Guide to Waterways In and Around Wood Buffalo National Park

General Information


The most popular scale for maps is 1:250,000. This scale gives good detail on large rivers. The 1:50,000 scale map is useful for particular sections of a river where you need more detail. They are impractical for a long river trip due to cost and bulk

Topographical maps can be obtained from:


Map Connection Distributors
100-400 5th Ave. SW
Calgary, AB
T2P 0L6
ph. 403-266-2241
fax 403-266-2356

Northwest Territories

Tgit Geomatics
P.O Box 244
#101, 5016 - 50th Ave.
Yellowknife, NT
X1A 2N2
ph. 867-873-8439
fax 867-873-8439

Alberta Provincial Access Maps are also available through the above Distribution Centre or from:

Hydrographic Chart Distribution Office
Department of Fisheries and Oceans
1675 Russell Road
Box 8080
Ottawa, Ontario
K1G 3H6

A publication entitled Maps and Wilderness Canoeing is available through the Canada Map Office. It includes an index to the 1:250,000 topographical map series of Canada plus useful information on map usage (specify MCR 107 when ordering).


A backcountry use permit is required for any overnight stay in Wood Buffalo National Park. This can be obtained from the Visitor Reception Centres in Fort Smith or Fort Chipewyan. A fee will be charged. If you will not be passing through either centre before beginning your trip, a permit may be issued by mail or fax. If this is the case, please mail or fax the following information well in advance: names, addresses, and emergency contact names and numbers for all paddlers, trip dates and itinerary, vehicle make and licence (if applicable), colour of canoe(s), colour of tent(s), any special medical conditions. Your co-operation in this is required - it will help ensure your safety. YOU MUST CHECK IN AT THE PARK OFFICE UPON YOUR RETURN. A search will be initiated if you have not checked in by your indicated return date. Cost recovery may apply to any search and rescue services.


Fishing is generally poor in Wood Buffalo National Park. The shallow, muddy lakes are not good habitat for fish and many of the deeper karst lakes, which are fed from groundwater springs, do not have the inflow or outflow channels which fish need for spawning. Whitefish, pike, walleye and goldeye are found in moderate numbers in the large rivers of the park. National park fishing licences (annual or daily) can be purchased at the Visitor Reception Centre in Fort Smith or Fort Chipewyan. Once purchased, they are valid in any Canadian national park for the specified period. The fishing season in Wood Buffalo National Park is from Victoria Day to Oct.15. If fishing outside of the park, territorial or provincial licences will be required.

Motorized Boats

Motorized boats are allowed on the following rivers in Wood Buffalo National Park: Slave, Peace, Embarras, Athabasca, Rivière des Rochers and Quatre Fourches. Motorized boats are not permitted on Lakes Claire or Mamawi except with park use permits or licensed park guides. Contact either Visitor Reception Centre for more information. Please be aware that the availability of guides may vary from year to year.

Drinking Water

The water from the rivers in the park and area is very silty, and should be filtered and boiled before drinking. You should try to bring as much of a water supply as you can.

The following classification is from Canoe Alberta, A Guide To Alberta's Rivers 1978, which is no longer in print.

Class 0: Beginner Knows all the basic strokes and can competently handle the boat of his/her choice in smooth water.
Class 1: Novice Open Canadian - Can effectively use all the basic canoe strokes from bow and stern of an open Canadian canoe. Knows the basics of reading water and can negotiate Class I rapids with assurance. White Water - Can effectively use all the basic strokes in a kayak, or single canoe or from the bow or stern of a double canoe. Knows the basics of reading water and can negotiate Class II rapids with assurance.
Class 2: Intermediate Open Canadian - Can line canoe around rapids; can ferry, set and carry out eddy turns in smooth flowing water and can give assistance to swamped paddlers. Can negotiate Class II rapids with assurance.
White Water - Can negotiate fast, turbulent water that requires complex sequential manoeuvring - ferries, sets, and eddy turns, can give assistance to swamped paddlers. Is skillful in both bow and stern of double canoe, or single canoe or kayak, in Class III to IV rapids.
Class 3: Advanced Open Canadian - Can negotiate fast, turbulent water that requires complex sequential maneuvering - ferries, sets, and eddy turns. Is skillful in both bow and stern of open Canadian canoe, in Class III rapids. White Water - Has proven ability to run Class V rapids in both bow and stern of double canoe, and in a single canoe or kayak.
Grade I Passages clear except for artificial difficulties (eg. bridge piers) and minor obstructions (eg. sandbars)
Grade II Most passages clear, fairly frequent rapids.
Grade III Rapids numerous, approaches upper limits of navigability for open Canadian canoes.
Grade IV Long extended stretches of difficult rapids. Previous experience of the stretch necessary or guided by leader with previous experience.
Grade V Almost continuous violent rapids requiring frequent inspection. River channels extremely obstructed, ledges; violent and fast current, abrupt corners. Inspection essential but difficult. All open canoes must portage.
Grade VI Nearly impossible and very dangerous. Difficulties of Grade and Class V carried to extremes. Only negotiable at favorable water levels with definite risk to life. All open canoes must portage.
Class I - (easy) Small and regular, easily navigated passages.
Class II - (medium difficult) Regular, medium-sized waves, low ledges, sweepers and log jams may be present, passages clear though narrow and require competent manoeuvring.
Class III - (difficult) Waves high, powerful, irregular, exposed rocks; strong eddies. Prior inspection required. Upper limit of navigability for open Canadian canoes. Intermediate open and novice whitewater classes of paddlers should portage.
Class IV - (very difficult) Waves high, powerful and irregular; dangerous exposed rocks; boiling eddies; ledges, passages difficult to reconnoitre. Powerful and precise manoeuvring required. Inspection essential. All open canoes should portage.

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