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Canoe trip: Waterhen River, Meadow Lake Provincial Park

Canoe trip: Waterhen River, Meadow Lake Provincial Park

Overview: This is a 2-3 day trip suitable for most paddlers. The Waterhen winds east through Meadow Lake Provincial Park through mixed forest. There are some Class I and II rapids and when water levels are low be prepared to wade your boat across shallow rock gardens in places. As the trip goes on the river widens and becomes shallow and marshy with lots of waterfowl to see.

Duration: 2-3 days

Distance: ~50km

When to go: You can paddle the Waterhen anytime it's open, but make sure to check water levels with the Park before you commit. Levels can get too low to make the trip worthwhile. 

Canoe on the Waterhen River

Access: Put in at the bridge north of Goodsoil, just east of Lac des Îsles. If you want to add another half-day of paddling you can put in at the boat launch at Murray Doell Campground on Lac des Isles, then paddle east to the end of the lake and the entrance to the Waterhen.

Take-out is the Dorintosh bridge on Highway 4, although you can continue this trip to the Beaver River.

Map of Waterhen River canoe trip

Description: This trip is about the perfect length and accessibility for a long weekend. Drive up to the Park on Friday night, camp at one of the established campgrounds there, then do your shuttle in the morning and get on the water before noon. Barring unforseen set-backs you should be at the take-out by mid-day Monday. 

Scouting rapids on Waterhen River

If you put in at the bridge north of Goodsoil you'll have less than a half kilometer of paddling before things get fun. There is a great run of fast water and Class I to II rapids that goes on for about 17km. These shouldn't require scouting from land if you are able to read water and current, but err on the safe side if you're not sure. Near the end of this section there is one rapid that has a bit of a drop; you might want to take a look before committing. 

Be prepared to scratch up your boat. We've taken fiberglass and ultralight canoes down here and brought them home with new "story marks". This doesn't deter us, but it's something to be aware of, especially if you are newer to running rapids.

Running rapids in canoe on the Waterhen River

After this things calm down and the paddling is relaxing. This is a great time to look for wildlife such as migrating swans and waterfowl in the spring. The country is beautiful with fairly open grassy forests of deciduous and coniferous trees.

You'll see established campsites here and there on the north side as the Boreal Trail runs along the river in parts. These have rustic biffies and are a great place to camp, but there are abundant opportunities all along here for camping with great views of the river. 

Camping on the Waterhen River

About 9 km or so from the take-out the river widens and the shores get a lot marshier. Make sure you camp before this. Here you can encounter sections of shallows that can beach your boat - read the current to see where the water is going.

Canoe on the Waterhen River

The take-out is on RR (river right) just upstream of the bridge at Dorintosh. 

Alternative routes: An alternate take-out (or extra spur if you want to explore) is to paddle up the Rusty Creek to Rusty Lake, where there is a small day-use area with road access. You'll need adequate water levels for this. 

You can also extend this trip to Waterhen Lake. This section of the river can be confusing as it braids; make sure to research it before you go. 

Happy paddling folks!

Jeff Roe and Alison Meinert in a canoe

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