Rendezvous at the Fort Nelson airport upon arrival of the Central Mountain Air flight. Those who drove to Fort Nelson can leave their vehicles at the airport for the duration of the trip. Following introductions, we will load the van and begin our drive north. We will make a brief stop in Fort Nelson on our way to the Alaska Highway where we will shop for snacks for the drive. Our route to the headwaters of the Nahanni River takes us west through the northeast corner of the Rocky Mountains. The landscape has a rugged beauty all of its own. We will make sightseeing stops at Stone Mountain and Muncho Lake Provincial Parks. Guests in the past have lost count of the number of wildlife sightings on the first day alone. From the van we are sure to see stone sheep and mountain caribou along the way. We will camp for the night at Liard Hot Springs where we will enjoy a relaxing soak.
Back on the road we’ll drive to Watson Lake and walk through the historic Sign Post Forest. At Watson Lake, Yukon we drive north on the Robert Campbell Highway and then onto the Nahanni Range Road for our detour back into the Northwest Territories and the road to our flight base on Flat Lake. This remote road boasts incredible scenery and will give you a peak of the mountain ranges you will fly over on your way to Divide Lake. Weather permitting we will make the short flight to Divide Lake upon arriving at Flat Lake. We will enjoy the peace and beauty of this alpine lake as we toast our arrival into the Naat’sich’oh National Park Reserve and its stunning wilderness. There may be time for hiking and fishing near the lake. Anglers are almost guaranteed to land a lake trout or grayling. The lake also provides an excellent venue to practice canoeing skills before setting out the following morning.
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.
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 delicious three course meals 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.
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 hotsprings, 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.
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 worth 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’ich’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Tlgotsho Plateau. Deadmen Valley offers an abundance of exploratory options. The massive Prairie Creek alluvial fan provides excellent camping, hiking and wildlife observations.
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 splendor. 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.
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.
On our final morning on the river we will continue on to the Native 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 the Nahanni Butte River taxi for the 15 km ride to the Nahanni Butte Road Landing on the Liard River. The awaiting NWA shuttle van will take your group to Bannocklands, a beautiful inn on the banks of the Liard river. There you will enjoy hot showers and a celebratory final meal. Accommodation and dinner are included.
After a leisurely morning, you will be transported to the Fort Simpson Airport where you will begin your journey home.