SK Historic Canoe Route 53
WADDY RIVER - REDHILL LAKE - WADDY LAKE - NISTOASSINI LAKE -NAYELLES LAKE - ELEPHANT LAKE - MACOUN LAKE -BUSS LAKE - DAVIN LAKE - PINK RIVER - WATHAMAN LAKE - WATHAMAN RIVER
Length of Trip: 145 kilometres
Time Required to Complete Trip: 6 to 8 days
Number of Portages: 23
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 of this trip is the Waddy River above the rapids on the west side of Highway 102 at Brabant Lake. Brabant Lake is 172 kilometres north of La Ronge. Canoes may be launched in the Waddy River on the west side of the highway immediately south of the bridge. Vehicles can be left at the Saskatchewan Parks and Renewable Resources campground at Brabant Lake about 500 metres east of the highway.
An alternate launching point in the Waddy River is about one and a half kilometres north of the Brabant Lake campground turn-off, on the west side of Highway 102 where the river comes within a few metres of the highway.
Canada Army Survey Establishment Map 64-D Reindeer Lake South, Edition 2 and 64-E Reindeer Lake North, Edition 4.
About the Trip:
Although this trip is not very long there are numerous portages, some of which are very difficult to make, north of Nayelles Lake. There are, however, no dangerous rapids which cannot be portaged with effort. With the exception of Macoun Lake, the lakes are either small or at least have fairly sheltered shorelines. The first part of the trip from the Waddy River to the north end of Nayelles Lake is easy and the portages are in good shape. This part of the trip can be recommended as a safe and enjoyable trip for less experienced canoeists or for those who do not wish to struggle over difficult portage trails. This shorter "trip within a trip" from the Waddy River to the north end of Nayelles Lake and return to the starting point would be about 40 kilometres each way for a total of 80 kilometres.
As one would expect, the tougher portion of this trip north of Nayelles Lake is largely true wilderness and very remote at the present time. The longer trip going all the way to the Wathaman River can only be recommended for the experienced and physically fit canoeist, prepared to make some quite difficult portages to reach the more remote areas. Portage descriptions will be given from both ends as an aid to those who decide to only make the first part of this trip and then retrace their route. It is possible to make the entire trip in reverse starting at the Wathaman River and ending at the Waddy River. All portages will be described from both ends as a help to those who may decide to make this canoe trip in reverse.
The Canoe Trip:
The canoeist starts this trip with a good workout paddling upstream against the brisk current of the Waddy River.
Portage No. 1:
Connecting the Waddy River with the east side of Redhill Lake. Approximately 80 metres long and in good condition, but steep at the start and open rock at the upper end.
From the Waddy River side below the rapids this portage starts on the southwest or the left side. Canoeists must paddle hard, up through fast water to within 25 to 35 metres of the base of the rapids. The trail starts at an obvious break in the willows and alders.
From the east side of Redhill Lake, this portage starts 75 to 90 metres south of the outlet. The trail is up a bare, sloping rock face. There may be a blazed tree near the water but a discernible trail does not start until the bush above the bare rock.
Portage No. 2:
Connecting the southwest end of Redhill Lake with the southeast end of Waddy Lake. Approximately 275 metres long and in good condition.
From the southwest end of Redhill Lake this portage starts on the north shore or right side about 35 metres northeast of the base of the inflowing rapids.
From the southeast end of Waddy Lake this portage starts at an inconspicuous break in the willows on the southeast shore of a small cove several hundred metres northeast of the outlet of Waddy Lake and completely around the point from the outlet.
Paddle on through the narrows of Waddy Lake to the northwest end. Enter the stream paddling against a gentle current, on the north side of the bay at the northwest end of Waddy Lake.
Portage No. 3:
Connecting the north end of Waddy Lake with the south end of Nistoassini Lake. Approximately 400 metres long and in good condition.
