Leaf River Canoe Trips
Fun and Adventure on the Leaf River
Starkly beautiful, powerful, and immense, the Leaf River represents one of the few remaining canoeing frontiers in North America; very few have preceded us. In addition to the powerful, free-flowing river, the trip also offers an intimate glimpse of the Inuit community, culture and the realities of northern life.
The Leaf River, is situated on the Ungava Peninsula- vast, stark, and mysterious- which comprises the northernmost reaches of Quebec in the region known as ‘Noveau Quebec.’ Directly across the Hudson Straight from Baffin Island, the peninsula is bounded on the west by Hudson Bay and on the east by Ungava Bay, across which lies the Torngat Mountains of northern Labrador. Home to caribou, muskox, arctic char, northern lights, and about 6000 Inuit living in scattered coastal settlements, the interior was not actually explored until 1922. The Ungava is truly one of the few remaining canoeing frontiers in North America; rarely, if ever, are its rivers travelled.
The Leaf River, officially known on maps as the Riviere Aux Fuelles, drains the immense interior, flowing northeasterly into Ungava Bay. Lying right at the northernmost fringe of the tree line, the river roughly follows the line of demarcation between the tundra and barren grounds of the arctic north. Flowing through a landscape of seemingly endless tundra ridges intermixed with distant headlands, the river culminates in a tidal fiord of awesome proportions.
Located in one of the most remote areas of the Canadian North, the Leaf River involves substantial travel time to reach. Access is via a dramatic and beautiful floatplane ride, landing directly on the wide and vast river corridor. For the next eight days, the river will carry us downstream at a fast pace with its high volume and quick current. The Leaf River, ice-free for only about sixty days throughout the year, is best paddled in August, when the weather in Northern Canada is generally at its warmest. Paddled by very few canoeists each year, a trip on the Leaf is truly an expedition and guests must be prepared for quickly changing conditions.
As befitting the vastness of the surrounding country, the river’s breadth and volume is quite impressive. The rapids, although characterized by strong currents, are technically quite straightforward. The Leaf River is very well suited to novice canoeists (Class II, some easy Class III). The prevailing wind is a tailwind; thus, sailing downriver is a common tactic.
Although the river itself is relatively easy, one must be prepared to deal with a potentially harsh climate. Though typically warm in mid-summer, it can spit snow in August, and winds up to 60-80 MPH are not uncommon as one approaches the coast. Also, to be considered are the 30-50-foot tides of Ungava Bay which, in our final miles, give cause for cautious navigational planning and tactics.
A highlight for many on our Leaf River Canoe Expedition is the possibility of spotting the Leaf River Caribou Herd. Numbering over 400,000 caribou, these majestic animals can often by seen during their migration from tundra to forest and it is common to see hundreds crossing the river directly in front of your canoe. The mass migration of these animals often coincides with our trip dates and it is a wonder to witness this incredible natural feature of the Quebec north. Threatened by the warming Arctic, the caribou are a vitally important part of the overall ecosystem and livelihood of the local people.
As one can imagine, the fishing in such virgin waters as the Leaf River is generally quite good. For the avid fisherman, it is possible to catch trophy Brook Trout and Atlantic Salmon as they make their return to their home waters. Arctic Char, while less numerous than the trout and salmon, are also often caught and make excellent eating. If fishing is an interest, our professional guides can assist with helping to make this a reality for your party on the Leaf River Canoe trip.
The Northern Lights are also a true highlight for many on the Leaf River expedition. Dancing and twinkling above your eyes during the few hours of complete darkness this far north during the summer, it is well worth losing a few hours of sleep to see this natural wonder of the arctic. Subtle hues of predominantly red mix with greens and even yellows to create this solar phenomenon. While quite dependent upon solar activity during our trip, this part of the Ungava Peninsula is world renowned for having some of the best opportunities to spot the aurora borealis.
