Our speciality is canoeing on the Nahanni. We create outstanding canoe expeditions where you can participate in all aspects of your trip and where you can become an accomplished canoe tripper. We believe canoeing the river leads to a greater sense of involvement and accomplishment. A Black Feather canoe trip on the Nahanni will be one of your all-time, once in a lifetime great experiences.
We offer six different types of canoe trips on the river ranging from 10-21 days. One option has an emphasis on hiking side trips, another on whitewater canoeing, there is a trip for women only and one for families. Some, such as the whitewater trip, require special skills.
Each part of the paddling season has its attractions. Some of the factors people consider are:
- Daylight: The paddling season starts in mid-June and lasts until early September. Early in the season there are 24 hours of light. By September it gets dark at night - you might see northern lights.
- Water Conditions: Although water levels can change with precipitation there is normally much higher water with faster current early in the season. The water will be very cold in June, rising to perhaps 12°C (54°F) by midsummer and cooling down in late August.
- Temperature: The daytime highs are on average warmer in July and early August, perhaps 23°C (73°F) but we have seen snow and 35°C (95°F) in the same week. It will likely be cool at night.
- Precipitation: There is no regular pattern to the precipitation throughout the summer but a little snow is more likely in late August and September.
- Insects: Bugs are are more prevalent in late June and early July but rain can bring them out at any time of the season. Normally the bugs aren’t too bad in the mountains but when we reach the Liard / Mackenzie Lowlands on the last day the bugs can be intense. We use a motorboat shuttle on the Liard River so you won’t find it a problem.
- Seeing Other Trips: During the shoulder seasons of late June and late August there are very few visitors to the park. However, the national park staff and the outfitters carefully schedule trips to reduce the instances of meeting other trips. In any case the park is so remote and difficult to get to that less than 700 people overnight in the park in the entire year.
Most participants are Canadians but expect paddlers from the US, Europe, Australia - almost anywhere. Our participants share an interest in the wilderness, scenery, wildlife, new friends and adventure. They are the sort of people who do interesting things and are fun people to travel with. You are going to make some new friends. Over the years the ages have ranged from young children to a man of 86. Other than on Family trips the majority of participants are 40-65. Most have previous canoe tripping experience and some whitewater canoeing skills. Many will have been on a previous Black Feather trip.
Except for Family trips our scheduled trips are designed for adults. The level and nature of supervision and the expectations of the other participants make these trips inappropriate for children. Younger teens travelling with a parent will be considered in certain circumstances. Family trips are open to families with children under 18.
If you have younger school aged kids you should contact our office to investigate the suitability of their participation. There are adventurous 8 year olds who have absolutely flourished on a Nahanni trip and 11 year olds we suggest wait a few years. We want this to be the great experience of a lifetime for your family. We’ll help you prepare everyone for your trip and help you choose the right time for your family’s adventure. A custom trip for a group can be designed to accommodate almost any mix of participants.
We welcome a number of older seniors on our trips every summer and there is no specific age limit to go on a Black Feather trip. If you are reasonably fit and meet the requirements described in the trip information package you’ll be fine. We have no problem accommodating some physical limitations. It is OK if you can no longer portage a canoe or carry a heavy pack - we know you will contribute to the success of the trip in other ways. Please contact our office to discuss your participation if you have any concerns at all.
Normally a group ranges from 3 to 6 canoes. We paddle 2 to a canoe.
You can register on your own and we’ll pair you up with a canoe partner. On a typical trip two thirds of the group are couples or small groups of friends and one third individuals. Larger groups of friends usually opt for a private custom trip.
There is a trip information package for each trip that has a detailed description of the skills and experience required for that specific trip. On Nahanni trips most people will have previous river canoe tripping and camping experience. They will also be a swimmer, comfortable around water and have basic whitewater canoe skills. We offer clinics to help you acquire these skills.
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.
To have a full choice of departures it is best to book well in advance. However, if your dates are flexible there will be some spaces available during the paddling season. Flights to Fort Simpson and less expensive flights may be hard to find at the last minute. We offer a discount to those applying before November 1 for a trip the following summer.
