Photo Credit: Terry Parker
Photo Credit: Bruce Kirkby
Photo Credit: Tyler Garnham
Photo Credit: Bruce Kirkby
Photo Credit: Bruce Kirkby
Photo Credit: Tyler Garnham
Photo Credit: Tyler Garnham
Photo Credit: Tyler Garnham
Photo Credit: Tyler Garnham
Photo Credit: Terry Parker

Nahanni Cirque of the Unclimbables: Hiking and Flatwater Canoeing

Nahanni Cirque of the Unclimbables: Hiking and Flatwater Canoeing

  • The tall granite spires of the Cirque in Nahanni National Park are other-worldly and rival those of Mount Blanc and Patagonia
  • During an expedition in the Logan Mountains in 1955, legendary mountaineer Arnold Wexler named the jagged granite walls he encountered the Cirque of the Unclimbables
  • Situated in a remote corner of Nahanni National Park, upstream of Rabbitkettle Lake
  • Stunning flightseeing is another bonus of this trip
  • 9 river/hiking days

This is a spectacular addition to our Nahanni options. Previous visitors to the Cirque include world travellers who have experienced the granite spires of Mont Blanc and Patagonia. They say the Cirque is on par with other destinations known for dramatic alpine grandeur and pristine wilderness qualities. The Cirque has been included in the expansion of Nahanni National Park. Be among the first to experience its wonders!

This combination trip of flatwater canoeing and hiking features the world-class Cirque of the Unclimbables, Rabbitkettle Lake and Hotsprings, and the historic Nahanni River and Virginia Falls. This trip will dazzle you with tall granite spires surrounding a fairyland-like meadow, where mountain goats are frequently in view. Gentle trails weave among this otherwise dramatic terrain. The Cirque is truly an alpine hiker’s delight.

We’ve designed a superb hiking and canoeing itinerary for a helicopter assisted hiking experience. Rabbitkettle Lake and the canoe trip to Virginia Falls make an excellent compliment to the Cirque. For a “grand slam,” add one week of rafting on the Nahanni River through the canyons from Virginia Falls!

We travel from Fort Simpson to Glacier Lake by floatplane, then fly from Glacier Lake to the Cirque by helicopter. After spending two days hiking in the Cirque, we return by helicopter to Glacier Lake and take a floatplane to Rabbitkettle Lake. We then canoe the Nahanni River to Virginia Falls and take a floatplane back to Fort Simpson. At this point you have the option to join our one week Nahanni Canyon Adventure and continue by canoe or raft from Virginia Falls.

Prerequisites: You are comfortable with trail hiking and flat water canoeing on moving water. If unsure of your ability, please call with any questions: 1-800-297-6927 or (867)-668-3180.
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The Nahanni River in Canada's Northwest Territories

Canyon Kingdom

Experience the magic and mystery of a true Canadian wilderness river icon.

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Quick Facts

Cost: $13250.00 CAD USD
5% GST + $200 CAD park fee
Duration: 9 Days
Trip Type: Canoe
Skill Level: Beginner
Rendezvous Point: Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories

Upcoming Trip Dates

  • Wed Jun 26 - Fri Jul 05, 2019   Book Now
  • Sun Jul 21 - Tue Jul 30, 2019   Book Now

To get more information or book a date call us at 1-800-297-6927


This itinerary is designed so that you can combine the elements to suit your time and interests or partake in one portion only. For maximum satisfaction, we recommend you include as many of the elements as possible.

The following is a tentative agenda and has been designed to capitalize on the most scenic and exciting parts of the river while making time on other sections. Your guides will adjust the schedule and itinerary to make the best use of river, weather, and other prevailing conditions. We adhere to the new departure regulation system of the Park, which works to ensure that all river travellers have the same wilderness experience.

Trip length: 9 river/hike days
Meals included:
 Breakfast = B | Lunch = L | Dinner = D


This is the first day listed for your trip.

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.

Your trip leader will meet you at the airport. (If you arrive the day prior, please make your way to your accommodation.)

Once everyone has arrived, there will be a pre-trip orientation and chance for questions concerning clothing, gear, packing and other details. Those requiring our river bags will have time to transfer gear from their own bags. You can leave unrequired items in our trailer. You may also want to separate river-specific items to be flown in later on the transition from the lake to the river.

