Itinerary for the Nahanni Rafting Expedition
Explore ‘Nahanni Country’ for 10-days
Day 1 - Arrive in Fort Simpson, fly to Virginia Falls
Your trip rendezvous—Fort Simpson
The trip begins and ends in the Village of Fort Simpson (called Liidlei Kue meaning ‘place where the rivers come together’ in the Slavey language) in the Northwest Territories. Fort Simpson is at the confluence of the Liard and Mackenzie Rivers. It is the regional centre of the Dehcho Region and the gateway to Nahanni National Park. The population is about 1250 people, mostly Dene and Metis of the Dehcho First Nation. The people speak English and South Slavey.
Fort Simpson has schools, stores, several guesthouses and B & B’s, a camp ground, a restaurant, churches and a swimming pool. Expect things to be rather basic. The Fort Simpson Visitors Centre is worth a visit with a number of interesting displays. The Nahanni National Park office is in the village as well.
The day-1 plan
Welcome to Nahanni Country!
Your guides will greet you at the Fort Simpson airport and we’ll drive to the Mackenzie Rest B&B for lunch and a pre-trip briefing.
(If you’re driving or arriving early, meet at the Mackenzie Rest B&B at 12:30pm.)
We’ll go over your equipment needs and how to pack your drybags for the flight.
We then shuttle to the float plane base to weigh in and, weather permitting, board our charter flight(s) to our expedition starting point—Virginia Falls. If there are multiple flights you may have to wait several hours while the aircraft returns from the river.
The float plain flight is a highlight of the trip, with views of the mountains, rivers, lakes, and forest below—and the excitement of travelling deep into the wilderness where few people get to go.
As we set up camp for the first time, you’ll learn how everything works from your tent and sleep system, to the toilet and hand washing system, and the kitchen.
These trips are participatory—meaning everybody helps and we work as a team around camp.
Your experienced guides love teaching. They’ll help you set up and they’ll show you everything you need to know to stay comfortable and safe throughout your trip.
We make dinner, settle in around a crackling fire, and enjoy our first evening together by the majestic river.
Day 2 - explore Virginia Falls
This day is all about exploring Virginia Falls. At over twice the height of Niagara Falls, this is a true natural wonder.
The right side of the river has boardwalks and National Park infrastructure while the left side has trails that weave from the river, through the Boreal Forest, and back to the river along it’s course.
We’ll start with an interpretive program from knowledgeable Parks Canada staff.
We’ll have the opportunity to cross the river and can choose from several hiking options, including hiking up Sunblood Mountain, a great vantage point to see the river.
Days 3 to 7 - Nahanni Canyons
Below the falls, we continue by raft through the spectacular canyons that make the Nahanni a World Heritage Site — a dramatic 140 km where the powerful river is squeezed into a series of steep walled canyons: Painted Canyon (Fourth canyon), Hells Gate, Third Canyon with The Gate and Pulpit Rock, and then the vast Second and First Canyons which are over 1km deep.
Throughout the trip, you’ll have the option to paddle inflatable kayaks or standup paddleboards (SUP) through many of the easier sections—allowing you to get ‘alone time’ with the river, and challenge yourself with solo paddling.
Of course, you can also spend the whole trip in a guided raft, for which you don’t need any experience or to think about steering…just paddle along and take it all in.
The current speeds smoothly past the limestone walls with occasional stretches of large standing waves.
The side hikes in the this stretch are outstanding, so we’ll spend at least one layover day exploring off the river. Side hike options include Pulpit Rock, Scow Creek, Prairie Creek and Dry Canyon in Deadman’s Valley, and Lafferty’s Creek.
At the end of the canyon section we find Kraus’ Hotspring, where homesteaders Gus and Mary Kraus lived for many years before the formation of the national park. They have since passed away but we can see the remains of their homestead and soak in the hotspring at the very edge of the river. By this point in the trip we will be in the Mackenzie Valley Lowlands.
Camping and life on the river
Each morning the guides rise early to get coffee, tea, and fruit ready before preparing breakfast. After breakfast, we take down camp and pack up.
Each camp on the Nahanni has its own character and provides different vantage points of the river.
When we arrive in camp you change into dry clothes, relax with a book, practice your photography or help collect driftwood for a fire while our guides prepare a ‘happy hour’.
Read more about food, camping systems, activity levels, and safety.
Fresh, delicious food
Meals are delicious, wholesome, and plentiful—with a mix of fresh, and dry ingredients. Check out our sample menu.
Group camaraderie and participation
One of the greatest things about a river trip is how the group comes together. By day we work as a team to paddle the rapids and safely work through the obstacles along the way. At camp, with the leadership of the guides, everybody plays a part in making for a great trip.
Each group is different because of the variety of people and experiences that come together. But we always share highs and challenges, moments of laughter and calm, and adventures that make for lasting memories and shared bonds.
Days 8 & 9 – The Splits to Fort Simpson
Leaving Kraus’ Hotspring, the next 110 km is a dramatic change with a lower landscape dominated by black spruce and aspen. We begin with ‘The Splits’ – a natural maze of swift flowing, braided rocky channels separated by gravel bars and low spruce covered islands.
We spend our 8th night at one of these gravel bars—enjoying our last camp on the river.
On morning of day 9, we get picked up by motor boat by locals from the nearby community.
The river flows in a wide open valley—then it slows in a series of grand meanders towards Nahanni Butte, a large rounded ‘hill’, and a Dene village of the same name, which mark the confluence of the Nahanni and the Liard Rivers.
After a short visit to the village, we’ll head back to Fort Simpson by air charter.
Back in town you’ll have time to shower and get adjust back to ‘civilization’ before we meet for our farewell dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Day 10– Good-byes and airport drop-off
After breakfast, we’ll drive you to the airport for your flight home.
Your Trip Itinerary10 days of adventure and connecting with people and place
What’s Included & What to PackYour planning is easy. We take care of all the details
Safety, camping & good foodFind out what to expect about life in the wilderness
Planning your travelSee how to get to Fort Simpson and plan your travel