Canadian Heritage Rivers System

Rivers are central to our nation's past. To ensure they are part of our future, federal, provincial and territorial governments established the Canadian Heritage Rivers System in 1984. As of 2020, 40 rivers across the country are included in the system. Four of them are right here in Manitoba: the Bloodvein River, Seal River, Hayes River and Red River. Three of those rivers, the Bloodvein, Hayes, and Seal, are known internationally for the wilderness paddling opportunities they offer. Below is information on Manitoba's Canadian Heritage Rivers, including paddling route details (where applicable), accessibility, and the topographical maps you'll need for a successful trip.

Hayes River - Hairy Lake

For more information visit Canadian Heritage Rivers System.

For route resource information and other helpful details provided by paddlers about canoeing in Manitoba, visit the Manitoba routes and Discussion Forum and Resources pages at Canadian Canoe Routes.

Another recommended resource is the book "Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba – Journey by Canoe Through the Land Where the Spirit Lives" by Hap Wilson and Stephanie Aykroyd (Boston Mills Press, Erin, 2nd Edition 2004). This book provides descriptions of many of Manitoba's wilderness rivers, including detailed information on individual sets of rapids and how best to navigate them.

If you have recently paddled the Bloodvein River, Hayes River or Seal River, please visit our Canoeing web page to complete a survey on your trip.

General Wilderness Canoeing Information

When visiting any rivers in Manitoba, please remember to "leave no trace" and carry out everything you carry in (for more information visit www.leavenotrace.ca). Note that backcountry and wilderness paddling is not recommended for inexperienced solo canoeists. All groups should include a knowledgeable and experienced backcountry or wilderness leader. Paddlers should plan their trip in advance and share their trip plan with someone not going on the trip. It is also advisable to inform the local RCMP of wilderness canoe trip plans. Canoeists are advised to check the forest fire status of the area they are travelling to before leaving on a trip (please visit Manitoba Wildfire Program or contact the municipality). It is also important to bring a GPS tracking device, satellite phone and/or another reliable communication method that can be used in the event of an emergency.

In Manitoba parks, backcountry and wilderness campers may not occupy the same site for more than three consecutive days and groups of 10 or more must apply for a Special Event permit from the local park district office. District office locations and phone numbers can be obtained from Manitoba Conservation and Climate by calling 204-945-6784 or 1-800-214-6497.

Red River

The Red River of Manitoba is the only major river on the Canadian prairies which flows in a northerly direction. From its headwaters at Lake Traverse in South Dakota, it flows for more than 500 kilometres across the remnant lakebed of the former Glacial Lake Agassiz and some of the flattest and most productive agricultural areas in the world. Entering Canada at the 49th parallel, its waters flow north for 175 kilometres before entering Lake Winnipeg.

The Red River is well known for the pivotal role it played in shaping and defining the history, culture and economic development of Western Canada. For thousands of years, Indigenous Peoples traveled the Red River and its tributaries, and subsequently so did voyageurs, explorers, fur traders, immigrants and tourists. At the Forks, where the muddy waters of the Red are joined by those of the Assiniboine River, Indigenous Peoples made their camps, voyageurs traded furs, pioneers tilled the soil, and a capital city and regional metropolis arose from the surrounding productive prairie farmlands.

The Manitoba government and Rivers West-Red River Corridor Association Inc. worked in partnership to achieve Heritage River designation for the Red in 2007. Rivers West-Red River Corridor Association dissolved in 2017 but was a not-for-profit organization mandated to develop and implement a long-term tourism and conservation strategy focusing on the development, promotion and management of the natural, tourism, cultural/heritage and recreational resources of Manitoba's Red River.

The river is highly accessible at various points along the corridor via numerous provincial, municipal and civic roadways, riverside trails, boat launches, park lands, and provincial and federal heritage sites.

Explore the Red River Story Map

Download the Red River Management Plan

Download the 2017 Red River 10 Year Monitoring Report

Bloodvein

The Bloodvein River corridor forms an integral part of the Pimachiowin Aki UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site is celebrated as a living cultural landscape where Anishinaabe communities have carried out the cultural tradition of Ji-ganawendamang Gidakiiminaan, or “keeping the land” for thousands of years. Today, the Bloodvein River is the traditional territory of Bloodvein River First Nation, Little Grand Rapids First Nation, Pikangikum First Nation and Lac Seul First Nation (west to east).

