Holiday water report 2019
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HOLIDAY WATER 2019 - NORTHWEST TERRITORIES NATIONAL PARKS
By Suzanne Forcese
Whether it is the way Nature commands respect in a presentation of physical and mental challenges, or the way color startles, or the mystical revelation of an ancient culture, the National Parks of North West Territories are in a word – intense. Parks Canada took WaterToday to the land of the midnight sun and the places where visitors can experience the privilege of owning this magnificent piece of Canada’s heritage.
Aulavik National Park
Accessible only by air from Inuvik, it is a journey through an ancient landscape following history through the place “where people travel” – the name “Aulavik” in Inuvualuktun given by one of the elders of the only community on the banks of the Thomsen River. Imagine the hardships and drama of men who sought the Northwest Passage as you take a trip back in time while rafting or canoeing Canada’s most northerly river -- the Thomsen. The 12,200 sq. km park is centred on Banks Island. With only 112 residents, the island showcases the lush lowlands with its adjoining lakes and tundra ponds designated as a migratory bird sanctuary for the large number of Brant geese. The river is flanked by an arctic version of the badlands on the west. The ravines provide breeding habitat for peregrine falcons, gyrfalcons and rough-legged hawks. To the east there are beds of sand, shale and silt with occasional seams of coal and carbonaceous shales containing the fossils, plants and trees from the age of the dinosaurs over 65 million years ago.
At Parks Canada’s Visitor Centres in the communities adjacent to the parks you can learn about northern cultures.
For a river above the Arctic Circle there is a remarkable diversity in the melange of landscapes from fertile river valleys to polar deserts, buttes and badlands, rolling hills and bold seacoasts. As well, ancient artefacts can be found on the gentle fluid journey of canoeists and kayakers. There are no rapids or portages on what is considered the world’s most navigable river. Boaters usually take 3 weeks to float the river putting in near the park’s southern boundary and exiting at Castel Bay on historic McClure Strait. Guided trips are offered or head out on your own. Canoe rentals for the fly-in adventure are available in Inuvik. The best paddling time for riding the spring freshet after the ice leaves is late June to late July.
Visiting Aulavik National Park is like going on a muskox safari. The ice-age 600 pound beasts (called umingmak by the Inuit) known for producing the warmest wool called qiviut gather here in mind-blowing numbers. In recent years, scientists have estimated that the 10,000 muskoxen living in the Park represent approximately 2/3 of the world’s muskox population. Though typically placid, muskoxen boast fearsome horns and a resolute character. Parks Canada staff advise not to approach muskox.
The park has no hiking trails. The landscape is wide-open and inviting with long sightlines and few natural barriers. Hikers can set off in any direction enjoying continuous summer daylight. Aulavik is treeless but more than 150 species of flowering plants super-charged by round-the-clock daylight, blast a color palette of day-glow purple saxifrage, radiant yellow arnica, delicate Arctic roses, bright tufts of hairy lousewort, fluffy Arctic cotton and fuzzy willow catkins. By mid-August winter is just weeks away and most of the plants have gone to seed.
There are no designated campsites in the park. You may camp anywhere except at archaeological sites. In order to protect this pristine wilderness please practise No Trace Camping. Consult with the Park Office in Inuvik for additional advice. The winds can be very strong and prolonged. A good quality tent, able to withstand fierce winds is crucial. Campfires are not allowed. Use a camp stove and bottled fuel (available for purchase in Inuvik and Sachs Harbour). Managing Human Waste: Select a level spot away from any water sources. Dig a small hole within the active layer of the soil and afterwards burn the toilet paper before carefully burying what remains. Parks Canada also advises to either boil and/or filter any water for drinking and food prep.
The Thomsen River is a key spawning ground and nursery habitat for Arctic Char, but the species can also be found in the larger lakes within the Park. All anglers must possess a valid national Park Fishing Permit and respect the regulations and restrictions.
Tent rings, flint scrapers and bone harpoon heads near Shoran Lake have been used to trace human presence to the pro-Dorset Cultures of 3500 years ago. The later Dorset and Thule people left behind an even greater wealth of artifacts many visible to hikers and paddlers. Visitors can explore 1000 year- old meat caches at Baker Hill and ancient tent ring at Nasogaluk or observe the muskox kill sites at Head Hill.
Just outside the Park, in Mercy Bay east of the Thomsen River, lies one of the most important shipwrecks in the Arctic. The HMS Investigator under the command of Robert McClure entered the Arctic in 1850 as part of the massive manhunt for the Franklin expedition. The ship was famously rediscovered by Parks Canada divers in 2010 sitting upright in the silt, almost totally intact just 8 meters below the surface.
