Guide to Waterways In and Around Wood Buffalo National Park

Slave River

Fort Smith to Fort Resolution on Great Slave Lake

Duration of Tour: 6-8 days
Total Distance: 280 km
  1. Overall River - Grade I
  2. Skill of Paddler - Novice Open Canadian
Start: At Fort Smith below the Rapids of the Drowned, locally referred to as the boat launch. Fort Smith can be reached via Highway #5.
Finish: Fort Resolution. Highway #6 connects with Hay River and via Highway #5 to Fort Smith. A scheduled air service connects Resolution with Hay River and Yellowknife. There is also a bus service connection to Hay River.
Access Points: Bell Rock, 13 km downstream from Fort Smith.
Salt River settlement, 16 km downstream from Bell rock. There is a campsite here run by the Métis nation from Fort Smith.
Maps Required: N.T.S. 1:250,000 scale 75 D Fort Smith
85 A Little Buffalo
85 H Fort Resolution

Canadian Hydrographic Chart

  • Chart 6302 Fort Smith to Great Slave Lake

Downstream of Fort Smith, the Slave River meanders on a winding 280 km course to its delta and Fort Resolution. The river has an average width of one kilometre and flows between sand or mud banks timbered with spruce, poplar and willow. The river becomes much shallower at the delta, a 56 km wide fan of many channels, islands and sand bars.

Thirteen kilometres downstream from the put-in is Bell Rock, the end of the original portage for the river barges after they were hauled by truck through town. Northern Transportation Company Limited had their base here for barges coming up the Athabasca River from Waterways, Alberta, heading for the Mackenzie River and Arctic Ocean. Barge traffic stopped coming through here after a railway was built to Hay River and all freight was channeled through the Great Slave Lake port.

The settlement of Salt River 16 km downstream from Bell Rock is one of the oldest Métis settlements in the North. There is a campsite here run by Métis from Fort Smith. The Salt River is a good canoeing river for a side trip, but only during the high water periods of early June. After that it becomes too shallow to navigate.

For the next 176 km the river winds in oxbows through the range of the Hook Lake bison herd. Hook Lake itself is an oxbow lake (Little Buffalo River topographic map 85 A).

The Slave River is dotted with sandbars and islands as it meanders to Great Slave Lake. The meanders become more pronounced as the river enters the Slave Delta, a 56-km wide fan of many channel islands, and sandbars.

The shortest route for canoeists from the Slave to Fort Resolution is to leave the river on the Fort
Resolution Delta Channel. When the delta splits, take the Old Steamboat Channel and when that divides take the Sawmill Channel. Sawmill Channel is joined by the Nagle Channel that empties over a gravel bar into Nagle Bay on Great Slave Lake.

It's about a 15 km paddle across Nagle Bay and around the point to Fort Resolution. Boaters should be cautioned to check the lake water before leaving the delta. Great Slave Lake is a large lake so wind generated waves can make it too rough for canoes and small boats.

Note : Break-up on the Slave River happens about mid May and freeze-up occurs in early November. Water levels peak in early July.

Source : Travel Arctic publication - Slave River , 1979.

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