Mackenzie River

Mackenzie River near Yellowknife, NT

This trail was given a rating of 5 out of 5 stars This trail was given a rating of 5 out of 5 stars This trail was given a rating of 5 out of 5 stars This trail was given a rating of 5 out of 5 stars This trail was given a rating of 5 out of 5 stars
1700 kms
River Kayaking, Canoeing, Sea Kayaking
Yellowknife, NT
User cominco
The Mackenzie is a class one river with some tougher stretches, but no place where you have to portage or swim. The strong current runs however against the prevailing winds 90% of the time which can really raise the rating fast. Towns are an average of four days apart so shipping supplies ahead or stoking the larder is possible but expensive. The river is wide and shallow and at low levels many sandbars are present which can be used to camp on at the right time of year. I took 21 days and it was fun. This trip was done as part of paddlers for parts (, a non-profit group doing an annual trip to raise money for the Canadian Kidney Foundation. A complete trip report is provided below (below Directions), and, more information is available on the paddlers for parts site.


Drive to Hay River NT and put in, pullout at Inuvik NT or Tuktoyuktuk. Return your kayak by barge to Hay River or fly it out which is expensive. A Folboat would be great for this trip

Visit the Kidney Foundation's web site for a day-by-day write-up, with matching pictures, at An abridged 'story' version is also provided below.


The whole trip was done with awac maps 1 to a million and navigation is easy there are only two corners to make both right and in the last 80 miles the first is well marked with nav markers and range finders as this is a shipping lane for barges and the second isn't marked and you don't want to miss it. The Ramparts could be tricky at low water levels into the wind and the San Sous rapids have been known to spark right up in the right conditions. the San Sous you could paddle around the shore but the Ramparts you must pass through. Beware the ferry across the Liard river if the wind is strong and from the west as it really kicks up to class 3+ and you should paddle a few miles up the Liard before crossing, We didn't and it was a very tough paddle to make safely and we were lucky.

GPS Hi-lites (lat/long):

Ft.Providence 61*21'N 117* 39'W, Axe Pt. 61*18'N 118*40'W, Browning Pt.61*18N 119*50'W, Jean Marie river 61*32'N 120*38'W, Ft. Simpson 61*52'N 121*22'W, Campsell Bend 62*17'N123*22'W, FT Wrigley 63*14'N 123*28'W, Black Water River 63*57'N 124*10'W, Tulita 64*54' N 124*35' W, Norman Wells 65*17' N 126*51'W, thats about half way up the river

Norman Wells 65*17' N 126*51 W San Sous Rapids65*42 N 128* 48W, Rampart Rapids 66*11' N 128*56' W, Ft.Good Hope 66*15'N 128*38' W, Arctic Red River 67*27' N 133*44' W, East Channel (you don't want to miss this corner ,but is well marked with bouys and ranges)67*47' N 134*11'W, Inuvik 68*22'N 133*34'W


Paddlers for Parts 2001 Transplanted Kayakers Paddle For Parts is a very successful and on going story. My name is Greg Loftus and I am a transplant recipient that would like to share a small tale with you.

Paddle for Parts is the second event in what started as a three part mission to raise Organ and Tissue donor awareness and a little cash for the Kidney Foundation. This began with a "Pedal for Parts" in May of 2000 when Corey Elliot and myself rode to Edmonton on our bicycles over a twelve day period. We were very pleased with the results, having managed to raise 1680.00 dollars in only three days of fund raising. With the great response from Yellowknifers, I decided to move to step two, which brings us to our second thousand mile journey. Paddling the Mackenize River from Fort Providence to Inuvik NT.

Having decided on the trip and method of travel, sea kayaks, I began planning the trip. I had hoped to start with four fund raising Paddlers, but due to time commitments and other factors two would have to do.

I contacted Vashti Thompson of Valleyview AB., and asked if she would care to come out and play. Much to my surprise, a week later I received a call from Vashti telling me to "count her in." Now having arranged for the most charming kayaking partner, I began planning the trip.

