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Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada

Guide to Waterways In and Around Wood Buffalo National Park

Peace and Slave Rivers

Peace Point on the Peace River to Fort Fitzgerald on the Slave River

Duration of Tour: 6-10 days
Total Distance: 224 km
Peace River - 112 km
Slave River - 112 km
Average Gradient: 0.4m per km
Classification:
  1. Overall River - Grade II
  2. Rapids - Class I-III.
    21 km stretch of Class VI rapids below Fort Fitzgerald.
    Do not attempt these rapids.
  3. Skill of Paddler - Intermediate Open Canadian
Start: Peace Point, Wood Buffalo National Park, on the left bank.
Finish: Fort Fitzgerald on the left bank of the river.
Access Points: Kilometre 191 Hay Camp on the left bank of the Slave River opposite Bocquene River.
Maps Required: N.T.S. 1:250,000 scale 84 P Peace Point
74 L Fort Chipewyan
74 M Fitzgerald
84 I Lake Claire
Provincial Access Maps 74 M/L
84 P/I

Canadian Hydrographic Chart

  • Chart 6301 Fort McMurray to Fort Smith (scale 1:31,680)
  • Chart 6321 Peace River-Lake Athabasca and Slave River to Jackfish River (scale 1:63,360)

This tour of the Peace and Slave rivers starts at the white gypsum cliffs of Peace Point Reserve on the Peace River. Between Peace Point and Carlson's Landing, 80 km further downstream, the river flows in huge meanders with long sandbars and islands in the stream.

Sixty-six kilometres downstream from Peace Point, on the right bank, is Sweetgrass Landing. An interesting side-trip can be made from here. Sweetgrass Landing is a human-made clearing on the south bank of the Peace River. Watch for the sign and a steep cut that leads up from the south side of the river — it is easy to miss. At one time there was a small settlement here. Another of the Swanson Lumber Co. mill sites, it encompassed a landing strip, mill dock, church, store, school, dance hall and houses for workers and their families. As many as 15 million board feet of lumber were cut annually. When the mill closed down in the 1970s the company met park requirements for cleaning up the site. Today as you make use of the picnic site, fire pit and outhouse, it is hard to imagine that such a lively community ever existed here.

A side trip into Sweetgrass Station from the Landing is a worthwhile experience. Travel on the Peace River gives only a limited impression of the floodplains. A trip to the Station will take you to the edge of the Peace Athabasca Delta.

You can either hike into the Station along the 12 km dirt road, or portage your canoe down the road for about 4 km and paddle the rest of the way along Sweetgrass Creek. Debris and deadfall on the creek often necessitate a little pushing and pulling. After the exposed expanse of the Peace River, this narrow twisting creek feels secretive and protected. It's a fairly typical ageing delta channel. The forested banks are "levees," built up year-by-year as the creek floods and soil is deposited on its banks. Behind the levees, the land drops gradually down to the flat, treeless wetlands that comprise most of the delta.

Ten kilometres down Sweetgrass Creek, a wide swath cuts through the bush on the left leads up the left bank to Sweetgrass Station. Bison often cross the creek at this point. Follow the trail beyond the levee forest and suddenly the whole world seems to open up. Ahead stretches a green and gold meadow so large that the trees on the other side are barely visible. Scattered groups of bison may be feeding on its luxuriant sedge.

As you become accustomed to the size of things and begin hiking over the meadow, you will discover much more. There are several bald eagle nests, and sandhill cranes nest and feed here. Bison trails worn deep into the ground criss-cross between wallows. Although you may never see a wolf, their tracks and scats indicate that they are present. This meadow is only a tiny section of the Peace Athabasca Delta. Around it in all directions is 3820 square kilometres of similar land and water.

Sweetgrass Station initially consisted of a cluster of buildings which housed crews that worked at the annual round up and vaccination of bison. Most of the buildings have since been removed. There was also an abattoir for processing bison meat. The corrals, just to the north of the buildings, are only a small part of the original fencing system.

Backcountry tenting is allowed in the meadows.

From Sweetgrass Station you could continue down Sweetgrass Creek into Lake Claire and Mamawi, then continue on to Fort Chipewyan. One word of caution about this trip — Lakes Claire and Mamawi are very shallow and can become extremely rough in a matter of minutes. You must follow the shoreline to ensure your safety. It is also very easy to get lost in the maze of channels at the east end of Mamawi Lake.

Now, back to the Peace River.

Eighteen kilometres downstream of Carlson Landing, the river makes a sharp bend around Rocky Point, recognized by a large rock outcrop right at water level on the north shore of the river. Across from Rocky Point there is fast water and eddies. On the right is the entrance to the Chenal des Quatre Fourches. A set of rapids is marked here but they are so small that they are not noticeable. After you round the big meander at Rocky Point, past the rock outcrop, you will notice a group of three cabins on the north bank. Across from them is some fast water and eddies but they shouldn't cause any problem. A certain amount of the Peace River's flow detours via this channel at high water or when the lower stretches are ice-jammed in spring. This water then flows across the Peace-Athabasca Delta to Lake Athabasca.

Seven kilometres downstream of Chenal des Quatre Fourches on the north bank is the entrance to Scow Channel. By using this channel, the rapids at the confluence of the Peace River and the Slave River may be by-passed. There are very few camping spots along Scow Channel.

The Slave River drains north from Lake Athabasca, which is largely fed by the Athabasca River. The channel taking this water to the confluence with the Peace River is known as the Rivière des Rochers. The combined Peace River and the Rivière des Rochers then becomes the Slave River, which ultimately flows into the Mackenzie River. From this point, north to Fort Fitzgerald and Fort Smith, the Slave is a very large river, with a much stronger current than the Lower Peace River.

Three Class III rapids are marked between the confluence and Fort Fitzgerald. The first marked rapid (on Access 74 M/L) is 6 km downriver of the Powder Creek confluence, in the channel to the right of a long island. The first major rapid is Primrose Rapids, at the narrowing in the main channel to the north of this island. These rapids could cause no trouble. The second marked rapid (on Access M/L) is Demicharge Rapids, 26 km downstream of Primrose Rapids, again at a constriction in the channel. Demicharge can either be run on the left of the island in the main channel or in the channel on the right of the large island.
None of these rapids force you to go through them. You can avoid most of the standing waves by picking a route through them. Except for the rock islands that will only be submerged for a brief period of time at high water, there are no obstacles in the rapids. None of these rapids are marked on the N.T.S. 1:250,000 but are on the Hydrographic Chart 6301 (Slave-Athabasca). The third rapid is at the narrowing north of Stony Islands, 16 km downstream of Hay Camp. This is primarily an area of swifter current. Some maps may show mid-stream rocks.

From Hay Camp to Fort Fitzgerald, the Wood Buffalo Park Road closely follows the left bank. On NO account should the paddler proceed by river to Fort Smith which is 20 km to the north. This stretch has four very violent and dangerous rapids; Cassette, Pelican, Mountain and Rapids of the Drowned. They are classified "not navigable" (Class VI+) and must be portaged. Only skilled local paddlers intimately familiar with the side channels and islands should paddle through them.

Source : Canoe Alberta, A Guide to Alberta's Rivers 1978 , which is no longer in print

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