SK Historic Canoe Route 37
Paull Lake - Paull River - Churchill River - Kavanagh Lake - Bassett Lake - Bartlett Lake - MacKay Lake
Length of Trip: 95 kilometres (59 miles)
Time Required to Complete Trip: 5 to 6 days
Number of Portages: 20 to 21
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: This canoe trip starts at Paull Lake which is in a roadless area approximately 55 to 60 air kilometres (34 to 37 miles) north northwest of Missinipe on Otter Lake (Churchill River). The best plan is to drive to Missinipe 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of La Ronge on Highway 102 and charter a float equipped plane to transport canoe(s) and party to Paull Lake. Vehicles can be left with one of the outfitters at Missinipe.
74A/2 Paull Lake, 74A/3 Nagle Lake, 73P/14 McTavish Lake, 73P/11 Kavanagh Lake, 73P/10 Otter Lake, 73P/7 Stanley Mission.
About the Trip:
The length of this canoe trip is based on starting on Paull Lake immediately northeast of the narrows situated about six kilometres (three and one third miles) from the rapids at the outlet of the lake (Grid location 087178 - Map 74 A/2). Because Paull Lake extends for approximately 20 kilometres (12 miles), the length of this trip could be increased by about 16 kilometres (10 miles) by having the pilot land the canoe party at the northeast end of the lake. The southeast shoreline of Paull Lake has numerous sandy beaches.
Travel starts on small to medium sized lakes and small rivers. The next part of the trip is down the 14 kilometre (8 mile) length of McIntosh Lake, followed by the currents and lakes of the Churchill River system.
From Nipew (Dead) Lake on the Churchill River the canoe route turns south to Kavanagh and Bassett Lakes, and eventually to Bartlett and MacKay Lakes. The trip ends at the government campground on MacKay Lake 60 kilometres (37 miles) north of La Ronge on highway 102.
Some of the portages on this trip are quite long and arduous, especially a two kilometre (one & one quarter mile) portage from Thornton Lake to Bartlett Lake.
Superb scenery and spectacular waterfalls are encountered on this trip.
This canoe trip involves numerous rapids, but the cautious canoeist always has the option of making a portage if he/she considers the rapids too difficult.
At the foot of any rapid, it is far better to be sorry one did not run the rapid than to be sorry one did!
In bad weather, larger lakes such as McIntosh and Nipew can become very rough and should be treated with respect. If in doubt, they should not be attempted until the wind drops.
Low water levels on the Paull River may present problems in late summer, or in low water years; therefore, this trip is recommended for spring or early summer.
Fishing is good along this route. Walleye and northern pike are found below falls and rapids. Northern pike often lurk off marshy shores and weed beds, and lake trout occur in some of the larger lakes.
The Canoe Trip:
After enjoying the many good natural campsites on Paull Lake, from which to make excursions and fishing trips, canoeists should work their way southwest to the narrows and the outlet stream at the extreme southwest end of this long narrow lake.
Portage Number 1:
Connecting the southwest end of Paull Lake to the start of the Paull River. 120 metres (131 yards) long and in excellent condition. This portage by-passes a class 2+ rapid.
This portage starts at a clearing located 40 metres (43 yards) east of the outlet. Shortly after completing this portage, an outfitter's camp is encountered on the west bank.
Travel down the Paull River for 13 kilometres (8 miles) to the start of the next portage.
Portage Number 2:
148 metres (162 yards) long and in good condition. This portage by-passes a class 2+ rapid.
After descending through minor fast water, the canoeist comes to the start of this portage on the east side on an open rock landing immediately above shallow rapids. A short trail starting 40 metres (43 yards) from the end of the portage leads to a good walleye fishing hole located at a bend about half way down the rapid.
Portage Number 3 (optional):
Two kilometres (one & one quarter mile) downstream from portage number 2, a short class 1 rapid occurs. Most canoeists will run it easily; however, for those unsure of themselves, or at extremely low water levels, a short carry of only a few metres (yards) can be made over the rocks on the northwest side.
Portage Number 4:
205 metres (224 yards) long and in excellent condition. This portage by-passes a class 2 rapid.
This portage starts on a rock landing a few metres (yards) southeast of the start of the rapid. The trail follows a rock ridge. The lower end of the trail is steep and ends in a small grassy cove 50 metres (54 yards) south of the base of the rapid.
Paddle downstream a few hundred metres (yards) to the start of the next portage on the northwest bank.
Portage Number 5:
325 metres (355 yards) long and in fair condition. This portage by-passes a class 3 rapid.
This portage starts on a flat rock on the west side 40 metres (43 yards) above the start of the rapids.
Within a few hundred metres (yards) below the end of this portage there are minor rapids which can be run easily, except at very low water levels when wading may be called for.