We bought the maps from Terry at Tiget the Map Place and Terry was most helpful. Many Thanks. I sent the maps to Vashti who turned them into 8.5" by 11" laminated books for the journey. I took the time to waypoint the entire route into my old but faithful GPS unit and was satisfied that we would arrive in the right place hopefully at the right time. Being devoted fans of camping and hiking, we owned all of the necessary equipment to make the trip. My next step was fuelling the Paddlers for the trip.

Local Support Appreciated.

I contacted Margaret Woodley of the Yellowknife Direct Charge Coop and asked for partial sponsorship. Many thanks to the Yes vote from the board. Next we contacted Canadian North and with much assistance from Petrina McDaniel, we again received sponsorship that made the entire trip closer to being a done deal. With much help from Northern News Services, we had advertisements and posters. Yes we were going! The Kidney Foundation of Northern Alberta and the NWT set up a web site and we're world wide and going strong. Visit the site at any time,, click on paddle for parts and you will be in for a pleasant surprise.

Spring went by and Vashti arrived on my doorstep on the second of June. We spend the second and third doing trial runs with loaded kayaks and on June fourth, we headed for Fort Providence. My neighbour Ollie decided to act as the return driver, so we loaded Vashti's truck and left.

We arrived in Ft. Providence and filed our Wilderness trip Report with the RCMP by hanging it on their door as no one was home. The current on the Mackenize River at the Providence boat ramp was pretty stiff (12+ knots) and there was a fair amount of ice streaming down. It took a couple of hours to load and check every thing. Ollie documented everything for history’s sake, we shoved off.

The ice flow crossing was easier than I thought. We were travelling a little faster than the ice and could move around it. We made the opposite shore, which is the north shore of a large island, turned downstream and were off to Mills Lake. We paddled till midnight or so, as we had a late start and found ourselves twenty or so miles from where we had started. This was enough for one day. We spent the next four and a half days with warm weather, headwinds and a lack of current that can be discouraging to say the least. Mills Lake, Head of the Line, Jean Marie River and Ft. Simpson cover the first one hundred and sixty miles of the trip. Once past Head of the Line, where the river begins to narrow and the current increases, you can encounter a variety of conditions depending on wind direction and water levels. The biggest problem that Vashti and I found was the lack of flood plain, which made camping spots few and far between. Steep banks, thick bush and current speed at times made camp site selection a matter of there is no where else rather than choice.

Day Five Ft. Simpson was within sight, but due to three days of north winds the junction of the Liard and Mackenzie was a mess of standing waves 1.5 metres high. Not the spot for us to be paddling even on our best day. We headed up the Liard to ferry across to the Simpson side.

Ferry is a kayaking term for crossing the flow at an angle, which allows you to move side ways across a fast moving stretch of water without moving up or down stream. We ferried for what seemed the longest time in some Class 3 type water or to put it in layman’s terms we crossed to early. Vashti enjoyed the crossing, so I think she's hooked on this new sport. We pulled in at the boat ramp at Ft. Simpson. With kayaks safely stored on shore we went in search of our friend Monika Pandke at the local hospital. The ladies at the Ft. Simpson health centre treated us very well, tending to all our minor wounds, paddling blisters and sunburn.

We spend the night dining on some fine cuisine that didn't come from plastic bags. We retired early to Monika's for a night of showers, laundry and well deserved rest.

Camp Two Browning Point

Ft. Simpson to Ft. Wrigley. Our Wilderness trip plan included a stop in every town and hamlet along the river for the sake of safety. We would check in with the RCMP and give details of our next section of river. Current flow here is good and the paddling went well. We were starting to get our paddling muscles into shape and our routine down. Life was becoming easier and things were going great.

This section of river is very nice as you paddle straight towards the mountains. We spend the night at an old homestead, high on a bluff about 16 kilometres this side of the Wrigley road ferry crossing.

