About us

What is the history of Black Feather's name? In bygone days, the Voyageurs ventured by birch bark canoe and back-breaking portage across Canada’s vast northland in search of furs and trade with the First Nations peoples. When a Voyageur returned from his first foray beyond the Arctic divide, he was awarded a black feather, or 'plume noire' to proudly wear in his hat. The traditions of wilderness travel foster an appreciation of nature, respect for our environment and develop co-operation and teamwork.

Black Feather honours this wilderness heritage and marries it with the latest developments in skills, equipment and logistical planning to provide you with outstanding wilderness holidays. Our experienced guides, expedition quality equipment and delicious menus ensure that your expedition is outstanding.

For over 40 years, Black Feather has run guided, outfitted canoe trips on the legendary Nahanni River. Black Feather provides highly experienced and trained guides who bring a wealth of knowledge and skill to each trip. Top quality expedition gear is field-tested for our rigorous demands. The food is delicious and nutritious.

There are various trip options that match different skill levels and interests. Trips range from 10 days to 3 weeks. Our most popular is the 2 week Nahanni Classic. Black Feather also offers trips that accommodate families and their children. Our Women’s Nahanni is designed for women, and guided by great women guides. We also can work together to prepare a customized trip to suit your group of friends or family.

A Nahanni trip provides you with the opportunity to trade daily traffic rush hour for the natural flow of the Nahanni River; concrete sky-scrapers for the towering mountains of the Cirque of the Unclimbables; running errands for running whitewater; and the urban jungle for the majestic mountains and mysterious forests of Nahanni National Park. Come experience your wildest dreams.

Reserve your trip now and take advantage of savings and discounts for bookings made in advance. Join us for your adventure of a lifetime!

Why choose Black Feather for your wilderness adventure?

Experience - In over 35 years of providing adventure travel holidays, we have paddled and hiked thousands of kilometres with countless satisfied customers. We’ve learned how to make your trip very special. Over 70% of our clientele are return participants! Black Feather’s first Nahanni River canoe trips predate the formation of the National Park. Wendy Grater has been the director of Black Feather for well over 25 years.

Canoeing Specialists - Other outfitters run raft trips and offer some canoe trips. Black Feather only operates canoe trips on the Nahanni and for the canoeist this makes a difference. Our guides’ experience and training is totally focused on canoeing. From our custom canoe tripping equipment to our menu everything is developed for canoe expeditions. The experience of a Black Feather canoe trip is very participatory compared to a raft trip where customers may feel that they are ‘taken down the river’. On a Black Feather trip you can be involved in all aspects of the expedition from setting up camp, helping with meals, planning your route down rapids, map reading, journal writing and participating in the decision making process. We want you to feel like this is your expedition. The Black Feather experience ensures you will learn a great deal and at the end of the trip you will have earned a real sense of personal accomplishment and growth.

Destinations - The Nahanni is the jewel of Canadian wilderness destinations but we’ve explored the entire north and have chosen over 40 of the other very best places to go - destinations of national and even global significance. On a Black Feather trip expect stunning scenery, rare wildlife, unusual land forms and exceptional routes through runnable rapids, remote alpine passes and ice fjords. You’ll encounter native cultures and travel in the footsteps of ancient peoples and the early explorers. A Black Feather trip is a most unique and unusual escape from everyday life.

Variety - On the Nahanni we offer 6 different trips, some with multiple departures, ranging from 10 to 21 days. Each summer we also run a number of private custom trips for groups and provide rental canoes and equipment, transportation services, and support to people organising a self guided trip. Beyond the Nahanni we offer the widest range of northern adventures - instructional weekends to get you started and wilderness trips from 3 to 22 days. Some are easy to get to; some are literally at the ends of the earth. There are choices for every ability - from your first experience to a major expedition for veterans. We explore a wide range of exceptional wilderness destinations - on foot and in canoes and kayaks. There are trips for individuals, couples and small groups, trips for women only, adventures for families and custom programs for groups. We keep researching and exploring - adding new adventures every summer. We have just the right trip for you - and another adventure for next year.

