The Horton River is the most northerly flowing river in mainland Canada. Its source at Horton Lake is located 80 miles north of Great Bear Lake in an area surrounded by vast rolling tundra plains. The Upper Horton is perfect for novice, intermediate or vintage canoeists with smooth steady current, crystal clear water and a few easy rapids for extra fun. The river’s most outstanding features are the ancient cliffs with towering eagle nests and the many opportunities to see falcons, eagles, caribou, wolves, muskoxen and grizzly bears. The Upper Horton also has superb lake trout, arctic char and grayling fishing.
The Upper Horton is a historic region where the ancestral hunting areas of the northern Inuit overlapped with the central Athapaskan Indians. Remnants of ancient wooden fences used to funnel caribou into spearing zones can be seen near Horton Lake. The rolling tundra is dotted with dwarf spruce trees which define the northern limit of the tree line in Canada. Watch for the elusive snowy-owl in flight along with a myriad of other raptors nesting on cliffs and open tundra. This is big-sky country where the clouds paint dizzying patterns in wisps and streaks and the midnight sun barely dips below the horizon. Evening walks on the tundra are a nightly ritual and give you a sense of how small we really are in this vast, barren landscape.
The world-class fly-fishing on the Upper Horton is sure to produce catches of arctic grayling, lake trout and occasionally prized arctic char. Daily temperatures can range in the mid-twenties but a snap frost can occur if a cold front slides in from the arctic coast.
The arctic landscape of the remote Horton River is ablaze with colour in mid to late August creating the perfect opportunity for capturing stunning wildlife and landscape images above the arctic-circle. This canoe trip has a relaxed pace and allows ample time for photo shoots along the river and during daily hikes on the vast, undulating and colourful tundra.
At the Whaleman River we meet our North-Wright float plane for the mesmerizing flight back across the arctic tundra to the Float Base in Norman Wells.
Upper Horton Webinar
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Accommodation and Meals
Upper Horton – Downloadable Flatsheet
||Arrive in Norman Wells and met by your guides at the airport. Shuttle to Canoe North Adventures Lodge & Outfitting Centre for lunch and dinner, orientation and debrief gear selection, paddle-training on DOT Lake and safety protocol review, overnight. (CNA Lodge accommodation and meals are not included in your trip price.)
|Day 1 - 2
||Depart Norman Wells by floatplane heading north-east over the Franklin Range and into the arctic barrens at the edge of Great Bear Lake. The tapestry of the landscape is a stunning dance of stunted spruce and willows, lichens and mosses and myriad lakes with dizzying shapes. Arrive Horton Lake, set-up camp and tundra hike with 360-degree views. Wild-flowers and song-birds abound. World-class trout and grayling fishing right from camp! Guaranteed catch on your first cast!
||Easy rapids and swifts as you enter the Horton River proper, gentle current and fun swifts glide your canoes through a chain of lakes and through sparsely treed area with rolling hills and rock outcrops. Caribou, moose and bald eagles are often spotted as we enter the river valley. The water is crystal clear – watching the river-bottom makes you dreamy - suddenly you glide right over a school of 200 whitefish! Camps are on the turf just above the high-water mark or on gravel bars close to the river.
||We paddle through an Arctic oasis as the treeline follows the river north. Wildlife abounds at every turn.
||The landscape continues to change as spectacular limestone bluffs vault up from the valley hemming in the Horton River. Caribou are often sighted daily – alone or in small family units and musk-oxen can be seen foraging on willows close to river or on high grassy bluffs. Golden and bald eagle nests are easy to spot on the sheer cliff faces and peregrine and gyr-falcon can be seen and heard flying over head. Side creek make natural landing zones for lunch or gorp breaks and to take a few casts with the fly-rods. Fisherman are never disappointed on the Horton River!
||At layover camp we plan an epic all-day hike in the barrens. The alpine terrain is very accessible and favourable for hikers of all levels. Firm footing, caribou sightings, vibrant wildflowers, blueberries, junipers, lichens and mosses create the mosaic that is the tundra. As you step out of the river valley you scan the treeless horizon for movement – and you realize that you are alone – for life in this area is connected to the Horton River Valley. Our favourite fishing hole often stirs up arctic char – if we are lucky enough to land one of these fish we will celebrate with a meal of fresh fish – a welcome addition to our hearty menu.
||The Serpentine Horton River entertains us with changing terrain, sand dunes, forested oasis where side creeks enter and the continuous movement of caribou – either on land or crossing the river with ease for they are superb swimmers. We might see a Sow Grizzly with Cubs and if we do not actually see wolves – we will likely hear them as they respond to our attempt at a wolf-howl! The river is wide and shallow and we must find the deepest flow along the grassy outside bends. There are occasional swifts and rapids that always delight and inspire a smile. If we confront daily headwinds we depart camp early to duck under the afternoon headwinds. As we paddle north, the long arctic days get even brighter as the sun barely dips below the horizon. At midnight, a golden glow is cast over the tundra.
||As we approach the end of our journey, we have time for evening tundra walks, fly-fishing, sketching/photography or reflecting thoughts and emotions in our journals. We never out of view of the river – it guides us and connects us.
||Arrive Whaleman River Camp, fabulous tundra walks accessible here. Keen fisherman can paddle I km downstream to Whaleman River for awesome fishing hole with action on every cast! We strip down the canoes and move canoe gear over a short 200-metre portage to a small lake where floatplane lands. A unique area of polygons is accessible on a short hike from camp. Stunted and scattered spruce dot the barren landscape here.
||Return charter flights with North-Wright Airways across arctic barrens and the Anderson River Valley and Coleville Lake to Norman Wells. Upon arrival, cold beer, hot showers at Canoe North Adventures Lodge before final night dinner celebrations with great food, tall tales, laughter and maybe even a few tears as your journey comes to an end. Overnight at the Lodge. (CNA Lodge accommodation and meals are not included in your trip price.)
||Travellers will depart Norman Wells the day after their expedition ends. Inquire about extended travel beyond Norman Wells.