Paddling past a moose as it rises from the water of a wilderness river is nothing short of an awe-inspiring experience. Earlier this July on the Manigotagan River, this happened 10 times during a single day.
One of Manitoba's most popular whitewater routes, the Manigotagan is something of a paradox -- easily accessible by road, but also for the most part undeveloped.
So if you're craving a wilderness experience that involves moving water -- but you don't have the time or money to reach the Bloodvein -- the Manigotagan should provide all the solitude, scenery, waterplay and wildlife-watching opportunities you could ask for in a trip that takes less than one week.
During the course of six days in the first week of July, the Manigotagan offered a total of 16 moose, a single river otter, several painted turtles and countless bald eagles, blue herons, loons and other waterfowl.
The river is also graced with nine waterfalls -- including a couple of stunners -- and more than 20 runnable rapids, almost all of which can be attempted safely by groups of two canoes or more, provided they're equipped with basic safety gear and common sense.
But you can also paddle the entire river with little technical experience, as all the portages are well-marked and well-maintained. There's even a temptation to consider the Manigotagan "wilderness-lite," given how many paddlers descend the river every season.
But it's also entirely possible you won't see another soul along the route. If you're considering a Manigotagan trip, here's what you need to know:
The trip: Four days to a week, depending on how far you want to paddle and how much time you have. The 95-kilometre trip from Long Lake in Nopiming Provincial Park to the town of Manigotagan takes five or six days and encompasses 31 rapids or waterfalls. The 70-kilometre paddle from Quesnel Lake to Manigotagan takes three or four days and includes 25 rapids or falls.
Skill prerequisites: This trip can be done by any paddler with wilderness-camping experience, as there are portages around almost all rapids. If you have whitewater experience, you can vastly reduce the number of times you have to shlep gear. Most of the runnable rapids are rated Class I and Class II; Some of the Class III rapids can be run with empty boats and proper safety precautions. Scout every rapid first: Just because you're relatively close to a highway doesn't mean it's OK to take risks.
Access and egress: If you start at Long Lake, put in at the public boat launch four kilometres west of Provincial Road 314. To start at Quesnel Lake, take Provincial Road 30 past Manigotagan and then Quesnel Lake Road to the put-in at Caribou Landing. The take out is east of the town of Manigotagan, just upstream from the PR 304 bridge.
Car shuttles: Charles and Marilyn Simard (204.363.7355) run C&M Shuttle Service out of Manigotagan. They'll charge you $150 to drive your vehicle from Long Lake and store it on their property while you're on the river. Shuttles from Quesnel Lake are $120. Charles, the Manigotagan River steward, also possesses a wealth of information about the river.
Fees and campsites: Provincial park passes are required to access Nopiming, but there's no fee for backcountry camping anywhere along the Manigotagan. Most campsites are marked and many have steel-grated fireboxes and throne toilets.
Maps and guidebooks: Four topographical maps cover the entire route: 52L/13, 52L/14, 52M/4 and 62P/1. They're available at Canada Map Sales, 1007 Century St. The Manitoba Eco-Network's annotated Manigotagan River Canoe Map retails for $10, but you will need the topo maps as well. Hap Wilson's Wilderness Rivers of Manitoba also has great interpretive information, though some of his names for the rapids and falls don't line up with the ones used by Simard; the contradictions are noted in the Eco-Network map.
When to go: Water levels are highest in May and early June, when hypothermia is the main danger. Mid-summer water temperatures are balmy, but the insects can be brutal. September is almost bug-free, but low water reputedly can turn some rapids into rock gardens. So it all depends what you value most: Obstacle-free paddling, warm weather or bug-free nights around the campfire.