Broken Skull River: 23 Day Canoe Adventure

Trip Length
23 day(s)

Craft
Canoe

Skill Level
Intermediate

Rendezvous Point
Whitehorse, YT

Pricing
$10,395 (CAD) + GST + 231.50 National Park fee

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This unique and remote tributary of the Nahanni starts high in the mountains of Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve in the traditional lands of the Shúhtaot’ine (Mountain Dene).

Clear water, unforgettable views and an intimate wilderness experience, the Broken Skull offers all of this from its beginning high in the alpine to its mouth at the South Nahanni river. Not to mention the friendly, exciting whitewater that will have you hooting and hollering from the sheer joy of corner after corner of fun!

With exciting but approachable rapids, easy access to the alpine and hidden hot-springs this wild river begs for exploration.  Upon joining the South Nahanni river at the mouth of the Broken Skull, paddlers will journey through the most famous of the Nahanni’s landscapes including Nailicho (Virginia Falls) and Canada’s deepest canyons.

This expedition offers a chance to experience two of Canada’s most remote and spectacular National Parks. . The two parks meet near the confluence with the South Nahanni River which will take you through the world renowned wonders of the Nahanni National Park Reserve. Whether you would like to experience the Nahanni for the first time or tick off another of its tributaries, this journey promises to make memories that will last a lifetime.

Those who paddle the Broken Skull river will enjoy the highest quality of wilderness experience including our famous Nahanni menu, our professional guides and our love for sharing wild places.

Skill Prerequisites

  • Class II whitewater experience

Learn more about canoe trip skill prerequisites >

Photos

Trip Dates

July 26, 2024 - August 18, 2024 Book Now

Fully Booked

July 25, 2025 - August 17, 2025 Book Now

9 Seats Available

Additional dates may be available, please inquire.

Itinerary

DAY 0 – WHITEHORSE, YUKON

This is the first date listed for your trip. Your journey north from your home will be a refreshing departure. You will fly over the largest expanse of wilderness in the world with stunning views on cloudless days. Passing through quieter and friendlier airports, you will begin to immerse yourself in the wilderness experience that is about to unfold.

This is the arrival day and is the first day listed for your trip. The scheduled flights arrive in Whitehorse throughout the day. Please make your way to your hotel and plan to rendezvous with your guides at the meeting point confirmed in your Welcome Aboard Package, at 6pm for an orientation meeting with the trip leader. There will be a chance for last- minute questions concerning clothing, gear, packing and other details.

DAY 2

Following breakfast (not covered), we will meet you at your hotel at 8am and will embark on our journey to Mayo, a small community on the territory of the Na-cho Nayak Dun First Nation.

From there, we will travel by float plane to Divide Lake. This flight will take us through vast mountain scenery and into the South Nahanni watershed.

We will enjoy the peace and beauty of Divide Lake as we toast our arrival into the Naats’ihch’oh National Park Reserve and its stunning wilderness. There may be time for hiking near the lake. The lake also provides an excellent venue to practice canoeing skills before setting out the following morning.

DAY 3

After an introduction to preparing canoes for travel and river safety, we will paddle from Divide Lake onto a crystal clear creek that will take us to Swallow Falls, named for the swallows that nest in the cliffs around the falls. A short portage through dwarf birch takes us around the falls to the start of a small canyon. Depending on water levels we will paddle or line this tight canyon and revel in the clear water pouring over boulders. We will camp at the exit of the canyon and watch the sun set over the canyon walls.

DAY 4

Shortly after setting out we will arrive at the Broken Skull River and get our first taste of it’s famous, friendly whitewater. We will weave our way through boulder fields enjoying class 1-2+ waves. As necessary, we will scout wave trains to identify the best line at our water level. The whitewater will last for most of the day but will lessen off in time to allow our gaze to shift to the incredible views on all sides. We will make camp in the heart of the mountains and enjoy a delicious three course meal prepared over the fire. There is no shortage of daylight, so you can linger around the fire watching the evening light play on the mountain ranges.

DAY 5-6

The thrills continue on the river with continual stretches of beautiful, friendly whitewater. Standing waves around every corner, perfectly spaced boulders to weave through and the occasional opportunity to ‘thread the needle’. Even the most restrained paddlers won’t be able to wipe the smile off their face. There are ample opportunities for hiking and exploration off the river. Your guides will make opportunities available based on the group interest, water levels and weather. A ‘must do’ is the Broken Skull hot springs, a 2.5km hike up a small tributary of the Broken Skull river. The water temperatures will not disappoint and after a few days of paddling, the soak will be a welcome chance to revive tired muscles. For an intrepid few, a dunk in the nearby creek can be interspersed with soaking in the piping hot pools.

DAY 7-9

As the Broken Skull river grows it maintains its crystal clear water. At this point in the trip some groups have added grizzly bears, porcupines, moose, caribou and wolves to their list of wildlife sightings. The Broken Skull river is an active wildlife corridor where you will be sure to see tracks of many of these mammals. We will paddle through the ‘Mini Gate’, named for the Gate on the South Nahanni River. This smaller but equally photo worthy geological feature provides an opportunity for photo shoots. We will enjoy drifting through the still pools of this special landmark before paddling on to more whitewater. As we paddle from the Naats’ihch’oh Park into the Nahanni National Park Reserve we will get our first glimpses of the Ragged Range which includes the highest peaks in the Northwest Territories. We will camp on a gravel bars with small, delicate rocks that will ensure we sleep soundly under the midnight sun.

