Canoeing The Bloodvein River System – Intro, Maps, Planning and Access

Last update: July 2, 2022.

Table of Contents:

A Decade of Wildfires in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park

Mapping The Route- Essential Sources:

  1. Hap Wilson’s essential guidebook – the Bloodvein chapter ($24.50 Cdn)
  2. Natural Resources Canada archived 1:50000 topo maps (free)
  3. Topo Maps Canada – iOS app (free)
  4. NRC Toporama – seamless and up-to-date maps (free)
  5. Garmin’s Topo Canada map set ($130. U.S.!)
  6. official WCPP map (Chrismar) $17. Cdn
  7. Paddle Planner

Access Points – Choosing A Starting Point

 Getting Back To Red Lake At the End of the Trip:

Park Regulations and Permits

Outfitters in the Red Lake Area:  

Day-By-Day Trip Journal – Maps, Rapids and Portages, Campsite Info,  Pix


Why The Bloodvein?

Atikaki & Woodland Caribou Provincial Parks

Atikaki & Woodland Caribou Provincial Parks

From its headwaters just west of Red Lake, Ontario, the Bloodvein River flows westward for 340 kilometers before emptying into Lake Winnipeg.  The first 120 kilometers are within the boundaries of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park and flatwater paddling dominates. This changes dramatically after Artery Lake with the Manitoba section of the river. Some eighty sets of rapids – many can be run by those with the right skill set – await canoe trippers as they enter Atikaki Provincial Park and embrace the last two hundred-plus kilometers to Bloodvein Village at the river’s mouth. Having just completed a seventeen-day trip down the river, my brother and I are of one mind about the Bloodvein: it is the most beautiful river we have ever paddled.

Rapids on the Bloodvein - called %22X-Rock%22 by Wilson:Aykroyd

Rapids on the Bloodvein – called “X-Rock”  by Wilson/Aykroyd

We are certainly not the first to rave effusively about the river’s natural beauty and seeming magic. Google “Bloodvein canoe trip” and you come up with all sorts of very positive reviews by various canoe trippers – always expressing amazement at the pristine wilderness feel of the river.

  • Some paddle the whole river from top to bottom;
  • some paddle the WCPP headwaters section;
  • others paddle down to Lake Winnipeg from Artery Lake.

There are many possibilities – none bad! And the thing is – you do not have to be an Olympic-class river runner to do it.

Hap Wilson, your best guide to the river,  gives it an “experienced novice” rating with the proviso that all rapids from CII technical upwards are portaged. Given that my brother and I  were travelling on our own in our 42-lb.  Swift Dumoine Kevlar Fusion, this is mostly what we did, and the portaging after Knox Lake was no big deal.

In fact, it provided me with many opportunities to pull out the DSLR and get more shots of rapids and other stunning scenery as the water tumbled down through various chutes and rock combinations.

the river view from Day 10 campsite

the river view from Day 10 campsite

While the local Anishinaabe (that is, Ojibwe)  have lived on and with the river for at least the last three hundred years,  the fact is that other rivers to the north or south were more convenient for the fur traders, whether they were coming from Montreal or from a post on Hudson Bay.  Thus the Bloodvein system remained relatively untouched – and unspoiled. Logging and mining also seem to have passed the area by. Like other great canoeing rivers of the Canadian Shield country – the Missinaibi and the Kopka come to mind –  it flows freely along its entire length with no communities along its shores except for the Ojibwe community at its mouth.

Admittedly, you can see change coming. We paddled under the new bridge some 10 kilometers east of the village. Fresh and ugly graffiti below the bridge spoiled a small pictograph site we paddled by. By October 2014, the road will open and connect the east side of Lake Winnipeg from Bloodvein Village to Highway 304 in the south. However, even with development near the mouth of the river, the top 95% will hopefully be spared the worst of what we know can happen.


The Bloodvein: A Canadian Heritage River

In 1984 the two senior levels of government in Canada established the Canadian Heritage Rivers System. To date, some 42 rivers have received the “heritage river” designation.  The CHRS website sums up its mandate this way – “…to conserve rivers with outstanding natural, cultural and recreational heritage,  to give them national recognition, and to encourage the public to enjoy and  appreciate them.” The Bloodvein is one of these rivers, having joined the list in 1987.


Pimachiowin Aki – a U.N. World Heritage Site

It is pronounced Pim MATCH – o win – a KEH.

 Pimachiowin Aki Map

2014 Pimachiowin Aki Map  – note that Pikangikum First Nation (5)  withdrew its participation

More recently, the Governments of Manitoba and Ontario, along with some First Nations leaders in the lands east of Lake Winnipeg,  pursued a bid to have a vast area comprising the two adjoining provincial parks as well as other lands, recognized as a United Nations World Heritage site.

In 2013 an expected decision on the application was postponed by the UNESCO committee meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  However, bid organizers were optimistic that Pimachiowin Aki (as the overall site is known) would soon receive its UN designation.

A June 2014 Winnipeg Free Press article updated the situation by a year. In mid-2016, the withdrawal of support for the project by Pikangikum First Nation in Ontario derailed the application. (See this CBC articleUNESCO Bid Suffers Major Blow.   Apparently, errors in the report having to do with Pikangikum’s treaty rights were the reason.)

Berens River First Nation and the territory to the east of it were never included in any proposed site map. This  passage from the Wanipigow News Stories at the Manitibo Frontiers School website makes clear why it refused to be a part of the UN heritage Site:

Mary Agnes Welch reported on Berens River Chief Kemp’s determination to stop the UNESCO World Heritage Site that was proposed for the east side, based in part on the claim that a “significant chunk of land claimed by the Poplar River First Nation is, in fact, traditional Berens River land.” Chief Kemp had been at odds for some time with Poplar River First Nation, which favoured the UNESCO designation and opposed the power line that Berens River First Nation supported.