From the north end of Waddy Lake this portage starts on the northwest shore of the inflowing stream on the north side of the bay at the northwest end of Waddy Lake. The landing is on an open, grassy slope 135 to 180 metres below or southwest of the base of the rapids.
From the south end of Nistoassini Lake this portage starts at a well used break on the south shore of the southernmost bay 35 to 55 metres southwest of the outlet stream.
Travel generally north through the narrows and against a mild current about two-thirds of the way up the lake to the vicinity of the portage to Nayelles Lake (see map).
Portage No. 4:
Connecting Nistoassini Lake to Nayelles Lake. Approximately 50 metres long and in good condition.
From the east side of Nistoassini Lake about three kilometres from its northern end, this portage starts on the south or right side, 10 to 15 metres south of the base of a small inflowing rapids. The trail starts at a partially hidden opening in the willows.
From the southwest end of Nayelles Lake (the outlet), this portage starts on the south side of the outlet in fast water within a few metres of the start of the rapids.
Because the upper end of this portage is so close to the start of the rapids, both upstream and downstream canoeists must use great care when using the upper landing to avoid being drawn into the rapids.
Travel to the north end of Nayelles Lake. Watch for rocks in the narrows. The first set of rapids indicated on the map at the north end of Nayelles Lake are not there under high water conditions and canoeists can paddle through against a slight current. Similarly, the second or more northerly rapids shown on the map at the north end of Nayelles Lake are non-existent and canoeists can paddle through. Canoeists can carry on to the north end of the lake which is marked by a sizeable island.
The portage at the northwest end of Nayelles Lake leading to Elephant Lake is the start of the difficult part of this trip. Those canoeists selecting the easier and shorter version of this trip should not attempt this portage but return to the starting point by retracing their route back to the Waddy River.
Portage No. 5:
Connecting the extreme northwest end of Nayelles Lake with Elephant Lake. Approximately 600 metres long. Poor condition. The upper end of this portage may be largely under water and occasionally obstructed by down trees.
From the northwest end of Nayelles Lake, this portage starts about 25 metres east of the inflowing rapids at an inconspicuous break in the birch shoreline. The trail parallels the stream which is navigable in spots but not worth launching canoes in because there are obstructions and no portages around them.
From the long trunk-like bay extending southward from the east portion of Elephant Lake, this portage starts 70 to 90 metres east of the outlet stream. There is no trail visible at the start but canoeists can pick it up further back from shore.
Paddle up the inflowing stream at the northwest end of Elephant Lake. The stream becomes very shallow and canoeists will likely have to get out and wade, hauling their canoes through the shallows until the stream divides at a small willow-covered island.
Portage No. 6:
Connecting Elephant Lake with navigable waters in the small stream above the rapids. Approximately 75 metres long and in very poor condition but passable with effort.
From the south or Elephant Lake side, this portage starts on the east side or right side opposite the above-mentioned island. In the course of this portage canoeists must wade to another small island.
From the north or upstream side this portage starts immediately east of the main rapids on a tiny, overgrown islet with just a trickle of water to the east of it.
After this short but difficult portage, continue on northward. Canoeists will pass a set of rapids coming in from the east (see map); however, stay in the main channel on a generally north course until travel stops at the base of more rapids.
Portage No. 7:
Connecting the small stream with the outlet of a small, nameless pond. Approximately 80 metres long and in poor condition.
Approaching from the south at the base of the rapids this portage starts on the north or right side. The footing is poor and canoeists will likely have to wade in spots.
Approaching from the outlet at the southeast end of a small, nameless pond, the portage starts vaguely on the east side of the outlet.
Paddle on not more than 45 metres to the northeast and land immediately east or on the right of twin inflowing streams.
Portage No. 8:
Connecting the northeast end of the small, nameless pond with navigable water above the rapids. Approximately 80 metres long and in poor condition.
From the northeast end of the small, nameless pond this portage starts just east or right of the twin inflowing streams. There may be a blazed dead tree at the landing.
