Safety, camping life, food and activity levels
This Nahanni trip is designed to be accessible to a wide range of participants—from total beginners to seasoned river trippers alike.
You don’t need whitewater skill and you can choose from a range of physical output levels, depending on if you opt to do some of the longer side hikes and inflatable kayaking and stand up paddle boarding—or if you prefer to spend more time in the guided rafts and relaxing at camp.
We want you to come off your Nahanni trip invigorated and rejuvenated.
Our “thrive not just survive in the wild” motto comes from decades of experience in the remote wilderness. Your trip guides are incredibly experienced in backcountry camping and they will share their knowledge and systems with you. We encourage you to get hands-on in camp and learn from some of the best in the industry.
Our NWT partners—Black Feather
For this trip we partner with Black Feather. Black Feather has years of experience operating expeditions on the Nahanni as well as guided canoe, hike, sea kayak, ski, and wildlife viewing trips across the far north. They are a licensed NWT tour operator and licensed Nahanni National Park river outfitter.
Partnerships make for some incredible opportunities. With Boreal River Adventures’ experience running rafting trips and immersive adventure travel programs internationally combined with Blackfeather’s infrastructure in NWT and experience on the Nahanni—you get an incredible result: The Nahanni Cultural Rafting Expedition.
Here’s what to expect about activities and our wilderness travel style on the Nahanni River in NWT, Canada.
The safety of everybody in the group is always our number one priority. The most important factor is our guides’ years of experience, training, and knowledge of the river.
Many people think of rafting as extreme. But in fact, with the right approach to decision making, we have a lot of control. Throughout the trip, as you learn about how the river works, you’ll see that whitewater is 100% predictable.
Of course the Nahanni is remote and so we need a careful approach to river running. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean less fun—it just involves a good understanding on our guides’ part of where to play versus where we need to avoid actual risks.
Every trip has an extensive safety plan. Even though our guides are rescue and safety instructors on industry-leading international certification courses, we still train together specifically for the Nahanni with practice scenarios.
Thankfully, those scenarios don’t come to be real incidents because we teach prevention and good decision making, and we practice what we preach.
- Maximum guest to guide ratio on the Nahanni Rafting Expedition is 5:1
- Our guides have extensive and current industry-leading safety credentials and certification. Every trip has a minimum of 2 guides with Wilderness First Responder (an 80-hour medical course) and Whitewater Rescue Technician certification. As well, many of our guides are instructors in those disciplines.
- Each trip carries 2 emergency communication devices: a satellite phone and an InReach messenger device and locator beacon. They are always carried by the guides in separate waterproof containers in different boats.
- Each trip carries extensive first aid kits and river safety equipment
- All activities are ‘challenge by choice’. It’s up to you if you want to participate or we will offer an alternative (for example paddling a rapid on your own in an inflatable kayak vs. a guided raft)
Of course, wilderness travel has inherent risks. We ask that you to read through and sign our Liability Release Form (linked from your trip Info Pack).
Please contact us if you have questions about safety. It’s one of our specialties and we enjoy talking about it. As lifelong wilderness travellers our guides feel more safe on a river trip than they do in the city—and our primary goal is we want you to feel the same way!
Food and menu choices
One of the most important factors for safety and enjoyment on a wilderness trip is good food. Guests are always impressed by the quality, quantity, care, and presentation of meals on these trips. Take a look at a sample menu.
We know you aren’t coming on this trip for fine dining —but that doesn’t mean you should lower your standards regarding your nutrition, ethical values, and taste buds.
In our pre-trip questionnaire, we’ll ask you about allergies, dietary requirements and menu requests. We always plan options for vegan, gluten free, and really any specific choices (“don’t like fish” or “prefer no red meat”, etc.). Just let us know in advance.
Most of our guides eat mainly sustainably-sourced food at home. We wouldn’t want to serve you anything less on your vacation. Rest assured—we put a lot of time and care into sourcing food that is going to taste delicious and make us all feel great.