New Friends - One of the special rewards of a Black Feather trip is the friendships, comradiere and stories that develop along the way. These uncommon holidays attract a group of like-minded people who have done interesting things. People sharing challenges, adventures and discoveries on an isolated journey quickly forge strong bonds and friendships. A small group dependent on each other and their own resources can develop a special camaraderie and spirit. Black Feather adventurers from around the world often build lifelong friendships on their trip.

Our Approach - Our philosophy of co-operation and sharing means that the trip becomes a true learning experience. We encourage you to take part fully in all trip activities ... from map reading to paddling to cooking. We want you to contribute to the day to day planning and decisions. This inclusiveness increases your confidence and helps ensure the trip meets your needs and goals. Your full involvement in all the aspects of your trip will lead to a great sense of accomplishment.

Great Guides - Black Feather’s guides are second to none. Handpicked, highly experienced and scrupulously trained, they bring a wealth of skill and knowledge to each trip. They are fun and have a passion for the wilderness.

Office Support - We’ll back you up. Adventures at the edge of civilization can seem challenging to prepare for. Our friendly and knowledgeable office staff will make sure that your holiday unfolds without a hitch. When you contact us you are dealing with the people who run your trip - not a reseller or a travel agency. Real advice and assistance with flight plans, trip insurance, clothing and equipment planning and all those last minute details is readily available. Feel free to call the office and speak with Wendy, Katja or Fred with any questions you may have.

Contacts & Knowledge - Our strong contacts throughout the north and solid reputation for safety and reliability ensure the support of communities, northern airlines and the best local tourism partners. Black Feather holds numerous licenses in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon as well as Nahanni, Auyuittuq and Qittinirpaaq National Parks. Through the northern airlines we are able to offer special discount rates for flights to your trip rendezvous.

We’ve learned the hundreds of little things that make these trips possible - which end of the lake is deep enough for a float plane, where is the best place to stay in Pond Inlet, how do you get your travel clothes back to Pangnirtung. We‘ve developed partnerships with the most reliable local people -Nick, who picks us up by boat at the end of the Mountain River, Joavee who takes us by sea to Overlord and Pall in Reykjavik who forwards our gear to Greenland.

Our Guides

Wendy Grater, owner and director of Black Feather, has been guiding for over 30 years. She’s pioneered sea kayaking routes in Greenland, hiked remote Arctic wilderness and paddled almost every river Black Feather has run. Easygoing, yet committed to excellence, Wendy’s energy and enthusiasm for sharing her love of the wild is contagious.

The team of Black Feather guides is exceptional. Over 40 qualified guides work each season. Most return for many years - some have been guiding for Black Feather for over 20 years! We are now reaching our second generation of guides - the sons and daughters of original Black Feather founders and guides have now matured into guides themselves.

Who are your guides? Most are Canadians with a strong background of canoe tripping and wilderness travel acquired through summer camps, school or family. Some came to Black Feather with extensive personal resumes and some started as Black Feather clients. They work a long apprenticeship under the tutelage of our more experienced guides, advancing to longer, more remote trips and greater responsibility as their abilities are proven. They are ‘certified’ by recognized accreditation bodies (Red Cross, Canadian Recreational Canoeing Association, etc.). They take part in annual, formal in-depth training programs. Knowledgeable about the wilderness ecosystem and environments, they enjoy sharing the mysteries of the natural world. You’ll find they are confident, light hearted and welcoming. They are great cooks ... and enjoy a good laugh around the campfire. Their wealth of experience allows sound and firm judgment in matters of safety.

Equipment & Outfitting

We use the highest quality equipment available. Over the years, we have designed, refined and produced much of the gear that is now accepted as the standard in the canoe tripping industry. Items such as the ‘Barrel Pack’ and ‘Black Feather Spray deck’ were born by experimentation on northern rivers. Working with top outdoor equipment manufacturers, Black Feather makes sure that each piece of gear is suitable for the environment where it will be used. Our equipment systems help keep you remarkably comfortable, safe and happy in some very challenging situations.

Of course, satellite phones and other communication devices are carried on our wilderness trips and ensure that emergency help is within reach.

