Home AdventureCanoeing The Ultimate Canadian Canoeing Bucket List

The Ultimate Canadian Canoeing Bucket List

by voyageurtripper

I can’t think of anything more classically Canadian than Canoe Tripping. Perhaps maple syrup, but canoe tripping would be a close second. Meandering along winding rivers, the kind with spiny black pine trees lining the shoreline and bends so frequent you can hardly see more than a hundred strokes in front of you. Or wading over large lakes with near-black water, bordered by rocks of granite and quartz that glisten in the sunlight. Moving with an uncontrollable force through towering canyons and overbearing mountains ranges. Canoeing in Canada is as diverse as the landscape itself.

Here is, what I believe to be, the Ultimate Canadian Canoeing Bucket List.

Note: As this is a bucket list and I have not paddled all of these rivers, I’ve borrowed some photos from canoe outfitters. These are all companies I trust and would recommend, however I am not sponsored by any of them.

Whitewater Paddling

I’ve started the list with whitewater paddling – in other words, river trips. I’ve selected four rivers that I think epitomize canoeing tripping: rivers that provide an unparalleled opportunity for connection with nature and disconnection from society.

Nahanni River

The Nahanni River is possibly the most quintessential paddling route in Canada. Located in the Northwest Territories, the Nahanni River takes you through imposing canyons and weather-worn mountain ranges, and lays witness to the powerful Virginia Falls (twice the height of Niagara Falls). There are many outfitters with guided trips on the river – both by canoe and raft. The prevalence of rafting allows anyone of any skill to enjoy the river. 

If you want to paddle a spectacular northern river, the Nahanni River will deliver in spades.

  • Location: Northwest Territories
  • Duration: 7-21 days
  • Difficulty: Intermediate-Advanced
Canoeing Nahanni River

Photo by Black Feather

Nahanni River Canoeing

Photo by Dustin Silvey

Mountain River

The reason Mountain River is on this bucket list is because it’s the favourite of the guides at Canoe North Adventures, praised for its seclusion and amazing whitewater. These guides get to paddle a lot of different arctic rivers, so if it’s their favourite, it’s definitely on my list.

Mountain River takes you through six canyons with incredibly fast current and, according to the guides, unbelievable whitewater rapids. All while surrounded by rolling mountain ranges and wildlife. Sign me up.

  • Location: Northwest Territories
  • Duration: 25 days
  • Difficulty: Advanced
Canoeing Mountain River

Photo by Canoe North Adventures

Canoeing Mountain River

Photo by Canoe North Adventures

How to get started in Whitewater Canoeing

Upper & Lower Horton River

The Horton River is the most northern river in mainland Canada and it is an excellent place to spot wildlife like caribou, muskoxen, wolves and grizzly bears. You can either do the upper or lower portion of the river, but frankly, I’d like to do both.

  • Location: Northwest Territories
  • Duration: 12-25 days (depending if you do one or both sections)
  • Difficulty: Advanced
Canoe Trip Horton River

Photo by Canoe North Adventures

Canoe trip Horton River

Photo by Canoe North Adventures

Missinaibi River

The Missinaibi River is one of of the few Canadian rivers I have already paddled. It is an excellent river for intermediate paddlers to do unsupported. It’s remote, but not inaccessible. It has some difficult portages and Class III rapids, but also long stretches of smooth water and beautiful scenery. Grab a copy of Hap Wilson’s Journey to the Northern Sky, which has detailed maps of the many rapids and interesting information on the river, and be on your way.

I highly recommend doing the river from Lake Missinaibi all the way to Moosonee. The first section of the river has amazing rapids and stunning Canadian Shield geography, whereas the second section is wide and winding with few rapids but a northern character.

  • Location: Ontario
  • Duration 9-20 days
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
Missinaibi River Thunderhouse Falls Canoeing in Canada

Photo from Ontario Parks

Canoeing - Missinaibi River 1

Disposable photo from my trip on the Missiniaibi

Other rivers to note

If I was to list every single river I’d like to paddle, this post would go on forever. Here are some other rivers on my never ending to-do list: Hayes River (Ontario), Keele River (Northwest Territories), Yukon River (Yukon) and Churchill River (Saskatchewan).