Ray Rabliaukas, Poplar River’s land management coordinator, said that “the band had tried to be sensitive to the traditional lands of its neighbour when drawing up the proposed boundaries of the UNESCO site,” basing its map on the band’s’ traplines and the advice of its elders. Conservation Minister Stan Struthers did not dispute Berens River’s right to object to the resulting map, but hoped that the parties could work it out “either through the east side planning initiative” that involved all 16 east side bands or “directly with the three First Nations (Poplar River, Little Grand Rapids, and Pauingassi) that backed the UNESCO bid.

Chief Kemp believed that the UNESCO designation would scuttle the construction of the Hydro power line and the all-weather road that would accompany it, thereby stopping “development on the east side” for years to come, a fear that the government confirmed in September 2007, when it “announced it was building a new line on the west side of the province, in part to preserve the integrity of the boreal forest on the east.” Kemp was unconvinced by the government’s claim that ecotourism would develop after a UNESCO designation. As proof, he points to Atikaki Provincial Park, a protected area on the east side for years that had brought few hikers or paddlers to the region. From Chief Kemp’s perspective, the government proposal was “a complete disaster for the east side.” (Source: here)

Pimachiowin Aki: 2005 Original and 2018 Final.

2005 version of Pimachiowin Aki

2005 – the original version of Pimachiowin Aki

June 2018 Pimachiowin Aki Map – see here for map source

Globe & Mail Headline

Update: The bid by the provincial governments and the various First Nations communities involved was finally accepted.  The World Heritage Committee backed off on what had apparently been the bid’s sticking point – i.e. the recognition of what the bid claimed was its outstanding cultural quality as well as its natural one. Pimachiowin Aki joins a very short list (37 of a total of 1100+) of such dual-quality World Heritage sites. The official write-up is available on the UNESCO website.

The  Globe & Mail article and a Winnipeg Free Press article provide more detail.


A River Rich With Ojibwe Pictograph Sites:

shaman panel with buffalo panel

The Artery Lake Pictograph Site

The cultural aspect of Canada’s newest World Heritage site is bolstered by its significance as a river with several pictograph sites. At least a dozen sites with Anishinaabe-inspired rock paintings provide entry points to their traditional pre-Contact culture from three or four hundred years ago.

the pictograph site east of Larus Lake

While many of the pictographs have faded beyond any hope of being “read”, there is still enough there to make you forget that you’re on a canoe trip as you sit like a pilgrim in front of the ochre images painted by the shamans of old.

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A Decade of Wildfires in WCPP: 

In mid-August of 2021, we were on the western edge of Wabakimi Park (the Ogoki headwaters near Savant Lake). The smell of smoke and the sight of falling ash prompted us to contact our outfitter for information about nearby wildfires.  We found out that  Quetico Park, some 275 kilometers to the southwest, had just closed because of the wildfire situation. It may have been the source of what we were seeing and smelling.

WCPP and Quetico wildfire perimeters – August 15, 2021

Meanwhile, Woodland Caribou Provincial Park was also experiencing an extreme wildfire season.  Given the relative sizes of the Quetico and Woodland Caribou fires, it is even more likely that the wind was blowing the ash and smoke from there.

WCPP is a 450,000 hectare (1.2 million acres) wilderness area that has seen some massive wildfires over the past decade.   Our trip down the Bloodvein came three years after the 2011 fire in the Murdock-Larus area, and as we paddled through, new growth was already evident. In 2016  some 74,000 hectares of the park were lost to fire.  2018 was another bad year with similar losses.

However, the summer of 2021 was by far the worst.  The WCPP fire – labelled Kenora 51 – moved from

  • 32,000 hectares on July 8 to
  • 136,000 on July 20 to
  • 200,000 hectares on August 31!

That is about 45% of the park’s total area! [1000 hectares = approx. 4 square miles]

The map below shows the extent of 2021’s Kenora 51 fire. (See here for the Ontario Parks source.) I have also roughly drawn in our Bloodvein route across the park. It goes from Red Lake’s Trout Bay to Artery Lake on the Manitoba border.

In planning your Bloodvein River trip, look closely at the map to see how the fire affected various parts of the route. Certain campsites will no longer exist or be safe.


Recommended to get a more detailed look at how Bloodvein portages and campsites were impacted by the last few seasons of wildfires is PaddlePlanner’s WCPP Atitkaki map.


Also, check out explo8ion’s post for more on what paddling there in 2022 will be like.  He concludes his piece – W.C.P.P. Wildfire Impacts – with this –

For now, my suggestion if you’re an experienced wilderness tripper is to go enjoy a (hopefully) quiet park! Sharpen your axes and saws because you’re gonna need ’em. 😉 If you are a novice wilderness canoeist I strongly suggest you choose another area for now. At the very least wait until mid-2022 or even 2023 when some recent conditions reports should start trickling out to the general public. WCPP isn’t going anywhere. The burnt trees will eventually fall over and new growth will thrive. Portage trails will start to stay cleared and will once again be pleasant hikes through the Boreal. Nothing is forever, including the charred landscape that is ripe for regrowth.

Atitkaki Provincial Park:

Once you slip down into Lower Artery Lake, you are in Manitoba’s Atikaki Park. This Fire Map provides info on 2022 fires. However, the archived fire maps folder does not include one for 2021.

The deep red area that the Bloodvein passes through in the final stretch to Lake Winnipeg was a 110,000-hectare fire (EA145) that was first detected in mid-July.