You can download the application package from the web site and mail, fax, or scan and e-mail the completed forms to our office. We’ll mail back a registration package with a receipt for your deposit, clothing list etc. If you want to secure a space as quickly as possible you can complete the quick registration form on-line. You can also phone 888-849-7668 (toll free in North America) to check availability and tentatively hold space while you look into time off, flights etc.
The trip rendezvous is in Fort Simpson, NWT. We arrange a discount airfare for trip participants from Edmonton, Alberta to Fort Simpson with First Air. You’ll need to arrange flights from your home to Edmonton.
The distance travelled varies with the speed of the current which can reach 10 KM per hour. Expect to paddle 4-6 hours a day with breaks and a lunch stop.
Most days fall into a simple pattern of eat, paddle, explore/hike and sleep! Here is an outline of a typical day:
- 6:30 am - 7 am: Guides up and start preparing tea/coffee/breakfast. You may wish to get up to do your morning ablutions and organise yourself for the day. It is wise to have your sleeping bag and clothes packed prior to breakfast.
- 8:00 am: Breakfast & clean up - take down tents, final packing and loading canoes.
- 9:30 am: Route familiarisation, stretching.
- 10:00 am: On the water ... Each morning, we paddle for about 2 - 3 hours, with breaks along the way for photography, snack or answering the call of nature.
- 1 pm: Stop for lunch.
- 2 pm: On the water ... Each afternoon, we paddle for about 2 - 3 hours. Some days will have side hikes, or interesting spots to stop at. We may have a portage or two, and may stop to scout a rapid.
- 4 pm - 5 pm: Make camp for the day. We will choose a nice campsite, unload the canoes, set up tents and kitchen area. Each person is responsible for pitching their own tent, helping with basic campsite chores such as collecting firewood, filtering water and ensuring their canoe is safe for the night. Free time to relax and enjoy!
- 6:00 pm: Hors d’ouvres, and dinner preparations begin.
- 7:00 pm: Dinner time, clean up and prepare for evening.
- Evening Optional: Evening hike or other activity (depending on group/guides).
Please note that times are approximate. Groups vary, and situations vary. The Black Feather guides will appraise you of the tentative schedule at the onset of the trip, and this may be modified at any time during the trip. We generally build in 2-3 ‘layover’ days. On these days, we do not move camp, but stay at the same campsite for 2 nights. The layover day gives us the opportunity to go on a day hike, do some clothes or personal washing, relax, sketch, photograph or just hang out. Generally, on a 2 week trip, we would have 2 layover days.
We wrote the book on Camp Cooking. Read about our award winning cookbook. The meals on a Nahanni trip are delicious with lots of variety. The food is nutritious and plentiful - this is a very active holiday. We use a combination of fresh, dried and freeze dried ingredients to prepare our meals.
Although we can carry some meat products, a good portion of the menu is semi-vegetarian. We make an effort to use whole grains, local and organic ingredients. We cook over an open fire in our environmental firebox and on a gas camp stove. Baking is done in large dutch ovens. The guides co-ordinate things but most people enjoy helping with the food preparation, cooking and baking. It is a favourite social time - sharing stories and laughs about the days events. Here are some sample meals:
- Cereals: Porridge, 7 grain cereal, granola with yogurt and fruit, muesli;
- Main: Blueberry pancakes, frittata, peach fritters, french toast, breakfast burritos;
- Baking: Muffins, cinnamon buns, cornbreads.
- Soups: We carry lots of soups for cold days .. or any time we want!;
- Breads: Bagels, dense rye breads, tortillas, pittas;
- Baking: Logan bread, Irish soda bread, yeast breads;
- Fillings: Mennonite sausage, cheddar cheese, tuna, salmon, hummus, black bean dip;
- Salads: Lettuce, sprouts, sliced tomatoes, cucumber, carrots;
- Fruit: Apples, pears, plums, oranges, dried fruit;
- Sweets: Granola bars, cookies, chocolate, gorp.
- Hors d’ourvres: Cheese & crackers, veggies & dip, mixed nuts, quesadillas;
- Main: Stir fry, spaghetti, curried rice, lasagna, Moroccan stew, turkey pot pie;
- Salads: Greek salad, caesar salad, cabbage salad, taboulii salad;
- Desserts: Fresh fruit, brownies, mousse, apple crisp, rice crispy squares.
- Tea: Black and herbal teas.
