All You Need to Know About Nahanni National Park

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National Park
Photo by Chris Stenger from Unsplash

Nahanni National Park is located along the South Nahanni River, one of North America’s most spectacular wildlife rivers. The park has deep ravines and huge waterfalls, as well as a unique limestone cave system. The park is a habitat for arctic animals, such as wolves, grizzly bears and caribou. The Dall mountain sheep and goats are found in the surrounding area of the park.

With deep canyons beyond the Grand Canyon and the dual waterfalls of Niagara, Nahanni National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks in North America. The superb and fascinating region is a famous tourist destination and there are also some best national parks in Southern California which you will love.

In one of the most inhospitable deserts in the world, there is great excitement for boaters to cross the uncharted Southern Nahanni River as it runs through the high peaks of the Mackenzie mountains. But even the most courageous could not attempt to sail the magnificent Virginia Falls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Nahanni National Park Reserve

National Park
Photo by Drahomir Posteby-Mach from Unsplash

The Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Dehcho District in the Northwest Territories, Canada, about 500 kilometres (311 mi) west of Yellowknife, protects part of the Mackenzie Mountains Natural Region. The centre of the park is the South Nahanni River (Naha Dehé).

Four notable canyons up to 1,000 m (3,300 ft) deep, called First, Second, Third and Fourth Canyon, line their white river. The name Nahanni comes from the Dene language of the local language; Naha Dehé, meaning “river of the land of the Naha people.” The park is also said to have been attacked or cursed, following the mysterious disappearance and death of many gold miners in recent years.

Nahanni National Park was established in 1976 and was listed on the World Heritage List in 1978. In 2009, Canada significantly expanded the park’s boundaries by adding 2,500,000 hectares to form the Nahanni National Park Reserve. The expanded protected area now covers 3 million hectares and provides significant protection for the natural ecosystem and the South Nahanni River system.

The boundary of the World Heritage Site is still marked from the beginning. More than 95 per cent of the World Heritage Site is now surrounded by a vast border of national parks, providing excellent protection and ensuring the integrity of its World Heritage Site.

Due to the remoteness, the absence of permanent residents, the low population density in a large area, indigenous support, and the national park law that prioritises management to maintain environmental integrity, there are no major property threats. However, there is potential for resource development in the broader ecosystem around the area.

The Nahanni National Park Reserve is considered a paradise for hikers in the long run. Alpinists are drawn to the Cirque of the Unclimbables, paddlers exploring the centre of the reservation and hiking trails, a hand-held compass, cross-country skiing, meadows and karst.

Wildlife of Nahanni National Park

Animals
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Wildlife is diverse compared to the high latitude of the Park and is adapted to seasonal movements or winter sleeps to a harsh winter. There are 42 species of mammals including Beaver Castor Canadensis, Grey Wolf Canis Lupus, Grizzly Bear Ursus Arctos, black Bear U. Americanus, Otter Lutra Canadensis, Wolverine Gulo Gulo, Lynx Lynx Canadensis, Woodland Cariboufer Tarandus Carandus, Tarandus Caribouces – Odocoileus Virginianus Deer, Oreamnos Americanus Mountain Goat, Dall’s sheep Ovis Dalli, and a wide range of rats.

A total of 180 bird species in 29 families have been identified including the peregrine falcon Falco Peregrinus Anatum, the Golden Eagle Aguila Chrysaetos and the Bald Eagle Haliaeetus Leucocephalus. A small number of Tumpeter Swan Olor Buccinator, a rare species in Canada, live in Yohin Lake.

There are no known reptiles and a few aquatic animals. There are 16 known species of fish. Arctic grayling Thymallus Arcticus Signifer, Dolly Varden trout Salvelinus Alpinus Malma, Trout Lake Salvelinus and Maycush and Bull Trout Salvelinus confluentus are common in the tributaries of the Nahanni and Flat rivers (Parks Canada, 1987).

Virginia Falls

The area around Virginia Falls on the Nahanni River is timeless and amazing of all the waterfalls in the world. It is the most beautiful scenic beauty you will witness.

