Nahanni River Canoe Adventure

About the Experience

The Nahanni River is one of the world’s greatest wilderness destinations. It is the experience of a lifetime to explore this remote pristine alpine river valley!

The South Nahanni River is Canada’s premier wilderness river. It contains Canada’s deepest river canyons, its greatest waterfalls, a vast wilderness of wildlife and forests and the legends of headless prospectors and lost adventurers.

This route follows the river from the old park boundary at Rabbitkettle Lake to Virginia Falls through the spectacular canyons section of the Mackenzie lowlands, and the confluence of the Liard River. Although this river is well-known, the river is so remote that on average only 250 people paddle the river each season.

This intermediate canoe trip is suitable for paddlers with some previous canoe camping and whitewater experience, but advanced whitewater skills are not required. The river has non-technical rapids with big waves in long canyons, sections of strong current and sections of easy, shallow braided rapids running through gravel bars. Experienced paddlers can take a more exciting route in some rapids while a novice can avoid many of the more challenging sections of whitewater.

You should be comfortable with basic strokes and maneuvers on flat water. Ideally, you will have some familiarity with whitewater skills such as eddy turns, front and back ferries, braces and basic river reading skills. You should understand basic safety and rescue techniques. A pre-trip whitewater clinic or trip would be a good warm up.

At the campsite, everyone pitches in with setting up tents, collecting firewood, preparing meals, telling stories etc. The guides coordinate things and are always ready to assist you in any tasks. They will provide expert coaching and lots of personal attention. Feel free to call our office to discuss your suitability for this trip.

Click here to see the full itinerary!
Nahanni River Canoe Adventure

About the Experience

The Nahanni River is one of the world’s greatest wilderness destinations. It is the experience of a lifetime to explore this remote pristine alpine river valley!

The South Nahanni River is Canada’s premier wilderness river. It contains Canada’s deepest river canyons, its greatest waterfalls, a vast wilderness of wildlife and forests and the legends of headless prospectors and lost adventurers.

This route follows the river from the old park boundary at Rabbitkettle Lake to Virginia Falls through the spectacular canyons section of the Mackenzie lowlands, and the confluence of the Liard River. Although this river is well-known, the river is so remote that on average only 250 people paddle the river each season.

This intermediate canoe trip is suitable for paddlers with some previous canoe camping and whitewater experience, but advanced whitewater skills are not required. The river has non-technical rapids with big waves in long canyons, sections of strong current and sections of easy, shallow braided rapids running through gravel bars. Experienced paddlers can take a more exciting route in some rapids while a novice can avoid many of the more challenging sections of whitewater.

You should be comfortable with basic strokes and maneuvers on flat water. Ideally, you will have some familiarity with whitewater skills such as eddy turns, front and back ferries, braces and basic river reading skills. You should understand basic safety and rescue techniques. A pre-trip whitewater clinic or trip would be a good warm up.

At the campsite, everyone pitches in with setting up tents, collecting firewood, preparing meals, telling stories etc. The guides coordinate things and are always ready to assist you in any tasks. They will provide expert coaching and lots of personal attention. Feel free to call our office to discuss your suitability for this trip.

DAY ONE: ARRIVAL

For those arriving early, we’ll meet at the Mackenzie Rest Inn for a meet and greet lunch followed by a trip orientation where we’ll do an equipment review and pre-trip briefing. We’ll end the day with group dinner. Be sure to soak in the beautiful view of the MacKenzie River from the inn and then head to bed for a good night’s rest before your big adventure begins tomorrow! If you are taking advantage of the First Air group flight discount via Yellowknife, you will arrive in Fort Simpson by noon (flight times subject to change).

 

DAY TWO: DEPARTURE TO THE NAHANNI

Wake up bright and early for breakfast at the inn, gather your gear and head to the National Park office for a final trip briefing and equipment check. You’ll then embark on your charter flight to Rabbitkettle Lake (weather permitting). Note that if there are several flights you may have to wait a few hours while the aircraft returns from the river. After landing, your guides will register the group at the Warden’s Cabin and the park warden may take you on an optional interpretive hike in the area. You’ll set up camp and have your first meal in the wilderness!

 

DAY THREE – FOUR: RABBITKETTLE LAKE TO VIRGINIA FALLS

This morning your group will portage gear, food and boats 1 km to the river. The first 120 km is a calm, meandering stretch as the river flows through a broad U -shaped valley. There will be time for canoeing instruction during this part of the trip. It is a relaxed paddle where we can scan the shore for black bear, moose or bald eagles. We’ll camp on gravel bars by the river or near creek beds.

 

DAY FIVE – SIX: VIRGINIA FALLS

Today we arrive at the legendary Virginia Falls and set up camp. Virginia Falls – at twice the height of Niagara Falls, is one of North America’s greatest natural beauties. The Dene cal it Na ili Cho, meaning “Big Water Falling Down”. We’ll camp here for a couple of days, exploring the falls and perhaps hiking to the summit of Sunblood Mountain on the other side of the river.

There is a 1.5 km portage around the falls, and about half the trail is on a boardwalk to protect the permafrost and delicate vegetation. Over the two days, everyone will pitch in to the portage group and personal gear, as well as the boats.

 

DAY SEVEN – TWELVE: VIRGINIA FALLS TO THE SPLITS

Below the falls is the beginning of the dramatic 140 km canyon section of the Nahanni and today we begin this spectacular paddle. The powerful river is squeezed into a series of steep-walled canyons: Painted Canyon (Fourth canyon), Hells Gate, Third Canyon with the Gate and Pulpit Rock and then the vast Second and First Canyons over 1 km deep. The current speeds smoothly past the limestone walls with occasional stretches of large standing waves.

Over the next several days, we’ll navigate through the rapids with time for day hikes, fishing, photography and exploring the magic of the lower Nahanni. The side hikes in this stretch are outstanding, so we’ll spend at least one layover day exploring off the river. Side hike options include Pulpit Rock, Scow Creek, Prairie Creek and Dry Canyon in Deadman’s Valley, and Lafferty’s Creek.

At the end of the canyon section, we find Kraus’ Hotspring, where homesteaders Gus and Mary Kraus lived for many years before the formation of the national park. They have since passed away but we can see the remains of their homestead and soak in the hot spring at the very edge of the river.
By this point in the trip, we will be in the Mackenzie Valley Lowlands and our final night of camping in the canyons will be near Kraus’ Hotspring.

 

DAY THIRTEEN – FOURTEEN: NAHANNI BUTTE

The next 110 km is a dramatic change with a lower landscape dominated by black spruce and aspen. Today we begin with ‘The Splits’ – a natural maze of swift flowing, braided rocky channels and low spruce-covered islands. The river flows in a wide open valley then slows in a series of grand meanders towards Nahanni Butte, a large rounded ‘hill’, and a Dene village of the same name, which marks the confluence of the Nahanni and the Liard Rivers.

After a short visit to the village, the local Dene will take us by motorboat, the last 25 km down the Liard to our take out at Lindberg Landing. This is the homestead of Sue Lindberg and the first road access to the Liard. The facilities and overnight accommodation are very basic at Lindbergs, but we will enjoy a shower and home-cooked meals.

 

DAY FIFTEEN: DEPARTURE

This morning, after a hearty breakfast at Lindberg’s, you will take a van shuttle back to Fort Simpson, and transfer to Fort Simpson Airport for flights home.

 

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