From the Manitoba/Ontario boundary, this rugged, whitewater river flows through Atikaki Provincial Park, over 200 km/124.3 mi. to Lake Winnipeg. Cut deep within the granite of the Canadian Shield, the path of the Bloodvein has remained virtually unchanged since the retreat of the last glaciers, 11,000 years ago. Wilderness travellers from around the globe gravitate to the Bloodvein and Atikaki Provincial Park for whitewater rafting, canoeing and kayaking, superb angling, and abundant wildlife viewing opportunities. The 200-kilometre reach of the Bloodvein River, from the Ontario border to its junction with the Leyond River, was nominated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System in 1984 and then designated in 1987 as Manitoba's first Canadian Heritage River. In 1998, the Ontario section of the Bloodvein River from its headwaters to the Manitoba border was also designated. Manitoba and Ontario are committed to working together to manage the river.

Explore the Bloodvein River Story Map

Download the Bloodvein River Management Plan

Download the 2007 Bloodvein River 20-Year Monitoring Report

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Paddling and Trip Details

The Bloodvein River can be enjoyed by paddlers with a wide range of skill sets and experience. However, novice paddlers should be aware of the risks involved due to the presence of several large and unpredictable rapids and falls along the river, and should travel with a more experienced partner or guide.

The Bloodvein usually provides excellent canoeing from June to freeze-up, and may be travelled in late May if one is prepared for the high water volumes during spring run-off. Most paddlers travel the river heading downstream toward Lake Winnipeg, but the "pool-and-drop" nature of the river makes it possible to paddle upstream as well. In addition to the Bloodvein's own 306-kilometres of challenging whitewater canoeing, hundreds of kilometres of high quality, interconnecting routes also join the corridor, the best being the Gammon, Leyond and Sasaginnigak rivers.

There are over 100 sets of rapids and falls along the Bloodvein downstream of the Manitoba/Ontario border, many of them runnable, and more than 70 portages. Most portages are well marked, and nearly all are easy to traverse, averaging only 200 to 300 metres. Plan for 12 to 14 days to paddle down the Bloodvein from Artery Lake at the Manitoba border to the community of Bloodvein on Lake Winnipeg (225 km). Add an additional four to seven days if your trip starts at Red Lake in Ontario.

There are over 30 campsites between Artery Lake and Lake Winnipeg, although no campsite infrastructure or site markers are provided. In general, when choosing a campsite along the Bloodvein, look for a site that denotes previous usage. The natural landscape should not be altered (clearing brush, etc.) to accommodate camping. Note that open fires are prohibited and the use of portable camp stoves is recommended.

Access - How to Get There and Back

By road: In 2014 P.R. 304 was extended north to Bloodvein River First Nation up the east side of Lake Winnipeg (and has since been completed north to the community of Berens River). This all-season road includes a bridge crossing over the Bloodvein River a short distance south of Bloodvein River First Nation. The drive from Winnipeg to Bloodvein River First Nation is roughly 4.5 hours. A parking and boat launching area off the main road near the Long Body Creek Crossing has been developed and paddlers are encouraged to use this access to embark/disembark should they wish to begin or end their journey at the west end of the river. Most likely this would involve either a drop-off or pick-up by air at the east end of the route. Road access to the head waters of the Bloodvein River itself is not currently possible. However, it is possible to follow Ontario Highway 105 to Red Lake, within a few kilometres of the river's headwaters, or Manitoba P.R. 304 to "the end of the road" at Wallace Lake on the southeast edge of the Atikaki wilderness. Both routes put a traveller within a few days' paddle of the Bloodvein along a variety of routes. From Wallace Lake, the common route is via the Gammon River, which involves some lengthy portages in between Siderock Lake and Obukowin Lake. Red Lake and Wallace Lake are both quite far from the mouth of the river on Lake Winnipeg so choosing either option usually requires quite a long car shuttle. There are several companies that offer a vehicle shuttle service either to Wallace Lake or the Bloodvein crossing, and some have options for an air drop off and shuttle car pick up.