Located in the heart of Nahanni National Park, the first UNESCO World Heritage site, Virginia Falls is surrounded by an amazing 30,000 square kilometres of Canada’s protected and rare desert.

Over the past 200,000 years, the Arctic has been hit by recurring glaciers. Each time it has left its mark on the place you see today. Since the end of the Wisconsin Ice Age, melting snow allowed South Nahanni Watershed to occupy a thriving living environment.

As the Nahanni River paved its way through the valley its concentrated power left people with Virginia Falls and the fourth Canyon, the first in the Canyon Kingdom. It is a stage of chaotic beauty, a reflection of everything around us.

Experience the Nahanni River Adventures

The South Nahanni River is known to be the most spectacular wild river. The Nahanni River is truly a Canadian icon and the crown jewel of the NWT river trip. Made famous abroad by RM Patterson’s book “Dangerous River” published in 1957, the real history of this river is one compiled by the Mountain Dene People of the Dehcho Region of the NWT, people who are believed to live here for approximately thousands of years.

Náįlįcho, or Virginia Falls, doubles the size of Niagara Falls and is located in the heart of Nahanni National Park, one of Canada’s largest protected areas and the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. The park also protects the southern Ranges of Mackenzie Mountain and the many amazing tributaries of the Nahanni River.

The raft is a great way to explore this area, it offers all the possible comfort of a desert trip in our hands and allows you to relax and enjoy the amazing scenery and create new friends on the river. The experienced guides will navigate the river downstream, and bless you with northern legends, Dene land history and the amazing geography that formed the Nahanni River.

If the river and the weather permits, travellers will be encouraged to steer their canoes out so that they can enjoy rowing on their own, and feel the tide of the raging ocean.

Fun Things to do at Nahanni National Park

1. Enjoy Canoeing on the Nahanni River

Canoeing
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The Nahanni River flows through the Selwyn, Mackenzie, and Franklin mountains before entering the Guard River, the Mackenzie challenge, at Nahanni Butte. Along the way, the river flows through fearsome ravines, spectacular waterfalls, and hot springs, the heat of which produces unusual vegetation in the tropics.

The 200-mile journey up the Nahanni River from Nahanni Butte to Virginia Falls is an unforgettable outdoor experience, taking a turn for 200 meters.

Boating this solid stretch is only suitable for those with white water experience (permission must be obtained from park officials). From Nahanni Butte, the first area is about 50 miles (80 km) upstream, where the river separates itself into numerous “cracks”.

Hot springs containing sulphur (about 37 degrees Celsius) can be found here, and rare plants such as ferns, roses, and wild cherries thrive in the frozen soil. Then the river flows between the high walls of the first gorge (up to 1,200 feet high) passes through the Deadmen Valley, and crosses a mysterious high gorge, the second.

In the third gorge, the river makes a 90-degree turn of what is known as the “Gate,” guarded by the mighty Pulpit Rock. Across the valleys comes the foam-filled streams of Hell’s Gate, and, finally, after the fourth gorge, the river rotates a curve to provide a spectacular, spectacular view of the famous Virginia Falls.

2. Climb the Cirque of Unclimbables

Climbing
Photo by Brad Barmore from Unsplash

Nahanni has long been a popular hiking destination for a good reason. Granite pillars from the ground provide all the challenging routes associated with beautiful landscapes.

The main climbing area is the Mackenzie Mountains’ Ragged Range. The Cirque of the Unclimbables is a legend in the rising world and the Lotus Flower Tower is one of the most sought-after ways to carry a purse.

Depending on how much you want to spend, access may be a combination of a floating and walking aircraft or direct access to a base area by helicopter.

The Cirque of the Unclimbables offers stunning rock climbing in a remote, beautiful landscape. Located in the Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada above the western border of the Northwest Territories, Cirque is beautiful. There are no roads leading within a hundred miles from Cirque.

