Canoeing the Horton River: A Mesmerizing Journey into the tundra of the Canadian Arctic

Explore Canada's untouched Horton River, from dramatic canyons to mysterious Smoking Hills. Dive into an epic Arctic canoeing adventure.

Where is the Horton River located?

Coursing deep into Canada’s north the Horton River valley, lies as a hidden gem that flows through the Northwest Territories to the Arctic Ocean. Far above the 60th parallel, this majestic waterway distinguishes itself as mainland Canada’s most northerly river.

For those unfamiliar with Canada’s vast geography, the Northwest Territories is a sprawling region that spans the uppermost portions of the country, nestling itself between the cold embrace of the Arctic Ocean and the northern borders of the provinces below. Imagine a place where the summer sun lingers in the sky well into the night, where the Northern Lights paint the heavens with vivid colors, and where vast, uninterrupted landscapes stretch as far as the eye can see! If you were to pinpoint its location, it lies closer to the North Pole than to the bustling cities of southern Canada, marking it as a truly exceptional destination for those seeking untouched wilderness and adventure.

Originating from a small lake north of Great Bear Lake and winding through the picturesque Smoking Hills, this river gracefully meets the Amundsen Gulf of the Beaufort Sea.

Why Paddle the Horton? Discovering a Hidden Arctic Gem

For paddling enthusiasts, the Horton River presents an unparalleled opportunity to experience the untouched beauty of the Arctic wilderness. Unlike its more renowned counterparts, the Horton remains a closely-guarded secret, weaving through dramatic canyons, past the mystifying Smoking Hills, and opening up to vast stretches of tundra where we search for wildlife. The river’s seclusion ensures a journey of serenity, where the only sounds accompanying you are the rhythmic strokes of your paddle and nature’s soft symphony.

Paddling the Horton isn’t just about navigating its waters; it’s about immersing oneself in a realm where time seems to stand still, every bend offers a new breathtaking vista, and the raw power of nature is palpable. If you’re seeking a paddling adventure that combines isolation, unmatched scenery, and the thrill of exploring a lesser-known treasure, the Horton River beckons!

Canoeists navigating rapids amidst towering limestone cliffs on the Horton River, with Peregrine and Gyrfalcons taking flight.
Paddling through the majestic canyons of the Horton River, beneath the watchful eyes of nesting Gyrfalcons and Peregrine Falcons.

Getting to the Horton River

Your expedition to the Horton River begins with a flight to the distant town of Inuvik, situated along the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories.

Inuvik, located well above the Arctic Circle, stands as one of Canada’s most northern outposts and acts as a doorway to the vast and sparsely populated regions of the Arctic.

Upon arriving in Inuvik, you’ll immediately sense the serenity of the area, a peaceful divergence from the bustling urban centers. After taking a moment to settle in, the real journey kickstarts with a briefing at the Midnight Sun Complex. Here, you connect with your expedition leader, finalize preparations, and let the anticipation for the adventure build.

When the next day dawns, congregate in your lodging’s common area, ready for the next leg of the journey. Board a charter flight, which offers a bird’s-eye view of the mesmerizing tundra below. This aerial trip not only brings you closer to the Horton River but gives you a hint of the breathtaking landscapes awaiting exploration!

Adventurers unload canoes and gear from a twin otter on the Horton River's shores, marking the start of their epic journey.

Who can paddle the Horton?

The Horton River beckons to all—from novices to seasoned canoeists. Below the canyons its gentle waters are forgiving, making it an ideal choice for those just beginning their paddling journey or for the more experienced seeking a serene escapade.

However, participants should be mindful of the expansive landscape and the isolation that comes with such a remote trek. Fortunately, our seasoned guides are always close by to provide assistance, ensuring a safe and memorable experience for those fueled by wanderlust and a yearning to be one with nature.

To fully enjoy and safely navigate the river, prior canoeing experience is required. Familiarity with basic paddling strokes such as the bow, reverse, “j”, draw, pry, and sweep will enhance your expedition. Whether you’re adept at partnering up in the bow, or you possess river-reading skills and can deftly steer from the stern, your past experiences will play a pivotal role in mastering the Horton’s currents.

Not sure? Check out our Skill Prerequisites page.

The Horton River is suitable for both novices and experienced canoeists, offering gentle waters especially below the canyons.

Geographic Highlights of the Horton River

The Horton River is not just a waterway; it’s a tapestry of geological wonders and unique terrains that have been carved over the millennia since the melting of the Laurentide Icesheet.

Here are some of the standout geographic features that make this river a must-explore for any avid adventurer:

Canoers paddling through gentle rapids on the Horton River.
Paddlers navigate the gentle rapids amidst the breathtaking limestone canyons, where the vibrant rocks and towering columns offer a sanctuary for the majestic Gyrfalcon and Peregrine Falcons.

Weather on the Horton River

When picturing Canada’s northern territories, many imagine a frozen, snowy expanse year-round. However, the summer months, particularly July, present a remarkably different ambiance along the Horton River.

In July, the Horton River region enjoys its brief but lively summer. Daytime average temperatures hover around 10°C to 20°C (50°F to 68°F), though occasionally they may climb much higher. Later in the summer months the nights can be cool, so it’s crucial to be prepared for a range of temperatures. Our helpful packing guide will provide you with all the information you need.