After loading our supplies and gear into the aircraft we begin one of the major highlights of the adventure – the upriver flight. Flying over the majestic Nahanni Range and Ram Plateau, a stunning panorama unfolds in front of our eyes. Be sure to have your camera ready! Past participants have stepped off the plane declaring that, “if the trip finished now, I would have my money’s worth!” Winging west, past Rabbitkettle Lake and the upstream boundary of Nahanni National Park, Glacier Lake in the Ragged Range is our destination.

Please note: Under certain conditions (weather, forest fire, plane availability and upriver conditions), it may be necessary to make our upriver flight soon after arrival. On the other hand, we have occasionally found ourselves waiting for safe flying conditions. In any event, we will have supper and camp in Fort Simpson or on the shores of Glacier Lake.

If we are required to overnight in Fort Simpson, you are welcome to camp with our gear or take a hotel room (at your own cost).


The campsite on Glacier Lake is in full view of the granite peaks of the Ragged Range. The helicopter arrival is scheduled for the morning. Another stunning flight lifts us through the steep, rugged valley and into the panoramic splendor, past the towering face of Mount Sir James MacBrien and into the Cirque of the Unclimbables. Here, in the beautiful surroundings of Fairy Meadow, among alpine creeks, water falls, a glacier, Dall sheep and Mountain goats, we will establish our base camp and begin to explore the Cirque.

With advance notice, there may be an opportunity for very fit and experienced hikers to ascend 10 kilometres (6 miles) to the Cirque, via the valley, thick brush and boulder slopes, rendezvousing with the base camp later that day. We must emphasize that this is a challenging option with a significant elevation gain, challenging terrain with poor footing and there is the possibility of rock fall. The terrain on the ascent will not accommodate infirmities. Most of our participants are well advised to utilize the helicopter option. Fortunately, the terrain in the actual cirque is much friendlier.


The day will be spent exploring the Cirque and its dramatic spires. Features like Lotus Flower Tower and the towering granite walls jutting straight up from the valley floor have lured the best of climbers from around the world. Alpine flowers, foraging grizzlies, Mountain goats, Pikas and Golden Eagles are among the highlights you may experience. Under the midnight sun, we’ll have plenty of time to absorb the wonders of this area.


This day will see us heading back down to Glacier Lake. Once again, the helicopter will take us through breathtaking scenery, back to our camp at Glacier Lake (There is no hiking option for this egress.)

For those continuing on with the river trip, you will have time in camp at the lake to organize your hiking gear to be shipped out on the inbound Twin Otter and exchange it for your river gear, which will arrive on the flight.

In preparation for the next leg of the journey, the Twin Otter will first drop off our canoes at Rabbitkettle Lake before ascending the valley to Glacier Lake. Picking us up and delivering our group to Rabbitkettle Lake, the flight will be yet another highlight. Regrouping with our canoeing gear at the lake, we will make camp in Hotsprings Valley.

Those choosing the river option only (Rabbitkettle Lake to Virginia Falls) will fly in at this time.

If you have chosen the hiking option only, you will continue back to Fort Simpson for showers and a homeward flight the following day (accommodation not included).


In the company of a knowledgeable park warden we will hike the 7 kilometers (round trip) to the tufa mounds of Rabbitkettle Hotsprings. Here we find unique geological features that help weave together the geological past of the Nahanni. The one kilometre portage from the lake to the river will be made in the late afternoon. Camp will be downstream.


This portion of the river above Virginia Falls is a flat, meandering section that allows opportunity to learn the necessary canoeing skills from the guides or brush up on techniques. The mountains and U-shaped valley created by the glaciers will dominate the scenery. Camping will be in one of the choice spots between Rabbitkettle Lake and Virginia Falls.


As the river descends the valley, it begins to meander through lush vegetation. Moose, wolves, black and grizzly bears may be spotted here. The final camp before the falls will be on a small oxbow lake just off the river. This is a great site for wildlife viewing, fishing or hiking in the surrounding mountains.


Virginia Falls (twice the height of Niagara) will be the destination. This is the other spot in the park where planes can land and we may see other campers. Once here, the day can be spent exploring and photographing the area surrounding the falls.


Those remaining to join the 8-Day trip from Virginia Falls may opt for a full day hike.

Those departing the Nahanni will board the Twin Otter for the downriver flight back to Fort Simpson. The dramatic flight will include views of the upper canyons, the Gate and Pulpit Rock, before heading across the Nahanni Plateau and karst lands, providing tremendous photographic material! Arriving in Fort Simpson, you’ll have time to explore the northern town before leaving the next day (accommodation not included).


If you want to continue from Virginia Falls, through the canyons, please view the Nahanni Canyons from Virginia Falls – 7 Days by raft or canoe.

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