Menus

Our food is delicious and nutritious. Meals are cooked over a backpacking stove, wood fire, charcoal -heated dutch oven or camping stove from a combination of fresh, dried and freeze-dried products. With dutch ovens we can bake breads, muffins, desserts, and even make such delicious entrees as baked lasagna! Breakfasts consist of fruit, hot or cold cereal and a main course such as blueberry pancakes or breakfast burritos. At lunch you will enjoy a selection of breads (rye bread, bagels, tortillas) with cheese, dried salami, tuna salad ... and of course, good old peanut butter and jam, followed up by granola bars or dried fruit. Dinner consists of hors d’oeuvers, a main course then dessert. Main courses may be a pasta-based dish such as Pesto-Pine Nut Fuselli, or a rice based meal such as Oriental Stir-Fry. On cooler days, a hearty mug of steaming soup is always available, as well as tea, coffee, hot chocolate and cold drinks.

If you have a serious food allergy or dietary restriction you must contact our office. We may need your help to make sure that your meals are safe, sufficient and delicious.

Skill Levels

Each trip is assigned a Skill Level from 1 to 3 to assist you in identifying those trips suited to your ability.

Briefly they are:
Level 1 - no experience required
Level 2 - some experience and basic skills are expected
Level 3 - some more advanced skills and abilities required - not for novices

For more information:

  • Detailed Description of the Skill Levels below.
  • A detailed information package is available for each trip, with pictures and a description of the location, weather, itinerary and includes a section on who would enjoy that
    specific trip.
  • A general information package called Your First Step that answers many FAQ including an outline of the Skill levels is also available.
  • Contact our office. We’re happy to discuss what to expect on any trip. We can usually provide an e-mail or phone number for a previous participant on the trip
    that interests you.

Skill Levels - Detailed Description

How We Assess a Trip:

Many independent factors are assessed before we assign a ‘Skill Level’.
We consider the degree of technical skill required for the trip, how physically demanding the itinerary is, elevation change, the elements of risk involved, the range of weather, the isolation, the length of the expedition and many other factors. You can get a good idea if a trip is right for you from the trip information package and by contacting our office.

Your Self Evaluation:

Your skill development, physical ability and condition, experience, attitude and ability to adapt to new situations are the main components of your personal evaluation. Most of our participants tend to underestimate their abilities. Try to compare your self-assessment to what seems to be required in the description of the trip in the detailed information package. If you feel unsure just give our office a call. We want you to have a great time too.

Skill Levels

Level 1 - These trips do not require any previous experience in the activity. Related experience (camping, swimming, etc.) will be helpful. This is an opportunity for the beginner to learn the foundation skills of canoeing, kayaking and wilderness living. Your guides and instructors are expert at helping you succeed in these new activities. The pace will be fairly relaxed. The location, challenges and program are geared to ensure the trip is enjoyable and safe for the novice. Some Level 1 programs require a commitment to a multi-day wilderness trip or to learning new skills. Some first experiences can be a bit stressful (your first whitewater canoeing run or paddling a sea kayak in waves etc.) but a Level 1 trip is appropriate for beginners. More experienced outdoors people often choose these trips because they enjoy the route or want to introduce a friend to the activity.

Level 2 - We expect that you have some background in the outdoors and some basic skills. You should be comfortable around the water for paddling trips. You can get a sense of the specific paddling skills required from the trip description. For hiking trips you should be fit and capable of carrying a minimum of 20-30 kg (45-60 lb.), 10 to 12 kilometers a day on rough terrain. These trips are designed to build on your skills and to expand your experience. You should expect to learn new things and try some new and challenging activities with help from the guides. Some Level 2 trips require a degree of physical challenge and a willingness to cope with unexpected adventures. The success of the trip will depend in part on the positive attitude and mutual support that the participants demonstrate. Level 2 includes some very extensive trips.

Level 3 - These extended trips offer the opportunity for you to participate in a major expedition with the support of very experienced leaders. The pace and the environment may be very challenging. You should be fit and active. The trip may be in an area of extreme isolation. Specific skills may be required. A positive attitude, a willingness to support other group members and willingness to adapt to the unexpected are important to your success and enjoyment. The specific skills needed, the elements of risk involved, the isolation, the physical and emotional demands of the route and location would make this trip most inappropriate for the novice. However, extensive experience and advanced skills while welcomed are not required. Level 3 trips are designed for people with intermediate skills and some previous experience in the activity. Although there is a broad age range many of our participants on Level 3 trips will be over 50 years old.