course turns north for about 1,600 metres and then swings sharply right or east and three more sets of rapids occur.
On approaching the first set, hug the right or south shore and slip cautiously around the first projecting rocky point into quieter water. Line down the south shore if necessary.
Paddle on for 360 metres and land on the upstream side of the second rocky point. Either line carefully around this point or carry about 35 metres over bare rock to avoid the second set of rapids.
Experts may decide to run both first and second sets, but must land immediately after the second set to portage around the third and most severe part of this series of three rapids.
Portage No. 21: (Not shown on map)
Approximately 45 metres long and in good condition.
This portage starts at a landing on the right side 25 metres to the side of the rapids.
Below this set of three rapids the route goes to the northwest end of Pita Lake. There is a turn to the right or east and rapids divided by a small island are encountered. Experts can run the northeast channel after looking it over; the more cautious should portage across the island.
Portage No. 22 (operational): (Not shown on map)
Approximately 35 metres long and in fair condition.
This portage starts on the northwestern shore of the small island on its upstream side.
Canoeists should cross Pita Lake staying north of the peninsula to reach the outlet on the east side.
The rapids at the outlet of Pita Lake are divided by a big island into north and south channels. The main volume of water is in the north channel which could be run by experts after carefully looking it over.
A safer alternative is to portage around the rapids in the southern channel.
Portage No. 23 (optional): (Not shown on map)
Approximately 25 metres long over exposed rock.
This portage starts on the south shore of the south channel on rocks immediately to the right or south of the rapids. This is the way boats are being hauled across.
Carefully navigate north and east across Pikoo Lake to its outlet on the east shore. There are no rapids between Pikoo and Sokatisewin Lakes.
Paddle north and east on Sokatisewin Lake to the general area of the dam and powerhouse at the northeast end of the lake.
Portage No. 24:
Connecting Sokatisewin Lake to waters below the dam. Approximately 300 metres long and in good condition.
This portage starts from a small bay about 400 metres north of the dam and powerhouse. The start of the portage is marked by the decaying hulls of two old barges. There is minor fast water below the portage en route to the community of Sandy Bay.
Sandy Bay is the end point of this trip although it could easily be extended to Pukatawagan, Manitoba. At Sandy Bay there is a Government of Saskatchewan office, two general stores, telephone service, and connections to the south via Highway 135. Arrangements could be made from Sandy Bay to be picked up by aircraft and returned to the starting point of the trip.
WRITTEN BY: Original text by Northrock Canoe Trail Surveys, reviewed by Peter Gregg.