One of the most enchanting features of a Horton River summer is the phenomenon of the “Midnight Sun.” Due to its northern location, the river region experiences prolonged daylight during June and July, with the sun not setting at all. This provides an extended window of light for adventurers to soak in the landscapes and participate in various activities.
However, while the temperatures are milder in July, it’s essential to be aware of the variable weather patterns. Rain is possible, so packing waterproof gear is a must. Winds can also be a frequent companion on your journey, occasionally picking up speed and making for chillier conditions.
Lastly, summer also sees an influx of insects, notably mosquitoe in this land of permafrost. Packing repellent, a headnet or bug jacket and wearing long-sleeved clothing can offers protection. We will also travel with a bug shelter to provide comfortable space to dine and relax.

Guests having dinner at a riverside campsite, using an overturned canoe as a makeshift table on the Horton River.
The Horton River dining experience blends gourmet meals with breathtaking wilderness, making each bite an unforgettable journey.

Flora and Fauna on the Horton River

The Horton River, nestled in the vast Arctic landscape, boasts a rich tapestry of flora and fauna, a testament to nature’s resilience in such stark conditions.

Flora: The river’s banks are adorned with a mix of tundra vegetation. Dwarf shrubs, including varieties of willow and birch, are common, alongside colorful Arctic wildflowers like the Arctic poppy, purple saxifrage, and mountain avens. Mosses and lichens, essential to the tundra ecosystem, form thick carpets in various areas, providing vital insulation to the ground beneath.

Fauna: The region is home to wild variety of wildlife, both large and small. Paddlers might spot majestic caribou herds grazing nearby or a solitary muskox bull with its shaggy coat. The keen-eyed might even catch a glimpse of Arctic wolves or elusive grizzly bears. The river itself is abundant with fish, including arctic grayling and char. Above, the skies are often graced by raptors like the peregrine falcon and the gyrfalcon, soaring high or nesting on the cliffs. And, of course, the myriad of smaller creatures, from Arctic hare to lemmings, play their part in this intricate web of life.

Amidst the Horton River's serene waters, keep a vigilant eye for the graceful caribou, adding a touch of wild majesty to the paddling adventure.
Two muskoxen stand strong in the wild, their shaggy coats a testament to their ability to withstand Arctic temperatures as low as -40°C.

Fishing on the Horton

The Horton River is a haven for anglers, offering excellent freshwater fishing opportunitiesi. Its pristine waters, largely untouched by human activity, teem with aquatic life, making every fishing excursion both fruitful and memorable.

Fish Species: The river is renowned for its abundant populations of Arctic grayling, known for their distinctive dorsal fins and vibrant hues. Alongside the grayling, anglers can also find the hard-fighting Arctic char, a favorite among many for both its spirited resistance and delicious taste. Additionally, lake trout often make their way into the river from and are prized by anglers of all persuasions.

Best Times to Fish: While fishing is productive throughout the paddling season, the peak times are during the summer months of July and August when we expect Arctic char to begin their migration from the sea to spawn.

Techniques and Gear: Fly fishing is a popular method on the Horton, with many anglers favoring dry flies or nymphs to mimic the local insect life. However, for those targeting larger species like the lake trout, spinning gear with lures can also be effective. Due to the river’s clear waters, lighter lines and natural-colored lures or flies are often recommended.

Catch and Release: To preserve the river’s rich biodiversity and ensure future generations can enjoy the same thrilling fishing experiences, catch and release is highly encouraged. Using barbless hooks and handling fish with care ensures their survival upon release.

For those seeking a genuine Arctic angling adventure, the Horton River promises not only the thrill of the catch but also the serenity of fishing in one of the world’s most untouched wildernesses.

From the seat of a canoe on the Horton River, the immense treeless horizon rises spectacularly, offering a breathtaking panorama unique to this northern journey.

The Journey: Day-by-Day

From our first flight across the tundra to our farewell supper in Inuvik, each day offers a new adventure. Whether you’re hiking the Smoking Hills, spotting beluga whales in Franklin Bay, or simply sitting by the campfire under the vast Arctic sky, our day-by-day itinerary promises a fulfilling and unforgettable experience.

Guests unwind as the aroma of dinner wafts from the grill, the camp buzzes with camaraderie, and tales of the day's adventure. Here, wilderness comforts blend seamlessly, making every moment memorable.

Why Choose Our Horton River Canoeing Trip?

Since our beginnings in 1972, we’ve cultivated unparalleled river expeditions, boasting a 40% guest return rate. Our handpicked guides, celebrated for their expertise and passion, ensure an enriching journey, further enhanced by our optimal one-to-four guide-to-guest ratio.

Every day culminates in gastronomic delights, from aromatic cinnamon buns to delectable Arctic char. Prioritizing safety and local engagements, we’re committed to providing genuine cultural insights where possible while championing northern conservation efforts.

With unwavering support and a treasure trove of regional knowledge, we promise an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime Horton River adventure!

Tent and canoe with guides cooking, overlooking Horton River mountains.
Guides transform an overturned canoe into a riverside kitchen, crafting gourmet delights as the Horton River murmurs in the background.

Dreaming of the Ultimate Arctic Adventure? Request More Information Now!

Are you feeling the pull of the Arctic’s wild allure? If the breathtaking landscapes, exhilarating wildlife encounters, and the serene drift of the Horton River have sparked your wanderlust, then don’t let this opportunity slip by. Dive deep into what could be your next big adventure by requesting more information.

We’re here to provide you with detailed insights, answer your burning questions, and help you embark on a journey that promises memories for a lifetime. Don’t merely dream—take the first step by reaching out to us. Request more information today, and let’s navigate the wonders of the Horton River together.

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Whether you journey to experience abundant wildlife, verdant wildflowers or glacial vistas, our journeys are sure to exceed your expectations.

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