Northern Saskatchewan’s wild rivers are home to many spectacularly beautiful waterfalls. Some are big and bold, taking your breath away as you stand on the brink or at the bottom and look up at the awesome power of thundering water. Others are more subtle – small, picture-perfect cataracts framed by the green boreal forest. What they have in common is a pristine wilderness setting. All of Saskatchewan’s major waterfalls are away from the road, so they have so far escaped the ravages of “development”. Some take a bit of effort to reach, but once there, chances are that you’ll have them all to yourself. Here is a sample of some of our favourites:
Nistowiak Falls is along the short Rapid River, which drains water from massive Lac La Ronge into the Churchill River. It’s one of the easiest waterfalls to visit, with a short canoe or boat trip from road’s end at Stanley Mission on the Churchill River.
It’s not only the main falls that are impressive but the entire short river with a series of roaring rapids. The portage trail follows the river, so it’s possible to get a glimpse of the whitewater at a few different spots. During high water, the powerful falls throw mist into the air far downstream.
After only 15 minutes or so of steady walking we come to the brink of the falls, with some excellent viewpoints. When water levels are low enough, you can follow the path down and get out on the rocky ledge for a close-up view part way down the drop. But when the water is high, as it was last year, this entire area is inundated with boiling water and mist.
Falls of the Churchill River
Waterfalls abound along much of the Churchill River. Among the easiest to reach is Robertson Falls at the south end of Otter Lake. With road access on the north end of the lake at Missinipe, you can travel to the falls by canoe or motorboat with no portages. It’s beautiful spot, with a portage trail and campground immediately next to the falls. Just downsteam from here, the Churchill makes another significant drop at Twin Falls.
Most visitors come to Robertson Falls because of the easy access and because the portage trail is the main route when doing a canoe trip down the Churchill River. But if you want to get slightly off the beaten track, an excellent option is North Falls, which is a bit east of Robertson Falls. You portage around the falls into a small lake, then have to portage again (on a not so easy trail) to continue downstream on the Churchill. Because of this, these falls get a lot less traffic. An idyllic camping spot on the lake just below the falls is the perfect place to spend a day or more.
Heading upstream from Otter Lake brings us to another whitewater wonderland, with falls and rapids galore. One of many great spots is Sluice Falls, with a portage trail around it and more stunning wilderness campsites.
If we had to pick our favourite falls on the Churchill River, it would be Kettle Falls, named because the frothing water resembles a boiling kettle. It’s farther downstream on the river in the eastern stretches of the Churchill, and the wild whitewater along the route means that it doesn’t get a lot of visitors. The setting is stunning, with excellent camping in an open treed area overlooking the falls and a flat rocky outcropping in front that is like a paved patio. The view is supplemented with fabulous fishing for walleye out your front door.
If you really want to get serious about waterfalls, head to Hunt Falls on the Grease River, the big daddy of Saskatchewan cataracts. The main drop is 15 metres high and 60 metres wide, and is part of a spectacular three-kilometre section of river that drops 35 metres.
While remote, located about 40 km northwest of Stony Rapids, Hunt Falls is not difficult to reach. Float planes can land in a protected cove on Eagle Rock Lake just above the falls. From there, it’s a fairly short walk to the brink of the falls, and along the side to the small pool at the bottom for this view.
To see a view of Hunt Falls that few people see, you’ll need a canoe or boat. From the cove where float planes can land, you have to paddle to the other side of the lake’s outlet (being careful not to get sucked into the current!), then hike through the bush and hillsides for what we consider the nicest viewpoint over the falls. What we liked best about this place was not just the falls themselves, but the drop-dead gorgeous setting around it as well. See our posting on Hunt Falls for a more detailed look.
Hunt Falls is only one of many wild whitewater features of the Grease. Not far upstream, this series of cataracts funnels the river into Eagle Rock Lake.
The Porcupine River is the ultimate in remote northern Saskatchewan canoeing routes. This part of northeast Saskatchewan has long been a traditional travel route for the Dene, though they tended to avoid travel on the Porcupine River itself, referring to it as Dead Man’s River because of the difficulty in getting through the numerous waterfalls, rapids, and canyons. But if you like waterfalls, this river delivers big time.
We consider Smoothrock Falls the highlight of the Clearwater River, long known as one of Saskatchewan’s top whitewater canoeing routes. The river makes a huge and lengthy S-turn, so you can’t see all of the falls at once. A bonus is that there’s an excellent place to camp right at the brink of the falls.
While Smoothrock Falls is the biggest single drop on the Clearwater, Skull Canyon, about a day’s paddle downstream, is just as impressive. The river constricts into a narrow whitewater channel between outrageously coloured cliffs.
Fond du Lac River
Starting in Wollaston Lake and flowing west into Lake Athabasca, the Fond du Lac has several rapids and waterfalls. But for sheer beauty, it’s hard to beat Manitou Falls. The river narrows and flows around a flowerpot island, then constricts and races through a wild S-turn at Manitou Falls, the churning water carving whimsical patterns into the soft sandstone formations. The campsite overlooking the fall is 5-Star wilderness camping at its finest.
The Wapiskau River is waterfall heaven. The narrow river flowing between Brabant Lake and the Reindeer River has a series of small falls and rapids in quick succession. Motorboats can’t navigate through the many whitewater features, making this the perfect intimate canoeing river.
Tuck Falls is a highlight of this river that starts in Paull Lake and empties into the Churchill River. Fabulous fishing is a bonus.
The MacFarlane is a wild river that saves its grand finale until near the end. A few kilometres before reaching Lake Athabasca, it plunges over a series of falls, including the one here. These falls are not easy to visit. Options include a canoe trip down the MacFarlane River, or a fairly arduous hike upstream.
Along Lake Athabasca’s rugged north shore is a scenic waterfall hidden away in a bay within a bay. Huge Grease Bay is where the mighty Grease River follows into Lake Athabasca. At the end of a narrow channel, the smaller Bulyea River empties into Grease Bay, making this dramatic entrance.