Cooking and community
On this trip you’ll be exposed to a range of wilderness cooking and food planning styles. We’ll have tons of fresh food (after Virginia Falls we have only 6 nights on the river—and have rafts for transport) and dried food too. We cook on stoves, grill on open fire, and can bake things like desserts and lasagna in Dutch ovens.
Many guests want to learn backcountry cooking techniques and we welcome and encourage you to get involved. If you’re interested, you’ll also get a chance to learn how to make bannock (traditional Indigenous bread), pick berries, and harvest plants for tea with the help of both our local Dene guide and river guides.
Of course some participants really want to get into the kitchen and others would prefer to use that time do go fishing, for a hike, or just relax—and that is great. Afternoons at camp are fun and a time for you to get what you want out of the trip.
We ask that everybody helps out by cleaning their own dish. We set up a table-top wash station with big bins and hot soapy water for rinsing and washing. We’ll also show you how the stoves and coffee brewing systems work so if you like to get up at 4am, you can help yourself.
Nothing sets you up for success in the wild like a good night’s sleep. To help, we ensure you have everything you need to be cozy.
- First we provide individual tents to give you a home away from home where you can stretch out, read or journal without worrying about bothering anyone.
- Next we provide high quality inflatable sleeping mats. These keep you insulated from the cold ground and provide support for hips and shoulders.
- You can bring your own sleeping bag rated to -5°C / 23°F or below, but you can also rent a high quality expedition sleeping bag from us that will keep you warm and snug.
- Finally, we provide a pillow and pillow case. Many guides will just stuff their clothes into their sleeping bag’s bag, but if you can have a full size pillow, why wouldn’t you?
Toilet system—your room with a view
Our backcountry toilet system consists of a frame that supports a toilet seat just like the one you have at home. We place it over a hole we dig far from camp and the river making a temporary outhouse, without the walls (you wouldn’t want to miss the view!).
To ensure privacy we teach everyone the signals for when the bathroom is free: a paddle lying across the path to the toilet means “occupied”. If that same paddle is leaning against a tree it means “free”.
Trust us, as far as temporary bathrooms go, this one is hard to beat.
Hygiene and washing
You’ll appreciate the easy to use hand washing system that we set up at camp and our riverside lunch spots. Good hygiene is key on wilderness trips. This system means you can wash your hands just as well as you can at home.
Simply turn on the spout and you’ll have flowing clean water. We provide soap and hand sanitizer.
Minimizing our footprint - sustainable tourism
Minimal impact camping techniques (sometimes called “Leave No Trace”) differ across the world depending on the type of environment and the amount of people travelling through. Because most of this trip takes place in Nahanni National Park, our guides work with Parks staff to understand and adhere to the local norms.
With all of our cooking, washing, and bathroom procedures, your guides will show you the systems we use to stay comfortable and healthy while at the same time minimizing our impact on the surrounding ecosystem.
So few people visit this amazing landscape every year that we realize one of the biggest draws is the pristine environment. We do everything we can to keep it that way.
Read more about how Boreal River strives to protect the environment.
Because the Nahanni is quite silty, it’s easier to purify water that we get out of the clear tributaries that flow into the main river along our way.
We always have purified water by bringing 2 systems:
- A gravity filter hangs at camp (like a pump filter but without the need to pump). The guides will always make sure there is filtered water available. You can fill your bottle with this water to keep with you during the day.
- We also bring plenty of water purification tablets. You can keep a few on you to purify your own bottle any time.
Mosquitos and black flies are usually aren’t usually much of an issue around Virginia Falls and through the big canyons where you’ll spend most of this trip.
The last section of the river where the landscape flattens before the confluence with the Liard River is where we encounter the most bugs.
The good news is, with the right approach and the help of your guides, you can protect yourself and stay comfortable.
- Bugs aren’t usually an issue on the river but of you’re spending time in the forest, make sure to have bug repellent or a head net accessible. We always pack along extra too.
- Citronella (natural bug repellent) works but only lasts for about 20 minutes. DEET works very well but we find it travels best and feels better on your skin when it comes in a cream. Our guides recommend Watkins brand.
