Out of the Mackenzie Mountains in Canada’s Northwest Territories, the renowned South Nahanni flows through a wilderness full of the lore of headless Creek, Kraus Hot Springs, Deadman’s Valley, Hell’s Gate, Sunblood Mountain, Pulpit Rock and Painted Canyon. This land plunges us into unrivaled, pristine beauty. Canada’s River of Gold offers adventurers an unparalleled and genuine wilderness experience. The unmatched majesty of Virginia Falls, surrounded by towering peaks and four spectacular canyons make The Nahanni experience one that will touch deep into your soul.
Photo Credit: Jordan Odney
The Nahanni’s unique geology formed eons ago when a flat plain defined the region hosting prehistoric creatures like the Short-faced Bear, the Sabre Tooth Cat and the Steppe Bison. Across the plain, rivers followed a meandering snake-like path. The ragged folds of the Mackenzie Mountains overlook what are called antecedent rivers. As continental plates shifted, mountains were raised and the river forged towering canyons maintaining a winding course through Five Mile Canyon, Figure Eight Canyon and Hell’s Gate.
The Nahanni River flows through traditional Dene Territory of the Dehcho and Sahtu people. Remote valleys and epic mountains define the region named a National Park Reserve in 1974 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. The reserve covers 34,000-square-kilometres. Paddlers, all over the world, consider this river to be their mecca. It travels 375km through the park as it descends to the Liard River that connects to the Mackenzie River at Fort Simpson. Fort Simpson is the leaping-off point for the floatplane flight into NahʔĄ Dehé. The land flows below the wings over canyons, twisting plateaus and a myriad of stream running down to meet the river. Layers buckle up with patterns galore running through each mountain as it comes into view. Sunshine illuminates the land, warming our faces as we gaze with wonder over the undulating scene.
On our landing at Rabbit Kettle Lake, we realize that we are fully immersed in the welcoming watershed of the northern mosaic. The group will take an interpretive hike to tufa mounds returning for an invigorating swim in the clearwater lake before camping overnight and enjoying the comradery of special and wide-eyed paddlers.
From here, it is an easy paddle for 120km down to Virginia Falls with a drop twice the height of Niagara. For the next 60km, you paddle through canyons system with walls towering 1200m above you through famous runs through Canyon Rapids, Lafferty’s Riffle, George’s Riffle and Figure-Eight canyon. As we descend to the Liard River, the river slows through oxbows, gravel bars called the splits similar to all the rivers in the Sahtu and Dehcho.
Nahanni Butte announces the end of the Nahanni trip experience as we join the Liard River heading for Blackstone Landing and Lindberg’s B&B. A hot shower, final night dinner and bed welcome us. After breakfast, we head to Fort Simpson by van and our commercial flights home.