A solid day of paddling Passing the ferry a couple of hours after breakfast we paddled towards Campsell Bend and this took all day. I am convinced that this is the World's longest corner, a combination of headwinds, slow current and the sheer size of the Nahanni Mountains we were approaching combine to give this illusion. We camped on the shore about 24 kilometres downstream from Campsell Bend. In the morning we paddled by 27 mile island as the locals call it. After a solid day of paddling in good weather, we put in at Ft. Wrigley. We headed into town about a fifteen-minute walk, to discover everything was closed as it was Treaty Day. Next morning we were at the local Coop for the ten o'clock opening, looking for sunglasses and a few basics. Fort Wrigley is a very nice place and we were well treated by all whom we met. Web we informed that there was good camping to be had on the Blackstone River and with this goal in mind we were off. The weather was good and the current here is very fast. We stopped for lunch and took a GPS shot and found that we were almost fifty kilometres downstream. Shocked but happy, we continued and reached the Blackstone River by early evening.

When travelling with the current you don't always realize how fast you are going until you decide to put into shore. Many times well sitting on shore you are surprised, to see how fast the water moves by, as you don't feel this while paddling.

The Blackstone river is great for camping as the road crosses here creating a level, wide open spaces with lots of breeze. That day at least the breeze was enough to hold off the bugs. The water is clear and cold and promises good fishing should you be so inclined. We were now well over half way to Tulita. We shoved off early, planning to arrive with lots of time to explore the town. Four or five hours of good paddling and we were hauling the yaks ashore. The boat launch here is a good hike into town, however the local police offered us a ride. This resulted in a complete tour of the town and all the assistance that we could hope for. We checked out some of the oldest buildings in the north and headed off for some computer time at the Aurora College campus. We updated the Web Site and made some phone calls before heading back to the river. Nice paddling and we passed the Great Bear River and Bear Mountain, bound for the Halfway Islands. These islands are very special in that they are the half waypoint to Norman Wells and are halfway between Hay River and Tuktoyaktuk. Next week we'll journey to Norman Wells and Inuvik. We spend a night on the river between Tulita and The Wells as the locals say. Our kayaks were hauled ashore, getting easier to do as we ate the load. We headed for town to locate some friends. Little did we know that the "Moccasin Telegraph" was way ahead of us and things were in motion.

Harley's Hardrock Saloon, one of our sponsors had contacted Rick Muyres of the Wells and he was airborne looking for us. As things go we were already on the dock when Rick took off and so he missed us. Vashti and I were on the road to town when a pick up truck full of supporters, our host among them, pulled to a stop. Greetings and introductions went all around and we were headed back to the river for a jet boat ride. Heading downstream without having to paddle was a treat beyond compare after the hours spend so far in the kayaks.

Shortly after heading out the weather started to close in and we retreated back to town. This turned out to be a good call as the storm closed this section of river for the next two days. Among friends in the Wells, boats safe and secure, it was time for some whooping up. Dinner was compliments of Big John McLean and the wild Cowgirl Moe. Fine dining followed by dancing up a storm in the local saloon. As luck would have it there was live entertainment.

John escaped early, but the rest of us carried on until we were thrown out at closing time. Needless to say all had a good time and our legs got a little workout for the first time in days. The next day the storm was gone and we had to load up and move on. We would have liked to stay, but the trip was now on the small half. Our thanks to Rick, John and Moe. Liz for the computer time and Bob and Sheila and Daryll for transporting the kayaks and us.

Norman Wells is well worth the trip as it is a friendly spot. Our first stop after the Wells was with Wilfred MacDonald at Ogilvie River. Wilfred is one of the last two people who live full time on the river and he is well worth the visit. Many thanks for his donation which was totally unexpected and a truly meaningful gesture. Thanks for the tea and may this find all well with you.

Ft. Good Hope was next on our list, about three days paddling away. This is a very scenic area passing by the Mountain River, San Sous Rapids and the famous Ramparts. We made Fort Good Hope in two days of paddling.

