Last update: July 2, 2022.
Table of Contents:
- Why Paddle the Bloodvein?
- The Bloodvein: A Canadian Heritage River
- Pimachiowin Aki – a U.N. World Heritage Site
- A River Rich With Ojibwe Pictograph Sites
- Hap Wilson’s essential guidebook – the Bloodvein chapter ($24.50 Cdn)
- Natural Resources Canada archived 1:50000 topo maps (free)
- Topo Maps Canada – iOS app (free)
- NRC Toporama – seamless and up-to-date maps (free)
- Garmin’s Topo Canada map set ($130. U.S.!)
- official WCPP map (Chrismar) $17. Cdn
- Paddle Planner
- 1. Starting From The Red Lake Town Dock
- 2. Starting From The Black Bear Lodge
- 3. A Shuttle On The Pine Ridge Road To Lund Lake
- 4. A Shuttle On The Suffel Road To Johnson Lake
- 5. Boat Shuttle To Trout Bay – Portage to Douglas Lake
- 6. Flying To Knox Lake
- 7. Flying In From Bissett, Manitoba
- Part One: The Bloodvein Headwaters – 7 Days in Woodland Caribou Park
- Part Two: The Bloodvein River & Atikaki Park – 10 Days from Artery Lake to Lake Winnipeg
Why The Bloodvein?
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.
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 lots of opportunities to pull out the DSLR and get yet more shots of rapids and other stunning scenery as the water tumbled down through various chutes and rock combinations.
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. Just below the bridge, fresh and ugly graffiti spoiled a small pictograph site we paddled by. By October of 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.
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 article– UNESCO 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 map of the proposed site. 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.
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.
A River Rich With Ojibwe Pictograph Sites:
The cultural aspect of Canada’s newest World Heritage site is definitely bolstered by its significance as a river with a number of pictograph sites. There are at least a dozen different sites with Anishinaabe-inspired rock paintings that provide entry points to their traditional culture from two or three hundred years ago.
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.
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.
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, take a close look at the map to see how various parts of the route were affected by the fire. 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.
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.
Click on Retrieve Map and change the parameters to suit. You can choose a specific year and month, as well as 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.
Mapping The Route:
- Hap Wilson’s essential guidebook – the Bloodvein chapter ($24.50 Cdn)
- Natural Resources Canada archived 1:50000 topo maps (free)
- Topo Maps Canada – iOS app (free)
- NRC Toporama – seamless and up-to-date maps (free)
- Garmin’s Topo Canada map set ($130. U.S.!)
- official WCPP map (Chrismar) $17. Cdn
- 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
The 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. Included on the maps are 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 1980’s 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 both 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 also 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 –
- 052 N 04 Red Lake
- 052 M 01 (Pipestone Bay);
- 052 L 16 (Medicine Stone Lake);
- 052 M 02 (Murdock Lake);
- 052 M 07 (Sabourin Lake);
- 052 M 06 (Artery Lake);
- 052 M 12 (Sasaginnigak Lake);
- 062 P 09 (Minago Lake);
- 062 P 08 (Shallow Lake);
- 062 P 10 (Pine Dock);
- 062 P 15 (Princess Harbour).
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
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 map 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 of 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 a couple of their other maps – the Temagami 1 and the Missinaibi 1 – and both are very well done. These both include campsite locations and the Missinaibi one provides pictograph locations as well.
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.
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 which will make 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.
Campsite Locations in WCPP:
There is a somewhat useful 1:319,410 map of the park put out by Ontario Parks (click here) which indicates 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 has dozens of Bloodvein campsites indicated. Once you leave WCPP and hit the Manitoba section of the river campsites are plentiful and mostly stupendous.
The Paddle Planner website mentioned above has many campsites indicated.
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!
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.
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 south shore of the lake 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 it would be more fun to spend the two days in the park 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!
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 which 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 The Suffel Road To Johnson Lake:
A vehicle shuttle from Red Lake townsite on the 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.
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 – the chance to see the only recorded pictograph site on Red Lake itself.
[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!
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 thought of it as the “admission fee” that 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. You would thus avoid the worst of the portaging altogether and you would have two 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, let’s say, $250. or $300.) from the ride in the Beaver to Knox Lake 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 in 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.”
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!) there is a ferry that 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.
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. The thing I realized one day was that I was not buying a seat on the plane – I was renting the whole plane and not just one way but both!
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 the Carlson’s Viking Air landing dock. All in all, pretty painless and as the VISA commercial says – “Priceless!”
Obviously, if you live in Winnipeg or anywhere nearby, your trip may well 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. In fact, 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.
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.
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]
Unmentioned so far is the need for fishing permits. Given that we are just not into fishing, I really 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.
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 and specific maps on portages and such. The pictures should give you a good idea of the changing look of the river and what specific sets of rapids look like.