Guide to Waterways In and Around Wood Buffalo National Park

Peace River: Fort Vermilion to Peace Point

Duration of Tour: 6-8 days
Total Distance: 307 km
Average Gradient: 0.2 m per km
Classification: 1. Overall River - Grade II
2. Rapids - Class I-VI
3. Skill of Paddler - Intermediate Open Canadian
Start: Boat Launch at Fort Vermilion
Finish: Peace Point, Wood Buffalo National Park.
Access Points:
  1. Kilometre 74 Adam's Landing on the left bank, immediately downstream of Jean D'Or Prairie Indian Reserve.
  2. Kilometre 102 Community of Fox Lake, on the right bank, but no road access.
Maps Required: N.T.S. 1:250,000 scale 84 K Mount Watt
84 J Vermilion Chutes
84 I Lake Claire
84 P Peace Point
N.T.S. 1:50,000 scale 84 J/7 for Vermilion Chutes and Falls
84 P/2 for Boyer Rapids
Provincial Access Maps 84 N/K
84 O/J
84 P/I

Canadian Hydrographic Chart

  • Chart 6322 Peace River-Jackfish River to Vermilion Falls (scale 1:63,360)
  • Chart 6321 Peace River-Lake Athabasca and Slave River to Jackfish River (scale 1:63,360)

As this reach is extremely remote, the trip should be carefully planned, with equipment being tested prior to departure.

Downstream of Fort Vermilion, the Peace River flows in a broad, flat valley. Good campsites, although not as frequent as on the upper reach, are to be found along the sandy beaches. Generally the scenery is rather uniform — extremely wide river, low terrain and long seemingly never-ending bends. However, the Vermilion Chutes and Falls, and the Boyer Rapid reach are spectacular.

The first major landmark is the confluence of the Wabasca River, on the right at km 58 . Two and one-half kilometres downstream of the Wabasca confluence is Donnelly Island. This gives the first advance warning of the approach of the Vermilion Chutes and Falls, which lie 20 km downstream. Stay between Donnelly Island and the right bank of the river from here to the rapids. Further warning is given by Adam's Landing on the left bank.

From Adam's Landing a track leads north through the Jean D'Or Indian Reserve to Highway No. 58. Next appear a string of mid-stream islands, starting 10 km above the chutes. Avoid staying north of these islands because their lower end is dangerously close to the northern end of the chutes. At the first sound of the chutes, which can be heard about 2 km upstream, pull into the south (right) bank.

As one approaches a group of old cabins on the right bank, huge boulders stretching across the river at the head of the chutes will be clearly visible. These rapids angle across the river, with the lower end on the right. The portage trail begins approximately 135m above the white water. The trail angles up to a road cut which runs for about 8 km alongside the river. In the clearing at the junction is an old trapper's cabin.

The selection of a route by-passing the chutes will be largely dependent upon the water-level. An 8 km portage trail follows the right bank around both the chutes and the falls. At extremely high water the current becomes very strong, standing waves submerge all but the largest boulders and the lower levels of the river bank are flooded. The chutes would become a Class V-VI rapid and the long portage would be necessary. At low to medium water level, it is possible to partially run and line the chutes. However, some skillful manoeuvring is necessary together with scrambling over log jams along the shore. At medium water they are considered Class II-III. At low water the chutes on the right are probably a Class IV rapid requiring precise manoeuvring to navigate the few open channels winding through a maze of huge boulders. At any water level, the falls must be portaged!

Vermilion Falls are caused by the river falling over a series of limestone ledges. At low water, the falls are 4-5m high but at high water their height is greatly reduced. The falls are not continuous across the river, but are interrupted by higher portions showing above the water. The N.T.S. 1:250,000 map is misleading regarding the length of the falls. The N.T.S. 1:50,000 map which shows a much shorter set is more accurate.

At high water, the longer portage trail high above the river should be used to skirt the falls. This was the Canoe Alberta crew's experience at medium flow. "After our usual scouting session, we paddled along the right shore to the log jam near the top of the falls. At this point, we lined around the logs and hauled our boats upon the rock shelf about three metres upstream of the first ledge."

The 69m portage around the falls is very easy going at medium water level, for there is lots of room to walk on the rock shelves along the shore. There are two put in points; immediately below the last ledge and about 183m further downstream. In the latter case, there are a couple of small chasms to be crossed so the crew decided to put in right below the falls.

Below the falls, the Peace River reverts to its former characteristics — slow-moving, averaging 1.6 km wide with very low banks, and the occasional sandy beach for a campsite. At kilometre 102 is the isolated community of Fox Lake where limited supplies may be purchased.

Downstream of Garden River, the N.T.S. maps show interesting remnants of old abandoned meanders, but in such low terrain, they are not visible from the river. At kilometre 288 , the river begins to flow through a gypsum formation of high white cliffs, and on the next right-hand bend are the Boyer (Bouillé) Rapids. Their boulders and standing waves may be easily avoided by staying to the left side of the river, adjacent to an island, or by hugging the inside of the corner. Thirteen kilometres downstream on the left (north) band is Peace Point. A loose-surfaced road goes north from Peace Point via Pine Lake to Fort Smith, N.W.T., where it connects with N.W.T. Highway No. 5 to Hay River and the Mackenzie Highway.

Note : For information beyond Peace Point, see Slave River Report.
Source : Canoe Alberta, A Guide to Alberta's Rivers 1978, which is no longer in print.

Table of contents