From the upstream side, that is approaching from the north, this portage starts on the east side of an old beaver dam.
Paddling on upstream the channel becomes shallower and there may be numerous logs or sweepers lying across the stream which will have to be hauled over or cut out. Within 180 metres canoeists then come out on the southwest end of an irregularly shaped lake which extends to the northeast towards Macoun Lake.
Portage No. 9:
Connecting the nameless lake two and a half kilometres north of the north end of Elephant Lake with another nameless lake lying east of it. Approximately 125 metres long and in fair to good condition.
From the northeast end of the lake lying north of Elephant Lake this portage starts 12 metres north of a tiny inflowing trickle. Look for blazed birch.
From the nameless lake lying to the east, this portage starts from the southwest end of the most western bay between two small beaver dams at the outlet streams.
Paddle on to the northeast end of the lake to find the portage to the small lake lying to the north.
Portage No. 10:
Connecting the nameless lake to a much smaller lake to the north. Approximately 85 metres long and in generally good shape.
From the northeast shore of the larger, nameless lake this portage starts 270 to 360 metres to the east of a tiny island (see dot on map). The landing is on sloping rock and the start of the trail is obvious with some blazed trees.
From the southwest end of the smaller lake to the north, this portage starts at a large flat rock west of the trickling outlet, near a small beaver dam.
There are some nice campsite possibilities in this little nameless lake. Paddle on to the northwest end of this lake.
Portage No. 11:
Connecting the small nameless lake to a much smaller narrow pond to the northwest. Approximately 500 metres long and in fair condition.
From the northwest end of the small lake this portage starts at a slight break in the shoreline near a beaver house at some blazed trees. There are several slits in the trail to avoid wet spots.
From the south shore of the smaller, narrow pond this portage starts vaguely in a wet low shoreline. Look for a break in the alders and possibly a blaze.
Paddle to the north end of this small narrow pond.
Portage No. 12:
Connecting the north end of the small narrow pond with Macoun Lake. Approximately 55 metres long and in fair to good condition.
From the north end of the narrow pond this portage starts immediately west of the small outlet stream. Look for blazes. The portage parallels the west side of the outlet stream.
From the south shore of Macoun Lake, approximately one and a half kilometres south of the figure "3" in the elevation figure "1320" (see map) this portage starts immediately west of a small inflowing stream.
Macoun Lake is a beautiful large clearwater lake. There is lake trout fishing as well as the usual northern pike and walleye. If it is windy canoeists will have to detour around the protected shore of Macoun rather than crossing it as there is much open water which becomes dangerously rough if the wind comes up.
There is an outfitter's fishing camp on the central island approximately one and a half kilometre north of the letter "n" in the work "Macoun" as printed on the map.
Canoeists should work along the central portion of the northwest shore to the narrows and outlet stream leading to the rapids (see map). Paddle into the outlet which eventually swings to the west and is blocked by an obstruction.
Portage No. 13:
Connecting the northern outlet of Macoun Lake with the pond below the first rapids. Approximately 60 metres long and in poor to fair condition.
From the northern outlet of Macoun Lake this portage starts on the north shore opposite the start of the rapids. There are a few blazes and the trail is very steep at the start, going up a two and a half metre rock ridge.
From the northeast end of the narrow pond below the rapids this portage starts 135 metres northeast of the inflowing rapids.
Following this portage do not enter what appears to be the outlet of the pond to the southwest as this is a dead end. Instead, follow the north shore to a somewhat hidden outlet around a rock point.
Portage No. 14:
Connecting the small pond north of Macoun Lake with quiet waters below the rapids. Approximately 175 metres long and in fair condition.
From the outlet of the small pond north of Macoun this portage starts vaguely on the west side of the rapids. The trail goes up on a rock and then angles away from the stream into a muskeg. Canoeists should launch canoes at the base of the rapids although the trail appears to continue on and is probably used as a winter trail.