The second day was 12 of 14 hours of paddling. The first day we shore camped under a cliff face a little ways upstream of the Mountain River. The second day we ran the San Sous Rapids which are just around the bend from the Mountian / Mackenzie junction. The high water level acted in our favour and by staying on the left bank of the river, we ran a very easy Class two rapid. You could however spice up your trip and run the rapid in the marked shipping lane, there’s a lot of hidden power there. The current in the lane actually pulls down the buoys and they pop up fast with great amounts of noise. As you approach the San Sous Rapids you hear them long before you see them, due to the river bend. The noise is caused by the water rushing by the buoys. They are shaped like the bow of a ship and the bow waves are over three feet high. Stay left stay dry that was our plan. We carried on until the wind pick up and then headed for shore. Now however the high water was working against us by eliminating the flood plain and leaving very few places to pull out and camp. We ended up on a muddy shore, facing he possibility of perhaps a few days stay.

After a serious discussion on our location, we decided to push on to Ft. Good Hope, about 25 kilometres away, if the wind dropped at all. The river being shallow most of the way, it builds up waves fast with the wind blowing against the current. As the wind drops, so do the waves. Unsure of what to expect at the Ramparts we were a little leery to commit. The Ramparts are about five miles of canyon that allows no place to pull out until you are through. We were worried that the storm could return and cause us problems in the canyon.

Full Speed Ahead

The wind dropped and we were off, full speed ahead. Once again the high water was in our favour as we entered the canyon. There was a current, but not a ripple. We breezed through in light showers and landed at Ft. Good Hope, 2 hours and 20 minutes after we started. This proved to be just in time to feed the horde of mosquitoes that call the boat ramp home. We headed off in search of Glenda and Ken and managed to discover that they lived further than we felt like hiking that night. We returned to the boat ramp, where we met Thomas and his son, Loren, who offered to drive our yaks to the grass lot at the top of the hill. We had discovered this site on our walk and were wondering how we could get there and if anyone would mind. Thanks to Thomas and Loren the puzzle was solved and we were settled for the night. Morning came early and I completed the check in routine with the local force and with their help was talking to Glenda.

Ken arrived and we loaded up and were off to a beautiful home with showers, laundry and all the friendship that could be offered. Next day we were well rested but wind and weather had come up again. We decided to hang for the day and visit the local sights as well as spending time with Glenda and Ken. We stocked up on tortillas and apples and had a pleasant and laid back day. Inuvik was now not that far away average time for paddlers six to nine days. Last haul for Yaks Loaded and ready the next day Ken and Glenda dropped us at the boat ramp. We were ready to leave Ft. Good Hope and after a quick photo shoot, we were off to Arctic Red River now known as Tsiigehtchic.

This is the oldest Church in the NWT located in Ft. Good Hope, our photographer Ken is doing a fine job. This Church has the most incredible hand painted interior that has been maintained to perfection.

Glenda's digital camera soon had photos off our take off posted on our web site. Our first stop was at Grand View or just upstream of it. We spend the night in a small cabin that had been offered by a gentleman that we passed on the river. He was camping at his new home site and offered the use of the smaller of two cabins at his other camp. I think that this was the Sorensen camp but I'm not sure. Once again many thanks for the helping hand.

The wind was really up at about 04:00 hours and I thought that we might be staying a little longer. At a more sensible hour the weather had improved and so we shoved off. This proved to be a mistake, rounding the point brought us into stiff headwinds, which we battled for awhile before giving up and making camp. The following day we moved on and things went well until late afternoon. Once again the winds were up and we were forced to camp just shy of our goal Thunder River.

Two more days of paddling and put us in Tsiigehtchik and we were feeling pretty good. We were introduced to Cullen and his Friend Sheila who treated us to a home cooked meal, showers and as Cullen would say “a truly Irish Welcome." We were given access to the computer and updated the web site. Phone calls were made and all checked in we decided to paddle a few miles downstream and camp.

The End is near.

Next day found us approaching the Mackenzie Delta, our first waypoint that would not be missed. The entrance to the East Channel is however well marked and easy to find. There were now less than ninety kilometres to go and the weather was great. Our second right hand corner is also in this stretch and easy to find.

The next morning we were off on the last and what seemed the longest day yet. The Channel twist and turns, the current is slow and we had fifty kilometres to go. The paddling took all of eight hours and we were hauling our yaks for the last time around five p.m. This my friend, brought paddling for Parts 2001 to a very happy ending.

