The Kazan River originates near Kasa Lake on the northern border of Saskatchewan, but then flows north for 732 km before discharging into the southeastern corner of Baker Lake; this lake, in turn, drains through Chesterfield Inlet into Hudson Bay. In its upper reaches, the Kazan River flows through a transitional zone between boreal forest and treeless tundra. In the river's middle and lower reaches, the riverscape varies from rocky hills to plains void of eskers and moraines, which are characteristic of most of the area. During the Wisconsinan glaciation, the Kazan River bed lay at the centre of the Keewatin Ice Divide where the ice was thickest and remained longest. As a result, this land continues to rebound at the rate of half a metre per century! Some of the most visually appealing features of this river include a series of waterfalls, measuring 57 metres in height, between Anginkuni Lake and Yathyed Lake, and the beautiful Kazan Falls, where the water drops 25 m and rushes through a red sandstone gorge.
For 5000 years, ancestors of the modern Dene and Inuit visited this river in summer, before retreating to the treeline or the coast for the rest of the year. As a result, past camps of the Caribou Inuit are scattered along the river.
Samuel Hearne was the first European to visit the Kazan River in 1770, but it remained unmapped until J.B. Tyrrell, the first geologist on the river, canoed from its headwaters to Forde Lake in 1894. In 1988, Operation Raleigh, a youth education, research, and exploration program, identified 186 archaeological sites along the river. Due to its outstanding wilderness value, the Kazan is one of 28 Heritage Rivers in Canada; in fact, three Heritage Rivers are found in the Arctic. The Kazan is a prime destination for canoers, kayakers, fishermen, and avid wildlife seekers.