From the downstream side this trail starts at the base of the rapids on the west side. Look for a few blazed trees.
Paddle on downstream for another few hundred metres and more rapids obstruct free travel.
Portage No. 15:
Connecting quiet water below the rapids with a large nameless lake south of Buss Lakes. Approximately 700 metres long and in fair condition.
From the southern approach above the last rapids this portage starts on the west side just above the start of the rapids. The portage trail is quite narrow and goes along a rock ridge and then through a treed muskeg. It is steep at its north end.
From the central portion of the southeast shore of the long nameless lake, this portage starts in a tiny pocket roughly half way between two small islets near the southeast shore.
Travel to the north end of this lake.
Portage No. 16:
Connecting the north end of the large nameless north of Macoun Lake to a long narrow pond. Approximately 500 metres long and in fair condition. The trail is mostly through treed muskeg.
From the northeast shore of the angular bay at the northwest end of the large nameless lake this portage starts nine metres northwest of the outlet stream and rapids (this stream is not shown on the map).
From the southwest shores of the long pond this portage starts 135 to 180 metres southwest of the inflowing waters.
Paddle up the left or southwest shore of the narrow pond to the outlet stream. This outlet stream is on the west side 800 metres before the end of the narrow pond. Paddle down this outlet stream. The short set of rapids which occur in this stream on the way to Buss Lakes can be run by most canoeists at average water levels. If conditions indicate it would be dangerous to run these rapids, wade down at the side guiding the canoe through shallow water. The opening out to Buss Lakes is visible some distance ahead from the small outlet stream.
For canoeists who make this trip in reverse (from north to south), this small stream along the route of travel can be located as follows: Paddle to the bay northeast of the letter "s" in the word "Lakes" as printed on the map 64-D. Line and wade up through the small rapids as there is portage trail.
Canoeists travelling north on Buss Lakes should pay close attention to their map as there are several sets of narrows to pass through and it is easy to be diverted to one of the adjacent bays by mistake. Paddle to the narrow extreme north end of Buss Lakes.
Portage No. 17:
Connecting the north end of Buss Lakes with a narrow lake and river system eventually leading to Davin Lake. Approximately 675 metres long and in fair condition although wet at both ends and at spots along its length.
From the north end of Buss Lakes this portage starts vaguely on the east side of a muskeg west of the outlet stream. Do not enter the final narrows above the rapids at the outlet but rather explore on foot for the start of the trail on the east side of the treed muskeg which lies west of the rounded rocky headland separating the outlet stream from the muskeg. A winter snowmobile trail starts in the wetter centre part of the muskeg but the canoe portage starts on the east side of the muskeg where it is somewhat drier. The two trails join later on and then separate again. Generally speaking the canoe portage lies to the east, is narrower and less used, but is drier than the snowmobile trail. The canoe portage trail ends on the west shore at the base of the rapids. The snowmobile trail goes on for another 90 metres to end in much quieter water well below the base of the rapids.
Approaching from the north (canoeists travelling south to Buss Lakes), this portage starts vaguely at the base of the rapids on the west shore. Look for blazes and explore to the west to pick up the main trail.
After completing portage no. 17, paddle on to the northeast down the narrow lake and river system. The first and second set of rapids indicated on the map are minor and are easy to run. The third set of rapids is in two parts: the first part is easy to run, then the water course swings to the east and the second part occurs, these are impassable.
Portage No. 18:
Connecting the quiet waters around rapids in the narrow waterway linking Buss Lakes with Davin Lake. Approximately 110 metres long and in fair condition. Approaching from the upstream or southwest side this portage starts on the northwest or left side at the last possible spot above the start of the rapids.
From the downstream or east approach, this portage starts in a beaver canal in a picket 25 to 30 metres southwest of the base of the inflowing rapids. The landing is wet.
