The Northwest Territories has dozens of rivers that are navigable by canoe, kayak or raft. Many were seasonal routes used by the indigenous peoples to travel, hunt and trade. Here are some of our favorite long distance trips.
The remote Anderson is a relatively slow, meandering river that begins at Colville Lake and ends at Nicholson Point on the Beaufort Sea. The weather and a potentially hazardous sea-crossing at the end of the trip are the main challenges. A permit is required for the Anderson River Delta Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
Arctic Red River
A Canadian Heritage River, accessible from the Dempster Highway and navigable for some 200 km. The upper reaches offer terrific mountain scenery, outstanding fishing, and an opportunity to travel on a traditional Gwich’in route within Gwich’in territory.
The river rises at Lac de Gras in the Northwest Territories and flows almost 1000 km to the community of Kugluktuk, on the Arctic coast in Nunavut. This is a fast river with many rapids and whitewater stretches. All its waterfalls and many of the larger rapids require portaging.
Coppermine River Trip report
From its headwaters at Horton Lake, this river stretches 640 km to Franklin Bay, on the Arctic coast near Paulatuk. Canoeists will encounter four sets of rapids, and possibly some shallow water, depending on the season.
Horton River Trip report
Canada’s longest river (1,738 km) the Mackenzie drains one fifth of the country but still has the mystique of a remote frontier river. The river is up to one kilometer wide in places, with several communities en route, offering a selection of drop in points. The main hazards are wind-whipped waves. A highlight is the swift float through the Ramparts,which features high limestone rock faces that stretch for about ten km along both shores near Fort Good Hope.
Mackenzie River Trip report
The Natla begins at O’Grady Lake and offers 115 km of rapids in the mountains. The Keele River extends another 300 km, winding through mountain ranges with spectacular scenery to the Mackenzie River, south of Tulita.
Natla-Keele River Trip report
This 250 km route is for skilled whitewater canoeists. The river rages over whitewater in the mountains, changing to a meandering route with gravel bars near Norman Wells.
Mountain River Trip report
Ogilvie & Peel Rivers
Rising in the Yukon, the Ogilvie crosses the Dempster Highway at Km 197. It flows into the Peel 65 km downstream. The Peel runs 516 km to Fort McPherson. There are many chutes and rapids, but the Peel is navigable most of its length. Towards Fort McPherson the river cuts through impressive 300 metre banks.
Ogilvie & Peel Rivers Trip report
This wide river flows north through Wood Buffalo National Park. The river is quiet till you reach the series of four rapids between Fort Fitzgerald and Fort Smith. Below the rapids, the river travels about 290 km to Great Slave Lake. There's plenty of forest and wildlife, and some rapids, shallows and sandbars on the way to Fort Resolution.
South Nahanni River
This Canadian Heritage River is a challenge for the expert canoeist. Rising in the mountains near the western border of the Northwest Territories, the river flows smoothly to 90 metre Virginia Falls. From here to its mouth, there is a series of challenging rapids in narrow canyons with several portages.. The South Nahanni joins the Liard River at the community of Nahanni Butte.
South Nahanni River Trip report
This Canadian Heritage River is a magnet for canoeists. Mainly flatwater it rises in the Barrens east of Great Slave Lake and flows through the Thelon Game Sanctuary to Baker lake, in Nunavut. Access to the headwaters is by floatplane from Yellowknife to Lynx Lake.
Thelon River Trip report
A combination of whitewater and flatwater, with boulder gardens. Charter out from Yellowknife to Greenstocking Lake, and the river takes you 260 km back to the City.
Yellowknife River Trip report