The Bloodvein – from Artery Lake to Lake Winnipeg in August 2021


A Natural Resources Canada web page has wildfire information from the year 2000 to the present. See the link below for the situation on August 15, 2021.

NRC 2021 Wildfire Perimeter

Click on Retrieve Map and change the parameters to suit. You can choose a specific year and month and a particular overlay.


This CBC article from 2018 –   “Forest fires in northern Ontario provincial park essential to ecosystem, official says”in discussing a 28,000-hectare burn does point out the positive (and necessary) aspect of wildfires.  However, when you are dealing with 45% of the entire park, something is clearly out of whack! The park official says- “We’re just allowing what mother nature wants to see on the landscape” – but this is not the same Mother Nature of pre-climate change.

Going forward, it looks like

  • greater awareness of recent burns on our planned route and
  • an emergency plan (including a device like the Garmin inReach) if we find ourselves close to a current fire

will become a part of the preparation for paddle time in the boreal forests of the Canadian Shield.

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Mapping The Route:

  1. Hap Wilson’s essential guidebook – the Bloodvein chapter ($24.50 Cdn)
  2. Natural Resources Canada archived 1:50000 topo maps (free)
  3. Topo Maps Canada – iOS app (free)
  4. NRC Toporama – seamless and up-to-date maps (free)
  5. Garmin’s Topo Canada map set ($130. U.S.!)
  6. official WCPP map (Chrismar) $17. Cdn
  7. Paddle Planner website


In our case, the route was pretty simple to figure out.  We had twenty-one days set aside to spend with the Bloodvein. (Four of those would be travel days to get from southern Ontario to Red Lake and back.)  We also knew we wanted to do the entire river from top to bottom. Others may have less time or want to focus on the WCPP – or the Atikaki – section of the river.

Hap Wilson’s Guide-Book

Wilson coverThe obvious starting point for anyone planning a Bloodvein canoe trip is the following guidebook: Hap Wilson and Stephanie Aykroyd. Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba: Journey By Canoe Through Land Where The Spirit Lives. Boston Mills Press, 2003. Based on the notes and drawings from a few thousand kilometers of rivers paddled in the early-to-mid-1990s, this book by Hap Wilson and Stephanie Aykroyd makes the very notion of doing another trip report on the Bloodvein seem pretty pointless.  In the book’s Preface, Wilson says this of Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba – 

“(It) is not a ‘how-to’ book, although we have included chapters that briefly cover worthy areas of interest…Instead, this is a book of maps. Over 300 hand-drawn and labelled maps to be more specific.”

What is remarkable – and very positive –  is how little has changed in the twenty years since the book was first published. The text and the maps dealing with all 89 of the rapids (from Class I to Class V) will still be your best guide to the challenges of the river and a ready source of excellent advice on how to meet them.  The maps include the general locations of campsites and pictograph sites, as well as other points of interest.


The Federal Government’s Natural Resources Canada Topos:

While I am old enough to remember paying something like $2.75 a sheet for the Federal Government’s Natural Resources Canada  1:50,000 topos for our early 1980s Missinaibi trips, those days are long gone. The last time I bought a topo was in 2010 for our first Wabakimi trip, and it was $15. a sheet for Tyvek; we could easily have spent $150. on maps for our Bloodvein route. We didn’t! While my brother and I bring our Garmin GPS units (and the installed Topo Canada v.4 map set) along, we still like to work from a set of paper maps in the canoe and keep a spare set in the dry bag.

We now create our own maps using two government websites where the map material is available at no charge. (That is, no charge for something for which CDN taxpayers have been paying for years!) The first is a site that has all the 1:50000 topos available. All you need to know is the map’s identifying number. The maps you would need to paddle from the Red Lake town dock to the headwaters of the Bloodvein near Pipestone Bay to Artery Lake and then downriver to Lake Winnipeg are the following –

Clicking on the above map titles will take you to the government’s Natural Resources Canada website.  The downloadable files are in TIF format; you can convert them to jpg or pdf if you prefer.


Topo Maps Canada – iOS App 

If you have an Apple ios device, you can download David Crawshay’s Topo Maps Canada App onto your iPad or iPhone and then download any 1:50,000 map you want. The app is free, as are the topographic map downloads!  (The app makes use of the very same Federal Gov’t. Natural Resources Canada  1:50,000 topos as those listed above.)  Click here to access the app at Apple’s App Store.


Toporama – the NRC Digital Map Site

toporama header

The third Government of Canada map source is the Atlas of Canada’s Toporama site which can be accessed here.  One nice feature of the Toporama site is the ability to zoom in to a 1:15,000 scale for a real close-up. The mapping is also seamless.  Yet another positive is that unlike the archived topos mentioned above, the Toporama site had the most up-to-date maps and provides more customizable information and features than a simple map.  See the menu below for some of what is available.


Garmin’s Topo Canada Map Set:

As already mentioned, on my Garmin Oregon 450 is the Topo Canada v.4 map set, which makes for a good companion to the above two sources. There is nothing like a GPS reading to resolve that feeling of total confusion that will invariably occur sometime during the trip!

Note: the stand-alone price of this map set is a mind-boggling $189. Cdn in 2020! There are much cheaper alternatives these days. The most obvious one is your smartphone with its GPS capability and the iOS Topo Canada or Gaia GPS app installed. The one disadvantage of using a smartphone as a GPS unit is the battery power it will go through. However, if used sparingly in conjunction with the photocopies of the topo and Wilson maps, it will do the job just fine.


Other Map Sources: 

Official Park Map:

In 2014 we bought an official paper copy of the Woodland Caribou Provincial Park Map for $15. The key information provided was portage location and length.  We found this information to be fairly accurate. The map also indicates access points.  Missing from the woodlandcariboumapmap were campsite locations and pictograph locations. Here is the official park explanation for not providing the campsite information.