- If it the bugs come out at camp, put on some long pants, socks, and a long-sleeved hooded shirt or hang out by the campfire—the key is to be proactive.
The beauty of the deep wilderness is that it’s a chance to slow down and appreciate the little things. You’ll probably find yourself seeking a quiet corner to just sit and look at the river, the looming canyon walls, or the intricacies of the forest. These quiet moments help make lasting memories, but there’s also plenty for you to do if you feel like moving.
There are also some spectacular hikes that we’ll take up side canyons—and with our minimum of two river guides plus a Dene guide on the trip, we can accommodate splitting up the group if some want to do a big hike while others prefer to relax or do other activities at camp.
If you want to bring your camera, go for it, just make sure you have a waterproof Pelican case.
Dene history and culture
With our Dene teacher along on the trip, you’ll have the opportunity to find out about the history of the area from an Indigenous perspective, learn about how the people navigated the Nahanni for many generations, and learn about their current culture and life in the communities of Nahanni Butte and Fort Simpson.
Whitewater characteristics, rafts, and other watercraft
The Nahanni has big but relatively easy whitewater for rafting (the rapids are mostly class I and II, with some easy class III, according the international river classification system)
Because of its big waves and continuous nature, if you were to canoe the Nahanni you would need an experienced paddler in each canoe.
But rafts offer some serious advantages for bringing anybody, including 100% beginners and ‘non-paddlers’, safely down the river:
- Rafts are stable
- They are ‘self-bailing’—meaning as waves rush in, the water drains out of the spaces between the inflated floor and the outer tubes
- A large group of paddlers (up to 8 or more, depending on the raft size) can be guided by one experienced guide
So fear not: guided rafts make this trip appropriate for any physical ability.
Now…if you want more of a physical challenge or just to paddle on your own, we bring inflatable kayaks and stand up paddle boards that you can use on many of the river sections (all but the biggest whitewater).
We’ll give you some basic instruction and you’ll be up and running in no time.
Most people do a mix of rafting and the other crafts. Even if you’re tentative, there are some truly mellow sections with no rapids where you can try the smaller boats—but of course it’s totally up to you.
Your river guides will also teach you how to read rapids and choose routes. If you are interested (and don’t mind swimming in very cold water…brrr) we can even show you some rescue techniques like swimming, and throwing and catching rescue throw bags. These are fun ways to play in the river and swimming in rapids will help you understand whitewater better if you decide you want to pursue more paddling.
Activity level and conditioning
The Nahanni Cultural Rafting Expedition is 2 out of 5 on our activity level scale.
We’ve had rafting expeditions with guests in their late 70s and as young as 10. It’s a trip for almost anyone who’s moderately active outdoors.
If you’d like to ‘step it up’ a notch, the optional longer side hikes and smaller solo watercraft (paddle boards and kayaks) will make for bigger days and a higher activity level.
Here are our general minimum fitness requirements. You should be comfortable:
- Spending a full day outside with 5 to 7 hours of moderate activity like hiking and paddling (with rest breaks, of course)
- Stepping in and out of the raft and crawling out of a tent
- Lifting 10kg bags
- Going on an hour-long moderate hike
Simply being an active person is good enough for this trip, but getting in trip-shape will only help you enjoy your time more.
If you don’t already exercise, going for a walk each day and climbing some stairs will help you tremendously. Lifting light weights can help you prepare and is good for you in general. Going for hikes on mixed terrain will help you practice for getting around.
Accommodating your needs
Inclusivity is important to us. Our guides and trip planners have years of experience working with diverse populations including people with a range of physical needs support needed. In the end—we’re all about helping people get on the river.
If you’re not sure about whether or not this trip can work for you, contact us.
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
Trip Details at a Glance$8,095 CAD + 5% gst + $200 National Park fee - 10 days from Virginia Falls to Nahanni Butte
Explore one of the world's great wilderness destinations—with experienced river guides and an Indigenous Dene guide
Departs fromFort Simpson, NWT, Canada
Group size8 to 11 guests
- July 4-13, 2021
- Aug 15-24, 2021—*full, with wait list*