South Nahanni River


Whitewater Packraft - South Nahanni River

Packraft the classic South Nahanni River from the Moose ponds to the Laird River. Along the way we will run boulder garden rapids to class III, float through remote wilderness, hike alpine ridges, soak in natural hotsprings, and view the Virginia Falls.

  • Class III River
  • Challenging
  • Mileage: 367.0 mi

This trip starts at the Moose Ponds, on August 3nd. It ends at Lindberg Landing on the Laird River, on August 25th. We will coordinate travel to and from the river on scheduled airlines and chartered services.

Paddle the South Nahanni River from the Moose Ponds to the confluence with the Laird (and a little beyond).  The S Nahanni is a classic canoe river, traversing 366 miles of the MacKenzie mountains in Canada’s Northwest Territories.  

River Characteristics

From the Moose ponds the S Nahanni has continuous class II and III rapids for the first 38 miles.  We will take time to enjoy these rapids and our days in the headwaters where the Nahanni is relatively small.  

The river then becomes more sedate.  We will stretch out our days a little, covering more distance and then taking time for side trips.  There are ridges to climb, lakes and hot springs to visit, and white water tributaries to hike up and paddle down.  

(We will bypass Glacier Lake and Cirque of the Unclimbables - a fairly well traveled area that requires permits for camping.)

We’ll spend two nights at Rabbitkettle Hotsprings, taking time to explore this unique feature.

Virginia Falls is a fantastic large waterfall, which we reach at about the trip’s mid point.  We’ll take two nights there.

The river then passes through 4 canyons.  Contained in the canyons are several named class III rapids.  In this section we will focus on enjoying the grandeur of the landscape, camping in spectacular sites, fun running the rapids, and some side trips.

There are multiple options for hiking. I anticipate 3-5 full day hikes from the river during our trip.  Which we choose will depend on the weather, land, and group interest.  

One side trip I’m strongly interested in is Tlogotsho Plateau (aka Ram Plateau).  It is a strenuous climb to reach the plateau.  I anticipate taking two nights away from the river to camp here.

After the last canyon (First Canyon), the river flows out onto the planes.  At The Splits, the current slows.  From here to Blackstone landing we have about 75 miles of travel on the S Nahanni and Laird rivers.


I seek a balance between an active, athletic trip and taking time to enjoy the extraordinary place we are in (as well as self care).  Most days will be moving days.  We’ll enjoy breakfast, pack camp, and be on the water by 8:00 to 9:00.  

On the water, we’ll paddle about 90% of the time (this is not a float).  On a full paddling day, with a good current, we will travel 25-35 river miles.  Some days will be shorter to allow for a side trip or to camp at a particular site.  

Our schedule will have time for multiple lay-over days, which can be used for side trips.  Most will be day trips but the Tlogotsho Plateau is an overnight trip..  

Goals Expectations Style


  • Paddle the Nahanni River from Moose Ponds to Nahanni Butte or lower.
  • Be safe:  Assess and manage risks together.
  • Enjoy being out there, whatever conditions we encounter.
  • Enjoy the company of each other.
  • Take side trips to explore features of interest
    • 2 day overnight to the Ram Plateau
    • 2 nights at Virginia Falls


  • Support the goals above
  • Think about and express your goals, expectations, and style
  • Have the skills and fitness required for this trip *
  • Train skills as a group
  • Work as a team member to help the group be happy and accomplish our goals 
  • Participate in group decision making
  • Abide by decisions made by the group or by the leader 
  • Don't take risks that other group members do not support 

* Participant Skills

  • Capable of packrafting Class III river, mostly as read-and-run
  • Able to portage short distances.
  • Able to paddle 6 hour days with some 8+ days
  • Camp in bear country:  safe food storage, clean camp, carry bear spray, cautious going out alone.
  • Patience or at least submission to the inevitable to deal with unexpected obstacles.


  • Most days are moving days
  • Often launch between 8-9am and land between 3-5pm
  • We paddle downstream about 80% of the time.
  • Seek a balance between challenge and relaxation.
  • Some layover days with time to explore or relax.
  • Sit together for dinner as time to reflect and discuss
  • Shared dinners, if others are interested
  • Intention to create a community of mutual respect and enjoyment.

Joining the Trip

  • Consider the trip that I have described:  the schedule, the side-trips, the pace, and my goals, expectations and style.
  • Think about and write your own goals, expectations, and style for this trip.  
  • Anticipate spending about $2,000 for transport to and from the trip.
  • Ask permission to join the trip. We’ll discuss our goals, expectations, and style.  The purpose of this is to surface any incompatibilities with the purpose that we have compatible understanding of the trip when we start out.  
  • Also, come paddle with me once or more on some local class III rivers.  
  • Reserve some dates in the summer to paddle and practice as a group.  This will include shared equipment planning.  Visit this doodle poll to indicate dates you are available.


South Nahanni River

Required Equipment

Required Equipment

Minimum Equipment for each participant 

  • Packraft, with grab lines on bow and stern
  • Paddle, sized for a packraft
  • Life jacket, PFD Class III or better
  • Whitewater helmet
  • Drysuit or thick wetsuit
  • Closed-toe shoes, no sandals
  • Spare clothing
  • Boat repair kit
  • Waterproof Whistle

Additional equipment will be selected and allocated by the group.

Trip Reports