This map has since been replaced by a Chrismar Adventure Map.  The first edition of their Woodland Caribou Provincial Park and Area map was published in January 2014.  Like the old WCPP Planning map, it costs $15. Printed on tear-resistant plastic, the map’s scale is 1:110,000.  I  have three of their other maps – the Temagami 1 & 4 and the Missinaibi 1 – and they are very well done.  These include campsite locations, and the Missinaibi one also provides pictograph locations.

Unfortunately, their WCPP map, while it provides portage info,  does not include campsite or pictograph locations.   It may be the logical extension of the lack of campsite markers in the park itself.  The apparent aim is to maintain a “true wilderness feel”  and seeing campsite markers would presumably compromise that.


Paddle Planner

The Paddle Planner website has an interactive planning map for what it names Manitoba- Ontario Wilderness Area.  It includes WCPP and Atikaki Park and makes use of the Chrismar data and the Ontario Parks campsites map for some of their info. Their interactive WCPP map has campsite and portage information, making your planning easier.  The cost of membership ranges from free to $100. a year. (See here for more.) Click on the link below to see the map.

Paddle Planner Bloodvein Map

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Campsite Locations in WCPP:

A somewhat useful 1:319,410 map of the park was put out by Ontario Parks (click here), indicating a couple of hundred campsites! An older and complete version from 2012 can be accessed here.  Below is the Bloodvein slice that takes you from Larus  Lake to Artery Lake.


Checking with the WCPP manager or with your outfitter before the trip has been the recommended way of getting established campsite locations down on your map. Given their familiarity with the park, they can point you to the locations of stupendous as opposed to mediocre campsites.  However, it is certainly more convenient to have that information before you even get to Red Lake so you can better plan your route.

The Hap Wilson book Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba mentioned above indicates dozens of Bloodvein campsites. Once you leave WCPP and hit the Manitoba section, the river campsites are plentiful and mostly stupendous.

The Paddle Planner website mentioned above has many campsites indicated.


Pictograph Locations:

Bloodvein Pictograph Site about 1.7 km up from Stonehouse Lake

For Bloodvein pictograph locations, the Hap Wilson guidebook provides the general location of over a dozen of them. So do the maps in my various posts.  It would be a shame to paddle down the Bloodvein for over two weeks and not even know that you are paddling on the other side of the river from an Ojibwa rock painting site.

Knowing they are there and also knowing where to find them puts you face-to-face with something that makes the Bloodvein trip even more special. It is what made the UN Heritage site application a success!

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Access Points – Choosing A Starting Point

This Parks Ontario map (2017 version) shows the access points and a few of the many possible canoe routes in Woodland Caribou Park.

access points and canoe routes published in 2018

For Bloodvein River canoe trippers whose aim is to do the entire length of the river,  the town of Red Lake and the various access points at the west end of the lake itself make for obvious access points.

1. Starting From The Red Lake Town Dock:

You could just start off from the Red Lake town dock and spend a day and a half or two paddling thirty kilometers along the lake’s south shore until you get to one of the usual access points – either Pipestone Bay or Trout Bay.

Given the potential for some pretty choppy water if the wind is right – and it often is when you’re paddling west! – the thought of starting off your canoe trip with this can be intimidating. Yes, it would be cheap!  However, you have to believe that spending the two days in the park would be more fun instead of getting there on big Red Lake!

2. Starting From The Black Bear Lodge:

The Wilson/Aykroyd trip down the Bloodvein begins at the Black Bear Lodge on the south side of Red Lake, not far from Pipestone Bay. Leaving your vehicle(s) at the Lodge you would paddle to the west end of Pipestone Bay. And then the portaging to Knox Lake begins!  Seven portages totalling 4900 meters will get you to the start of the last and longest one, the 1600-meter portage into Knox Lake itself.

Wilson has them all indicated in his guidebook. This is probably the second cheapest option. The crucial assumption here is that the trails will be walkable. Harlan Schwartz at the now-closed Red Lake Outfitters did not recommend this access route, given recent fires in the area and the amount of uncleared deadfall. Given that you are at your heaviest on Day One of the trip,  it would take a couple of days of slogging to get to Knox Lake.

So – on to Option #3!

two Hooligan packs, two duffels - and one canoe

two Hooligan packs, two duffels – and one canoe

3. A Shuttle On The Pine Ridge Road To Lund Lake:

The Pine Ridge Road access route requires a shuttle and eliminates some of the portaging involved in #2 by use of a road that runs north and west of Red Lake to Lund Lake.  What this does is knock off the first three portages (and about 3000 meters)  from the workload. One party of three canoes we later met on the river had come in this way.  All you can say is that it is less work than the first option. They didn’t comment on the gravel road condition.

4. A Shuttle On Suffel Road To Johnson Lake:

access points - west end of Red lake

access points – west end of Red Lake

A vehicle shuttle from Red Lake townsite on Suffel Lake Road, which runs on the south side of the lake, will get you to Johnson Lake. [See Goldseekers Outfitting for the shuttle – $135. in 2020.]   600 meters worth of portaging and a bit of paddling, and you find yourself on Douglas Lake to the south of the Carlsons’ Viking Island Lodge. Now you’ve got a couple of days of paddling west and north – first to  Indian House Lake and then, after a few more portages, the take-out point for that carry into Knox Lake.  Total portage distance – about 3800 meters to the start of the last and longest carry – the one into Knox Lake.