DAY 10

Dwarf fireweed dots the river’s edge with its magenta blossoms as we paddle towards the confluence with the South Nahanni river. The Vampire Peaks loom large as the clear water of the Broken Skull swirls into the Nahanni’s grey green waters. Paddle ‘high fives’ will be passed amongst the group as you congratulate yourself on having paddled a river only a handful of groups experience each year. Now you can sit back and enjoy the quiet waters of the South Nahanni. Put your feet up and gaze into the Cirque of the Unclimbables, the renowned hiking and rock climbing area a two day trek from the South Nahanni river. The armchair glacier of Mount Edna is your first landmark for the impressive peaks of the Cirque. You may get to wave hello to a group departing from Britnell Creek to hike into the Cirque of the Unclimables, a gentle reminder that the outside world exists after likely not having seen another group since arriving on the river.

DAY 11-14

We will enjoy a lay over day at Rabbitkettle Lake while more delicious food and supplies are delivered to us for the second half of our journey! Additional group members may join at this time. The lake is beautiful, with warm waters, views of the highest peaks in the NWT and some great hiking opportunities. All of these make the day a highlight for many of our guests.  We will enjoy an interpretive hike, guided by Nahanni National Park personnel (subject to availability of Park staff) to view the Rabbitkettle Hot Spring and Tufa Mounds. We then begin paddling down river towards Virginia Falls.

This section of the river is dominated by U -shaped valleys which were scoured out by advancing cordilleran glaciers thousands of years ago. We paddle 120 km (72 mi.) on the smooth flowing water to Virginia Falls. Along the way we will camp beside beautiful creeks such as Hell Roaring Creek and Flood creek and will feast our eyes on Rabbitkettle Mountain, a myriad of alpine ridges and the Sunblood range.

DAY 15-16

Everyone will appreciate a rest day at Virginia Falls. At over 90 m (300 ft.) Virginia Falls is twice the height of Niagara, and is the spectacular centerpiece of Nahanni National Park. The options for these days are many – you can lounge in the group camping area, explore the Falls with your camera, or strike off on an invigorating hike to the grassy summit of Sunblood Mountain. Virginia Falls is a fascinating place to discover.

DAY 17

Following our layover day, we complete the 2 km portage around the Falls and reload our canoes. For the following week we will immerse ourselves in the spectacular scenery of the lower Nahanni River. The lower Nahanni is canyon country and is often described as the Grand Canyon of the North. Beginning with Painted Canyon, so named because of its brightly coloured walls, you will experience the thrill and excitement of this whitewater section. On this night we will camp in the vicinity of the confluence with the Flat River.

DAY 18

Downstream we enter Third Canyon with its imposing 1200 m walls formed as the Nahanni has carved its way through the Funeral Range. We will camp in the shadow of the Gate; where the river has sliced a narrow chasm on the apex of a hairpin meander. An optional hike to the top of the Gate presents magnificent views of the river valley with imposing Pulpit Rock 460 m below.

DAY 19

Today finds us completing the 35 km Third Canyon and continuing on through Second Canyon, (15 km) where the Nahanni has carved its route through the Headless Range and into Deadmen Valley. This valley is known for its legend and mystery made famous by the mysterious deaths of the McLeod Brothers. Here the vista is noticeably different, as the valley opens up, with distant views of the Tl’ogotsho Plateau. Deadmen Valley offers an abundance of exploratory options. The massive Prairie Creek alluvial fan provides excellent camping, hiking and wildlife observations.

DAY 20

We start the morning with a run through the exhilarating waves of George’s Riffle and on into First Canyon. The imposing walls of First Canyon reach heights of over 1400 m. Groups often drift the length of this magnificent 26 km canyon, immersed in its splendour. The canyon walls are dotted with hundreds of caves. Close to its exit we will camp for the night at Lafferty’s Canyon, with good hiking opportunities.

DAY 21

Following breakfast, it’s down to Kraus’ Hot Spring for a soothing dip in its 32 C plus waters. From here we bid farewell to the canyons and make our way to the Nahanni’s Splits, a 70 km run through a maze of islands.

DAY 22

On our final morning on the river we will continue on to the Dene village of Nahanni Butte. (Pop. approx. 120). This remote community is located on the banks of the Nahanni just above its confluence with the Liard river. A stroll into town provides insight into a culture far removed from most of North America. Following lunch, we will board small aircraft for a flight down the Liard River to Fort Simpson. The awaiting shuttle van will take you to your accommodation (not included).  Your group will have a celebratory final evening recounting memories that will last a lifetime (not included).

DAY 23

Today is the last date listed for your trip. You can begin travelling home any time.  You’ll be sure to have an abundance of meaningful memories that will last a lifetime!

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