By air: The Bloodvein River may be reached by air via a one hour float plane trip from Winnipeg or Kenora. Float plane service is also available from Bissett. Landing sites along the river are numerous, with common starting points being Paishk and Sabourin lakes in Ontario, and Artery, Sasaginnigak and Kautunigun lakes in Manitoba, as well as the Gammon River system to the south. A Special Management Zone has been identified along the Bloodvein River corridor in Manitoba, within which aircraft landings and take-offs are not permitted from June 1 to September 15 except for emergencies, park management and uses associated with wild rice operations (the above-mentioned lakes are not included in this zone).

To find information on companies that offer air charter services in Manitoba, visit Travel Manitoba's Airlines.

Accommodation and Services

There are many local and international canoe outfitting companies that offer accommodation, outfitting services, and short or extended canoe trips on the Bloodvein River. Trips can be arranged through commercial outfitting services based out of Winnipeg, Red Lake, Kenora and Thunder Bay, as well as elsewhere in Canada and beyond.

Maps

Paddlers are advised to use topographical and/or navigational maps when making wilderness canoe trips. The topographical maps that cover the Bloodvein River and some surrounding routes include:

  • 1:250,000 scale – 52M (Carroll Lake) and 62P (Hecla)
  • 1:50,000 scale - 52M/1,2,3,5,6,7,8,12; 62P/8,9,10,15

Topographical maps are available for purchase from Canada Map Sales, 1007 Century Street, Winnipeg, MB. Visit canadamapsales.com, phone 1-877-627-7226, or e-mail mapsales@gov.mb.ca.

Hayes River

The Hayes River is one of the most natural, scenic and unaltered waterways in Manitoba. The river has provided transportation, livelihoods, and resources to Ininiwak / Cree people for thousands of years. Now part of Treaty 5 territory, the river corridor continues to be home to Ininiw communities including Norway House, Bunibonibee, Manto Sipi, Shamattawa, Fox Lake and York Factory.

In 2006, the Hayes River was designated a Canadian Heritage River in recognition of its outstanding heritage and recreational values. The designation includes the entire 480 km stretch of the Hayes northeast of Lake Winnipeg to Hudson Bay as well as a 43 km section of the Nelson River north from the community of Norway House and the 67 km Echimamish River connecting the Nelson and the Hayes Rivers.  

Explore the Hayes River Story Map

Download the Hayes River Management Plan

Download the 2016 Hayes River 10 Year Monitoring Report

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Paddling and Trip Details

True to historical travel, the Hayes River can be paddled either downstream or upstream, from early June through September. A trip travelling the full downstream route begins at Norway House and ends at York Factory on Hudson Bay, which is approximately 600 km in total. Paddlers can also start their trip at Oxford House, for a 380-kilometre trip. Norway House to Oxford House takes approximately eight to 10 days to paddle, and Oxford House to York Factory takes 14 to 18 days.

However, paddlers must be aware that paddling the full route starting on the Nelson River and ending on the Hayes carries a risk of spreading zebra mussels from the Nelson to the Hayes. Zebra mussels are small, clam-like organisms that are a huge threat to Manitoba's waterways. This aquatic invasive species (AIS) can cause many problems, including threatening fish and wildlife, clogging drinking water infrastructure and watercraft engines, and fouling beaches and shorelines. In August 2019, zebra mussel veligers (microscopic larvae) were detected for the first time in Playgreen Lake and in the Nelson River. As a result, there is a concern that paddlers may inadvertently cause the spread of zebra mussels into the Hayes River when moving canoes or kayaks and water-related equipment (e.g., paddles, ropes, etc.) from the Nelson River to the Hayes via the Echimamish River over Painted Stone Portage.

