Afloat in the Northwest Territories and beyond
Canada’s most extreme adventures make for an unforgettable holiday.
There’s nothing ordinary about a paddling trip on the South Nahanni River. Located in Canada’s remote Northwest Territories, this is well and truly a wilderness experience. The only way in is by float plane, and you will need to bring enough supplies to last the entire 240km route.
The reward for intrepid travellers is the opportunity to experience one of the most unforgettable rivers in the Americas. Thanks to its diverse landscapes, from lichen-covered alpine peaks to limestone canyons and sprawling plains, Nahanni National Park was one of the first 12 places in the world to score a UNESCO World Heritage listing. Its vast expanse – the park is almost as big as Switzerland – has helped preserve the local eco-system. More than 40 mammals make their home in the park; sharp-eyed travellers may spot moose, black bear and grizzly bears.
A number of outfitters offer week-long trips. Experienced paddlers can opt to travel via canoe or kayak; beginners will want to stick with a guided raft ride. Some of the rapids can be challenging, but there’s a real thrill in shooting through the white water as canyon walls loom a kilometre above you.
Not everyone who travelled through this area was enchanted by its beauty. Early explorers found the area grim and the indigenous peoples occasionally unfriendly; their experiences are commemorated in place names such as Headless Creek, Deadmen Valley, Funeral Range and Thundercloud Range.
Don’t let those names put you off, however. There are plenty of natural wonders to admire along the way, from hot springs to the spectacular Virginia Falls. Twice as high as Niagara Falls, the cascades are a magnificent sight.
It’s not all about river rafting, however; Canada’s great outdoors contains plenty of other challenging adventures. Give one of these high-octane experiences a go.
Trekking Tombstone Mountain Park
In the north of the country, right next to Alaska, the Yukon is Canada’s equivalent of the Wild West, a place of wide open landscapes where wildlife outnumbers humans by a significant factor, and Arctic icefields and Canada’s tallest mountains offer plenty of natural drama.
The Tombstone Territorial Park, perched up near the Arctic Circle, is a dream destination for photographers and landscape lovers. Be prepared to cover some serious territory to make the most of your holiday.
As you walk, you will pass jagged cliffs and dramatic rock formations looming over vast tundras, splashed in a range of vivid shades thanks to the lichen that thrives in the sub-arctic. Park highlights include entrancing lakes such as Talus Lake and the eerily-blue Azure Lake.
Biking the Golden Triangle
The Rocky Mountains are Canada’s most famous wilderness destination, and it’s not hard to see why. With verdant alpine meadows, mountain-ringed lakes, dense forests and cascading waterfalls,this is a landscape that gets the blood flowing. Mountain bikers get to enjoy the best of it on the Golden Triangle, a 300km loop that crosses the Great Divide twice.
You will want to be in shape to tackle this ride; it covers more han 100km a day and has some steep climbs, including one that lasts for half a kilometre. As you pass through no fewer than three national parks – Banff, Yoho and Kootenay – the gorgeous scenery will boost your spirits.
Exploring Kejimkujik National Park
Kayakers, take note. The canoe routes of Kejimkujik National Park are not to be tackled lightly. The routes were traditionally used by the local Mi’kmaq people as they travelled between the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Coast, but even these hardy voyagers found it hard work sometimes. That’s how Kejimkujik Lake got its name: from the Mi’kmaqword meaning “tired muscles”, reflecting the hard work involved in getting across the lake.
Not that we want to put you off. Kayaking these traditional waterways is a memorable experience, offering fascinating insights into how the First Nations lived. Keep your eyes open and you will spot plenty of Mi’kmaq petroglyphs carved on slate outcroppings along the shore.
Alternatively, you can explore the area on foot. Fifteen different hiking trails cut through the park’s diverse landscapes, travelling through Acadian forests, stands of red maple and haunting pine forests. One trail, dedicated to the area’s gold mining history, takes you past old gold mining pits.
Hiking the Pukaskwa Coastal Trail
They knew what they were doing it when they named it Lake Superior. The world’s largest freshwater lake is the highlight of Ontario’s Pukaskwa National Park and the centre piece of the challenging Pukaskwa Coastal Trail. This week-long hike, hugging the lake shore, takes you through a range of beautiful landscapes, from forests to boulder gardens, marshes to sandy coves.
The going can get tough: be prepared to scramble and leap as well as walk, and keep an eye out for moose, beavers and bald eagles while you are at it. You can always revive yourself with a refreshing swim in the lake. If a week-long walk is a little too challenging, try the White River Suspension Bridge Trail, an 18km section of the trail that can be done as a day hike.