- Coffee: Black Feather’s famous custom roast - fair trade, organic dark roast regular coffee and Swiss water process de-caf.
Occasionally we have people with dietary restrictions on a Nahanni trip. The application form has a section where you can describe your dietary restrictions. In some cases our packing centre can simply adjust things to suit your needs. In the case of a more restrictive diet or a serious allergy we will work more closely with you. You may request a copy of the menu to help identify problem meals. You may be required to bring substitute ingredients for some of your meals - ensuring that your needs are met.
The menu does not include alcoholic beverages with the exception of wine with dinner on the first night or two. You are welcome to bring your favourite refreshment for the campsite - and most people do! Please use unbreakable, leak proof containers.
Most participants are of average or above average fitness for their age. The trips are very active - paddling 4-6 hours most days, setting up camp, finding firewood, exploring the area on foot, optional hikes into the mountains etc. You certainly don’t need to be an athlete but you’ll have more fun if you arrive in good shape. We have a suggested preparation program that will help get you ready for your expedition. It covers educational preparation - books about Nahanni, maps etc., equipment you’ll need for the trip, and a suggested skills and fitness program.
Many participants have health concerns - medications, allergies, chronic conditions, old injuries and physical limitations. For most people this will not exclude them from safely enjoying a Nahanni trip.
The trip involves moderate to strenuous activity, sometimes for extended periods of time, in a very remote location. If you have any doubts about your ability to safely participate in the trip please call to discuss your situation. If you or we are still concerned we will make sure you have accurate information about the trip to share with your physician before making a decision.
The application package contains a confidential Medical Information Form designed by Black Feather’s consulting physician. Please fully complete your form so your guides are aware of any medical concerns or needs. If we spot anything that concerns us we will contact you. You should bring two sets of any important medications, eye glasses etc.
The trip involves moderate to strenuous activity, sometimes for extended periods of time, in a very remote location. This includes paddling for 4-6 hours a day (with breaks), sometimes stressful descents of rapids, carrying gear, canoes etc. for short distances each day, setting up camp, one or two portages during the trip, side hikes involving considerable elevation change (optional), long multi night hikes on the hiking option trip etc.
Not everyone is expected to be able to do the most physically demanding activities (carry a canoe for example) and some activities are optional. If you are reasonably fit and meet the requirements described in the trip information package you’ll be fine. We have no problem accommodating some physical limitations. It is OK if you can no longer portage a canoe or carry a heavy pack - we know you will contribute to the success of the trip in other ways. Please contact our office to discuss your participation if you have any concerns at all.
All trips must portage around Virginia Falls. The trail is 1.3 km long and drops about 100 meters to the canyon below. It is a fairly good trail and about 1/4 of the trail is on a board walk to protect the permafrost. It takes several trips to carry everything over the portage. We usually spend 2 nights at the falls so the carry may be spread out over the 2 days.
On the Nahanni Classic trips our float plane lands at Rabbitkettle Lake on the first day. We have a 1 km portage from there to the river. The Hiking, Whitewater and Getaway trips just have the one portage.
Although the Nahanni is well known, it actually very lightly travelled. It is so remote and difficult to get to, that there are less than 700 overnight visitors in the entire year. The outfitters and park staff create a schedule to spread out trips and reduce the instances of groups meeting. Virginia Falls is zoned ‘Day Use’ and you may see a few tourists there. The rest of the national park is zoned ‘Wilderness’ - essentially reserved for paddlers! Aircraft are restricted to Rabbitkettle Lake and Virginia Falls and motorised water craft are not permitted.
We provide high quality custom expeditions tents. These are fairly roomy 2 person dome style tents with a vestibule. We normally sleep 2 to a tent. You may reserve a solo tent for an additional charge. If you have a suitable tent of your own you may bring it.
Fortunately the Nahanni has considerably fewer bugs than most of the far north. However you will encounter black flies and mosquitoes at some campsites and on some side hikes. Bringing insect repellant and a bug hat or bug jacket is a good idea. Insects are more prevalent in late June and early July and then decline throughout the summer.
There can be considerable variation in the general pattern and total bug population from year to year as a result of weather conditions. We descend to the Liard/Mackenzie Lowlands at the end of the trip. The bugs in the Nahanni Butte area can be fierce. We travel by motor boat on the Liard River so we won’t be bothered much.
