McDonald Lake to Lutsel Ke and Reliance

CanadaNorthwest TerritoriesGreat Slave
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Damian Panayi
Trip Date : 
July 2022
Additional Route Information
150 km
10 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
0 m
Longest Portage: 
1500 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Not applicable
Lake Travel: 
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

Start and end are most easily accessable by float plane from Yellowknife.

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Our direction of travel was west to east, and the portage labels and description reflect this (e.g., we traveled from portage 01a to 01b).


Portage 01a to 01b GSL to McDonald Bay

There are two outflows from McDonald Lake. Portage starts at the larger and southern of the two. Impossible to see the portage through the thick willows from GSL, but look for the small bay with very clear water flowing out. After getting through the riparian zone, the portage is quite wide for a few hundred metres through the spruce forest. It becomes more dispersed for the second half of the portage, passing through open forest. Waypoint 01b is a small sandy beach on McDonald Lake. McDonald Lake has very clear water, good trout fishing. Muskox frequent this area. Portage has evidence of old camps and trapping. 


Portage 02a to 02b McDonald Lake to unnamed lake (locally known as Mud Lake)

Portage starts in a bay at the most northeastern extent of McDonald Lake, north of a prominent spit. Portage is straight and clear, but not easily visible from the lake. The unnamed lake is shallow and very organic and not suitable for drinking, so recommend bringing drinking water (if not all your water) from McDonald Lake. There may be an inflow of fresh water at the Water Source waypoint, on the southern shoreline approximately 3/4 of the way to the eastern end of the lake. Avoid camping on this lake due to poor water and lack of suitable sites.


Portage 03a to 03b

Portage not easily visible from the lake, but offers a clear walk down a snowmachine trail to the next lake. The next lake has clearer water, but should still be treated before drinking. Some camping sites on the northwestern shoreline near Portage 4.


Portage 04a to 04b to 04c (western option) or Portage 04aa to 04bb (eastern option) into Olgilvie Lake

Challenging portage owing to thick vegetation and shallow ponds that are difficult to navigate due to emergent vegetation. Somewhat redeemed by the many rare plants and flowers in the swamp. There seem to be two portage options. 

The western portage offers short portages but difficult put-in and take-out, and shallow ponds with beaver dams and thick emergent vegetation. Navigability likely depends upon water levels. Should be scouted first. This is the one we used. 

The eastern portage is longer and joins the swampy drainage between 04a and 04b. There is an option to continue inland until 04bb, but this should be scouted before starting.

Water quality in the next lake is not great, but improves in the northern half when it opens up into a deeper, wider basin. 


Portage 05a to 05b Into Murky Lake

Challenging portage as it is long and has elevation gain. Redeemed by the large areas of unforested exposed bedrock that are easy to walk. There is no trail to follow. The snowmachine trail follows the drainage and is not suitable for portaging. Finding a suitable put-in on Murkey Lake may depend upon water levels. Recommend scouting and marking the trail. But it's a nice portage owing to the open areas and good views.


Murky Lake to Lac Duhamel

We were able to navigate the drainage, canoeing against the current. Some lining was required due to shallow sections with current.


Portage 06a to 06b Lac Duhamel to the Snowdrift River

Easy portage following roads. There are cabins and good camping at both ends of the portage. Road connection to Lutsel Ke, making this a good location to start, finish, or resupply.


Stark Lake

Stark is a beautiful lake with excellent fishing and hiking, but limited camp sites due to rocky shorelines. Islands have the best chance of good camping. Camp Glory Bowl and Camp Red Pebble are marked.


Portage 07a to 07b Stark Lake upstream to an unnamed lake

Portage is on the south side of the inflow. The stream flowing into Stark Lake was almost large enough to line up.


Portage 08a to 08b

The portage trail is accessed from a large sedge wetland or shallow lake completely covered with tall sedges, horsetails and cattails. It is too shallow and vegetated to paddle, but too soft a bottom to walk. We had to pole the canoe forward using our paddles. It took us almost an hour to make the 700 metres to the portage. 

If the water is low and navigation by canoe is impossible, there is an earlier start to the portage at 08aa, where there is a trail that follows the shoreline up to 08a. This option doubles the length of the portage.

Fill waterbottles before entering the wetland.


Portage 09a to 09b into Lausen Lake

There are portages on both the north and south side of the inflow to this lake. We used and waypoint the southern option, which is not much more than a game trail, and about 100 meters long. The portage on the north side is used by snowmachines and is wider and flatter, but at least twice as long. Bring drinking water to last to Tochatwi Lake.


Portage 10a to 10b

Flat portage, south of the drainage. Area has recently burnt, so clearing of deadfall with a saw make the portage easier.

Portage 11a to 11b

Flat portage. Area recently burnt, so expect deadfall.


Portage 12a to 12b to Tochatwi Lake

Flat portage. Area recently burnt, so expect deadfall. There is good camping and hiking along a ridge on the the northwest shoreline of Tochatwi Lake.


Portage 13a to 13b to Mid Lake

Difficult portage as the snowmachine trail uses a longer route to avoid a steep rocky hill. The shortest route is from 13a to 13aa to 13b. From approximately 50 metres inland from 13a to 13aa, there is no discernable trail and difficult walking due to forest fire deadfall. From 13aa to 13b there is a narrow trail that is becoming overgrown. Recommend scouting the trail first.

The snowmachine trail turns south from this route about 50 metres inland from 13a. Following the snowmachine trail to 13bb is flat and easy walking, but at least twice the distance.

Mid Lake is a beautiful turquoise lake with very clear water and trout.


Portage 14a to 14b

Flat, boggy portage.


Portage 15a to 15b to Meridian Lake

One of the most difficult portages of the trip, owing to its length (approximately 1.5 km) and a bog that is very difficult to navigate.

The bog is approximately 300 metres into the portage. We crossed the bog by building a bridge with tree bows. It is also possible to walk around it.

There are some old cabins at the Meridian Lake end of the portage.


Portage 16a to 16b Meridian Lake to Charlton Bay on Great Slave Lake

The snowmachine trail from Meridian Lake to Charlton Bay is on the western end of Meridian Lake but is almost 2 km long.

Portage 16 is an old, narrow trail that mostly follows game trails. Approximately 700 metres long. May require some scouting. The second half of the trail follows a stream that flows steeply into Charlton Bay.


Once in Charlton Bay, be sure to visit the south shore of Belle Isle, Pikes Portage and the inflow of the Lockhart River. If hiking up the Lockhart River to Tyrrell Falls, follow the south side of the river.

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
75L02, 75L03, 75L06, 75L07, 75L08, 75L09, 75K11, 75K12
Topo Maps (1:250,000): 
75L, 75K
Suggested Resource Material: 

Be sure to do your background research on Thaidene Nene National Park, and contact the Park staff in Lutsel Ke to let them know of your travel plans. They will want to welcome you and will be happy to provide advice. They will request a trip plan in case of emergency.


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Post date: Mon, 01/08/2024 - 23:04


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