The South Nahanni River is
one of the premiere canoeing destinations in
the world, although fewer than 800 paddlers
a year visit. For many, the journey begins outside
the National Park at the Moose Ponds, headwaters
of the South Nahanni. The river here is barely
more than a trickle, but it quickly widens and
increases in volume. By the end of the first
day of paddling, you are in the Rock Garden,
a stretch of continuous white water punctuated
with Class II and III rapids. It is described
as a cauldron of racing current and swirling
boils, with curling waves and souse holes
to challenge the most experienced canoeist.
The river drops 5.5 m/km before the river settles
into its new environment in a broad glacial
The river enters the National
Park at Rabbitkettle Lake, and paddlers must
register here with the Park Warden. This enables
the park to keep track of people on the river,
and facilitates rescue should someone not sign
out at the expected time. It is also a good
opportunity to view the Tufa Mounds, one of
the park's unique features.
From here, the river meanders
in broad arcs across the valley as the Sunblood
Range comes into view. The mountains are tinted
pink and red by the iron content in the rock,
especially visible in the magic hours of early
morning and late afternoon. At Sunblood Mountain,
all river travellers must pull out at the 1.2-km
mandatory portage on the river's south shore,
around Virginia Falls to a put-in downstream.
The Falls, twice the height of Niagara Falls,
are best appreciated from a vantagepoint below.
The Four Canyons of the Nahanni
introduce more whitewater to the river. Sheer
volume of water confined by the steep walls
of the canyon results in large standing waves,
best approached head on. Twists and turns through
the canyon produce whirlpools, eddies and boils
at Figure 8 Rapids or Hells Gate,
Georges Riffle and Lafferty's Riffle, until
the river deposits you at Kraus Hotsprings.
This is another mandatory stop, not for your
safety, but for the pure enjoyment of soaking
in the warming natural sulphur springs that
bubble to the surface here.
As you leave the park, the
river enters a floodplain and becomes braided
into a maze of shallow channels called The Splits.
Successful navigation of the river here will
reward you with an easy paddle to Nahanni Bute
and the confluence of the Nahanni and Liard.