In order to reduce the risk of spreading zebra mussels and other AIS such as Spiny Waterflea, paddlers must follow the Manitoba government’s AIS Regulation under The Water Protection Act. In addition, the Nelson River and all tributaries of the Nelson River (e.g., Echimamish River) until the first impassible barrier are part of an AIS Control Zone. This means that when a watercraft, including a canoe, exits the Nelson River Control Zone, the boater must do the following before leaving the shore of the water body:

  • remove AIS and aquatic plants (e.g., “weeds” and algae) from watercraft and water-related equipment
  • drain all water from the watercraft and water-related equipment
  • open drain plugs/valves and leave them open while transporting watercraft over land
  • dispose of all bait (e.g., live or dead)

In addition to the above and before launching into another water body, the watercraft and water-related equipment must also be decontaminated and then dried completely. To self-decontaminate your watercraft and water-related equipment, you must follow Approved Decontamination Methods. These methods require the use of extremely hot, low pressure water to kill zebra mussels and any other AIS. More details on how to decontaminate can be found here. As well, the AIS Open-water Season checklist is a step-by-step resource that can help you comply with the Manitoba government’s AIS Regulation.

There are over 90 undesignated campsites along the route and approximately 45 sets of rapids and falls, many of which are runnable by experienced whitewater canoeists. There are also 27 portages, some of which are pullovers or can be lined. The portages around the larger sets of rapids have fair to good trails. The Robinson Portage is the longest, at 1 km. Canoeists should be very experienced and have whitewater paddling skills, as well as lining, safety and rescue skills. Paddlers should also be aware of the possibility of encountering polar bears on the northern reaches of the Hayes and in the York Factory area. Note that camping is not permitted at York Factory National Historic Site.

Access - How to Get There and Back

By road or rail: It is possible to reach the Hayes River route by vehicle by driving on P.R. 373 to Norway House from either Thompson (about a five hour drive) or Winnipeg (about a 10 hour drive). Alternatively, it is possible to stop about 40 km short of Norway House at the ferry crossing on the Nelson River at Sea River Falls, and begin the trip there. Depending on schedules, it may be possible to leave your vehicle in Wabowden and take the bus from there to Sea River Falls. The ferry across the Nelson River runs daily and is operated by Manitoba Infrastructure (MI). MI ferry schedules are available online at https://www.gov.mb.ca/mit/namo/schedule.html.

VIA Rail provides scheduled train service between Winnipeg, Thompson and Gillam. Contact VIA Rail for schedule information at 1-888-842-7245. Another option for transportation between Winnipeg and Thompson is the bus.

By air: To begin the trip, charter flights and/or scheduled flights are available from Thompson or Winnipeg to Norway House or Oxford House.

Access to the downstream end of the route at York Factory is by air charter only. Pickup arrangements should be made in advance of a trip down the river. Gillam is the nearest road accessible community to which it is possible to arrange charter flights from York Factory. After flying to Gillam you can then travel by train to Thompson. Alternatively, it is possible to arrange a float plane pickup at York Factory to fly you all the way to Thompson. Paddling the coast from York Factory up the Nelson River to Gillam is not recommended, as the Nelson is a big and sometimes dangerous river, with unpredictable fluctuations in water levels due to water releases from the several large hydroelectric dams located on the river.

To find information on companies that offer air charter services in Manitoba, visit Travel Manitoba's Airlines page.

Hayes_Near_Painted_Stone

Accommodation and Services

Norway House and Oxford House are the only two communities directly on the Hayes River route. Norway House has a full range of services and accommodations while Oxford House has more limited services. Knee Lake Lodge (www.northstarresort.ca) is also located mid-way down the river.

Maps

Paddlers are advised to use topographical and/or navigational maps when making wilderness canoe trips. The topographical maps that cover the Hayes River route include:

  • 1:250,000 scale – 63H (Norway House), 63I (Cross Lake), 53L (Oxford House), 53M (Knee Lake), 53N (Gods River), 54C (Hayes River), 54F (York Factory)
  • 1:50,000 scale – 63H/13; 631/4,5,6,7,8,9; 53L/12,13,14,15; 53M/1,2,8; 53N/5,11,12,14; 54C/3,6,7,10,15,16; 54F/1

Topographical maps are available for purchase from Canada Map Sales, 1007 Century Street, Winnipeg, MB. Visit canadamapsales.com, phone 1-877-627-7226, or e-mail mapsales@gov.mb.ca.

