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5 perfect paddling trips in the heart of the NWT

whitewater canoe tripping in the nwt sahtu region

5 perfect paddling trips in the heart of the NWT

The Sahtu is the North’s pureblooded heartland. It’s the virgin core of our territory – jagged, trackless, fresh, and awash with some of wildest whitewater rivers on the planet. This is canoe-tripping country, where savvy paddlers set off on multi-week journeys through the hushed frontier – or where you, following a boat’s length behind your expert guide, can enjoy an expedition that’s at once luxurious and life-changing.

The Sahtu is home to five alpine waterways that are synonymous with Northern adventure. Outfitters in Norman Wells can hook you up. Here’s why to grab your paddle and go:

The Mountain River is one of the great wilderness rivers in Canada's Northwest Territories

1. The Mountain River

The Mountain is the holy grail of wilderness whitewater. Of all the alpine rivers in the Northwest Territories, this may be the most rowdy. Virtually nonstop moving whitewater churns through deep box canyons for 250 kilometres, providing day after day of seat-of-the-pants scouting and near-continuous thrills. This is considered one of the best backcountry paddling experiences for intermediate-to-advanced canoeists. Once you have done the Mountain, you can say you’ve truly lived.

Stop and soak your bones during an epic paddling adventure on the Broken Skull River in Nááts’ihch’oh National Park in Canada's Northwest Territories

2. The Broken Skull River

Paddling the hinterlands means roughing it, right? Pshaw! Despite its name, the Broken Skull River in Nááts’ihch’oh National Park is 150 kilometres of mellow, scenic bliss. What’s more, it’s flanked by hotsprings where you can luxuriate for hours or days. Grizzly Bear Hot Springs, a 10-kilometre hike from the river, is an alpine oasis, framed by wildflowers and tufa mounds. Broken Skull Hot Spring is a shorter hike, just past Swallow Falls.

The Natla River in Canada's Northwest Territories is a must for any adventure paddler

3. The Natla River

The Natla rises from the blue jewel of O’Grady Lake, within the boundary of Naats'ihch'oh National Park. It offers 115 kilometres of rambunctious, mountain-flanked rapids before ultimately pouring into the Keele River. The lines are tight, the rock-gardens are technical, the peaks are dripping with glaciers, and the experience is one of pure freedom.

The Keele River runs through the Mackenzie Mountains in Canada's Northwest Territories

4. The Keele River

From the mouth of the Natla, the Keele slips and slides through the fabled Mackenzie Range. The river is unbridged, untamed, rich in wildlife, and utterly devoid of evidence of the modern world. At its mouth, it drains into the Mackenzie River south of the village of Tulita. With a guide, the journey is suitable for all levels of canoeists.

The Upper Nahanni River is a scenic tour through Nahanni National Park Reserve in Canada's Northwest Territories

5. The Upper Nahanni

Beginning at the Mooseponds, the upper Nahanni splashes through the Rock Gardens, jostling boaters for 50 kilometres of continuous rapids. It's a rollercoaster of thrills and (maybe) spills. But whether you run it wet or dry, it might be the most epic paddling journey in the world. Plus, it features Rabbitkettle Tufa Mound – the largest tufa formation in the world.

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