Naats’ihch’oh National Park Reserve
Meaning “stands like a porcupine” in the Dene language, Naats’ihch’oh encompasses parts of the South Nahanni River watershed and protects an undisturbed expanse of river valleys and peaks in the MacKenzie Mountains. Home of mountain caribou, grizzlies, Dall’s sheep, and mountain goats, the park is also the traditional home of the Shuhtaot’ine Mountain Dene.
The few adventurers who come every year to the near-absolute seclusion of the park discover unparalleled white-water paddling, endless fly-hiking through remote and spectacular terrain, and a land steeped in the stories of the Shutaot’ine ‘ine people.
Designated a national park just recently, in 2012, Naats’ihsh’oh includes aboriginal stewardship and guarantees the preservation of a major river’s headwaters.
The South Nahanni River with its deep gorges and white-water rapids has been called the most visually diverse river on the planet. White water paddling and off-the-grid hiking through a landscape of river valleys and glacier-strewn mountains is experienced by only a few people each year.
Experienced hikers have the chance to explore and map routes that may one day become part of the park’s established trail network since there are no established trail routes in Canada’s newest park. Charter a float plane in NWT or Yukon and set down at any number of backcountry lakes from the turquoise shoals of Grizzly Bear Lake to Divide Lake and its maze of wetlands.
Please download your visitor hiking guide here:
O’Grady Lake is where your float plane will touch down at a sandy peninsula before you journey down the river Tuoch’ee Tue, a culturally important place for the Mountain Dene, known to them as a good harvesting location for fish and moose. No fishing permits are issued in the Park Reserve so please wait till you are out of the park to fish. You are required to register your trip.
Each of the main headwater rivers of the Tehjeh Dee (Southern Nahanni River) offers a different adventure and challenges. Want to go further afield? Packraft some of the smaller creeks and unnamed waterways. Naats’jhsch’oh is home to the wild headwater rivers of Tehjeh Dee. The (Mountain Dene) Shuhtaot’ine travelled these lands and river corridors as part of their hunting and gathering cycle that took them from Tulita to Naats’jhch’oh and beyond. Today adventurers are drawn to the challenge of Broken Skull River.
South Nahanni and Little Nahanni Rivers ae for experienced paddlers only. Guided tours are available.
The Moose Ponds
(accessible only by air on a 2 hr float plane trip through the McKenzie mountains) is for experienced paddlers only. Starting with over 50 km of Class II-IV rapids known as the Rock Gardens, expert paddling and backcountry skills are required. Most paddlers take 18-23 days. You are unlikely to encounter another group as you tackle everything from minor rock riffles to steep boulder sections along the 4,895 sq. km of the park, setting up riverside camps each night in country dense with grizzlies and moose.
Choose campsites accordingly and secure your boats each night. Paddlers must register and de-register their trip with Parks Canada through the Nahanni National Park Reserve Office.
The Little Nahanni River is 85 km of intense Class II-IV + white water. Plan for 8-12 days to canoe from Flat Lakes to Rabbitkettle Lake via the South Nahannii River. Called Nahanni’s Scary Little Sister the Little Nahanni River can be your adventure with guided trips starting at $5,250.
The Broken Skull River
is perfect for skilled paddlers going on their first northern river trip. Rapids range from Class 1- III. Plan 6-10 days to paddle the 150 km from Divide Lake to Rabbitkettle. Longer trips are possible on this bouncy white water. Contact Parks Canada or consult the South Nahanni River Touring Guide. Download Trip Planners at:
If you complete all three rivers separately or in one epic trip you will receive a Triple Header Badge and join an elite group of paddlers.
Pack rafting is becoming increasingly popular, but the hazards and risks of any white-water travel and remote wilderness trekking are great. You are responsible for understanding the risks and acquiring the skills to be self-reliant. Prepare for the worst. There is no one else out there but you. Expect the unexpected.
Nahanni National Park (UNESCO world Heritage Site)
The ‘Cirque of the Unclimables’ granite spires rise out of the lush alpine meadow. The South Nahanni – a Canadian Heritage River thunders into the Virginia Falls (twice the size of Niagara Falls) and meanders through the deepest canyons in Canada. Mineral hot springs, a natural labyrinth of Nahanni karst, the largest tufta mound in Canada and the sacred site Gahnihthah (home to the horizon walker, the Yamba Deja who created Dene Law) -- This is Nahanni National Park. Approximately 500 km west of Yellowknife in the Dehcho Region of NWT, the park is home to the animals of the boreal forest. Wolves, grizzlies and caribou. Dall’s sheep and mountain goats also roam the 30,000sq. km.
The Nah a Dehe Dene Band has lived and worked within the Nahanni landscape for thousands of years. Parks Canada works closely with the residents of Nahanni Butte to provide visitors with unparalleled insight into the Dene culture and history. Dene guides lead interpretive walks through the community connecting visitors to the village history and traditional life.