There are black bears in the park and we occasionally see one in the river valley. Grizzly bears also live in the Mackenzie Mountains but their territory and range are so wide that they are rarely seen. If a grizzly is known to be in an area, that area of the park would be closed to humans to prevent interaction. There has never been a reported injury of a person by a bear in the Nahanni area.
We employ a variety of practices to reduce the chance of a surprise bear encounter. Using food caches, air tight, animal resistant ‘barrel’ packs for food, careful food and garbage management practices, maintaining very clean campsites, changing campsites regularly, etc. minimises the chance of our trips attracting bears. As a back up we carry bear spray and ‘bear bangers’.
The park is home to a wide variety of wildlife. Dall’s sheep and moose sightings ae common. There are wolves, mountain goats, woodland caribou, black bears and grizzlies. Bison have been seen in the lowlands near the end of the trip. There are over 180 species of birds including rare sightings of the great grey owl and trumpeter swans.
This varies with the interest of the specific group and the type of trip you choose. The Hiking option trip includes at least one multi-night back packing trip into the mountains and a number of shorter side hikes exploring interesting places along the river. On all trips we will often stop to explore, and to hike to some very special places and lookouts. These side hikes may range from an hour to a half or even a full day. Longer hikes are planned in consultation with the group and the guides may offer two options - a shorter easier walk and a more ambitious outing. Some people may choose to relax in camp, fish or take pictures instead of a hike.
Fishing on the Nahanni is marginal. The high silt content in the river makes for poor fish habitat. However there are fish in the clear feeder creeks flowing into the Nahanni. Grayling and Dolly Varden the most common species. A national park fishing permit is required. You can get this from the park office in Fort Simpson or for Nahanni Classic trips at the Warden’s Cabin at Rabbitkettle Lake.
The Nahanni is in the mountains which causes wildly fluctuating weather. In June temperatures range from 0°C to 25°C. From July to mid-August the lows can be close to freezing the highs can reach the low 30’s (90°F) but average day time temperatures are in the low-mid 20’s (room temperature). It will be cooler at night. In late August frost is possible at night and as we enter September a little snow is not out of the question.
Mountain weather is extremely changeable. Most precipitation in the park is convectional rainfall occurring in the afternoons and evening in the form of showers or thunderstorms. Orographic rain fall (caused by winds rising over a mountain) can result is local showers. Total rain fall in July and August is in the 60 to 90 mm range but this is the mountains. Severe thunderstorms and intense rain can drop 100-150 cm of water in a local area resulting in flash flooding in narrow creeks and canyons.
The river will be very cold in late June but warms up to perhaps 12°C by mid-July - warm enough for a quick dip. By mid-August the water is starting to get quite cold again. Some sort of thermal protection (wetsuit, drysuit etc.) is recommended when paddling the whitewater sections of the river.
You will get a detailed clothing and equipment list in your registration package. You likely have most of what you need but the list includes a fairly warm sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, good rain suit, a wetsuit and a waterproof pack of some sort for all your personal stuff. You can rent a pack and wetsuit for a modest fee.
Yes. If you are going to bring your own, just check off the boxes on the application form so we know what to pack for the group. We provide good gear so if you prefer to use ours you’ll be happy.
Extra stuff can be left at our base in Fort Simpson during the canoe trip. On the last day of the trip the shuttle van will bring it to you at Lindberg Landing. Valuables such as cash, credit cards, passports etc. should either go with you on the trip or we can arrange for South Nahanni Airways, our main air charter company, to put things in their safe for you.
Gratuities are of course optional but most people do tip their guides. It can be a bit awkward to ask on the last day what other people do. The normal range is $7-12 per day per guide, or something in the range of 2.5 - 5% of the trip fee per guide.
Travel insurance is available through the Black Feather office or just check the box on your application form. There are 2 categories of coverage. Trip Cancelation coverage may reimburse you for any non-refundable fees and fares if must cancel your trip at the last minute for a variety of reasons including you, or a travelling companion or a family member becoming ill, injured etc.
Extended Medical coverage is very inexpensive and pays for a list of things over and above your existing medical insurance, including mountain rescue and evacuation, and air ambulance. For more information click here. Please note: Insurance never covers you for a pre-existing condition.