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The paradise you've never heard of (and can't pronounce)

Why to go wild in Nááts'ihch'oh

Nááts'ihch'oh, meaning "the mountain that's sharp like a porcupine" is named for a spine-like peak long sacred to the region's First Nations. Nááts'ihch'oh is the Northwest Territories' newest national park, officially created in 2014 in collaboration with the Sahtu Dene. Tucked beside the Yukon border and Nahanni National Park Reserve, it comprises nearly 5,000 square kilometres of jagged alps, hushed lakes, rambunctious rivers, and creatures so wild they've never laid eyes on a human being.

For now, services in the park are minimal – and for most intrepid visitors, that's a good thing. Here's what's best to do there:


The most common way to do Nááts'ihch'oh is by canoe, sweeping, bow-drawing and hooting for joy as whitewater batters your gunnels. For skilled independent paddlers, or for clients on guided trips, the options here are legendary. First there's the upper South Nahanni – its famous “rock garden” jostles boaters with 50 kilometres of continuous rapids. Then there's the Natla/Keele, pouring from the blue jewel of O'Grady Lake and dashing north and east for 500 kilometres through a kingdom of peaks and canyons. Finally, there's the ominous-sounding (but fairly mellow) Broken Skull, boasting 150 kilometres of splashy, scenic fun.


There are no footpaths in Nááts'ihch'oh: If you've longed to be a trailblazer, here's your chance. Most trekking in the park is done by paddlers. After days of arm-wearying canoeing, it's nice to stretch your legs with a day-hike to the nearest inviting summit. Hiking parties can also charter floatplanes into the park, landing on one of many mountain-thronged lakes and backpacking up into "the alpine." Popular fly-in lakes include Magaret Lake, Divide Lake and, perhaps best of all, Grizzly Bear Lake, with access to a wonderland of mountain meadows.


Adventuring in the backcountry means roughing it, right? Pshaw! Nááts'ihch'oh is dappled with hotsprings where you can luxuriate for hours or days. Grizzly Bear Hot Springs, a 10-kilometre hike from the Broken Skull River, is an alpine oasis, framed by wildflowers and tufa mounds. Broken Skull Hot Spring is a shorter hike from its namesake river, just past Swallow Falls.

For more on Nááts'ihch'oh and other national parks in the Northwest Territories, explore how to pick your park.

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