Wakwayowkastic River

CanadaOntarioJames Bay south
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Additional Route Information
240 km
9 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
5280 m
Longest Portage: 
800 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Not applicable
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

See trip notes below

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Route Description of the Wakwayowkastic
Entry to the headwaters of the Wakwayowkastic River is made off the Detour Lake access road north of the town of Cochrane, Ontario. Follow the gravel road to Wakwayowkastic Lake and carry the canoes and gear down the left (west) side of the road to the southeastern arm of Wakwayowkastic Lake. The cars should be returned to Cochrane and left in the long term parking lot of the Polar Bear Express train. Egress of the river is at Moosonee where the Polar Bear Express (which runs daily in summer) can be caught for the return trip to Cochrane. Some care in scheduling must be maintained since canoes will only be transported on the "local" train from Moosonee. This train only runs twice a week - Wednesday morning and Saturday morning. Still though, the always-difficult problem of getting back to the vehicles or arranging shuttles is very simple on the Wakwayowkastic.

Proceed down Wakwayowkastic Lake to the north end and the start of the Wakwayowkastic River. You will pass Wakwayowkastic Lodge on the right shore (shuttered with a small dock crumbling into the lake). This is the only building on the entire trip until the Indian reservation at the mouth of the French River is reached. No other shelter outside of your tent will be available.

The river is extremely narrow at the start and every rock is an impediment to the canoe. If water levels are low (as they are apt to be in the late summer) the first miles become an ordeal of dragging the boat and wading as you search for floatable water. After a few miles the river enters a wide swampy marsh. The next 15 miles (as the crow flies) are interminable as the six foot side river meanders through low, swampy ground with scattered high banks. The vegetation is at its peak growth in later summer and little can be seen from the canoe as the reeds tower 5 to 6 ft. above the water level. Current is very slow in these headwaters but the channel was easy to follow because the reed vegetation was much less dense in the main river bed. At times it may seem that you are flowing the tracks of the African Queen as you make your way through the deltaic maze. Campsites are few in this section and will not score highly if you have done any camping previously on the Canadian Shield.

Two earlier recorded trips down the Wakwayowkastic took place in May and July. Water levels are apt to be much lower in August. Beaver dams that could be run or sneaked around earlier in the year had to be lifted over in August. Some 40 beaver dams and liftovers were required to reach the nameless lake opposite Noon Lake. Fallen logs and sweepers are non-existent in this first 20 mile section due to the swampy nature of the terrain.

After the nameless lake opposite Noon Lake is reached, the river assumes more definite Canadian Shield characteristics. Banks appear and the spruce forest returns. Campsites are much more numerous. Fallen logs pose a bigger problem than beaver dams in this next 20 miles. Often the jams were so complex that complete carries on the shore were necessary to circumvent them. The number of beaver dams requiring liftovers declined and may short runnable rapids occurred. None were marked on the map, but all were runnable. Brook trout live in the headwaters and some time should be spent fishing for them in this section.

The next 25 miles free the river of fallen logs and the river approaches 100 ft. in width. Rapids gradually increases in intensity during this section, but most if not all are runnable.

The next 35 miles see the river complete its fll off the Canadian shield. The river drops some 600 ft. in 35 miles. This calculates to a drop of 17 ft. per mile which would indicated that the river was not runnable. But the Wakwayowkastic is eminently runnable.

Most of the fall (and there are many falls) occurs in big drops between 10 and 30 ft. apiece. However the drops are clean. They are not preceded by unrunnable rapids and can be canoed fairly close to the lip of the drop. This very scenic section of the river will take 3 to 4 days to work through because of the carries. Campsites are numerous and spectacular. The river in this section is pristine - not often traversed by boats going either upstream or downstream. Portage trails are not well marked and did not indicate much evidence of use. however, they were on the side of the river a canoeist going downstream would expect. If the portage was not over the bare rock next to the drop in very instance it was on the side towards which the river bent.