It is often compared to Bugaboos but without snow and hard to reach, Cirque holds many spices and walls. Many are worth climbing, but Lotus Flower Tower and Mount Proboscis stand out as treasures. Mid-summer offers the best hiking weather and offers up to 20 hours a day due to the area north of Cirque.

Fairy Meadows, a common base camp for all routes in Cirque except the remote Mount Proboscis, is a magical, green, beautiful pasture. Rock gravel, about the size of a house, is littered with rubbish and presents the possibility of hailstones and tent shelter.

Many goals in the area are a one-hour walk from education. However, those planning to climb Mount Proscoscis should plan a steep getaway from the marshy area, which takes several hours and involves a climb with What Notch, as Proboscis lies in the lower cirque.

3. Do Fishing

Fishing
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The fishing opportunities in the Nahanni National Park Reserve should be experienced as you will get to see several different kinds fishes you don’t even know about.

Whether you are a pro or completely new to the sport, don’t miss the opportunity to get your line wet. The fish up here grow to incredible sizes and the low fishing pressure makes them plentiful and easy to catch.

Species available in the Mackenzie River and North Nahanni River are grayling, brown trout, Dolly Varden and walleye. Cli Lake offers lake trout, pike and whitefish. The fishes are big on Cli Lake – the average weight is 10 pounds.

Other lakes to consider, although difficult to access, including Glacier, Hole-in-the-Wall, Rabbitkettle and Little Doctor.

Some Famous Hiking Trails in Nahanni National Park

1. Glacial Lake

Nahanni National Park
Photo by Presley Roozenburg from Unsplash

Glacier Lake is the gateway to the Ragged Range and the “Cirque-of-the-Unclimbables”. You can get access to the route from the South Nahanni River, the north direction of the park boundary.

Head northwest from the mouth of Britnell Creek on the trail along the banks of the South Nahanni. The trail is indistinct, but old fires will be visible along the way. After 1 km you will come across a snye (side-channel) coming from South Nahanni. About halfway down, look for a burning pine tree.

The trail turns 90 degrees to the left and heads southwest at this point. Follow the trail over rolling hills until it approaches Britnell Creek, then head west and follow the north bank of the creek to Glacier Lake. To call this route a “trail” is an understatement. There can be many occasions when a track is temporarily lost or confused with game tracks which are also referred to as “thrash”.

2. Secret Lakes

The Secret Lakes are a series of small, deep lakes set in a steep mountain valley. Two access paths are described below:

  •  Leave from the high, northwest bank of the South Nahanni River immediately below the mouth of the Rabbitkettle River. Travel east through muskeg, creek beds and game trails, then over a low pass into Secret Lakes Valley (6 km one way).
  •  Head up the creek bed joining the South Nahanni River for 15 km. The creek bed takes you up a gentle incline into the Secret Lakes Valley, a longer but less strenuous hike than the route above. Most of the stream bed consists of gravel and small boulders (10 km one way).

3. Sunblood Mountain (8 km One Way)

The trailhead is direct across the river from Virginia Falls Campground. Before crossing to the other side of the river, you should travel enough distance upstream to ensure a safe crossing.

Head northeast through a mature spruce forest until you reach an open scree ridge and continue to the top of Sunblood Mountain along sheep trails and open slopes, but be careful of the treacherous scree. You will need to pack plenty of water for the trip.

4. Marengo Falls (4 km One Way)

A GPS or compass and a map are important requirements for this hike as the route might be confusing. Depart Virginia Falls Campground following compass direction to Marengo Falls. Head south-west through a terrain of rolling hills, mossy spruces and musks interspersed with higher ridges of pines.

A drier alternative route is a departure 1.5 km upstream from the campsite. If your direction is reasonably accurate, you will arrive at Marengo Falls, where Marengo Creek tumbles 100 feet over a series of limestone ledges.

More often than not, you will come out to the stream either upstream or downstream. Orientate yourself by observing the stream. Above the falls, it meanders through a grassy, low plain, and below it flows somewhat faster through a wide gravel bed.