The river now widens out into a small lake as it approaches Tuck (or White) Falls (both names are unofficial).
Portage Number 6:
Around Tuck (or White) Falls. 40 metres (43 yards) long and in excellent condition, but across steep bare rock. This portage by-passes a class 6 rapid.
There is no distinct trail past this beautiful five metre (16 foot) fall. Canoeists should approach the falls cautiously and land on the rocks on the northeast side. Canoes may then be portaged over the bare rock to the foot of the falls.
The area immediately below the falls offers great walleye fishing.
Portage Number 7:
310 metres (339 yards) long and in good condition. This portage by-passes a class 3+ rapid.
This portage starts on the southwest side just past a large rock 75 metres (82 yards) above the start of the rapids which include a sharp drop over a ledge one and one half metre (five foot) high.
One kilometre (two thirds of a mile) below this portage there is a short stretch of fast water which should cause no problem except at very low water levels when wading may be called for.
Portage Number 8:
Around a winding and picturesque gorge and rapids. 300 metres (328 yards) long and in good condition. This portage by-passes a class 4 rapid.
This portage DOES NOT start at the beginning of the rapids which wind through the gorge. Rather, it starts 275 metres (300 yards) to the northeast in a quiet grassy cove (Grid location 925907 - Map 73 P/14).
For a rewarding side-trip, although this is not the portage trail, it is worthwhile to land on the west side immediately above the start of the rapids and walk along the fisherman's trail to view the gorge, and to fish in pools in the gorge and at the foot of the first part of the rapids.
In the next two kilometres (1 ¬ mile) there are a number of minor rapids and areas of fast water which should cause no problem except at very low water levels when wading may be called for.
Portage Number 9:
250 metres (273 yards) long and in good condition. At periods of high water, the start of this portage may be somewhat hard to land at. This portage by-passes a class 2+ rapid.
This portage starts on the west side 20 metres (22 yards) above the start of this rapids, which some canoeists may elect to run under optimum conditions. This portage starts between two sections of minor rapid (Grid location 937884 - Map 73 P/14). The second part of the rapid is more difficult.
Portage Number 10:
Connecting the lower Paull River to the small lake immediately northwest of McIntosh Lake. This portage by-passes a class 1+ rapid.
25 metres (27 yards) long and somewhat overgrown with alders.
This portage starts 25 metres (27 yards) west of the rapids along a willow-lined shore. Some canoeists may run these rapids after looking them over from shore.
Portage Number 11:
Connecting small lake to McIntosh Lake. This portage by-passes a class 2+ rapid.
95 metres (104 yards) long and in good condition. Much of this portage is over open rock. There is a fork in the trail midway down the portage, but both branches lead to the lake.
This portage starts on the east bank 30 metres (33 yards) above the rapids at a conspicuous flat rock.
An outfitter's outcamp is located on the west shore a few hundred metres (yards) below the end of the portage.
McIntosh Lake is a large beautiful lake with some attractive sandy beaches. A large outfitter's camp is located near the southwest end of the lake.
Canoeists should follow a generally southwest route down the lake to within two kilometres (one & one quarter miles) of the outlet.
Portage Number 12:
Connecting McIntosh Lake to Stack Lake on the Churchill River.
260 metres (284 yards) and in excellent condition (boardwalks installed by outfitter on McIntosh Lake). 50 metres (54 yards) from the end of this portage, there is a branch on the left which leads past a minor rapid leading into Stack Lake proper. This alternate branch makes the total portage 325 metres (355 yards). This portage starts from a small sandy beach in a cove on the southeast shore of McIntosh Lake two kilometres (one & one quarter miles) northeast of the outlet of the lake (Grid location 875732 - Map 73 P/11). The start of this portage is on a straight line from the conspicuous fishing camp along the southwest shore of McIntosh Lake past a small island near the south end of the lake. By making this portage directly to Stack Lake, the canoeists avoid the class 1+ rapids at the outlet of McIntosh Lake, the three sets of class 3-3+ rapids which comprise Trout Rapids on the Churchill River and an added distance of four kilometres (two & one half miles).
The outlet of Stack Lake is divided by a number of small islands. The right-hand choice involves descending through moderate fast water which should present no problems to alert canoeists. If in doubt, canoeists can wade down the shallower channels on the left.
500 metres (547 yards) below this rapid, the canoeist approaches Rock Trout Portage.
Portage Number 13 - Rock Trout Portage:
Connecting consecutive sections of quiet water between Stack and Mountney Lakes.
260 metres (284 yards) and in excellent condition. This portage by-passes a class 3 rapid.