On the last night we camp in the fiord- overlooking a tidal rapid of staggering magnitude. The following morning, at precisely high tide, we pass over into Leaf Bay where we rendezvous with a local Inuit and a 40’ fishing boat with enclosed cabin. The climax of our journey is a 130-mile cruise, through open waters, around the wild Ungava coast- inhabited by polar bear, seals, and the remote Inuit settlement of Tasiusaq (Leaf Bay). We then ascend the broad Koksoak River back to Kuujjuaq, the administrative center of the Ungava region, the point from which we departed, via float plane, 8 days earlier.
We generally choose to spend our final night before returning to Montreal in Kuujjuaq, offering a tremendous opportunity to mingle with the local population and purchase souvenirs at the local co-op. Kuujjuaq, home to nearly 2,500 inhabits, mostly native Inuit, is the administrative center for the Ungava Bay and is a small, tightly knit community. Our final night on the Leaf River trip is spent overlooking the wide and meandering Koksoak River, a perfect end of a true remote Canadian expedition.
The Leaf River Expedition with Smoking Rivers is suitable for adventurous participants who are versed in canoeing and backcountry camping. The harsh and remote Ungava Peninsula is not a place to fine-tune camping skills or test new gear. Participants should be in good physical shape, able to cope with quickly changing conditions and previous trip experience with Smoking Rivers is also strongly encouraged.
One of the last true canoeing frontiers in Canada, the Leaf River boasts natural beauty and boreal forests of larch and black spruce. Exciting rapids and quick current predominate the river corridor and you will be amazed by how quickly the miles seem to fly by on this expedition. Spotting a caribou or the northern lights can be a lifetime memory for many and those that choose to join this wonderful canoe trip often count the Leaf River as their most favorite expedition and river for its pure beauty and glimpse into authentic Ungava wilderness in Northern Canada.
Leaf River Canoe Trips
Trips Available: August
Trip Length: 9 Days
Age Minimum: 14
Deposit: 50% Deposit required at time of reservation. Remainder due no later than (21) days prior to trip departure (non-refundable).
Cancellations & Refunds:
0-59 days prior to trip- deposit non-refundable
60-89 days prior to trip- 35% deposit refundable
90 days or more prior to trip- 75% refundable
Group and Youth rates available. Rates are based off a 4 person trip subject to change depending on group size and duration.
"Our 6 day canoe trip went by way too fast! We were lucky enough to have some beautiful fall weather and the colors were amazing. The guys from Smoking Rivers completely made the trip. It just wouldn't have been the same without them. They worked hard and took great care of us. The food was delicious and they accommodated my vegan diet! We had so much fun and I've made some lifelong friends. I hope to do this trip again next year! Highly recommended!"
- Tonia Polak
"We decided to have a family canoeing adventure for our girls' 12th birthday. I can now declare that I wish most of the decisions we made in life were as brilliant! It's hard to nominate the star of this trip: The stunning river, the amazing woods and wildlife, the thrill of crossing a patch of whitewater, the blessed distance from the rest of the world- these are all good candidates, but the gold medal has to go to Jason and Dan, our guides. We never canoed before, let alone on a lively river, in what felt like the edge of the world, and we felt completely safe the whole time. These guys 'walk' the river on their canoes like we walk a city sidewalk, with ease and confidence and strength..."
- Dr. Anat Maril
"Just had a great camping & canoeing trip down the St. Croix- Maine at its finest! Beautiful scenes of the river, sky, and the woods with cool wildlife thrown in! Plenty of whitewater excitement too! None of our canoes ever flipped, while many others' did! That speaks loudly of the skills of our two guides, Jason & Dan, who provided us with great training as to any different paddle strokes and lessons on reading the river for the 'V's.' However more importantly they were always near to help when we happened to forget some of that training- they both are the consummate professionals - Our whole group loved the experience and wow can those boys cook !!!"
- Esq Mark J. Berardoni