The Canadian River is a very long, major U.S. waterway that flows from its headwaters in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in far southern Colorado border near Raton Pass, down through eastcentral New Mexico, then east across the Texas Panhandle into Oklahoma, where it drains a sizeable portion of that state before reaching its confluence with the Arkansas River just west of Fort Smith, Arkansas. The North Canadian fork of the river forms just east of Des Moines in Union County, New Mexico, then winds generally southeast through the Oklahoma Panhandle as the Beaver River (it is called the North Canadian River in New Mexico) down to Fort Supply where it takes on the moniker of North Canadian River. From there, it flows eastward through Oklahoma City and Shawnee on its way to Lake Eufaula in McIntosh County where it joins the waters of the South Canadian and Deep Fork Rivers. Unlike its sister the South Canadian River, the North Canadian is much smaller and gentler making it more receptive to recreational paddling and other outdoors recreation pursuits.
To avoid confusion between different names, this report will consider the North Canadian River as beginning at Fort Supply, according to Oklahoma designations. The North Canadian River is heavily dependent upon runoff from local rainfall for navigable flows, and is not boatable most of the time. Shortly after a significant thunderstorm or rainstorm within its drainage basin the river can quickly rise to sufficient levels, but it can also drop again almost as quickly, so long trips are not usually possible. Rather, the river is better suited to short, localized trips of one or two days wherever the rain has fallen. As a rule, summer paddling is not possible. There are no major hazards on the river in terms of waterfalls, ledges, boulder garden rapids or other natural obstacles, though low-water bridges can pose serious problems in high flow conditions unless care is taken to avoid them. About six miles east of Woodward sits Boiling Springs State Park with its excellent camping facilities and cool springs that bubble through the white sands. The park offers stunning beauty in the form of trees and other vegetation in contrast to other sections of the upper river are stark plains with few trees to provide shade from the scoarching Oklahoma sun. The river flows through largely remote and unpopulated wilderness west of Oklahoma City, below which the river assumes a different character in the form of more vegetation and development, though it never takes no the appearance of a river encroached upon by civilization. East of Oklahoma City the river flows generally west to east near IH 40 between the Deep Fork River to the north and the South Canadian River to the south. The river offers potential for wilderness trips when it flows at navigable levels, and numerous access points allow trips of various lengths.
Northwestern to eastcentral Oklahoma, starting at Fort Supply in Woodward County, then flowing generally southeast and east though Major, Dewey, Blaine, Canadian, Oklahoma, Pottawatomie, Okfuskee and McIntosh Counties, entering Lake Eufaula a few miles southeast of Henryetta.
Oklahoma City 151 miles; Tulsa 256 miles; Dallas 360 miles; Austin 550 miles; San Antonio 630 miles; Houston 606 miles; Little Rock 495 miles; Kansas City 496 miles; Albuquerque 523 miles; Phoenix 977 miles; Denver 596 miles; Salt Lake City 930 miles (all distances are approximate, depending upon starting point, destination point at the river and route taken.)
Water quality is usually good to very good, flowing clear to silty depending upon the amount of local rainfall and the time after runoff has reached the river. Flows are generally inadequate for good paddling trips, requiring a heavy local rain event to raise the river to boatable levels.
Shortly after a major rainstorm or thunderstorm passes through the area along the river where you want to paddle is the best time to catch the North Canadian River at navigable levels. As a rule, avoid summer trips except after a major storm, then watch out for fast currents, especially around low-water bridges. Spring and fall months usually offer the most "reliable" flow conditions.
Natural hazards are few and far between on the North Canadian River. Low-water bridges pose a more significant risk of injury to boats and paddlers, expecially at high flows. The hot sun should dbe considered as a hazard during warmer months. Remoteness, especially west of Oklahoma City is also a potential hazard in the event of an injury because of time and distance required to get help. The river is dammed just north of Canton in Blaine County about 65 miles below Fort Supply to form Canton Lake, and a portage around the lake and dam will be required.
There are numerous access points for the North Canadian River all along its course. Where the river flows through the Oklahoma City metro area there are many crossing roads where access can be found. It is recommended that you discuss access with local law enforcement agencies in teh area where you want to paddle. The first practical access is Woodward County road northeast of US Highway 270 at Fort Supply at 0.0 miles. Take out well above Canton Lake on the Woodward County road that runs east out of Mutual. The last practical take-out is a McIntosh County road southeast of Henryetta, east of Indian Nation Turnpike and south of IH 40 a few miles west of Lake Eufaula.
Boiling Springs State Park (580-256-7664), between Woodward and Mooreland, offers excellent facilities for camping and other activities including two areas with 50 campsites and two group areas with 125 and 150 campsites. There are no known campgrounds located along the North Canadian River. Ample natural campsites can be found all along the river, but many are on private property, so be sure to obtain landowner permission before camping there.
There are no known liveries, outfitters or shuttle services operating along the North Canadian River. Take whatever you need for your trip and arrange your own shuttles.
Like many streams of Oklahoma, the North Canadian River is hardly perpetual in its flow, and so it is not a popular paddling destination. The river is runnable only after a sizeable rain event hits a part of the river, and it drops almost as quickly as it rises, so paddlers need to be ready to go when the rain is falling, then await the rise before launching. The upper river is typical Oklahoma plains with few signs of civilization and not much scenery. The river is narrow and shallow in most places, so expect to do some walking unless you catch it on or just after peak flow conditions. It bends a little above Oklahoma City, and below there the river enters a run of many miles on a very twisting channel that winds its way toward Lake Eufaula, passing through or near many small towns along the way. The lower river is not too far from the Little River that flows out from Oklahoma City, the Deep Fork River and the South Canadian River, so paddlers may have other choices of where to go if the North Canadian is too low for enjoyable boating.