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Seven great Yukon canoe rivers

View from a campsite on the Wind River, Yukon.
View from a campsite on the Wind River, Yukon.
L. Shuttleworth

With its many beautiful, remote rivers, the Yukon is a paradise for wilderness canoeists.

You can plan a trip on your own and go without a guide, but--unless you’re an advanced whitewater canoeist—it’s best to go on a guided trip.

That’s because Yukon rivers are fast-moving with continuous current. If you’re used to placidly canoeing across lakes or down gentle rivers, you’ll be surprised at how easily a Yukon river can take control of your canoe and tip you into the glacially cold water.

Plus, once you’re on a Yukon river, you’re really on your own. You can’t call 911 if something goes wrong.

Flying in costs more

Generally, the more remote the river, the more expensive the trip, as you’ll have to fly to the put-in by float plane. If you can drive to the put-in, you’ll save a lot of money, but you won’t have that unique feeling of being cut off from civilization. It’s eerie, but wonderful! You fly in, get dropped off on a lake or river, and paddle through spectacular wilderness, with mountains towering above you.

Here are just a few of the most popular Yukon rivers:

The Wind, Snake, and Bonnet Plume rivers all flow into the Peel River, which eventually flows north into the Arctic Ocean, past Fort McPherson. Fly hundreds of kilometres over mountains to various lakes, then watch the float plane disappear into the distance, and know you’re completely isolated from roads and towns for up to two weeks of paddling until your pickup on the Peel. Hikeable mountains, wild animals roaming past your camp-site, and utter solitude make any of these the trip of a lifetime.

Wind River: The Wind is incredibly beautiful, with turquoise water that moves swiftly through changing landscapes of boreal forest and Arctic tundra. At the beginning of the route, you’ll have to watch out for sweepers, and for most of the trip, you’ll be faced with a lot of different braids to choose from. The Wind is considered a class 2 river because of its fast water.

Snake River
: An intermediate-level river, mostly class 2, with some class 3 stretches, including tricky canyons. The Snake winds through the Mackenzie Mountains, at times broad and braided, at other times compressed and narrow.

Bonnet Plume River: For experienced whitewater paddlers, this is the river to check out, as it offers rapids ranging from class 1 to class 3. Don’t underestimate the power of the rapids; some inexperienced canoeists have been so intimidated by this river that they’ve had to be helicoptered out! If you’re up to the challenge, you’ll be rewarded with fantastic scenery and the feeling that not many people actually get to see this gem.

Yukon River and Teslin River
: These are the two easier, classic Yukon rivers to canoe or raft, and less expensive to get to because you can put in just off the road. And you can start at different spots, depending on how long you want to paddle. Choose to paddle one or both of these rivers—the Teslin flows into the Yukon. These rivers were the primary transportation routes before the automobile, and there are many wrecks of old cabins and other buildings to investigate.

Firth River:
Don’t try canoeing this river unless you’re an advanced whitewater paddler. It’s replete with wild rapids that require nerves of steel and great navigation. The Firth flows through the Davidson mountains, through the centre of Ivvavik National Park, to the Beaufort Sea. You might be lucky enough to see herds of musk oxen or caribou.

Big Salmon River: This is another popular river to paddle, as it’s relatively less expensive to get to than some of the more northern rivers. It flows through the pretty Pelly Mountains to the Yukon River. Expect to see salmon.

From personal experience, I can recommend both these outfitters for Yukon canoe trips:
Walden’s Guiding  and Black Feather.

Visit the Yukon tourism website,