The Wrap up

From Vashti and myself, to all those who helped either morally or financially, we give our thanks. Once again we showed that those of the North can dig deep when it counts the most. Your efforts to date have raised over thirteen thousand dollars, which will be used to create a fund for students living with Kidney Disease. The Paddling for Parts fund is now up and handed its first bursary out on September 26th. 2001. Donations may still be made at Sutherlands Drugs, Wild Cat Cafe, After Eight Billards, Hairrada, Weaver and Devore, Johnson’s Building Supplies, The Gallery, Harley's Hard Rock Saloon and Forty Below Golf. Donations may be sent directly to the Kidney foundation of Northern Alberta and the NWT at #307-10335-172nd. Street, Edmonton, AB, T5S-1K9 1-800-461-9063. Please mark them "Paddling for Parts Fund" to ensure they arrive at the right spot. To all our sponsors Canadian North, YK Direct Charge Co-op, Northern News Services and Harley's Hard Rock Saloon, we are looking forward to working with you all again. Thanks Gang!!! See you on the next one. Adios for now Vashti and Greg "Paddlers for Parts"

This cabin (see pics) was the site of our last night on the river, about forty-five miles from Inuvik. We camped on the riverbank about hundred feet down stream as the cabin's yard had seen better days.

Food Notes:

1 kg powered milk
2 pkgs tortillas
4 pkgs instant soup mix
500 g gravy mix
750 g raisins
3 salamis
240 g cheese
900 g bran muffin mix
1 kg brown sugar
500 g cranberry trail mix
1 kg banana chips
20 pkgs hot chocolate mix
40 bags herb tea
1 jar instant coffee
22 pkgs freeze dried veggies
2 boxes minute rice 8 pkgs instant potatoes
10 noodle mixes
1 kg bisquick
3 kgs oats
2.25 kgs flour
400 g dried veggie mix
2 pkgs instant scalloped potatoes
1 kg muslix
500 g dried meat
3 cans ham
3 cans chicken
12 doz various sauce mixes
11 instant puddings
16 fruit bars
400 g hot tamale jelly beans
We hope to add fish to this as we go. Also we have friends on the river who will feed us. I'm sure we're good for a meal at every stop as it's a pretty standard thing here to feed travellers in the bush.

Other gear includes:

marine handheld radio
2 map sets
2 compasses
2 emergency survival kits
2 PFDs
4 paddles
2 boat repair kits
2 rolls duct tape
many matches and lighters
parachute cord
snare wire
small survival kits for PFD pockets 2 Coleman apex stoves
3 water filters 2 collapsible
2 tents
flare pistol
bear banger
2 emergency space blanket shelters
2 first aid kits
good book
cards, crib board
lots of batteries
bug dope
AM/FM radio for fine dining
marine band blues harp to scare away things
and it all fits in 2 kayaks

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Yellowknife, NT

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Please check the bottom of the Description (above left; click) for the author's written directions.

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By LoftysfarmPosted By: Loftysfarm  - Mon Feb 16 17:45:44 UTC 2015 Not Rated Question I have canoed lots but new to my sea kayak. I have crossed Nemeiben Lake in Sask on a windy day with metre high waves so have some experience. I chose the sea kayak for the Mackenzie River trip because of the speed of travel. My wife works for the Sahtu School Division on the river and has agreed to make food drops at Norman Wells, Tulita, and Fort Good Hope which should help in terms of cargo space. My two questions are:
1) Going through the Ramparts, say with relatively no wind, what degree of difficulty would you classify it for
a somewhat fit 69 year old. Does it matter which side you take to go through the canyon?

2) What about meeting or being passed by the barge boats in the canyon.

ANSWERS are in this forum:   Paddling the Ramparts of the Mackenzie River
By comincoPosted By: cominco  - Mon Mar 03 04:39:56 UTC 2003 This trail was given a rating of 3 out of 5 stars This trail was given a rating of 3 out of 5 stars This trail was given a rating of 3 out of 5 stars This trail was given a rating of 3 out of 5 stars This trail was given a rating of 3 out of 5 stars

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