Riding the Whitewater Rivers of the Northwest Territories
The Northwest Territories is home to the best whitewater rivers in Canada, and every year thousands of paddlers make the trek for that reason alone. If nothing gets you more excited than seeing the river ahead frothing and churning, and hearing the thunder of fast moving water falling somewhere in the distance, you’ve just found paradise.
With hundreds of rivers to choose from, it doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or a pro. Choose a raft, canoe or kayak, pack your dry bag, and enjoy a day on the whitewater. Maybe a day just won’t cut it? Go ahead and challenge yourself on a two-week trip of non-stop adventure.
Here’s a quick look at some of the best whitewater destinations in the Northwest Territories.
If you want to take on some rapids, but don’t want to leave the city too far behind, the Yellowknife River is your best option. Not far from the capital city of the same name, the river has a section of whitewater known as the Tartan Rapids, a great option for experienced paddlers. The Tartan Rapids aren’t long, but they’re filled with rocks and eddies to get the blood pumping.
Discover the ultimate whitewater kayaking in Fort Smith, a small district on the southern border of the Northwest Territories. The Slave River originates in Alberta and flows 435 kilometres, ending at Great Slave Lake. But Fort Smith is where the action is, home to a huge paddling community.
On the Slave River you’ll find relaxing pools and fun frothing water, as well as fast-moving channels with waves as big as a lorry. Choose the right route or section to match your skill level. The best time to explore the river is during the annual Slave River Paddlefest. Hosted by the Fort Smith Paddling Club, this summer event includes guided canoe trips and raft rides, as well as races and competitions for more competitive paddlers.
A trip down the 345-kilometre Keele River is a trip back through the Aboriginal history of the Northwest Territories. Dene Hunters have used the river as a travel route for 12,000 years. While their travel was mostly functional, yours will be purely recreational.
Paddlers from across the world turn to the Keele for their next adventure. The river passes through alpine tundra, alpine plateaus, and the Mackenzie Mountains, offering incredible surroundings for the canoers and rafters who move along this waterway. Swift currents, swirling eddies, and fast-moving rapids make for challenging but exciting travel.
Want more? Embrace your adventurous spirit and paddle the iconic river on a two-week journey through safe yet challenging rapids and swifts with an experienced guide from Canoe North Adventures. Appropriate for all skill levels, your guide will teach you the skills needed to be safe and confident on the river. You’ll be ripping through eddies in the Shezal Canyon with a wide smile on your face in no time.
There are very few places in Canada that make paddlers as happy as the Nahanni National Park Reserve. The rushing whitewater Nahanni River flows through the centre of the reserve, passing through four large canyons — reaching close to 1200 metres in depth — along the way. At one point, the river plunges 90 metres off a cliff forming the Virginia Falls, which are twice the height of their Niagara counterpart.
Fear not! Rafting takes place on the South Nahanni, below the falls, where the river continues for 240 kilometres filled with great rapids and thrilling terrain.
If you have lots of experience with wilderness canoeing, there are a number of advanced tours for you to join. Even if you’re a complete novice in the water, you can still take on the Nahanni in a raft. Spend a week with Nahanni River Adventures, named one of National Geographic Adventure’s Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth. Grab a front row seat and raft through the river’s “Grand Canyons,” stopping for picturesque hikes along the way.
The 370-kilometre Mountain River is one of the best wilderness canoeing rivers anywhere. This river is an offshoot of the powerful Mackenzie, originating in the Yukon and picking up steam along the way. Six canyons highlight the wild terrain, which houses Dall sheep, wolves, and bears.
Those with wilderness canoeing experience can take on the Mountain with help from a guide, such as the folks at Black Feather, the Wilderness Adventure Company. Take a float plane up to the Mountain’s headwaters, surrounded by peaks more than two kilometres high. Spend two weeks weaving your canoes through miles of barren wilderness, navigating rapids and camping on gravel bars, taking time to explore surrounding canyons and hills. Bring your waterproof camera and take a deep breath; it’s going to be a wild ride.
These are just five of the Northwest Territories most popular whitewater destinations, but there are so many more: The Horton, the Natla, the Thomson, the Coppermine, the Thelon… the list goes on.
Find the river that’s right for you and start planning your adventure.