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Canada’s Northwest Territories: 7 insider tips for an unforgettable paddling experience

Canoeing South Nahanni River - Credit: Willy Waterton

The Northwest Territories is graced with many mighty rivers that flow unimpeded into seldom seen wilderness paradise, making it a top destination for canoeists and kayakers around the world. But what makes our rivers so alluring – the remoteness, the ability to part with the daily stressors of a fact-paced lifestyle by being hundreds of kilometres away from cell phone coverage – can also cause them to be somewhat tricky to plan for.

But fear not! Whether you’re looking to raft alongside the towering – and truly humbling – canyon walls of the South Nahanni River with a group of friends, or let an expert guide lead you through rolling tundra hills on the wide-open Thelon, we have some tips from veteran outfitters to ensure you have an unforgettable experience on the unmatched rivers of the Northwest Territories.

#1: Be honest about your skills

Before you rush out and start planning a solo journey down the remote Coppermine River to the Arctic Ocean, rate your experience and tolerance for adventure.

If you’ve never travelled in a canoe, kayak or raft, you should definitely opt for a trip with a certified adventure outfitter along one of the scenic and less-intensive paddling routes in the Northwest Territories. They’ll help you get acclimatized to your vessel of choice and ensure you have the skills necessary for a safe and comfortable trip before you set off. Even if you’ve paddled some before, it may be best to go with a guide if you don’t have any backcountry experience.

Black Feather Adventures planning a canoe route - Credit: Colin Field

#2: Pack light, but pack right!

Bring a bug jacket and some bug dope. Take along lots of sunscreen, a hat and don’t forget your camera – but be prepared for 8 to 12 days without electricity! Get cozy with your own sleeping bag. Pack a variety of clothing layers to wear all at once for warmth, or sparingly on sunny days. Pamper your feet. Bring quick-draining water shoes for the canoe or kayak with good grip on wet rocks, and hiking boots for off-river expeditions.

Before setting out for your adventure, it’s crucial to ensure you have all the equipment you’ll be needing, because unless you’re paddling down the mighty Mackenzie River, with stops into friendly Sahtu communities along the way, there’s nowhere to purchase any new gear once your adventure begins.

Packing up - Credit: Colin Field

#3: Be prepared

Camping? Always go with the tried-and-true. A paddling trip through remote mountain or tundra landscapes if the Northwest Territories is not the time to try out your new high-tech tent or stove! If any mishap should occur, getting help might be tricky. Make sure all of your equipment is tried and proven. Have some handy tools to fix anything: pack duck tape, matches, a sturdy knife, aquaseal glue and some strong spare cord.

Coffee Break in Nahanni National Park - Credit: Colin Field

#4: What to eat

If you choose to head out on a weeks-long adventure, you may need to pack some dehydrated chilis and stews before the big trip. On guided journeys, most outfitters will pack real food for an army of hungry and picky paddlers. It can’t hurt to pack some nuts, dehydrated fruit, or even some chocolate bars, which can provide much-needed energy boost when you’re burning calories by the minute. And be sure to pack a fishing rod – there’s no shortage of mouth-watering fish up here.

Cooking Gear - Credit: Colin Field

#5: Plan a pick-me-up

It’s inevitable that you will encounter some rain or wind on a particularly tough stretch of the river. To keep morale up, make sure you pack something special so you can smile at the end of the day. Celebrate with a fun dress-up evening, a special dessert, or even libations.

Playing the guitar - Credit: Colin Field

#6: Be ready to encounter wildlife

While navigation the Thelon River, you might see arctic wolves or muskoxen close-up. On the Nahanni or Mountain or Keele rivers, you may spay a grizzly bear going about its business. At certain time of the spring or fall, you’ll gawk up at the migrations of geese or docks or follow the flight of a solitary eagle. You will feel goosebumps on your arms, as you get to see these creatures undisturbed in their natural habitat.

If you are travelling through bear country, be sure your bear spray hasn’t expired and is within reach. Also make sure you clean up after yourself and pack out all evidence of your own travels.

Muskoxen - Credit: Gerold Sigl

#7: Leave your worries at home

Once you find yourself on these wild waters, remember to breathe deep and just go with the flow. There’s no need to rush or compete, no e-mail to check, no 24-hour news cycle out here – just 24 hours of sunlight. Let your day-to-day cares float away.

Paddling the Nahanni River - Credit: Colin Field

Ready to explore the legendary lakes and renowned rivers of the Northwest Territories? Discover an adventure for every level of paddler on world-class canoeing, kayaking, and rafting adventures through these inviting and pristine waters.

If you’re searching for more adventure, look no further than these 15 Mysterious Natural Wonders in the Northwest Territories – from exhilarating to inspiring, you’ll find a deep appreciation for the North.

Further information on the Northwest Territories can be found at


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