The Keele River’s turquoise waters flow through the towering Mackenzie Mountains offering thrilling, friendly whitewater for novice, intermediate or advanced paddlers with spectacular mountain vistas, superb fly-fishing and wildlife viewing. In 2012, Canoe North was honoured to have the Canadian Tourism Commission designate our Keele River Expedition, a coveted Canadian Signature Experience!
The Keele River offers an iconic Canadian wilderness canoeing experience through the majestic and stunning Mackenzie Mountains of the Northwest Territories. Turquoise waters flow from high in the divide between the Yukon and NWT through towering mountain scenery and broad valleys full of rugged black spruce with inviting vistas around every bend. Although fast and boisterous, the Keele River has a generous heart providing lots of options for safe travel. Paddling is challenging but not technically difficult. Very few experiences bring such a range of personal enjoyment, inner peace and the deep satisfaction of individual and group accomplishment.
Norman Wells is a town of 800 inhabitants located in the Sahtu Region along the banks of the mighty Mackenzie River. This remote community, accessible by commercial jet service from Edmonton, is the access point to the Keele River. This river served as a travel route during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 and also as a hunting and trapping region for Mountain Dene who now live in Ross River or Tulita. Archeological evidence shows ancient peoples used this area 12,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. For centuries the Mountain Dene trapped beaver and moose and crafted sturdy moose-skin boats that carried families and dry-goods down the Keele River to the mighty De Cho – Mackenzie River.
Our float plane lands just below the confluence of the Natla and Keele Rivers between the Delthore and Stelfox mountain ranges. The mountains are spectacular offering hiking on the easily accessible alpine slopes. This region is rich in natural beauty, big game and wildlife. Camp sites tend to be located on broad gravel bars chosen for their incredible views. The Keele is wide & deep with high standing waves and continuous swifts and rapids. It braids and narrows into chutes as it glides down a steady gradient drop towards the Mackenzie River winding through spectacular mountain scenery.
There can be sightings of caribou, moose, grizzly or black bears, eagles and most surely Dahl sheep with great fishing for both arctic grayling and bull trout. If we have keen fishermen in the group, it is an added bonus to be treated to a fresh fish dinner! Names of landmarks remind us of the exotic nature of a pristine wilderness: dramatic Shezal Canyon; the spacious confluence of the Ekwi River where the mountains plunge right down to the river; sparkling Nainlin Brook;Toochingkla where the fishing is superb; the lively Twitya River; Red Dog Creek with its quiet current; and, Talking Cliffs that announce the mighty Mackenzie lying around the next few bends.
We are in the mountains until the second last day, when the river slows as it reaches the Mackenzie River. The mountains fall back and there are many braids before the confluence. Red Dog Mountain is the last major land feature before the lowlands signifying the end of the Keele River at the Mackenzie River confluence. Our charter flights from the confluence will return the group to the North-Wright Air Float Base.
Read an interview with Sheryl Saint of Adventure Canada about her recent Keele River adventure!
A Once-in-a-lifetime Keele River Canoeing Experience by Nicola Ross