The Slave River is the original Gateway to the North. You can travel it by boat or canoe from Fort Smith to Fort Resolution then on to Great Slave Lake and access to the McKenzie River.The Slave River is not only a big part of the Fort Smith landscape but also a big part of the town’s history and lifestyle. The Dene and Metis hunted and fished on the streams and smaller rivers flowing into the Slave. Fur traders paddled the river and portaged their canoes down the east side to avoid the four sets of rapids between present-day Fort Fitzgerald and Fort Smith.
In the summer, the Slave River becomes a playground for boaters, picnickers, kayakers, and canoeists. Sections of smooth Canadian Shield granite form ledges in the Slave River at Mountain Portage and the area is affectionately known as “The Playground”. Similar ledges can aslo be found at Pelican rapids. Each ledge has its own play spots that come and go as water levels change.
The rapids between Fort Fitzgerald and Fort Smith amount to 25 kilometres of whitewater adventure. Traveling the route is an amazing experience for seasoned kayakers. Visiting whitewater paddlers should contact local paddlers for guidance before venturing onto the Slave River. There are different routes from Fort Fitzgerald to Fort Smith and many of them are not safe for the inexpereinced – Class VI rapids abound. Stop by the Visitors Centre or Wood Buffalo National Park and the Slave River Paddlefest websites for information on incredible kayak and canoe paddling routes for all skill levels.
There are four sets of rapids on the Slave River that some of the best kayakers from around the world come to experience. The first set of rapids, Cassette, is the closest to Fort Fitzgerald. The second set, Pelican, is located near Halfway House Meadows, halfway along the ancient portage route. The Mountain Rapids follow and are the best point to see remains of the old portage system.
The fourth set of rapids are called the Rapids of the Drowned and are the closest set to Fort Smith. These rapids got their morbid name in 1788 after a tragic turn of events. A guide leading two boats of men along the Slave River decided to try paddling through the channel of rapids with one boat of men. If the way was safe, he was to fire his musket as a signal to the group of men waiting above the rapids in the second boat. He and his crew barely survived, but before he could warn his waiting comrades, another paddler in his boat fired at a duck. Mistaking the shot for the signal, the five men waiting took to the water and drowned trying to follow the scouting party.
Fort Smith is an ideal access point to the largest wilderness left in North America: the storied Arctic Barren Lands, or mainland tundra, of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Canoeists from all over North America and Europe come to Fort Smith to paddle the Barren Lands on some of the most remote and wild rivers on the planet.
Between the treeline and Fort Smith lies the largest boreal forest wilderness in Canada. The forest is dotted with thousands of unnamed lakes and coursed by major rivers, like the Taltson, Snowdrift, Tazin, and Thoa rivers. These rivers and their legendary tundra counterparts to the north -- the Thelon, Back, and Dubawnt -- are all accessible by float plane from Fort Smith. They offer the adventurous canoeist unparalleled opportunities to see extraordinary wildlife roam the Barren Lands: massive caribou herds, muskoxen, wolves, and grizzlies.
Whether your canoeing party requires a flight of 50 km or 1,000 km, Fort Smith air charter operators can provide float plane access to any location in this great wilderness. Businesses in the community provide canoe rentals, outfitting services, and guided canoe trips on the remote Arctic tundra. Much closer to Fort Smith, and accessible by road, are one-day and multi-day canoe trips on other rivers. Routes on the Slave River and rivers within Wood Buffalo National Park can be done by paddlers of all skill levels.
Slave River Paddlefest
Paddlefest is a week-long event celebrating the Slave River and all those who paddle it. It takes place in early August when the water is warm and the waves are exciting. There are clinics, river trips, races, and competitions for paddlers of all skill levels. There are also "Learn to Kayak" clinics and games for kids, youth, and adults. On land, there are guided "Meet the River" hikes and a community feast. Want to experience the whitewater thrill but don’t quite have the skills to match? Try "Introduction to Awesome" and run through the rapids with an expert in a duo kayak or raft. Check out the Slave River Paddlefest for all the latest information!
The Fort Smith Paddling Club will have important links and up to date contact information for paddlers visiting the community, or for more information watch the Community Calendar for upcoming events.