Beginner’s Guide to Scouting Rapids

Canoeing in Canada, canoe camping canada, canoe tripping canada

Flatwater Paddling

Despite my growing preference for whitewater canoeing, there will always be a place in my heart for flatwater paddling. There are far too many lake networks in this country to paddle them all, but a few iconic areas are worth a place on any canoeist’s bucket list.

Killarney Provincial Park

I think Killarney is the most beautiful place in Ontario, and one of the most beautiful places in Canada. The scenery is striking; lakes the colour of Gatorade, hills that sparkle silver in the sunlight, windswept pine trees lining the shores. In autumn the trees change into a kaleidoscope of colours. Killarney is so beautiful, that it is home to OSA (Ontario Society of Artists) Lake and Artist’s Lake due to its significance to the Tom Thompson & The Group of Seven (Canada’s famous landscape painters).

When I first paddled Killarney, I did a 12 day trip and experienced over 3/4 of the park. It also has some amazing weekend trips.

  • Location: Ontario
  • Duration: 3-12 days depending on route
  • Difficulty: Novice
Killarney Canoe Trip

Photo from Parkbus

Canoe Trip Killarney

Photo from Killarney Outfitters

Temagami

Temagami isn’t technically a park, but has campgrounds and portages maintained by the Friends of Temagami. Hap Wilson, possibly Canada’s most iconic canoeist, calls Temagami home – and for good reason. I’ve done two different two-week trips and would still go back for more.

Some of my favourite destinations in Temagami include Paradise Lagoon, Wolf Lake, and the hike up Maple Mountain (tallest peak in Ontario).

  • Location: Ontario
  • Duration: 7-12 days depending on route
  • Difficulty: Novice

    Wolf Lake, Temagami

Maple Mountain, Temagami

Beginners Guide to Canoe Camping

Algonquin Provincial Park

I’ve already paddled an area of Algonquin, and in all honesty, I was underwhelmed – I know, I know, controversial opinion. It’s pretty and all, but I think Killarney and Temagami are better destinations. That being said, it is one of the most classic Canadian canoeing destinations, so it felt wrong to leave it off a list titled The Ultimate Canadian Canoeing Bucket List.

  • Location: Ontario
  • Duration: 3-12 days depending on route
  • Difficulty: Novice

Woodland Caribou Provincial Park

Woodland Caribou Provincial Park is an excellent destination for intermediate paddlers and it’s the only flatwater destination still on my to do list. The park is located on the border of Ontario and Manitoba, making it reasonably accessible while still providing opportunities for solitude and silence – the park contains 2,000 km of canoe routes and receives only 1,000 paddlers each season.

This is what makes Woodland Caribou spectacular, in my opinion. You’re nestled amidst the beauty of the Boreal Forest, which paddlers have long cited as having a certain magical feeling one can’t quite articulate. And you can experience it without interruption. While Killarney and Algonquin may feel a tad commercialized and you’re likely to encounter other paddlers, Woodland Caribou remains a little known secret. However, this is also why I believe your skill level needs to be higher; if you run into trouble, help is further away.

Regardless of your level of experience, I recommend reaching out to Red Lake Outfitters if you are considering a trip here. They are the definitive experts on Woodland Caribou and offer guided trips, shuttle services, route planning, gear and more.

  • Location: Ontario
  • Duration: 7 – 21 days depending on route
  • Difficulty: Intermediate

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Other areas to note

If the opportunity came, I’d also do a canoe trip in Quetico Provincial Park (Ontario) and I’d love to do another trip around Georgian Bay Islands National Park (Ontario). However, at this point I’ve grown a bit tired of flatwater paddling so I’d rather dedicate my time to whitewater.

What are you thoughts? Any destinations I didn’t include that you think are worthy of a mention? Let me know in the comments below!

Canoe tripping whitewater paddling canoe adventure outside

Love me some paddling time

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