Washing through the vast valleys of the Mackenzie Range, the broad, turquoise Keele combines staggering wilderness scenery with gentle, entry-level whitewater. Rapids consist of swirls, riffles and wave-trains that can be run for fun or, for those more cautious, easily avoided. Jawdropping vistas include features like the towering Flowerpot, Shezal Canyon and the Talking Cliffs. And be sure to bring your fly-rod – the alpine fishing is (so to speak) off the hook.
A favourite among river guides, the Mountain is a frisky, tireless romp through the trackless Mackenzie Range. This remote and muscular river offers days-on-end of continuous rapids with just one portage. The paddling is technical and the current – squeezed by six steep-walled canyons – is intimate, with the perpetual whitewater forcing even seasoned paddlers to stay on their toes. Expeditioners can also expect wild caribou, badland “moonscapes,” tufa mounds and fields of wild strawberries.
Where the burly Slave River smacks into the immovable Precambrian Shield you’ll find a frothing labyrinth with the finest “playboating” in Canada. The Slave River Rapids are legendary: monstrous features like Rockem Sockem, Rollercoaster, Molly’s Nipple and the Edge lure professional-grade kayakers from all over the world. Novice boaters have fun here too, as there are literally thousands of mild channels, eddies and play-waves. Be sure to launch with a local; they’ll keep you away from the gnarly stuff. Slave River Paddlefest, held in early August, is the best time to come.
Deservedly the most hallowed wilderness river in Canada, the South Nahanni washes through its namesake, the paradise of Nahanni National Park Reserve. Lucky paddlers embark on trips here ranging from one to three weeks. The wildlife is epic, the hikes panoramic, the canyons humbling, and the rapids – with names like Hell's Gate, the Rock Gardens and Lafferty’s Riffle – are thrilling for intermediate canoeists. Plus, of course, there’s Virginia Falls, twice the height of Niagara and a must-see wonder of the natural world.