A tributary of the fabled Nahanni River, the Broken Skull River takes everything that has made the Nahanni River famous and ups the ante again. Beautiful mountain scenery, pristine wilderness, fun whitewater, steaming hot springs, ancient tufa mounds and stunning canyons. Seeing Virginia Falls from the air at the end of your trip makes this truly the best of the best that the watershed has to offer.
Deep in the Mackenzie Mountains, your journey down the Broken Skull begins at Divide Lake, the headwaters of the river. For the next 110 km the river grows from a small creek into a crystal-clear azure ribbon that snakes its way towards its junction with the Nahanni. Continuous but easy rock dodging and rapids make this river a blast to paddle and travelling this high up in the mountains the scenery is truly out of this world. Highlights of the trip include paddling through the “mini-gate” and soaking in the piping hot Broken Skull Hot Springs as well as many opportunities for wildlife sightings and nights spent socializing under the midnight sun. There are many incredible hiking opportunities, and the chance to see wildlife around every corner. This hidden gem of a river is one that we consider to have the best of the best that the Mackenzie Mountains have to offer.
After seven or eight days descending the Broken Skull, the journey continues on the Upper Nahanni. With the whitewater behind you, it’s time to enjoy a calm but fast float past the tallest mountains in the Northwest Territories. After a few days of paddling, we reach the portage to Rabbitkettle Lake. We will spend the afternoon taking everything up to the lake, and then enjoy a relaxing evening looking over this spectacular view. The next morning, Rabbitkettle Tufamound awaits. This ancient and incredible geological feature will be shown to you by a Parks Canada staff.
After enjoying the final evening and a dip in the lake for the brave, the next morning a flight will arrive to whisk you to Ft. Simpson.
There is also the option to continue down the Nahanni to make a 23 day trip. Please inquire for information.
||Arrival in Norman Wells, NWT, Group Orientation and Outfitting, Paddle training on DOT Lake in evening, first night dinner at Lodge, and final trip preparations
||Fly from Norman Wells to Divide Lake in a floatplane over the spectacular Mackenzie Mountains. Set up camp on the shores of this pristine mountain lake and enjoy the day! This can include hiking one of the surrounding mountain peaks, paddling around the lake, or just enjoying the views.
||After breakfast and packing up, it is time to start the journey by finding the outlet of aptly named Cold Feet Creek on the south end of Divide Lake. The next few hours are spent getting to know your canoe partner by lining and floating the canoes down this twisting and shallow creek until it meets the much larger Divide Creek. As you arrive at the confluence, you will immediately see the river drop precipitously over the lip of the beautiful Swallow Falls, named because of the cliff swallows that nest along the shore here. After a short portage and some exploring around the Falls, a canyon section awaits where, depending on the water and skill level, the group will line or paddle some exciting and technical rapids, before finally camping at the meeting of Divide Creek and the Broken Skull River.
||The first day on the water shows the incredible character of the Broken Skull. The fast and crystal-clear river weaves its way through a spectacular alpine mountain valley with beautiful views at every turn. As the group slips through continuous, well-spaced Class I-II+ rock gardens you might feel like a slalom skier on the water, weaving your way through the boulders. After a fantastic day of paddling, the group arrives at camp near the Three Valley Junction, invigorated from the rapids, and ready to enjoy the long arctic evening.
|Days 4 - 5
||A short, but very fun section. Here the Broken Skull cuts right through a mountain range. The river is hemmed by towering peaks that reach right down to the riverbank. Larger boulders that have tumbled from the mountainsides into the river to create some truly awesome class II-II+ rapids that add some spice to the spectacular scenery. The group will arrive at camp just before lunch, having plenty of time to set up and enjoy a break before embarking on a 2.5km hike to one of the rivers most treasured features; Broken Skull Hot Springs. The spring’s hot waters are the perfect temperature for bathing, and they emerge from the base of a nearby mountain, hidden up a tributary of the Broken Skull. After relaxing in the hot spring for a few hours, the group will make its way back to camp feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Layover day at this camp..
||A full day of paddling awaits. Upon departing, a short, braided section leads to the “Mini Gate” - named after the much larger gate on the Nahanni. Here the river cuts directly through a limestone face, creating a short canyon that is beautiful to float through while gazing up at the patterns in the rocks. From here on, the river picks up its pace again as it grows. Fun rapids with standing waves are the menu of the day as the group speeds onwards towards camp. The river twists and turns through a large forested valley where many animals can be seen including bears, caribou and wolves.
|Day 7 - 8
||Another full day of paddling, one of the best on the river. As the Broken Skull descends down towards the Nahanni, the river drops into the surrounding relief, creating intermittent gorges that are full of bouncy and splashy waves. As the day goes on, the Ragged Range comes into view, signaling that the Nahanni is close. The group will most likely set up camp upon reaching Black Wolf Creek, the last and largest tributary of the Broken Skull, and celebrate their time on this wonderful river! Layover day at this camp.
||A short while after leaving camp the Broken Skull meets the waters of the larger Nahanni River. It is a quiet joining of current but still fast waters will carry you past the tallest mountains in the NWT, which is truly an amazing way to end this section of the Journey! After a long paddle, you finally arrive at your destination, Rabbitkettle Lake, a beautiful mountain oasis. A short 500m walk through the woods takes you to your campsite overlooking the lake.
||The group will head off to explore the famous Rabbitkettle Hot Springs and Tufa mounds. Lead by a Park’s Canada Staff, the group will learn the fascinating natural and indigenous history of this remarkable geological feature.
||Floatplane arrives in the morning to take the group back to Fort Simpson. Overnight in Fort Simpson.
||After breakfast the group says their goodbyes and departs.