Knox Lake portage - the first stretch

Knox Lake portage – the first 400 meters of mud

5. Boat Shuttle To Trout Bay – Portage to Douglas Lake

Note: no longer an option given licencing and safety issues

A post (New Access Point/Option For Woodland Caribou) at the Canadian Canoe Routes forum by Harlan Schwartz of Red Lake Outfitters (now defunct) alerted us to another possibility – and the one we ended up choosing. Harlan provided a forty-five-minute boat shuttle to the west end of Red Lake – specifically to the start of the 800-meter portage trail from Trout Bay into Douglas Lake.

It was probably no faster than Option #4 but probably a bit more enjoyable, given that we were on the water instead of the gravel road.  A bonus for us is the chance to see Red Lake’s only recorded pictograph site.

[Note: 2020 Update –   We did this boat shuttle in 2014 with Red Lake Outfitters. As of September 2019, Red Lake Outfitters is no more. Chukuni Outdoor Supply, also of Red Lake, bought the outdoor gear part of the business.

Goldseekers Canoe Outfitting is now the go-to source for outfitting in Red Lake. It is run by Albert Rogalinski, who has been at it for almost 30 years; in the mid-2010s, he did step aside for a while to tend to family matters, so for a while, RLO was the primary outfitter.

The boat shuttle approach did not last very long! It ran into some legal issues and is no longer an option. The Goldseekers Canoe Outfitters webpage explains it this way:

At Goldseekers we no longer offer water shuttles because of Transport Canada Regulations surrounding the transportation of paying passengers on a boat that does not meet Transport Canada Passenger Vessel Safety Regulation standards and the operation of a boat carrying paying passengers by an unlicensed captain.  We are able to put you just as far if not further into the park for far less expense using our ground shuttle service.   See here for the Goldseekers web page source.

Had we taken option #4 – the ride to Johnson Lake – it would have cost us half as much! At the time, seeing that admittedly very humble pictograph site on Red Lake on the way to Trout Bay convinced me to hop on that boat you see immediately below!

Red lake dock at 7:30 a.m.

Red Lake’s town dock at 7:30 a.m.

It took us two days to paddle from the put-in on Douglas Lake to the take-out for the portage into Knox Lake, having portaged a total of about 4000 meters to get there.  On Day 3, sometime before noon after the final 1500-meter carry, we were in Knox Lake and knew that the worst of it was done.  We had done two-thirds of the trip’s portaging in the first two and a half days!   We considered it the “admission fee” one pays to enter the Bloodvein. The fact that not everyone would be willing to pay the price makes being there even more special!

6.  Flying Into Knox Lake:

Something you might consider, if all of the above sounds a bit too painful or time-consuming,  is being dropped off by a bush plane on Knox Lake.  Thus, you would avoid the worst of the portaging altogether and have two extra days to spend downriver.  Viking Outpost Air’s  2018 cost is $745. for a de Havilland Beaver to drop off a canoe and two passengers. A tempting proposition at $373. a person!

(See the Viking Outposts web page here for a 2022 quote.)  Deducting the cost of some other form of a shuttle  (which costs, say, $250. or $300.) from the Beaver to Knox Lake ride would make it seem even cheaper! How’s that for rationalizing it!

What does seem to be more common for folks not focussed on a down-the-Bloodvein route is a flight into Artery Lake and then a paddle back towards Red Lake with a vehicle shuttle at the end. Kevin Callan did such a route on his first visit to WCPP and introduces it here.  You can catch episode 1 of his 10-part video on the trip by clicking on Youtube.

7. Flying In From Bissett, Manitoba

An option that does not involve getting to Red Lake that would be very attractive to paddlers in Winnipeg and west (or south in Minnesota or Wisconsin) would be this –  drive up to Bluewater Aviation in Bissett (on Highway 304 east of Manigotagan)  and get flown to Artery Lake, Sabourin Lake, Knox Lake or some other starting point.  The one complication here is that Bluewater only has an Otter available, so the cost will be prohibitive if there are only one or two people to split it.   At the end of the trip, Bluewater can arrange to have your vehicle(s) waiting at Bloodvein Village, thanks to the now-open road that goes up to the community from Highway 304.  The shuttle fee for 2015 is $400. for the first vehicle and $100. for each additional one.

8. Yet more possibilities!

I am sure they are out there!  How much time you have, how much of the Bloodvein you want to paddle,  and how willing you are to part with a bit of cash for a bush plane drop-in or pick-up will determine the choice you make. As the saying of the decade has it – “It’s all good.”

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 Getting Back To Red Lake At the End of the Trip:

If you’re going to do the Bloodvein from top to bottom, you have a problem on your hands! Sitting by the ferry dock in Bloodvein Village, you are a long way from Red Lake and your vehicle!  One solution that people have used in the past was to have someone shuttle the vehicle to the Islandview ferry terminal at the end of PR234 to the north of Pine Dock. At least once a day (weather permitting!) a ferry crosses from Bloodvein to Islandview. Apparently, the vehicle shuttle from Red Lake to Islandview costs something in the order of $1000.

There is a new option thanks to the opening of the all-weather road from Highway 304 up to Bloodvein First Nation.  You can now drive up the east side of Lake Winnipeg to Bloodvein Village – so it will be possible to have your vehicle shuttled to the bridge crossing the Bloodvein some 10 kilometers east of the village – or perhaps right to the village itself.  The cost would be similar to the shuttle to Islandview.

