Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada

Minimizing Risk

Since Nahanni National Park Reserve was established, at least five people have died while travelling along the South Nahanni River and its tributaries. In some cases, bodies have never been found, so it is impossible to determine the exact circumstances that lead up to the presumed death.

  • Canoeists and kayakers travelling solo have died on the Flat and Little Nahanni rivers.
  • A member of a six person/three-canoe trip drowned while descending from the Mooseponds.
  • A hiker is thought to have fallen over the edge of Virginia Falls.
  • A hiker was killed in a flash flood while hiking in the confined drainage of Dry Canyon Creek.

These are all tragic occurrences. Some likely resulted from inexperience, but the majority were unfortunate situations where highly capable people were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is critical that you carefully examine the activities you will be undertaking. Physically and mentally prepare yourself to deal with emergency situations. Nahanni National Park Reserve is remote and at times a very unforgiving place. Plan your trip well, and above all else, use your intelligence. People must have an appropriate level of experience and skill before planning a trip in this harsh wilderness setting. Your life, and the lives of people travelling with you, depend on your abilities. Mistakes may be fatal.

Rating River Difficulty

River difficulty is rated using the six-part International River Classification System. Individual rapids are rated by class, ranging from Class I to Class VI. Where two ratings are indicated for a specific rapid, the first rating applies to high water conditions and the second to medium-low water.

Click here for the six classes of ratings for river rapids.

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Experience Level

Individuals with little or no whitewater experience SHOULD NOT attempt to travel on the South Nahanni River or its tributaries. We strongly recommend to anyone in this situation that they obtain accredited training in whitewater paddling, river rescue, and/or other appropriate survival training. If you are not confident in your skills, consider going with one of the three licensed guide outfitting companies.

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Equipment

Proper equipment is very important for people traveling in Nahanni National Park Reserve. Aluminum canoes are difficult to repair and don't easily slide off rocks, and are therefore not recommended. Canoes made of ABS plastic are a good alternative. Whitewater rafts should have multiple air chambers, and if possible, inflatable floors as well. All canoes should be equipped with a spray cover that provides full coverage. It would be very difficult to safely navigate the river safely in a canoe not equipped with a spray cover. Brightly coloured canoes and spray covers are recommended.

Make sure you comply with the legal requirements of the Small Vessels Regulations of the Canada Shipping Act. The following equipment is the minimum required for canoes and kayaks not over 6 m in length:

1. one Canadian-approved lifejacket for each person on board;
2. one buoyant heaving line of not less than 15 m in length;
3. one manual propelling device such as a paddle or oar;
4. one bailing device;
5. one sound signalling device, and
6. navigation lights if the craft is operated between sunset and sunrise

In such a remote wilderness setting as Nahanni, it is strongly recommended that you take ample precautions and bring at least one spare paddle for each canoe, or if travelling by raft, a spare oar. In addition to a sound signalling device in the canoe or raft, each person should have a water-resistant whistle permanently attached to their lifejacket. It is strongly recommended that you have at least one spare paddle in each boat.

Wetsuits are highly recommended. Wearing a wetsuit during period of prolonged immersion in the water will reduce the risks of suffering from severe hypothermia. During a typical summer, the South Nahanni River only warms to a temperature of approximately 9oC. At water temperatures such as these it doesn't take long for hypothermia to begin to affect a person. Getting out of the water is a critical concern, and you will need all the help you can get, whether it be from your travelling companions, or from measures you have taken yourself such as wearing a wetsuit.

Licensed personal locator beacons (PLB) are being carried more often into remote areas. In a life-threatening situation, a distress signal will alert rescue personnel and aid them in locating you. The distress signal contains, among other coded information, the serial number of the beacon, which allows identification of the registered owner. MAKE SURE YOUR PLB IS REGISTERED. If you are not the registered owner of the PLB you intend to use, contact the agency responsible for PLB administration in your country. If you are a Canadian citizen, leave the name of the PLB owner, your name and your itinerary with your local RCMP detachment.

A PLB transmits a distress signal at 406 MHZ. The use of a locator beacon that transmits a signal at 121.5 MHZ is not permitted in Canada for personal use. To find out if your PLB is registered, or for further information, please call the Canadian Beacon Registry at 1-877-406-7671 or 613-965-3716.

A first-aid kit is essential and should contain supplies to deal with the types of injuries you could expect for the activities you will be undertaking.

Be sure to bring a portable cooking stove, with appropriate fuel, or a barbeque with briquettes. It is possible that there may be a ban on open fires due to current forest fire hazards during your visit.

Emergency survival gear, such as high energy food, survival blanket, first-aid supplies, fire starter, waterproof matches, and a sound or visual signaling device are very important items. Should you become separated from your boat, these items will help you survive. Always keep your emergency survival kit attached to your body when travelling on the water, preferably in a waterproof bag.

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commercial outfitters

approximately 50% of the visitors to nahanni national park reserve use the services of a commercial outfitter. many companies advertise or promote canoe or whitewater raft trips on the south nahanni river. only three are currently licensed by parks canada. if you plan to use the services of a commercial outfitting company, your safety depends on choosing a recognized and legally licensed company. if you are aware of unlicensed companies promoting trips on the south nahanni river, please inform the park office.

click here for a listing of licensed commercial outfitters.


visitor safety | minimizing risk | river hazards | wildfire | bear safety | public safety registration and de-registration | rating river difficulty | search and rescue program