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Canadian Canoe Routes

Camsell River Info?
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Author:  sethwotten [ January 26th, 2008, 1:24 am ]
Post subject:  Camsell River Info?

Hey Folks,

This year I'm planning on completing a three year journey by paddling from Fort McMurray to Tuktoyaktuk (for more info, see my site at

I'm somewhat curious about taking a detour out of Great Slave Lake, up the Marian River, down the Camsell River, into Great Bear Lake and down the Bear River to Return to the Mackenzie. I saw Allan's post below and JMC's reply with the website which has some info about sites of interest. This is some great info. Does anyone know of any write-ups/maps of this route with more detailed info about the portages?

This may just end up being a pipe dream, but I feel it is at least worth looking into.


Author:  jmc [ January 26th, 2008, 8:09 pm ]
Post subject: 

Hello Seth -

I have paddled the Marian - Camsell route from Great Slave to Great Bear (Conjuror Bay). I have trip notes with portages, etc, that I could make available to you.

I believe "ffdjm" who also visits this site has paddled this route as well. He has also paddled Great Bear from Conjuror Bay to the outlet of the Bear River (and I think the river as well). You might try sending him a "PM" if you don't get a reply to your post from him in a little while - I think his access to the internet is rather infrequent.

I see you are in Toronto. I will be down there for the Wilderness Canoe Symposium February 8-9. Are you planning on attending? If so, I'm sure we could find a bit of time to discuss this route possibility.



Author:  sethwotten [ January 26th, 2008, 9:03 pm ]
Post subject: 


I will be at the WCS. Looking forward to meeting you there.

Thanks for your help.


Author:  ffdjm [ January 27th, 2008, 12:07 am ]
Post subject: 

ffdjm here.

If you don't know where the major portages are, there are around 55 places where lining, dragging, or portaging are required to go up the Marian and down the Camsell. Unfortunately some portages are hidden behind brush or begin well away from the usual course of travel. You can spend a lot of time hugging the bank and poking into every minor slough looking for a well defined trail. The government maps leave out most portages.

Since there seemed to be little interest in this route, I never thought of creating and making available a map of the area with portages marked. I see I am wrong and will get busy. I will be at the WCS meeting and if anyone requests will bring maps and field notes with me.

BTW, I did not run the Bear.


Author:  sethwotten [ January 27th, 2008, 1:35 am ]
Post subject: 

Hi Douglas,

Thanks so much for your reply.

I would be very happy if you are able to bring maps w/ portage info to the WCS.

In the meantime, do you have any general thoughts on the level of difficulty and time commitment of this route?

See you soon,


Author:  jmc [ January 27th, 2008, 5:55 pm ]
Post subject: 

Seth -

I will bring some maps and notes as well. Looking forward to talking to you, and to Douglas, at the WCS.

I think the route would be much more interesting than the Mackenzie but obviously slower. I think Great Slave to Great Bear via the Marian - Camsell would be roughly 300 miles - up to 3 weeks , depending on your rate of travel. Then you would have to get across Great Bear and down the Bear River.

The southern part of the route involves frequent short portages. The northern half is mostly big lake paddling with infrequent portages. After reaching the south end of Lac Malfait (the traditional route goes from Hardisty Lake to Lac Malfait, and does not follow the Camsell River through Isabella Lake) you probably have only 3 more portages to Great Bear.

The village of Gameti, on Rae Lake, has scheduled air service and could serve as a resupply drop point for you.



Author:  jmc [ January 28th, 2008, 11:09 am ]
Post subject: 

I don't have any scanned photos from the southern part of the route, but here are a few scenes from the northern section:

Hottah Lake


Camsell River


White Eagle Falls, Camsell River


Hloo Channel, Great Bear Lake


Prettier than the Mackenzie?


Author:  sethwotten [ February 3rd, 2008, 7:44 pm ]
Post subject: 


This detour seems really nice from the photos and what I have read about it. Unfortunately, I've determined that I will not have enough time to take this detour. Maybe it was a pipe dream after all.

I could still be interested in this route a few years down the road, but don't feel obliged to bring your maps and notes.

Thanks and see you at the symposium.


Author:  hball [ February 19th, 2008, 7:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Camsell River Trip Notes


I am planning a trip down the Camsell next year. Likely from the head of the Marion to Conjuror Bay on Great Bear.

I know bits of the route in that I have spent some time on Hottah Lake and got as far upstream as White Eagle Falls a number of years ago.

Any information you could provide in terms of portages etc. would be very much appreciated.

Thanks very much.


Author:  jmc [ February 20th, 2008, 1:24 pm ]
Post subject: 

Hi Harold -

I've sent you an e-mail. I'll be glad to provide what information I can.


Author:  lindsaywiebold [ August 24th, 2016, 11:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Camsell River Info?

JMC and others who have done this route from Great Slave to Great Bear,

How did you find it? I would love to look over the log information you said you have jmc. Thanks!


Author:  jmc [ September 4th, 2016, 12:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Camsell River Info?

Lindsay -

Sorry for the delayed response, I must have missed this somehow.
The Marian - Camsell route between Great Slave and Great Bear is a traditional route of long standing. There is a lot of good information on it at this site, published by the museum in Yellowknife:

The section of the route from Behchoko (formerly Rae) and Gameti (on Rae Lakes)I paddled long ago (1981) and I don't have my log for this section in electronic form. In summary, it was about 225 km, and took 9 days of travel, 2 of which were shortened somewhat by wind issues. We made 29 portages, all short, on this section, and found good trails in most places. I think trails improved after that - as the school trips from Rae started using the river - but were then affected by the fires a couple of years ago. However, I know people who have followed the route successfully since the fires, and there are a couple of parties who were doing the route this summer, so more up to date information should be available shortly.

Basically, the Marian is a small river - particularly north of the Emile and LaMarte junctions - with frequent but short portages. Near Marian Lake the river flows through a marshy area; the terrain becomes rockier and the lakes larger as you head north.

After portaging from the west side of Mazenod Lake into Sarah Lake - the headwaters of the Camsell - it is all downhill to Great Bear. This section of the route is predominantly big lake paddling with only occasional portaging, and you can make very good time if the wind cooperates.

You could follow the Camsell all the way to Great Bear, but this is not the most direct or the traditional (Idaa) route. That route avoids the section of the river flowing out of Hardisty Lake to Isabella Lake, and goes from the west side of Hardisty through Lac Malfait and Beaverlodge Lake to reach Hottah Lake.

It is also possible (and perhaps quicker) to go directly from Rae Lakes to Taka Lake by portage, and then from Taka to Seguin by a portage route. Both of these options are probably more direct than following the river.

I think the total Great Slave to Great Bear route is likely just under 500 km, with around 40 portages, depending on the exact route chosen north of Gameti. It is a well established route and generally easy going, with the frequent short portages on the Marian and the possibility of wind on the Camsell's big lakes being the main issues. Three weeks should take you comfortably to Great Bear, and it could be done in less time if the wind cooperated.

I hope this gives you something to think about. If your plans become a bit more definite, let me know, and I can provide some more details and contact information for others who have traveled the route recently.


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