Burnside River Rafting – Caribou Migration, Wildflowers and Hiking

Trip Length
12 day(s)


Skill Level

Rendezvous Point
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

$ (CAD)

Inquire about this trip >

Please note: Due to changes in wildlife viewing, trips on the Burnside River are on hold. Learn more here.

The Burnside River is frequently referred to as the “wildlife river” because you’re practically guaranteed top wildlife viewing and a classic Arctic adventure. Our Burnside River rafting trips in Nunavut, Canada are timed to coincide with the historic Bathurst Caribou migration.

Trip Highlights

  • Classic Arctic adventure with plenty of wildlife viewing
  • See caribou, muskox, grizzly, wolves, hawks, eagles and falcons
  • Float across the Arctic Circle
  • 12 river days

Trip Details

We travel over 12 river days from the outlet of Kathawachaga Lake to the portage at Burnside Canyon near Bathurst Inlet, a journey of approximately 205 kilometres (130 miles) with an elevation drop of 385 metres (1275 feet).

Musk oxen and caribou are the two most commonly seen animals along the river. The Bathurst caribou herd, which numbers over 300,000 animals, crosses the river on its way to and from its calving grounds along the east side of Bathurst Inlet around the Elise River. Huge numbers of caribou often follow along the river in late June or early July. Wolves, which follow the herd, may be seen along the river and there are many good denning sites in the area. Musk oxen can be seen along the length of the river, appearing individually or in groups of 30 or more. Photographers can get quite close, but should keep in mind that musk oxen have been known to charge and cause serious injury. Grizzly bears are also seen along the river. Caution is advised in this regard when hiking or camping. We carry both bear spray and a shotgun as deterrents. Although we have had many bear sightings over the years, we have never had a problem. Wolverines, foxes, Arctic hares, Arctic ground squirrels and several other small mammals are also found. In the Wilberforce Hills region, there are many birds of prey. Notably, peregrine and gyrfalcon as well as golden eagles and rough-legged hawks. These magnificent birds make their nests on the rocky cliffs along the river.

Please note that hotel costs and meals while in Yellowknife are not included in the trip fee.

Prerequisites: None. Beginners welcome!



Trip Dates

Trip Dates To Be Announced.

Additional dates may be available, please inquire.


The following is a tentative agenda and has been designed with much thought to capitalize on the most scenic and exciting parts of the river while making time on other sections. Your guides will adjust the schedule to make the best use of river and weather conditions.

Trip length: 12 river days
Meals included: 
Breakfast = B | Lunch = L | Dinner = D


Your journey north will be a refreshing departure from everyday life. You’ll fly over the largest expanse of wilderness in the world, pass through quieter airports, meet friendlier service personnel, and generally begin to immerse yourself in the wilderness experience that is about to unfold.

You should plan to arrive in Yellowknife for our pre-trip orientation meeting which will be held in the Explorer Hotel at 8 p.m.

Please note that hotel costs and meals while in Yellowknife are not included in the trip.


8 a.m – Meeting in the hotel lobby after breakfast. Weather permitting, we’ll fly immediately into the river. After setting up camp and lunch, there will be plenty of time for our first hike in the surrounding hills to look at the wildflowers and wildlife of the area.


We’ll inflate and load the rafts and start down river. Shortly after leaving Kathawachaga Lake we stop on the small island of Nadlock, the site of an old Inuit campsite. One of the few sites of its kind in the Nunavut, it’s believed the Inuit used caribou antlers and hide to cover the stone tent rings that are still standing. The island also has an uncommon collection of nesting birds – Ring-billed Gulls, Arctic Terns, Redpoles, Yellow-billed Loons, Red-necked Phalaropes, Canada Geese, plus many others. Camp will be made near Bellanca Rapids. This rapid was named after an aircraft that crashed near here in the 1940s ­– a Bellanca CH-300 Pacemaker.

Day 3 (B/L/D) HIKING

We’ll spend a day hiking and exploring the hills around the rapids. It’s common to see muskoxen, caribou, and wolves – there’s an active wolf den in this area.