If you chose Bissett – and a bush plane drop-in from Bluewater Aviation –  as your way to the start, then getting your vehicle to the endpoint would be much less complicated. Some canoe trippers have already made use of their shuttle service from Bissett and paddled to their vehicle in a secure parking lot at the Nurses’ Station in Bloodvein Village.

at the Carlson dock in Red Lake

at the Carlson dock in Red Lake

We chose the most expensive but for us the fastest option.  We ended up flying back to the town of Red Lake via a Viking Outposts Beaver.  It landed in front of Bloodvein Village about three hours after we ended our trip at the Bloodvein Village ferry ramp. It was only the third time – twice in the past two summers – we have made use of air service as a part of our canoe trips.

Somehow the notion that bush plane drop-ins or pick-ups are wildly extravagant has faded from my mind as I have grown older and face fewer and fewer potential canoe trips. I realized one day that I was not buying a seat on the plane – I was renting the whole plane and not just one way but both!

de Havilland Beaver serial plate

Okay, so the ride back cost $1995.+ HST – but we got to experience a ride in a classic piece of Canadiana – the de Havilland Beaver – and we got to fly over the river we had come to know over the past seventeen days.  Less than two hours later, we were in Red Lake, strapping our canoe to the top of our vehicle, which Harlan Schwartz of Red Lake Outfitters had just parked by Carlson’s Viking Air landing dock. All in all, pretty painless and, as the VISA commercial says – “Priceless!”

Marathon, ON - Lawren Harris Painting redone on the Pizza Hut wall

Marathon, ON – Lawren Harris Painting recreated on the Pizza Hut wall

If you live in Winnipeg or anywhere nearby, your trip may begin with a ride up to Bissett for a flight with Bluewater Aviation to the east end of Atikaki Park or perhaps all the way to Red Lake.  Ifact, if you live anywhere from Thunder Bay west or in nearby Minnesota or Wisconsin,  I envy your proximity to some incredible canoe country – Quetico, Wabakimi, Woodland Caribou, Atikaki. Wow!

Within eight hours, you can be at the start of your canoe trip;  it took us two days and a bit over twenty-two hours to drive up from southern Ontario. The pic above shows us at our overnight stop halfway to Red Lake – in downtown Marathon, Ontario.

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Park Regulations and Permits

Backcountry Camping Fees:

The 2022 Woodland Caribou Provincial Park interior camping fee schedule can be accessed here.  While Ontario residents pay $10.17 a night, non-residents of Canada (85% of those who use the park!) get to pay $14.97.

2022. Ontario residents

2022 non-residents of Canada

Once you enter Manitoba and Atikaki Provincial Park, you’re done with camping fees. Check out this Manitoba Parks write-up of Atikaki, and under the heading “Camping” you read this –

No designated campsites have been developed, and no camping fees are required in the park. Visitors should practise the principles of no trace camping out of consideration for the land and others who follow.  [See here for full document]


Fishing Permits:

Unmentioned so far is the need for fishing permits.  Given that we are not into fishing, I cannot comment on the issue.  I did google my way into a current Ontario government brochure on the topic, but my eyes kinda glazed over as I read it.

If you are big on fishing as a part of your tripping experience,  you can check out the details here! A comment below provides a link to Manitoba regulations and fee structure. Click here to see the document Manitoba Anglers’ Guide 2016.


Outfitters in the Red Lake area:  

As of February 2020, Red Lake Outfitters, the outfitters whose services we used,  is no more.  The store and its contents were purchased by Chukuni Outdoor Supply,  and Red Lake Outfitters now exists only as an outdoor gear retail store.  Richard at Chukuni may be able to provide you with information about gear rental, park permits, air drop-offs or pick-ups, and shuttles.

The remaining Red Lake-area outfitter that older trip reports recommend is Albert Rogalinski’s  Goldseekers Canoe Outfitting.  A Google search will turn up references to his business.   See the following page for some of the many services that  Goldseekers offers to paddlers coming up to Red Lake – all the way from last-minute supplies to gear and canoe rental to air and land shuttles.

Goldseekers Paddlers’ Services

Their website puts it this way –

We are a full service canoe outfitter offering complete or partial outfitting, flight service, ground shuttles, car shuttles -start your trip in Ontario and finish in Manitoba – we will have your car waiting there for you at a date and time you specify. We also offer park permits, maps, route planning, guided flat-water and whitewater expeditions, base camp fishing trips, bed & breakfast service and at the completion of your trip -hot showers.

Sounds like Goldseekers has got it pretty well covered!


Day-By-Day Journal: Maps, Rapids & Portages, Campsites, and Pix

What follows is a day-by-day set of links to our trip down the river. Included are overview maps, specific maps on portages and campsite information.  The pictures should give you a good idea of the changing look of the river and what specific sets of rapids look like.


Part One: The Bloodvein Headwaters & Woodland Caribou Park

Day 1: Trout Bay Portage to Crystal Lake
Day 2: Crystal Lake to the Portage Into Knox Lake
Day 3: Knox Lake to Murdock Lake
Day 4: Murdock Lake To Larus Lake

Anishinaabe Pictograph Sites on the Bloodvein: The Murdock-Larus Site

Day 5: Larus Lake to Barclay Lake

Day 6: Barclay Lake to Artery Lake

Anishinaabe Pictograph Sites of the Bloodvein: The Artery Lake Site


Part Two: The Bloodvein River & Atikaki Park – 10 days from Artery Lake to Lake Winnipeg 

Day 7:  From Artery Lake to “Moosebone” Rapids

Day 8:  From Moosebone Rapids to X-Rock Rapids

Day 9:  From X-Rock to Just Before Goose Rapids

Day 10:  From Goose Rapids to The Bloodvein-Gammon Junction

Day 11:  From The Bloodvein-Gammon Junction to Kautunigan L.

