Canada: Northwest Nahanni Nirvana


The Nahanni is a dream river, one of the most scenic waterways on the planet. Situated in a remote corner of the Northwest Territories, it flows through a wild landscape of legendary scale and beauty. The Nahanni has been called Canada's Grand Canyon, but that is a bit deceptive. The terrain is more like Yosemite Valley, with forested hills and massive granite rock faces. There is also far less recreational activity on the Nahanni than on the Colorado, and never any competition for a campsite.
Starting at Moose Ponds, the Nahanni's source, the river runs approximately 100 miles to the boundary of Nahanni National Park. Over this stretch, paddlers pass through the Rock Gardens, a long section of continuous Class II and III whitewater.

As it nears the northern end of the national park, the Nahanni flattens out, and the voyage becomes a peaceful float through impressive granite canyons, home to moose, elk, and many large bird species. The section of the Nahanni within the park offers riverside hot springs and good fishing, although the scenery is certainly the main attraction, particularly Virginia Falls. At twice the height of Niagara, Virginia Falls is the most spectacular cascade in North America.
Practically Speaking
It takes three weeks to navigate the full length of the Nahanni, which flows southeast from the Continental Divide, cutting its way through the 150-mile long Nahanni National Park. Even within the park's boundaries, the Nahanni is truly wild. You are always very far from civilization, at least 100 miles from the nearest real town. The upper half of the river, outside the park, is the whitewater section, best suited for experienced paddlers.

Published: 8 Jul 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »