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Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada

Natural Heritage

National and International Significance | Wildlife | Vegetation | Geology and Geomorphology | Hydrology | Canadian Heritage Rivers System | Bear Safety | Greater Nahanni Ecosystem


Nahanni National Park Reserve is an outstanding example of northern wilderness rivers, canyons, gorges and alpine tundra.

The park, with a total area of 30,050 km2, is centred on the river valleys of the South Nahanni and Flat rivers in the southwest part of the Northwest Territories.

Virginia Falls
Virginia Falls
©Parks Canada

Within Canada's system of national parks, Nahanni National Park Reserve protects a representative example of the Mackenzie Mountains Natural Region. The park area overlaps two major ecozones - the Taiga Plains to the east and Taiga Cordillera to the west - and touches the Boreal Cordillera Ecozone to the south. The park occupies approximately one-seventh of the total area of the South Nahanni River watershed.

One of the key features of the park is the South Nahanni River. This river originates as a small, clear boulder-strewn stream in the remote Mackenzie Mountains. It grows dramatically in size and power as it flows 580 km downstream to the southeast. The silt-laden waters of the South Nahanni meander through scenic mountain valleys and hurtle through a series of deep canyons before calming and joining the Liard River at Nahanni Butte. This dramatic change in character, along with the varied and spectacular terrain that it passes through, have given the South Nahanni its international reputation as a premier wilderness river.

Along the river are many unique features. These include: Rabbitkettle Hotsprings, source of the largest known tufa mounds in Canada; Virginia Falls, with a vertical drop twice that of Niagara Falls; a series of river canyons up to 1200 m deep; and caves such as Grotte Valerie with its ancient skeletons of nearly a hundred Dall's sheep.

The park is home to a variety of wildlife. Dall's sheep, mountain goats, woodland caribou, wolves, black bears, grizzly bears and trumpeter swans all find refuge in Nahanni.

National and International Significance

In 1978, Nahanni National Park Reserve became the first site in the world to be granted World Heritage status by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). The World Heritage Site designation highlights the international significance of the park's natural heritage.

The section of the South Nahanni River protected by the park was proclaimed a Canadian Heritage River in 1987, in recognition of its outstanding wilderness character and recreational value.