The current picks up as we wind our way downstream through the spectacular tundra landscape. The birders of the group can look forward to seeing both Peregrine and Gyrfalcons nesting along with Golden Eagles and countless ducks and waterfowl. We also keep a constant lookout for caribou, wolf, grizzly and of course the muskoxen. The landscape always lends itself to hiking, whether it is on our once-a-day stop for a short walk away from the river or from each campsite. This allows you plenty of time to study the numerous wildflowers, find and photograph a Redpole’s nest hidden in the grass, or just enjoy the view.


We take the day off to hike and explore the tundra. We camp at a small unnamed river that flows into the Burnside from the south that we call Fishing Creek. As well as excellent hiking, it’s one the best fishing locations on the river.

Day 7 & 8 (B/L/D) MARA RIVER

Arriving at the confluence of the Mara River, we’ll spend a day here walking up a local peak to wonder at the vastness of the valley. Being above the tree line, wood on the river is scarce. All our cooking is done over propane stoves and we try to leave each camp in the pristine state that we found it.


From the confluence of the Mara to Burnside Falls the river is squeezed between the narrowing banks that rise 180 to 215 metres (600 – 700 feet) off the water. The river starts to speed up and we keep a constant eye out for the muskoxen, wolf or grizzly. We cross the Arctic Circle, the earthly line above which the sun is visible for twenty-four hours for at least one day during the summer months. Camp is made at Burnside Falls.


We’ll spend the day around Burnside Falls. You’ll get a chance to wander the tundra and hike the canyon to the Burnside estuary. The river here is forced through a narrow chasm of red and white quartzite carving a four-mile canyon as it drops over the escarpment formed by the Wilberforce Hills. It is an ideal place for hiking, exploring, fishing or relaxing. Hikers are rewarded with views of Bathurst Inlet.


Our rendezvous with the Twin Otter for the homeward charter is unique and exciting. Two Inuit men cross Bathurst Inlet in a boat and then travel over land by all terrain vehicle to meet us. They tow a traditional komatik (like a big sled) behind the ATV. With this they haul our gear about 2 kilometres to the top of a nearby esker. Here it’s possible to land a Twin Otter on wheels. We follow on foot and explore the region of the esker until the aircraft arrives.

Weather permitting, we’ll be picked up by our chartered Twin Otter and flown back to Yellowknife. Don’t count on getting a flight home this day in case we’re weathered in. Arrangements can be made to stay in one of the local hotels or you can camp just outside of town. This will allow you time to visit Yellowknife.


You board your flight for home.


12 days of incredible experience scenery changing by day as the Tundra comes alive. 10,000 Caribou right before your eyes all along with weather changes that boggle the mind. A reliable outfitter with a reverence for nature and respect for the native people & the wildlife. Four trips and we’ll be back. Your guides are wonderful.

- Mary Jean Duncan, Ottawa, On

A great holiday. Beautiful scenery, amazing animals, well organized food & guides. Outstanding! Thank you!

- Nigel Pereira Sheffield, England

The Burnside River trip exceeded my expectations. The hikes were spectacular! Watching the flora unfold from buds to midsummer in 12 days…beautiful! And of course, the caribou as far as the eye could see. You have to see it to believe it!

- Kathy Evoy, Bruce Mines, On

Would you like more information about this trip?

Provide your contact information and we will get back to you with a trip information package and will answer any questions you may have.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Other trips that might interest you

Firth River – Tundra Beauty, Wildlife, Wildflowers & Hiking

12 day(s)
$15,795 (CAD)

The Firth is a wild and remote Arctic river that flows through the centre of Ivvavik National Park. You'll see muskox, caribou, wolves, eagles, falcons and beautiful Arctic plants. Excellent hiking abounds!

View Trip
Three canoes paddling down the Horton River.

Horton River Canoeing: Flatwater Canoeing, Caribou, Muskox and Smoking Hills

13 day(s)
$13,675 (CAD)

Paddle through Canada's Arctic wilderness: Encounter muskox, explore the Smoking Hills, and gaze upon Beluga whales on this 13-day Horton River Canoe Expedition.

View Trip