Full Journal (photos, more info, etc.): The Canol Trail
The Canol Trail is an unforgettable experience. I think it is a shame that more people are not getting out there. This guide is intended to help a little with planning. Perhaps if more people do the trail, its more likely that it will be improved and maintained.
If you want to go: this is one of the most difficult and remote hikes/bike rides in Canada. There are river crossings, lake crossings, long stretches of no road, bog, vegetation and bears!
(all km references are from Yukon/NWT border as KM 0)
- Bike: Light Bikepacking setup (26", 29" or fatbike all work well).
- Packraft: Definitely required, unless you are willing to cross deep and fast rivers carrying a bike.
- Start: Yukon/NWT border (462km from Alaska Hwy, ~230km from Ross River)
- End: The Mackenzie River across from Norman Wells
- Distance: ~380km
- Time: 7-10 days (I did it in 10, with one rest day and few half days)
- Maps: 1:25000 topo maps (these open in new window, there are other places where you can get them too: Niddery Lake + Skewi Mountain + Mount Eduni + Caricajou Canyon + Norman Wells
- Better maps: I met people with detailed topo maps with info, a set of 19. Best bet is calling the NWT visitor/tourist center at Norman Wells.
- Garmin Maps: Not necessary but it was handy at times. There is a paid version from Garmin (~120$CAD), I used the free Ibycus maps (instruction HERE). They were missing some parts of the road but it was there when I needed it and topographic info is nice.
- GPX track: 2016 Canol link ***NOTE***: (~235km from NWT border)I took little keele to the rapids and then the winter road, not recommended.
- Weather: Expect anything! Cold temperatures at high elevation.
- Road conditions: 70 year old roadbed (when present), quad trail, singletrack, creekbeds, muskeg.
- When to go: July is rainy. August is perfect but be ready for snow. Sept is too late.
- Camping: Lots of opportunities to camp. There are some shelters which offer partial protection from rain. Canol Hilton at km225, Good basic hut at ~km320 (after Caricajou crossing #2)
- Services: if you get lucky and make it during meal time you may be able to eat at Ramhead outfitters. Absolutely nothing else on the way. (There is a lodge at ~30km but requires reservations.)
- Getting there: Charter a flight to the MacMillan airstrip or bike there. Alternatively you can try posting on Ross River's board and see if somebody could drive you (it still takes 6-7 hours one way, so it will not be cheap)
- Getting back: Packraft the Mackenzie (go upstream above Bear Island and cut to it, walk to the top and cut again to town), hikers have reported lighting a fire and getting a lift. There is cell service on shore, so if you arrange a pickup beforehand you can do that too. From Norman Wells its ~700$ to fly to Yellowknife (nearest town with road) or Raft the Mackenizie to The Dempster Highway 550km downstream!
- $$$: Riding out of Ross River with an extra 2-3 day of food will save you lots of money and give you a chance to slowly transition into the Mackenzie Mountains. The road is good for a bike (even a loaded touring rig will do it fine) and the extra weight will not hinder you much.
This is by far the most dangerous and difficult part of this bike/hike. There are 5 major obstacles. With a bicycle, having a packraft is essential.
- Ekwi River: #3 and #4. River can get quite deep and fast. If unsure, use the packraft. When I was there it was low enough level to walk it.
- Twitya River: Use raft. There is also this (which was just finished in Jul 2016): Twitya cable crossing , if rafting go in about 2 miles upstream and raft all the way down to Deca Creek (saving yourself some tough pushung). From Deca, keep going up and you will see the road/quad trail
- Little Keele: Use raft. Not sure where hikers cross it but in mid-August it was quite deep and very very fast. One person drowned there in 2016.
- Surprise Lake: A large slide in Dodo Canyon blocked flow and created a deep lake. Forget scrambling on the right side, use raft. A hiking party was able to use their sleeping mats and walk/pull and swim by the right side.
- Caricajou #2: Use raft. Walk alongside the river upstream until you see a hut, thats where the road is. Keep your raft inflated until then, you will likely cross a deep channel 2-3 times.
- Sat Phone: I recommend a satellite phone. If something happens you will be SOL with help being days away.
- Remoteness: After Ross River, you are on your own. There is a lodge at ~km30 and Stan's place at ~km136. A total of 6 people hiked the trail in 2016
- Be ready for some pushing: 2-3 hours @ Trout Creek, 2-3 hours of no road coming down Abraham Plains and before climb to blue mountain, 8-10 hours of no road (easy walking though) @ Dodo Canyon; Also countless washouts and short boggy or overgrown sections.
- Bears: while I saw none on the trail there was always fresh evidence of them. Make lots of noise especially in overgrown areas. Hanging food is very tough in some places and others have no trees.
- Stan from Ramhead Outfitters can do food drops and will have most up to date trail info.
- Paul at Yukon Frolics has written a great journal of their ride as well as a video here.
- Another journal from hiker's perspective
- Pickup from Mackenizie River: Canoe North or you can get a better rate if you can find somebody with a boat beforehand