Seal River

Two hundred and sixty kilometres (161.6 mi.) upstream from Hudson Bay, "marine" harbour seals play and feed in Shethanei Lake, where the river named for them begins. Three thousand beluga whales summer in the river's estuary. Polar bears, wolverines, and golden and bald eagles live along the banks. In winter, the Qamanirjuaq caribou herd roams the eskers of the Seal River valley. Only a few recreational canoeists venture down this wilderness river, which flows through traditional lands of the Dene and coastal areas historically visited by Inuit families, each year. For those who make this trip of a lifetime, the Seal River fulfills expectations. The Seal River was designated a Canadian Heritage River in 1992.

Explore the Seal River Story Map

Download the Seal River Management Plan.

Download the 2014 Seal River 20-Year Monitoring Report

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Paddling and Trip Details

The Seal River should be paddled by advanced whitewater canoeists between late June and early September. The river is almost completely undeveloped and very isolated, with long sets of difficult rapids. A common route followed by paddlers begins in the Sayisi Dene First Nation community of Tadoule Lake, and then ends at the river's estuary on Hudson Bay. This trip is 315 km and takes from 18 to 21 days. For those wishing to extend their trip by 200 km or more, it is possible to start further upstream, landing by float plane on any of the numerous lakes along the North and South Seal rivers or in the Nueltin Lake system, or by beginning the journey at the road accessible community of South Indian Lake. Other options, for a shorter trip, are to fly in to Shethanei Lake or to the east or west ends of Great Island.

There are approximately 35 undesignated campsites along the river, although closer to Hudson Bay the only campsites to be found are poorly drained on densely-willowed river banks. All 42 sets of rapids on the river are runnable by experienced whitewater paddlers. As such, there are not any established portages, although lining or portaging along the shore is possible for some of the more difficult sets. Spray decks are highly recommended. Travellers are strongly advised to make detailed plans for their trip. Hazards along the Seal River are plentiful. The river is fast, shallow and ice-cold and paddlers can encounter dangerous waves and heavy winds on Shethanei Lake. Capsizing and hypothermia are very real possibilities. Rapids are often long, shallow and boulder-strewn. Travel on the estuary and Hudson Bay requires prior knowledge of tide charts and healthy respect for unpredictable weather, ice, and polar bears. It is possible to encounter polar bears a few days in advance of reaching the estuary so canoeists should be prepared and pack appropriately.

Access – How to Get There and Back

The Seal River is only accessible by air, with the closest permanent road passing 275km to the southwest. Usually canoeists fly into Tadoule Lake from Winnipeg via Thompson. Flying via Flin Flon, Lynn Lake or Churchill is also possible. Transportation by rail between Winnipeg and Churchill, Thompson or Gillam, followed by a flight to the trip's starting point, is another option. Contact VIA Rail for schedule information at 1-888-842-7245.

The trip down the Seal River ends with a pick-up by plane or by boat from the Seal River estuary. While motorized rafters may be able to travel the 45 km over the treacherous shoals and open water of Hudson Bay to Churchill, canoeists and kayakers cannot do so safely. Pickup can be arranged through outfitters in Churchill. Arrangements should be made in advance of a trip down the river.

To find information on companies that offer air charter services in Manitoba, visit Travel Manitoba's Airlines.

seal 3

Accommodation and Services

There are no accommodations or visitor services along the Seal. Sayisi Dene First Nation has a landing strip, nursing station and grocery store at Tadoule Lake but no other services. Churchill and Thompson are the primary service centres with support facilities and accommodation. Outfitters and guides may be arranged from Flin Flon, Lynn Lake, The Pas and Winnipeg. Lodges near the Seal River estuary include the Seal River Heritage Lodge and Dymond Lake Eco-Lodge (www.churchillwild.com).

Maps

Paddlers are advised to use topographical and/or navigational maps when making wilderness canoe trips. The topographical maps that cover the Seal River include:

  • 1:250,000 scale –54L (Churchill), 54M (Caribou River), 64I (Shethanei Lake) and 64J (Tadoule Lake)
  • 1:50,000 scale – 54L/13,14; 54M/2,3,4; 64I/13,14,15,16; 64J/9,10,16

Topographical maps are available for purchase from Canada Map Sales, 1007 Century Street, Winnipeg, MB. Visit canadamapsales.com, phone 1-877-627-7226, or email mapsales@gov.mb.ca.