River Route 8: The Lower Shelburne River
|Record #: LQR0032||Last Modified: 11 Apr 2019||Last Full Update: 06 Nov 2014|
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|Located In||South Shore Region|
|Where To Find Us||
|Areas Served||Lunenburg County ; Queens County (NS)|
|Contact||Chad Haughn, President, LQRCDA|
|Description & Services|
|Information||THE LOWER SHELBURNE RIVER RIVER ROUTE 8
A challenging river that’s part of a longer wilderness trip known as the Tent Dwellers Route.
Where: Near Kejimkujik National Park
When: High water required. Spring or fall trip.
Skill Level: Intermediate Rapids Class 1-3 Backcountry travel skills also required.
Time: Four days minimum (See Three day option below)
Distance: 65 km (24 km on the river)
Portages: 6-8 in Park depending on route, optional portages on Shelburne River
Start: Jake’s Landing in Kejimkujik National Park (also known as Kedjie)
Finish: Starting point
The Shelburne River, Nova Scotia’s last wilderness river, begins in Buckshot Lake and flows 53 km through seven lakes along the border of the Tobeatic Wildlife Management Area to Lake Rossignol. In September 1997, it was designated as a Canadian Heritage River. This program was set up to protect rivers that have outstanding natural, historical and recreational values. The Upper Shelburne is accessed by river systems to the west in Digby and Yarmouth Counties or by going upriver from the crossover in Kejimkujik National Park. It flows through a wild land of eskers and outwash plains called the Flintstone Granite Barrens. On the Lower Shelburne, the landscape changes to a gentler forested country with richer soil. It is also a connector to other river systems like the Roseway and the Jordan making this an important area for present and future wilderness canoeing.
This route begins in Kejimkujik National Park and joins the Shelburne River just below Granite Falls. The Lower Shelburne passes through lands that are mostly owned by Bowater Mersey Paper Company Limited. It has been managed since the 1920s and greenbelts have been left along the river since the 1970s. In a few places between Irving Lake and Sand Lake, it is possible to see through these buffers to harvested areas. Under the new Heritage River Management Plan, a special management zone of 150 m has been established on both sides of the river. There will be no harvesting in the first 30 m and “modified management practices” in the remaining 120 m, with consideration given to views from the river.
The Lower Shelburne is part of a route made famous by Albert Bigelow Paine in his classic 1908 book The Tent Dwellers. In it, he describes in hilarious detail a month long trip he made with two Mi’kmaq guides and his friend Eddie, a fellow American sport. The sport fishing was world class then and they did a lot of it. (It’s poor now due to acid rain). This multi-day trip goes from Jake’s Landing in the Park through Kejimkujik Lake and four more lakes and portages (19 km), down the lower Shelburne River (24 km), up Lake Rossignol (7 km) and back up the Mersey (Kedge) River (8 km) to your starting point at Jake’s Landing (7 km) for a total distance of 65 km. Remember to multiply the portage distances by at least three for trips back and forth for gear.
A general map of the park is provided here. The Park produces excellent more detailed maps showing all the portages and camping sites that can be picked up when you check in at the visitor centre. When travelling through the park to outside the boundary, you’ll need to get a permit at the visitor centre and return it (when you come back for your car) or call when your trip is done. If you plan to stay overnight at a park backcountry camping site, you’ll need to make a reservation in advance. You may want to book Mason’s Cabin, located just before you hit the Shelburne River near Pebbleloggitch Lake as a respite from cool spring weather. The park is not responsible for people travelling outside park boundaries.
The other maps you’ll need to complete the route ( Lake Rossignol and Mersey River One) are included in this book (See connections below).
Three Day Option
Start at the east end of Peskawesk Lake in the Park. The road is closed from June 20 to Labour Day. It may not open until mid-May depending on the condition of the road. Finish at Low Landing on Lake Rossignol (See Lake Route 5). This will mean a lot of driving to ferry cars but reduce the trip time to three days with favourable weather. This cuts out going up the Mersey River.
Begin at Pebblelogitch Lake. A short stillwater takes you outside the Park boundary to the Shelburne River (A1). The connecting spot is slow moving and easy and you can hear the roar of Granite Falls when the water is high if you listen carefully. There’s a distinct feeling of leaving the safety of the Park with its well-marked portages and laid-out campgrounds and entering the true wilderness. An option here is to travel up the Shelburne to Sand Beach Lake which can be done throughout the canoe season but that’s another county and maybe another book.