Paddle on and within 180 metres or so more rapids occur.
Portage No. 19:
Around successive rapids in the narrow waterway connecting Buss Lakes with Davin Lake. Approximately 35 metres long and in fair condition but upper landing is vague.
Approaching from the upstream side, canoeists should cautiously enter the rapids, hugging the left shore and descend for only 11 or 12 metres, landing in the bush just above a tiny islet. The trail starts well back from the shore.
From the lower end of these rapids this portage starts on the north side in fast water opposite the upper end of another very small, dividing islet.
Paddle on a few hundred metres and more short rapids occur.
Portage No. 20:
Around successive rapids in the narrow waterway connecting Buss Lakes with Davin Lake. Approximately 45 metres long and in poor condition.
From the upstream side this portage starts on the east or left side northeast of the little islet. The start of the portage is wet.
From the downstream side this portage starts in the bush 30 metres east of the base of the rapids.
Continue paddling northeast on the narrow lake. Watch for the outlet stream which occurs on the right or east side about two and a half kilometres south of the north end of the lake. Enter this outlet stream and rapids occur shortly.
Portage No. 21:
Around successive rapids in the narrow waterway connecting Buss Lakes with Davin Lake. Approximately 425 metres long and in poor condition. This trail is wet in spots, narrow, vague where crossing a semi-open muskeg and wanders with sudden turnings to dodge windfalls. There is also a shorter canoe trail version and a longer winter trail version which end at different locations at the lower end.
From the upstream side this portage starts on the north side or left side of the outlet at some blazed trees. Some will opt to run the first 25 to 45 metres of these rapids but the savings in portaging is negligible.
From the downstream approach this portage starts on the northwest shore about 10 metres from the base of the inflowing rapids. The trail is indistinct at the start and will require some searching on foot to pick it up.
Continue paddling on to the northeast and north past the sizeable bay to the east.
Portage No. 22:
Around successive rapids in the narrow waterway connecting Buss Lakes with Davin Lake. Approximately 90 metres long and in fair condition.
From the upstream or southern approach this portage starts at an easy landing on the northeast or right side at a big rock outcrop at the start of the rapids. The trail starts up over the rock and closely follows the northeast side of the rapids.
From the downstream side or northern approach this portage starts on a rock slope 10 metres east of the base of the rapids.
The next and final set of rapids indicated on the map before entering the northwest corner of Davin Lake are no more than moderate fast water and are easy and safe to descend. Then, after a kilometre the channel narrows to only 10 metres with beautiful rocks on both sides and a slow, deep current in between.
Davin Lake has many flat exposed rocky shores and islands which offer a wide choice of good natural campsites. There is a fishing camp located on Davin Lake near the central narrows and also access to Highway 105 from the east shore of the lake.
On approaching the outlet of Davin Lake the channel narrows to 12 to 15 metres and then in a few hundred metres to about four metres and a short rapid.
Portage No. 23:
Connecting Davin Lake with the southwest part of Wathaman Lake. Approximately 35 metres long and in good condition and obviously well used by fishermen. Under favourable conditions these short rapids could be run by experienced canoeists.
From the Davin Lake side this portage starts on the south shore or left side immediately at the start of the rapids.
From the Wathaman Lake side below the rapids this portage starts on the south side at the base of the rapids.
Continue paddling in a generally northeasterly direction to the main body of Wathaman Lake. Take special care to travel to the extreme northwest side of Wathaman Lake to pick up the long northward bay which is the outlet and leads to the Wathaman River.
The highway bridge across the Wathaman River may be only a metre or so above the water level and there are moderate rapids under and below the bridge. Because of possible lack of sufficient clearance canoeists should portage over the highway at the bridge.
The area on shore to either side of the river below the bridge on Highway 102 has been used for camping. The distance is approximately 115 kilometres to Brabant Lake and 286 kilometres to La Ronge.
WRITTEN BY: Peter Gregg (1976).