Day 12:  From Kautunigan Lake to Gorge Rapids (W56)

Day 13:  From Gorge Rapids to Sharp Rock Rapids (W73)

Day 14:  From Sharp Rock Rapids to Namay Falls (W80)

Day 15:  From Namay Falls to Lagoon Run” (W86)

Day 16:  From Lagoon Run to Below Kasoos… Rapids (W88)

Day 17: From Kasoos Rapids to Bloodvein First Nation to Red Lake, ON

Atikaki sign on the ON:MB border

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25 Responses to Canoeing The Bloodvein River System – Intro, Maps, Planning and Access

  1. Is it possible to drive to Bloodvein? Google earth shows some roads.

    • true_north says:

      Until recently people would leave their vehicles at Islandview or at Biscuit Harbour/Pie Dock Resort and fly in to the start of their canoe trip. At the end they would take the ferry (it runs daily) from Bloodvein Village to Islandview.

      From what I’ve read the gravel road running up the east side of Lake Winnipeg will be officially open in the fall of 2014. You’re right about the Google map showing the road all the way up from Highway 304 right to Bloodvein Village. The Bloodvein Bridge is 77 km. up this road.

      It looks like the protected river corridor ends with the bridge. The worst graffiti of the entire trip is 100 meters south of the bridge. The messiest campsites are those within 30 kilometers of the mouth of the river.

      With the opening of the road, the approach from the east side of Lake Winnipeg becomes easier. The plan will now involve a put-in by Bluewater Aviation out of Bissett and then a shuttle back at the end of the paddle down the Bloodvein.

      • Anonymous says:

        The East side road will not be paved, it is a maintained gravel road roughly two lanes wide. It will be under construction even after opening to Bloodvein Village in 2015 as they are replacing several bridges along the way, including the one over the Rice River.

      • true_north says:

        Oops, Anon! Not sure why I typed “paved” since, as you point out, it will be “a maintained gravel road”. Thanks for the correction. Hopefully the road will still be fairly free of potholes and ruts; the Bloodvein First Nations will maybe have a contract to keep it in tiptop shape.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Great blog on paddling the Bloodvein. My small crew and I paddled from Artery Lake back through the Chukuni river last summer.

    Looking to do the Atikaki side of the Bloodvein this summer (already in touch with Bluewater). we have 9 days available to us (we land in Winnipeg on day 1 morning and fly out of winnipeg day 9 evening).

    Is that enough time or what would you suggest as a shorter route? start west of Artery or pick up before bloodvein village?


    • true_north says:

      Rob, nine days minus two travel days might not leave enough time! You’ll be inserted at Artery Lake by the end of Day 1 and Day 9 is also a travel day – with fingers crossed that Bluewater will be able to fly on those two days.

      It would be possible do the run from Artery to the Bloodvein bridge in seven days – it is about 200 kilometers. Most people seem to take about ten. We took ten but really didn’t stress ourselves. It would mean total focus on gobbling up kilometers and lucking into a beautiful stretch of weather. You’re cutting it pretty close but since your crew has tripped together before (your last summer’s trip sounds like a good one!), you probably have the experience needed to make it work.

      You could visit the Artery Lake picto site on Day 1 after getting dropped off by Bluewater and then start paddling on the morning of Day 2 in earnest! On the plus side none of the portages are of the “killer” class. We paddled right into Bloodvein village on the last day; it sounds like you can get picked up at the new bridge that crosses the river about ten km. east of the village. It would be a bit nerve wracking to do the shuttle from Bloodvien bridge all the way back to Winnipeg on that last day but if there weren’t any complications you would be back at the airport in time for your evening flight.

      A more leisurely alternative might be to paddle as far as Kautunigan Lake but that is only four or five days from Artery Lake. It sure would leave you guys lots of time for fishing! You might go stir crazy with the unambitious itinerary. The drawback here would be the much pricier cost of bush plane extraction instead of a simple shuttle from the Bloodvein Bridge back to Highway 304.

      Take a closer look at the ten days we spent going down for Artery and see if you can condense it to seven! Good luck to you and your crew as you figure it out!

  3. Max Eh says:

    Being the ‘stern’ paddler in the above adventure it sounds like an ambitious trip. Doable like my bro says but no room for delays. My comments for what they are worth:

    Depends on when you do it and skill level. Each rapid you run is about 30 to 40 minutes worth of paddling time gained. There are a lot of them! Two or three in a day would add about 12 km to a daily average of about 30 km. We tend to travel alone and don’t mind (too much) the walking. Normally you would likely want to get out and at least have have a look to see if a rapid is runnable. For some of the longer ones by the time you do that you could have portaged! Hap Wilson’s info is still the go to source on lines and approaches.

    If you are comfortable with full canoes and Class II then you could certainly eliminate a number of portages as many are ledge type chutes. Time of year and water levels would/should impact your decision to run. High water means more aggressive rapids changing from Class 2 to Class 3+, thus less runnable and more caution required.

    Getting out at the bridge as my bro mentions could save a ½ day. Tight but possible at 30 km/day, no rain days, no problems etc, no sight seeing (sort of) – a very aggressive trip! Do make the time to see the pictographs though. Sounds like a Saturday to the following Sunday trip window. If you decide to do it you certainly will enjoy it – a beautiful river.

    • robmuroff says:

      thanks to both of you for the very detailed responses. I know everyone loves the picto sites but honestly we’ve seen plenty between the 3 trips to WCPP, 2 trips to Quetico and Wabakimi. We’re more interested in great fishing, being together and getting away from hectic Toronto. We definitely don’t mind portaging and frankly are quite good at it.

      Typical past trips see us do on average 20km per day which includes portages – no one wears a watch and as long as there is sunlight we paddle. but we do want some down time so it sounds like we need to get dropped off west of Artery (which lake?) which would buy us a day and picked up (we are flying back to Winnipeg too) close to bloodvein village so we’re not worries about time to drive back to Winnipeg.