Turn left when you hit the Shelburne. Between here and Irving Lake are two sets of Class Two rapids just enough to sharpen your senses for the ride ahead. Stick to the right shore of Irving Lake. Between Irving Lake and Sand Lake are four sets of rapids that should all be scouted first. As with other wilderness rivers, keep in mind how isolated you are when deciding whether or nor to run the rapids. This isolation makes a Class 2-3 rapid into a Class 3. Be skilled at river rescue and have other members of your team set up to assist you at the end of the rapid. I made it through this section without any portaging on one trip here but I was with a Master Paddler. I have heard stories of swamped canoes in these rapids and many people choose to portage or line their canoes at least part of the way.
Rapid 1 - Class 2. The first rapid is just past the lake.
Rapid 2 - Class 2-3. Not far past R1 is long set of rapids about 1km long. Scout, portage or line your boat river left. It is easy walking here on a trail along the river. Carry your gear down if you want more buoyancy or to keep it dry in case of a spill. Look out for trees hanging over or in the river (sweepers). Lots of manoeuvring such as ferrying to line up for the channel, cross draws and braces may be required. Be prepared for big standing waves at the end.
Rapid 3 - Class 2-3. Scout or portage river left. This is followed by a long stillwater.
Rapid 4 - Indian Falls. Portage around the bridge above the falls. The channel breaks up here in three branches clogged with sweepers, man made obstructions, logs and boulders. It is difficult to find a route through here especially if the water is down. From here to Sand Lake are a few Class One and Two rips and riffles.
Just before you get to Sand Lake you’ll see a bridge. Just past there on river right is a good established camping site. Follow the right shore of Sand Lake to the river exit. This can be tricky to find. Look for big maples, marsh and moving eel grass. Aside trip up Sand Brook into Little Tupper Lake and the huge Tobeatic Lake is possible from here if you have an extra day or two and don’t mind some canoe dragging. Paine’s Tent Dwellers did this on their trip. The first kilometre of river looks very pastoral with grassy meadows and willows hanging over the water. You expect to see cows at any moment except you’re a long way from any farms.
From here it’s mostly slow moving water with a few riffles to Lake Rossignol. You pass under a bridge and about one km on is Pollards Falls Ranger Camp, owned by the Department of Natural Resources. On the road up behind it is an impressive example of old growth hemlock. Below here, the river continues to widen and pass through an extensive marsh land with the trees back hundreds of metres from the shore. It has a wild expansive far north feel and is a sign of the vastness you’ll soon encounter on Lake Rossignol. The river narrows and quickens just before entering the lake. This can 127 be run when the water is high but is a real rock pile otherwise. Take out river left if you want to scout. On the shore to the left is an old green boat house, all that remains of an old tuna fish boat owned by the writer Zane Gray and moved here by others as a camp. Personally I prefer to camp out on the islands at the mouth of the river especially if the bugs are bad so that you can get a breeze.
Water Safety Notes
Despite all the portages, a tough plastic boat which may be heavier than most boats is recommended. See River Notes
Points of Interest
1 Pollards Falls Ranger Camp (Locked)
2 Old Boat House
How to get there
Access Point 1 and Exit Point 1
Take Route 8 north of Caledonia to Kejimkujik National Park. Access water at various locations on Kejimkujik Lake or at the east end of Peskowesk Lake.
Exit Point 2 - Low Landing
(See Lake Rossignol - Lake Route 5. Note that this lake can be dangerous).
Various sites in park.
Many options mentioned in above description.
For other multi-day trips including the Lower Shelburne, paddle down to the far end of Lake Rossignol (intermediate to expert skills required). Take out here at Dam One at Ponhook Indian Reservation (Indian Gardens) or continue on down the Mersey River to Liverpool. Another connection is to paddle across the top end of Lake Rossignol and connect with the Christopher Lakes chain.
Lake Rossignol - Lake Route 5
Mersey River One -River Route 5 Kedjie to Lake Rossignol (or reverse)
Mersey River Two- River Route 5 Lake Rossignol to Liverpool
Christopher Lakes- Lake Route 3
For more information
Kejimkujik National Park 902-682-2772.
Department Of Environment, Parks Division (902)662-3030 - Shelburne River Management Plan The Shelburne River Management Plan provides more information on the natural history of the river as well as recreational opportunities.
Topographic map - Kejimkujik Lake 21 A/6 and Lake Rossignol 21 A/3
|Eligibility||Ages: 16 year(s) and up
Children under 16 with adults - please use own discretion depending on skill level
|Tags||Boat Launch ; Canoe/Kayak ; Maps ; NS Trail Guide ; Recreation Categories ; South Shore Connect|