For experienced paddlers the South Nahanni is what Everest is to mountaineers --remote, breathtaking and mystical. The river plunges through a series of 4 spectacular canyons churning up rapids, boils and whirlpools. Nahani is rich in legends of lost gold, murder and headless men along with airier lore of tropical gardens and Dene spirits that dwell in the vents of the river valley’s tufta mounds and hot springs.
Take a day trip from Fort Simpson, Fort Liard, or Muncho Lake in northern BC to Virginia Falls where a Parks Canada interpreter is available. A 30-minute hike to the Falls viewpoint offers a view of Sluicebox Rapids and the waterfall. A more demanding portage trail around the falls takes about an hour. Pack a rain jacket. Canoe, kayak and raft trips are available with an outfitter recommended by Parks Canada. Moose Ponds (21 days); Island Lakes 14-18 days; Rabbitkettle Lake 10-14 days and Virginia Falls 7-10 days. The ending points are Blackstone Territorial Park for campers and Lindberg Landing for those who want a cozy cabin.
If you wish to paddle on your own Nahanni river adventures (a Licensed outfitter has a guide which you should bring along with your 1:250 000 topographical maps). Registration and permits are required. Visitors must register and deregister.
The park contains the Cirque of Unclimbables, the Vampire Peaks, the highest peak in the NWT and several alpine plateaus creating one of the world’s finest alpine playgrounds. Not only a climber's paradise, Fairy Meadows and Tl’ogotsho Plateau present very different landscapes to challenge experienced trekkers who crave an isolated environment seen by very few. Licensed operators offer custom heli-hiking tours for less arduous access to the Nahanni environment including the Ram Plateau, Tl’ogotsho Plateau and Vampire Peaks.
Hiking the South Nahanni region offers spectacular hiking opportunities mostly accessible by boat from the river corridor. While there are no formal established trails, heavy use has resulted in some of the more popular routes becoming well-defined. For some general information on 10 of the more popular hikes in and around the park please visit:
Random camping is encouraged throughout much of the park reserve. By spreading use throughout the park, human impacts will be less noticeable. Due to the volume at certain locations a few designated campsites have been established There are certain areas closed to camping and day use.
To view the campsites available, closures and restrictions please visit:
Parks Canada asks that you please respect all closures and restrictions. You are also required to submit a Members List Form and a Contact Person Form that are available for download.
Tuktut Nogaiat National Park
Located 170 km north of the Arctic Circle, Tukut Nogaiat (meaning ‘young caribou’ in Inuvialuktun) is home to the calving grounds of the Blue-nose-West caribou herd. It’s a 2-hour flight from Inuvik by float plane. There are no facilities and no services. You will have to bring food, drink, tents for sleeping, a tent for cooking, a tent for the loo. And since nothing foreign can be left on the land – bring bags for human waste that you will take back with you.
Wildlife viewing includes native muskox, arctic wolves, grizzlies and the elusive wolverine. Wildflowers that blanket the tundra are best viewed while backpacking or during paddling expeditions on Class I to Class III tributaries
Most visitors experience the park while paddling the Hornaday River. Peregrine falcons, tundra swans and jaegers abound as do ancient Inuit archeological sites. La Ronciere Falls a 23-metre-high chute along the Hornaday, provides the other iconic image of this sprawling tundra utopia. The 360 km upper Hornaday begins lazily and ends well above the Hornaday River Canyons with 45 km of extreme Class III and IV white water. Canyons reach 170 m high through rapids few have seen and barely anybody has run. Access Tuktut Nogaiat by charter plane from Paulatuk.
Backpacking the Brock River and Hornaday Canyons is like a mini-Grand Canyons in an Arctic landscape with bright green rolling tundra dropping to 170-metre-deep amber and red canyons. On a multi-day hike, you will see raptors that nest in canyon walls and Bluenose West Caribou. For more info email:
There are no designated campsites in the park. You may camp anywhere except at archaeological sites. Parks Canada has, where possible identified scenic and appropriate camping sites on the Hornaday River. Contact the Park Office for a copy of the Hornaday River Guide.
Campfires are not allowed. Use a camp stove and bottled fuel which you can purchase in Inuvik. Please practise No Trace Camping and Managing Human Waste procedures.
If you wish to fish Tuktut Nogait is known for its Arctic char and lake trout. You will require a permit. Please stay up to date on fishing regulations and fish- closed waters.
Thinking of doing some winter sports in Tuktut Nogait? The most suitable time is from late march until early May. Be aware though that temperatures can still lurk around -30°C.
Will you be one of the few to experience the pristine solitude and challenges of NWT’s National Parks?
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