About the Experience

Paddle one of the most spectacular, yet unknown rivers in the Northwest Territories: the Keele. This river system drains a large area of the Mackenzie Mountains between the Nahanni and Mountain Rivers. Our canoe route flows 300 km through beautiful mountain ranges to the Mackenzie River. The river valley is home to some amazing wildlife including caribou, grizzly, Dall’s sheep and wolves.

This is a fun stretch of river, with lots of runnable rapids suitable for paddlers of all skill levels. Many swifts, small rapids, and chutes are easily run in our custom covered canoes. The river is wide and meanders through beautiful mountain valleys, with breathtaking vistas. You can look forward to enjoying relaxing paddles, splashing down easy rapids, while taking advantage of great photo opportunities, hiking excursions, and wildlife viewing.

The Keele River is ideal for paddlers with some backcountry camping and canoeing experience and basic whitewater canoeing skills.  It would be an excellent choice for your first northern canoe expedition!

Click here to see the full itinerary!
Keele River Canoe Trip

About the Experience

Paddle one of the most spectacular, yet unknown rivers in the Northwest Territories: the Keele. This river system drains a large area of the Mackenzie Mountains between the Nahanni and Mountain Rivers. Our canoe route flows 300 km through beautiful mountain ranges to the Mackenzie River. The river valley is home to some amazing wildlife including caribou, grizzly, Dall’s sheep and wolves.

This is a fun stretch of river, with lots of runnable rapids suitable for paddlers of all skill levels. Many swifts, small rapids, and chutes are easily run in our custom covered canoes. The river is wide and meanders through beautiful mountain valleys, with breathtaking vistas. You can look forward to enjoying relaxing paddles, splashing down easy rapids, while taking advantage of great photo opportunities, hiking excursions, and wildlife viewing.

The Keele River is ideal for paddlers with some backcountry camping and canoeing experience and basic whitewater canoeing skills.  It would be an excellent choice for your first northern canoe expedition!

DAY ONE: ARRIVAL

Arrive at Norman Wells airport by mid-morning.  You will then be transferred to the float plane base (6.5 km south of town). Once there, you will meet your fellow canoe trippers and guides, have a pre-trip briefing, equipment check, and orientation before a charter flight(s) to the Keele River (weather permitting).  You will then set up camp, review canoe strokes and begin your river adventure!


DAY TWO TO TEN: PADDLING THE KEELE RIVER

During these eight days, we’ll trace the Keele River through approximately 300 km of wilderness, dropping 400 meters through exciting class I & II rapids with lots of swifts and current, to the Mackenzie River. We’ll explore the rugged and dramatic scenery by canoe and occasionally on foot as there are opportunities to hike amongst lofty peaks, craggy ridges, and canyons.

The Keele River flows in a northeasterly direction, emptying into the Mackenzie River about 80 km upstream of the Sahtu Hamlet of Tulita. It is a truly ‘mountain’ river, with large volume rapids, fast current, and beautiful canyons. The headwaters, O’Grady Lake, is in the Selwyn Range of the Mackenzie Mountains, a northern extension of the Rocky Mountains which form the drainage divide between the Yukon and Mackenzie watersheds. These mountains reach heights of over 2,700 meters and are rugged, dominating the background with rock colors of buff, grey, cinnamon, green and maroon. The river flows in meanders, cutting its way through the sandstone and shale. The numerous rapids can change drastically due to water levels, but all can be run in a canoe decked with a spray cover.

The Keele is is a large volume river, with a width that varies from 200 – 400 meters. Most rapids are small, but there are some challenges of large standing waves, small whirlpools, and turbulence along the entire river. There are several canyons, and frequent gravel bars can create more waves and small chutes. We will pass by the Shezal Canyon, and ‘the Flowerpot’, a limestone pillar rising 10 meters above the river located between the Ekwi and Twitya Rivers. A series of natural salt licks along the Keele attract large game, and if we are lucky we will see caribou and Dall’s sheep.


The Keele passes through the Tigonankweine and Canyon Ranges providing a fantastic mountain backdrop. By this time, we have dropped over 400 meters in elevation and consequently, the vegetation is lusher. Thick stands of black spruce and aspen crowd the banks. The Keele enters the Mackenzie Valley Lowlands approximately 100 km from its mouth at the Mackenzie. The topography is lower and river braided but it still flows with good current through class I  and swifts.

The Keele River area is the traditional lands of the Mountain Dene. They would roam the mountains from the South Nahanni to the Natla and Mountain Rivers, hunting Dall’s sheep, caribou, and fishing.   The Dene name for the Keele River was ‘Bacotyeh’, meaning “meat drying river”.  Today, there are no year-round residents in the Keele watershed as most have moved into villages along the Mackenzie.


DAY ELEVEN: MACKENZIE RIVER

Today we arrive at the Mackenzie River and continue downstream to the town of Tulita. From here, we’ll ride a charter shuttle from Tulita back to Norman Wells. We’ll stay overnight, shower and enjoy our final dinner at the Heritage Hotel.

DAY TWELVE: DEPARTURE

This morning, you may take some time to explore the town of Norman Wells.  You will then be transferred to the airport mid-day to catch afternoon flights to Edmonton (via Yellowknife) and beyond.

Click here to see upcoming trip dates to book your spot!