      Thanks for the feedback. btw, whats your feedback on Bluewater? They don’t seem like the standard outfitter or are they?

      So what’s your next trip?

      • true_north says:

        Rob, a good lake west of Artery that you could start in would be Bushey Lake. It would knock off a day’s paddle from Artery and would make a great one week canoe trip to Bloodvein Village on Lake Winnipeg. BTW – my distance calculation for Artery Lake to Lake Winnipeg was a bit off – it is more like 250 instead of the 200 I think I mentioned. See my day-by-day posts from Bushey to the end for the actual kilometres.

        Re: Bluewater. I had not even heard of them until a myccr poster mentioned them. I had been going on completely out-of-date info taken from other trip reports that had planes taking off from Matheson Island! Apparently that company hasn’t been there since 2009. I am sure they’ll do a fine job dropping you off and then picking you up. I do know that pilots do not like landing in front of Bloodvein Village because of rocks!

        We are doing a river that would be a perfect length for you guys – it is a one week paddle down the Steel River which is accessed near Terrace Bay on the west shore of Santoy Lake. We plan to slow down a bit and enjoy the scenery. On the way back home to T.O. we plan to visit a couple of lakes in the Gogama area to check out some pictographs.

        Have a good time going down the Bloodvein!

  4. Thank you for the most beautiful photos, useful maps and details of your trip on the Bloodvein.

    I’m a writer and one of my next novels involves canoeing, rapids, disaster and rescue. I’ve done a little canoeing (so I know which end of a paddle to use) on flat water and I was very happy to find your blog, photos and video. It was almost like being there and it will help me write a credible story – I’ll be using fictitious names for the river and rapids but real places description from your blog.

    • true_north says:

      Genevieve, thanks for the “thumbs up”! I may have spent more time on the various posts on the Bloodvein than my brother and I spent actually canoeing it! I do enjoy the writing part afterwards and the opportunity to paddle into great photo ops is a big part of why I love going in the first place.

      Do send me the Amazon – or whatever – link to the novel when it is available. I’d love to see how a novelist makes the river a part of the story.

  5. Hugh Burton says:

    comment on fishing along the way. In ON for Candian residents,seniors 65+ There is no charge for fishing just have your drivers Licence with you. Once in MB there is a charge. No 2107 regs as of march -’17

    • true_north says:

      Hugh, thanks for the info and the useful link. Looks like I would be able to fish for free given my 65+ status! For general info, here is the Manitoba fee structure chart from the pdf file that Hugh’s link will take you to –

      Manitoba 2016 fishing fee schedule

  6. Eric says:

    I went to a wilderness camp 35 years ago where we paddled the Bloodvein. We got dropped of at Trout Lake and paddled to the reservation in 14 days, as 12 year olds. It was aggressive and we did not sightseeing, just paddled every day and camped by the rapids and night and shot rapids for fun and fished for walleye and steelhead after setting up camp. It is an amazing trip with beautiful sights. I went twice in back to back years. We also used to paddle the English River for the age down for 10 and 11 year olds. I miss canoeing those beautiful rivers!

    • true_north says:

      Eric, 12 + 35 = 47. If I have the math right, you’ve still got a canoe trip or twenty in you! If you’re missing the experience of being on those rivers, you really should get back somehow. Paddling for a couple of weeks – or longer – is something that my brother and I try to do each summer. Just being out there – the river and rapids and falls and the endless bush and the occasional animal sighting – I am 66 and figure I can do this for another decade or so. Hopefully longer.

      If you don’t have a canoeing partner, consider an organized group.

      Black Feather runs amazing trips to epic out- of-the-way places.
      Closer to home, Harlan at Red Lake Outiftters organizes guided trips.
      So does Esprit Adventures north of Ottawa –
      Or check out Missinaibi Headwaters Adventures for something in the area we were in this year.

      There are other reputable outfitters that can get you back to those great trips you had as a kid.

      BTW – Those were rugged trips you boys did! We saw just such a crew of six boys with two leaders two weeks ago on big Lake Missinaibi in the rain and admired their resiliency. It makes you feel good about the future when you see kids like that!

      canoe trippers from Minnesota boys camp on Lake Missinaibi

      Good luck picking your next river adventure!

  7. Mary says:

    Thanks! We were talking about doing this trip and you provided very helpful and comprehensive information. We just came back from WCPP and we want to experience more of it!

    • true_north says:

      WCPP is a beautiful slice of the Canadian Shield, eh! A trip down the Bloodvein would be a great way to experience more of WCPP – and also Atikaki P.P. in Manitoba. Perhaps the designation of the area as a UNESCO cultural/natural heritage site will encourage more people to consider it.

  8. Emily Sauvé says:

    Hi True North,

    Fantastic blog, we are off to do the Bloodvein this summer but are waffling a bit about leaving in early or late August. What are your thoughts about the best time of year to do this trip. We will be starting from Red Lake


    • true_north says:

      Em – I’d say that either time would be fine. Your guess on the variables may help you decide. Bugs and fellow canoe tripper traffic will not be reasons to choose one over the other. And the weather – who can say! Enjoy your trip!

  9. Mike says:

    Hi. Great site. I have been trying to find the actual site to print the Canadian topo maps (the original ones from Canada Energy, Mines, and Resources). Thank you for the ones you listed for us to click and download, but I am looking for other maps, as well, and cannot find the source of those maps. Please share the link or web address. Thank you.

Your comments and questions are always appreciated, as are any suggestions on how to make this post more useful to future travellers. Just drop me a line or two!

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