DIY Magpie – a guide to unguided expeditions for paddlers
This article is a resource for people who want to paddle the Magpie or West Magpie on their own without guides. For a guided trip, see the Magpie For Kayak & Open Boat Groups and all-inclusive adventure trips.
We’ve answered the 5 most popular questions we get from people who want to run the Magpie unguided. Keep in the mind the Magpie is remote and big and only experienced paddlers should tackle it on their own.
1. What section should I paddle?
The Magpie and West Magpie are both amazing multi-day trips that take paddlers through the heart of the Quebec’s north shore wilderness. The West Magpie is more advanced, remote, and technical than the Magpie, which is accessible to intermediate boaters.
This section offers a more advanced and technically challenging white water experience geared to class IV – V boaters. The water levels are harder to predict and the whitewater’s difficulty changes with the volume change. This section of the Magpie has lower volume. However, it has been known to rise quickly. Paddlers should understand that this is a significant undertaking requiring a solid team, capable of making decisions effectively and safely.
The West Magpie flows into Lake Magpie 50km north of the start of the ‘lower’ Magpie. Most groups paddle the 50km down Lake Magpie to combine the West Magpie and the Magpie.
This section offers a combination of a quality whitewater and amazing scenery. It can be accomplished by most recreational kayakers with wilderness travel skills. Most groups choose to spend 5 to 8 days on this section to fully appreciate the beauty of their surroundings. Expect great fishing (especially through the first 15km after Lac Magpie) and amazing camping. The final 15 km contains huge scenic gorges and waterfalls with some flat-water before flowing into the St Lawrence Gulf.
2. How do we get there?
Most paddlers will arrange to meet in Sept-Îles, Quebec. It is a 10 hour road trip from Quebec City. The airport also connects with most North American cities. From here paddlers can travel as a group to the West Magpie or the Magpie.
Access to the West Magpie:
Two options are available to paddlers.
OPTION 1: Take the train from Sept-Îles and specify to be dropped off at the location “Eric”. From here 100km of mostly flat water separates you from the West Magpie’s first major rapids. This option is cheap compared to flying. Check out the Tshiuetin Rail Transportation website or call (418-962-5530, or 1-866-962-0988) for the schedule. The train usually runs twice a week, leaving Sept-Îles in the morning.
It’s best to arrive early so things go smoothly with boats, as it can get busy before departure. If the group is large, arrive the afternoon prior to talk to the folks in the office in the town of Uashat and see if an engineer will meet you at the train the evening before to load your boats.
There is a surcharge for canoes.
OPTION 2: Involves taking a float plane from Sept-Îles to Lac Vital (Labrador Air Safari, Sept-Îles: 418-962-4639). Flying to Lac Vital gets you very close to where the great whitewater starts. Call to reserve flight times with (Labrador Air Safari – Sept-Îles: 418-962-4639). The float plane base is just outside of Sept-Îles to the west of town. When you get to the float plane base they will weigh you and your gear, look at the overall volume before deciding which and how many planes you need to go on.
For this flight the Beaver can take 1200 lbs and the Otter can take 2000 lbs. In 2015, an Otter from Sept-Îles to Lac Vital was around $2,800. An important consideration is also the bulk of your equipment. Kayaks are fairly light, but take up a lot of room. The Otters can usually take 5 people with their boats and gear safely, however, it is ultimately the pilot’s call.
Access to the Magpie:
From Sept-Îles most groups drive along the coast on highway 138 to Havre-Saint-Pierre where a 30 minute float plane flight will bring you to the southern tip of Lac Magpie (Labrador Air Safari, Havre-St.-Pierre: 418-538-3866). Alternatively, you can fly from Sept-Îles , but it is about 35 per cent more expensive. Call to reserve. The float plane base is just outside of Havre-Saint-Pierre to the east of town. When you get to the float plane base they will weigh you and your gear and look at the overall volume and the pilots and staff will decide which and how many planes you need to go on. Here again, the Beaver can take 1200 lbs and the Otter can take 2000 lbs. In 2015, an Otter from Sept Îles to Lac Magpie was around $1,600.
Take off of the Magpie by using an access road that joins the Magpie on the river right upstream of the dam before the buoys. It is very obvious from the river. The access road joins highway 138 approximately 75m west of the Magpie Bridge and goes through a quarry before reaching the river approximately 250m further. There are a few parking spots and a turnaround spot at the top of the hill before the road abruptly turns to the right for the last 50m down to the river.