This portage starts on the right or east shore at a sandy landing 15 metres (16 yards) above the start of the rapid and ends on a sloping rock shelf 30 metres (33 yards) below the end of the rapid.
500 metres (547 yards) below this portage, the canoeist encounters another set of rapids split by an island 140 metres (153 yards) wide. The right or southern course is the deepest and most easily run. Most canoeists will elect to run this rapid. An alternate is to make a short carry of a few metres (yards) over bare rock on the left channel.
At the outlet of Mountney Lake there are several minor rapids to run.
Portage Number 14:
Connecting waters below the outlet of Mountney Lake with waters leading to Nipew (or Dead) Lake.
190 metres (207 yards) long and in good condition, but steep at the lower end. This portage by-passes a class 2 rapid.
This portage starts on the northeast (or left) shore in a cove 125 metres (136 yards) above the main rapid. A shorter 100 metre (109 yard) alternate starts immediately at the head of the rapid and, after climbing a steep embankment, joins up with the longer alternate.
There are intermittent minor rapids below the end of this portage which are not dangerous, and which can be run by the alert canoeist. Some wading may be necessary at times of very low water.
After entering the west end of Nipew Lake, travel in a generally southeasterly direction for four and one half kilometres (two & three quarter miles) to the south shore at a point directly north of the northern end of Kavanagh Lake.
Portage Number 15:
Connecting Dead Lake to Kavanagh Lake.
1015 metres (1110 yards) long and in fair to good condition.
The start of this portage is an inconspicuous break in high willows immediately east of a small rocky point. (Grid location 982675 - Map 73 P/11).
The canoeist should travel south along the east shore of Kavanagh Lake (notable for its very clear water) for four and one half kilometres (two & three quarter miles).
Portage Number 16:
Connecting Kavanagh Lake to Beaudry Lake.
350 metres (382 yards) long and in fair to good condition.
This portage starts at an inconspicuous break in the shoreline vegetation back of a flat brown rock shelf. Its start is almost due east of the mid-point of the prominent peninsula extending from the western shore of the lake near an isolated grove of evergreens (Grid location 989622 - Map 73 P/11).
Travel east then north on Beaudry Lake, then turn south to the southern tip of the bay on the northeast end of the lake. The rocky shores of Beaudry Lake become high at this point. The portage leaves the lake near the base of the rapids of the small inflowing stream.
Portage Number 17:
Connecting Beaudry Lake to quiet waters above outflowing rapids. 290 metres (317 yards) and in poor condition. This portage which closely follows the small unnavigable stream is very steep and rocky, with many obstructions.
This portage starts at the south end of the northeastern bay of Beaudry Lake on the west side, a few metres (yards) from the base of the rapids of the inflowing stream.
Paddle a few hundred metres (yards) up the small stream to the base of another rapid.
Portage Number 18:
Connecting quiet waters between rapids to Bassett Lake. 95 metres (104 yards) long and in poor condition. This portage which closely follows the small unnavigable stream has many obstructions.
This portage starts on the east (or Left) side of a narrow stream at the base of the incoming rapids.
Paddle to the south end of the west bay of Bassett Lake.
Portage Number 19:
Connecting Bassett Lake to Thornton Lake (Topographic maps erroneously show this as Thorton Lake).
535 metres (585 yards) long and in poor to fair condition.
This portage starts at an obvious landing spot at the southern tip of the west bay of Bassett Lake to the east of the shallow inflowing stream.
Paddle down the east shore of Thornton Lake to the end of the narrow southeast bay.
Portage Number 20:
Connecting Thornton Lake to Bartlett (or Chepwaw) Lake.
2050 metres (2242 yards) long and in fair condition.
This portage starts at the southern tip of the narrow southeast bay of Thornton Lake, to the east of a shallow inflowing stream. In the last 500 metres (547 yards) of this portage, there are a number of branchings which could mis-direct the canoeist. Care should be exercised to ensure that the correct branch is followed, particularly when going from south to north.
Travel to the extreme south end of Bartlett Lake.
Portage Number 21:
Connecting Bartlett Lake to MacKay Lake.
440 metres (481 yards) and in excellent condition.
This portage starts conspicuously on the west side of the extreme southern end of Bartlett Lake.
From the end of this portage, canoeists should paddle east to the narrow entrance to Heyer Bay at the eastern end of MacKay Lake and to the end-point of this trip at the east end of the smaller southern baylet of Heyer Bay.
N.B. The narrows leading into Heyer Bay are very shallow and rocky.
There is a government campground at this location (Grid location 067448 - Map 73 P/7), 60 kilometres (37 miles) from La Ronge or 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Missinipe.
WRITTEN BY: Original script by Northrock Canoe Trail Surveys, field reviewed in 1988 by Historic Trails Canoe Club.