One carry in particular in the sets of rapids above the junction with the North French River involved an uphill climb of 50 ft. vertical and then a carry along the ridge top to the end of the rapid. It was impossible to carry the canoes up the steep, muddy slope and one of the lining ropes had to be snaked around a tree to hold the canoe during pauses while it was being manhandled up the steep slope. This will be the low point of the trip. On every canoe trip there seems to be this same natural progression. In the first stage, difficulties increase at some rate roughly proportional to your growing competence. As you get stronger, leaner, more work-hardened, the river becomes stronger, bigger and more dangerous. In the second stage you peak in conditioning but the river continues grinding you down. Clothes get ripped. Hats and gear are expected as tribute. River obstacles no longer help condition you but take reserves of patience and will husbanded over the winter. Then the third stage arrives.

Will the work never end? Mile and a half carries, long lining episodes, portage trails flanked by soaked bushes. Once this stage is passed, the rest of the trip seems like a day outing. Easy to handle because the difficulty levels decrease while your competence level remains high. the third stage on the Wakwayowkastic occurs when you are trying to get the canoes up that slope.

Eight miles above the junction with the North French River the Wakwayowkastic completes its descent off the Canadian shield. Rapids from here to the junction with the Moose River are mainly shallow runs where the river fans out in broad sweeps around islands. Route finding is not tricky and the scenery is still very pretty with a more open appearance to the landscape. The shore is now composed of sedimentary deposits of the Tyrell sea loaded with fossils. On every trip one of our habits is to select a fossil from the limestone to take home. It is our way of keeping in touch with the river.

At the junction with the Moose River there is an Indian reservation on the right bank. It is well worth a stop to see the use of tepees and winter cabins. These are the homes of the Cree Indians when they are running their trap lines. If you stop, the law of the wilderness must be obeyed.
Look at all you want
Sleep dry inside
Leave all you look at
The possessions are needed for winter survival. They are not abandoned gear. The Indians didn`t lose it, and you didn`t find it. At the time of your visit the reservations more than likely will be deserted. Most Indians opt to spend the summer when the fur is no good in Moosonee or Moose Factory.

From the reservation is is a further 12 miles to Moosonee and the end of the trip. The Moose River is big and awe inspiring. When leaving the North French River it seems as if you are paddling over the edge of the world as water dominates the whole horizon in front of the canoe. No further example of the great possibilities is necessary that to see your canoe cross the immense ocean that is the Moose River.

Greg Went

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:250,000): 
42 I Moose River 42 H Cochrane


Post date: Sun, 12/16/2007 - 09:21


The Wakwayowkastic Guide published by ORCKA
should help anyone wishing to paddle this river

Post date: Mon, 07/07/2008 - 17:57


I just completed the Wakwayokastic River (June 28-July 5, 2008) with high water from a very rainy June. Rapids were very runnable and fun, bugs very thick, rained every day. DON'T run this river in low water, as the rapids will then become a drag (literally). The guidebook George Drought recommends is sadly out of date. With two of us, fairly experienced canoeists and GPS, we could not locate the marked campsites indicated in the guidebook, only grown over clearings not suitable for camping (Except at the Devil's Punch Bowl). Don't rely on these campsites in the guidebook. Unlike the description, the campsites were not picturesque. Very few open rock campsites. I recommend "Johnny Bait" for your vehicle shuttle. A top notch fellow, keeps your vehicle at the lodge for security (Lillabelle Lake Resort)and meets you at the train. Did I mention bugs ... wow there were lots!

Post date: Sat, 01/01/2000 - 07:00


My brother David led a group of 6 down this river starting 01Jul05. If we had gone a week later we might have walked the whole way. Water levels were low and we bumped and scraped a lot of the way. Bugs were not a real problem. We had frost on day 2! and then 7 days of high 80s and 90s. Fishing was moderate. Water falls were great. June would seem to be the ideal month for this river. Made it in the 9 days, but that included some days of 40K and some of 6K in the middle. The start (after the lake) is incredibly difficult and hard to stay with.

Post date: Sat, 01/01/2000 - 07:00


I have paddled the Wakwayakastic in early June and found very good water levels. Nothing was shallow and scrapy. We did not experience any mile and a half portages. Our group choose to line some of the drops that had horendous looking portage trails around them.