3. Where do I get maps?
The Fédération québécoise du canot et du kayak (FQCK) sells pencil-drawn maps of the West Magpie and Magpie that were marked by canoeists in the early 80’s.
A boater created these maps of the Magpie (PDF). They are in no way produced by Boreal River.
West Magpie Topographical Maps
1:250,000 scale maps = 22P
1:50,000 scale maps: 22P/13, 22P/14, 22P/11, 22P/6, 22P/3, 22P/2 , 22I/15
Magpie Topographical Maps
1:250,000 scale maps = 22I
1:50,000 scale maps = 22I/8, 22I/9, 22I/10
Plan Your Itinerary
Groups that choose to take the train and start at Eric will have to complete 270km before arriving at the take out. The first 100km is almost completely flat water. Groups who chose to fly to Lac Vital can avoid the flat section and focus on the 55 km of challenging class IV-V before getting to Lac Magpie. A 50km stretch of Lac Magpie separates the end of West Magpie from the start of the Magpie. Strong wind on Lac Magpie can sometimes cause delays. Most paddlers who complete the West Magpie can complete Magpie river’s last 65 km with one camp.
Boater groups who fly to Lac Magpie typically take 5 nights for a relaxed pace. This usually includes the first night very close to Lac Magpie or at Lac Magpie to account for later flights and everybody getting there. Five nights would also usually include the last night at Magpie Gorge (4ieme chute) or Magpie Falls (3ieme chute), which are spectacular spots close to the end of the river.
4. When are water levels best for me to go?
There is no gauge for the West Magpie. The West Magpie is more like a mountain river that can flood mid-season if there is sustained heavy rain for a few days. Sections can become very continuous should that happen.
The gauge for the Magpie is located at the outflow of Lac Magpie. The Magpie has a pool-drop character and is great at a wide range of levels. With Boreal River, we have never encountered levels in July or August that were deemed too low or too high. Commercial trips have been run everywhere from 65CMS to 250CMS.
5. Where do I stay before and after?
Near Havre Saint Pierre
If you are flying out of Havre-Saint-Pierre, a great place to stay the night before your trip is Auberge La Minganie. It is a hostel on the coast at the mouth of the Romaine River. This is a beautiful spot. There is a communal kitchen and dining building as well as bathrooms and showers. They also allow camping with use of the facilities.
Auberge La Minganie – 418 538 1538
Directions: turn right at the brown sign approximately 30km after going through the town of Longue-Pointe-De-Mingan. The turn off of the highway is pretty easy to miss. You have gone too far if you get to the Romaine River.
Otherwise, there are many hotels and motels in Havre-Saint-Pierre and Longue-Pointe-De-Mingan (30 minutes away). If you are looking for a B&B and are going to be spending some time exploring the coast and the islands, we recommend Gite La Chicoutee in Longue Pointe de Mingan. Sylvain, the owner, is a paddler who is familiar with the Magpie and also has his camp on the river just below Magpie Gorge. Riviere-Au-Tonnere also has a couple of motels.
Along the way
The town of Tadoussac makes for a good overnight stop for those making the road trip to the Magpie. There are many hotels and B&B’s for those looking for private rooms. For a lively atmosphere, the youth hostel in Tadoussac is busy all summer long with nightly campfires and lots of travellers.
Havre-Saint-Pierre and Minganie
Havre-Saint-Pierre has a large supermarket called Tradition. It has everything you need but is significantly more expensive than the supermarkets in Sept-Îles. There is an SAQ (liquor, wine) across from the Tradition. There is also a hardware store nearby that sells camping, hunting, and fishing supplies as well as Québec fishing permits. On the street by the harbour and the national park visitor center there is a store / counter that sells fresh seafood. Other options include:
- Mingan (Ekuanitshit) has a gas station which sells basic groceries
- Longue-pointe-de-Mingan has a hardware store, a well-stocked small grocery / general / liquor store as well as a seafood stand
- Riviere St. Jean has a small general store
- Riviere-Au-Tonnerre has a well-stocked grocery / liquor /general store
Sept-Îles has many large stores including Maxi, Wal-Mart, IGA, and Canadian Tire.
There is a produce store that sells local fruits and vegetables called Le Végétarien about 15km west of town, on the south side of Hwy. 138 (here it is on Google Maps).
Sept-Îles has a SAQ (wine, beer, alcohol) but there is also a store called Marché 7 Jours about 5 minutes west of town on the south side of Hwy. 138 (at the Ultramar) that has a wide variety of Québec Microbrews.