The Nahanni River is on every paddling enthusiast's bucketlist. Situated in a mountainous landscape, it flows through Canada's deepest river canyons, past hot springs and geological features so unique that the Nahanni River was among the first World Heritage Sites to be declared by the United Nations in 1978. Whitewater paddlers world-wide consider it to be their 'Mecca'. Great Canadian Trails is excited to offer this once in a lifetime experience in the form of a rafting adventure, meaning even the most novice paddler is able to enjoy this land of legends and lore. Of course, we don't want to leave out the serious paddlers! Those with sufficient whitewater canoe experience have the option to rent their own dedicated hard shell or inflatable canoe. The journey from stunning Virginia Falls (nearly twice the height of Niagara Falls) to the small First Nations community of Nahanni Butte is complimented by 3 full days to explore the canyons and wilderness at ground level, with optional day hikes from our pristine campsites. There's no better way to experience this true Canadian river icon, from water level to the top of mountains and canyon walls.
Graded Introductory to Moderate, this rafting adventure averages 4-5 hours per day in the raft or exploring by foot. The longest day is 6-7 hours of activity, and the shortest is just 2. There is the option to paddle alongside the guide, or to simply enjoy the ride. All day hikes are optional, but highly recommended and the fitter you are, the better your experience will be. Most hiking will not be overly strenuous but we will be walking up and down hills. We recommend regular exercise prior to the trip such as walking, swimming, or participating in a fitness program. *Those choosing the option to paddle their own canoe or sea kayak must have recent Class II whitewater experience (and must have swum through a long rapid with a flipped canoe), as some rapids involve numerous waves, high and irregular rocks, and narrow passages requiring precise maneuvering.
Your trip leader will meet you at the Fort Simpson Airport where a briefing and gear check will take place. There will be time to transfer gear into river bags and sort out non-required items to be stored at the base/warehouse. After loading our supplies and gear into the aircraft, we begin one of the highlights of the adventure - the upriver flight over the majestic Nahanni Range and Ram Plateau. Following supper in camp at Virginia Falls, your guides will provide further briefing with the techniques for living comfortably along the river. A short hike and last look at the stunning scenery before bed will remind you that you are in one of the most scenic places on the planet!
This is a day for exploring and photographing the area around Virginia Falls, nearly twice the height of Niagara. The vast expanse of the falls captivates photographers and hikers with a tireless display of powerful drama. Keen and fit hikers may undertake an all-day expedition to the top of Sunblood Mountain for an excellent view of the surrounding area. Others can enjoy exploring the expansive area overlooking the brink of the falls.
We will make the final portage around the falls. The trail is downhill and well defined. You need carry only what is comfortable for you. Everyone pitches in to carry what they can and we take as long as we need to complete the task. It is impossible. to spend too much time at Virginia Falls! We will assemble the boats and, after a late shore lunch and briefing, we will embark in the late afternoon on an exhilarating run through the Painted Canyon, also known as Fourth Canyon. Camp is made for the evening below Wrigley Creek.
We drift past the confluence of the Flat River and then enter Third Canyon, the walls of which loom 1200m above our heads. This 20km canyon is created by the river slicing through the mixed strata of shales, sandstones, and limestones of the Funeral Range. We camp halfway through this canyon near The Gate, a 100m wide gorge where the walls tower 460m above.
In the morning we do a short hike to the top of The Gate and are awarded a magnificent view of Third Canyon and Pulpit Rock. After lunch it's back in the rafts and on through Third Canyon to camp at Big Bend.
On through Second Canyon and into Deadmen Valley, where we will stop for a spectacular 2hr walk up a dry creek bed for an overview of this immense region. After drifting by Headless Creek, we continue on to Sheaf Creek. Here, R.M. Patterson and his partner Gordon Mathews wintered in 1928. We will camp for the night at Dead Man Valley.
This may be selected by the trip guide as a lay-over day. If so, you can spend a relaxing day around camp or explore the massive alluvial fan of Prairie Creek. For birders, this is the nesting grounds for upland sandpipers, common nighthawks, whitewinged crossbills, chipping and savanna sparrows. Fishermen will find both bull trout and Arctic grayling inhabiting the pools and eddies of the creek.*
*Fishing gear is not included and licenses are required. Contact us for information, if fishing is high on your list of priorities.
We start the day with a short hike up Dry Canyon, followed by the big waves of George's Riffle. These rapids are at the western entrance to First Canyon. We will camp near its end at Lafferty Creek.
We spend the day hiking up Lafferty Creek Canyon to view some of the hundreds of caves in the area.
After the waves of Lafferty's Riffle, we take a quick dip in the mystical Kraus' Hotsprings before bidding farewell to the canyons and entering the braided channels of The Splits. Here, a broad valley is revealed and the surrounding mountains, ridge piled upon ridge, form a dramatic contrast to the enclosure of the canyons. Lush boreal forest bordered by steep ridges form a 'story-book' setting.
Stopping in the village of Nahanni Butte, we will have an opportunity to see this traditional community. Here, we board a charter plane for our flight down the Liard Valley back to Fort Simpson. You will need to book accommodation for this final night in Fort Simpson. The group can meet for dinner at a restaurant in town for a final farewell meal and say good-bye to your guides (accommodation and meal not included).
Per Person, Twin Share