5. Scow Creek – Headless Range 

Exit Scow Creek where it joins the South Nahanni River at 214 km. Head south on the gravel and boulders of the mostly dry creek bed. After 2 km you will reach the fork in the stream bed, and continue on the right side of the western fork. After another 1.5 km, you can use the smaller stream bed on the left along with the open ridges to climb the ridge.

A more gradual route is to continue along the original channel, which rises to a low saddle leading to the ridge. Once at the summit and above the tree line, sheep tracks lead northeast along ridges across small rock plateaus and stunted alpine vegetation. Several small protrusions and waterfalls in the streambeds will have to be overcome by a detour. Water availability will vary depending on wet or dry periods during the season.

6. Prairie Creek 

The Prairie Creek flood fan is the main feature of Deadmen Valley. Begin paddling upstream (north) and stay left (west) of Prairie Creek’s many channels. After 1.5 km, the stream bed is cut by a low muddy bank. You will either have to climb this bank (thick, tangled bush) or cross the stream (cold, fast water) and then return to the west bank.

Ahead will be a narrow gap where Prairie Creek leaves the mountains. By climbing over the saddle to the west of the gap, you can enter a small floodplain bordered by almost vertical canyon walls.

Bears are commonly found on the Prairie Creek alluvial fan, so be alert throughout your journey to avoid the possibility of a surprise encounter. Mountain sandpipers nest in fan prairie areas. Until June 10, it is asked that you limit your activities to gravel areas to minimize disturbance to nesting birds.

7. Sheaf Creek

Begin your hike at the mouth of Sheaf Creek in Deadmen Valley. You should stay on or near the stream bed and you will have to cross the stream many times. A large forest fire in the early 1980s caused many trees to fall across the creek bed, which in turn made this part of the trail a slow and difficult breaker.

Continue along the creek to where it almost disappears at the base of the plateau. Go right (west), up the steep ridge leading to the plateau. This steep, moss-covered ridge gives way to a scree slope, and extra care should be taken when hiking in wet weather. There is a small bench near the top and a fair cliff.

To the right of the cliff, a sheep trail takes you to the top of the Tł’ogotsho Plateau. Water is not always available at higher altitudes in summer, so bring a good supply. Be prepared for extremes of weather and low clouds that can appear suddenly and make travel and orientation very difficult.

8. Dry Canyon Creek 

Dry Canyon Creek is a dry gravel fan located at the far eastern end of Deadmen Valley. Take the first short distance into an impressive canyon with steep walls on gravel beds. As the canyon narrows down, the large boulders will have to be climbed carefully, over and under sometimes.

Several draws and ridges to the east provide access to the Nahanni Plateau, although no definitive route has been established. Dry Canyon is most often brought up as a day trip following the stream bed in the canyon. Long and overnight trips to the Nahanni Plateau are exciting and also possible but it requires enough preparations as well as important equipment necessary for hiking.

9. Ram Creek 

This trail begins at the mouth of Ram Creek in Deadmen Valley, along the South Nahanni River. Ram Creek is an alternative route to the Tł’ogotsho Plateau with less scrub. Steep, eroded banks and occasional mudslides along the way will require several creek crossings.

A small stream flows into Ram Creek after 6 km, which may be your last chance to fill up your water bottles until you reach Boundary Lake. After travelling south for about 8 km, the valley begins to narrow. Walk up the north (right) slope for 150 m or more until you find the sheep track. By following this path through the old burn, you will reach an area with open terraces.

How to Reach Nahanni National Park?

There are no roads in this spectacular park so sightseeing is usually done by floating plane, a fun way to explore this remote area, and not very accessible. This exciting Cessna 206 flight leaves Fort Simpson and flies into Nahanni National Park.

The plane, which seats four passengers, takes you to the first, second and third streams of the southern Nahanni River to stay on top of Virginia Falls, as your pilot shares the legends in association with Deadmen Valley, Headless Range, Funeral Range, Death Lake and Crash Lake.

Nahanni National Park is a paradise for nature lovers, the high mountain ranges waterfalls and varied wildlife. The weather conditions are amazing which is why it is a place worth visiting and having the best experience.

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