Manigotagan River: Quesnel Lake to Wood Falls (4 days / 65 km)

The Manigotagan River is a popular entry-level whitewater trip that takes paddlers through the rugged Canadian Shield and into the boreal transition zone over the course of 65 km. There are many rapids and well-established portages. This river is mainly Class I-II rapids, with some must-portage waterfalls. We paddled this river over four days in mid-September. We saw no other paddlers. Water levels were low, but the rapids were still runnable and fun.

Trip Completed: September 2020

Trip Summary

Starting Point: Quesnel Lake (Q Lake Lodge)

Ending Point: Town of Manigotagan, Wood Falls

Total Distance: 50 km

Duration: 4 days, 3 nights

Difficulty: Intermediate

Location

The Manigotagan River is part of Manigotagan River Provincial Park, adjacent to Nopiming Provincial Park, located in eastern Manitoba.

Traditional Territory: This route on the Manigotagan River is on the traditional territory of the Anishinabewaki (source).

Maps & Resources

Guidebook: Manitoba Eco Network offers a list of campsites and rapids, with pictures and descriptions:

Maps:

  • Garner Lake 52L/14
  • Manigotagan Lake 52L/13
  • Bissett 52M/4
  • English Brook 62P/1

Campsite Reservations / Permits: No campsite reservation or permits are needed.

Outfitters & Shuttles

Shuttle services are offered by C&M Shuttle in Manigotagan. At the time of writing, shuttling a personal vehicle costs $120. They can also provide canoe rentals.

There are fully guided six-day trips offered by Twin River Travel.

Trip Report

Day 1: Quesnel Lake to Turtle Falls (12 km)

We left Winnipeg around 7:00 am. We met our shuttle, operated by former river steward Charles Simard, in Manigotagan and drove to Quesnel Lake (about an hour of driving past Manigotagan – the last 15 km is on a rough trail, but passable without 4WD). We put in around 11:30 am.

We ran some small swifts and a short drop before the Wendigo Falls portage (450 m). We arrived at the Turtle Falls portage (140 m) and our campsite around 6:00 pm. It was cool and overcast, with light rain in the afternoon. 

Campsite: Turtle Falls

This is a spacious campsite off of the portage trail. A large, sloped granite outcrop gives a beautiful view of the rapids, and of the calmer water upstream. There is room for ~3 tents on the grassier part and ~4 more near the river on the outcrop for the adventurous. There is a pit toilet located a short walk from the campsite. 

Day 2: Turtle Falls to Sand River Falls (22 km)

This is an easy day with mostly flatwater paddling, with a few small rapids to paddle and two waterfalls to portage around.

  • Kettle Rapids (CI)
  • Charles Falls (99 m portage) – Note: This is also referred to as “Pillow Falls” on the MB Eco Network list of rapids.
  • Steep Rock Falls (40 m portage) – Note: This is also referred to as “Pillow Falls” on the MB Eco Network list of rapids
  • Perry Davis Rapids (CI/CII)

The waterfalls are beautiful spots for a lunch break, or for a longer trip, are a nice spot to camp. Earlier in the season, there is good bass fishing below the falls as well.

We passed the “Granite Gates” and former river steward Charle Simard’s trapping cabin later in the afternoon. We stopped in at Charle’s cabin to sign the river’s logbook. We arrived at Sand River Falls (CII) around 4:30 pm, and ran some laps on the rapid there. Warm and sunny throughout the day. 

Campsite: Sand River Falls

This is one of my favourite campsites on the river. There is room for ~7 tents, with a high, sweeping view of the river and a beautiful window through the trees to watch a sunset. There is a pit toilet located further back in the trees.

Sand River Falls is an easy CII rapid with a corner and a small hole at the bottom. It is a perfect rapid for practicing and getting paddlers more comfortable with paddling whitewater. The rocks on river right offer an easy portage back up, for running laps.

On guided trips, I have had clients gain confidence on this rapid to prepare them for the heavier river running in subsequent days. Main site on RR, overflow campsite located on RL. Look for the “happy stump” on RL. 

Day 3: Sand River Falls to Old Woman Falls (20 km)

The rapid running day! We started the morning with a look at “The Alligator”, an abandoned barge from the 1911 Bisset gold rush.

Rapids come up quickly in this section of the river, with lots of gentle (but bony in low water) CI and CII rapids.

We ran the following rapids:

  • Flour Rapids (CI)
  • Emma Jane Rapids (CI)
  • Boulder Rapids (CI)
  • Rifle Rapids (CI)
  • Crooked Current Rapids (CI)
  • Onion Patch Rapids (CII)

Next, we portaged Big Eddy (77 m portage) and Cascade Falls (180 m portage). In the past, I have run Big Eddy. The chute at the top is fast, tight and steep, but with the solid balance, a canoe will run through.

We paddled Engineer Rapids (CII) and tipped while (purposefully) surfing the ledge at the bottom of the rapids.

Otherwise, we made it through the day without any issues. For some rapids, we portaged our bags but ran the canoe.

For a longer trip, this day could be broken up into two, with a stay at the spacious and blueberry-filled Rifle Rapids campsite. In the summer, watch for blueberries and Saskatoon berries on the portages.

The weather was overcast, but still a warm day. 

Campsite: Old Woman Falls

This is a unique and beautiful campsite on a rocky “island” between two small waterfalls. The island is tight but can fit ~5 tents. There is a toilet located a short paddle away, on the mainland. Some less courteous paddlers have used the south end of the island as an outhouse, making for a bit of a mess.

Note: It’s extremely important to use the pit toilet facilities provided, even if it’s a little inconvenient. It takes time for human waste to break down, so it quickly accumulates if there are paddlers not using the pit toilet. Please be respectful when camping on island sites.

Day 4: Old Woman Falls to Manigotagan (11 km)

We ran the last rapid of the trip, Jackpine Rapids (CII), in the morning without any issues. There is a campsite located on the outcrop above the rapid that offers a good view for scouting or picture taking.

Next is a beautiful portage trail covered in golden oak leaves. We portaged the final two waterfalls, Poplar Rapids (90 m portage) and Poplar Falls (139 m portage), and pulled out before Wood Falls and the Highway 304 bridge around 12:00 pm.

At the pullout, we were greeted by Charles Simard. Charles shared some final words of wisdom with us, before transporting us (via ATV) to our vehicle. 

Reflections

This trip went well, despite the shoulder season conditions. I would not recommend travelling this late in September to somebody with less experience. We were totally alone on the river and experienced some cold weather and cold nights.

We tipped a couple of times, but we were prepared and had proper safety gear and clothing. However, we did get the river entirely to ourselves and got to see some beautiful golden fall colours. We also saw a couple of moose and many swans. Water levels were close to the season’s low point, but most rapids were still runnable, but with a bit of scratching on the gelcoat. 

Gallery


Author Bio

Hey! I’m Liam! I am passionate about paddling and hiking, and have guided paddling trips in Manitoba and in Algonquin Provincial Park. My favourite river is the Bloodvein in Manitoba, followed closely by the Manigotagan. When I’m not paddling I work as a geologist.

Instagram: @mckinno

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