Large waterfall between tree-lined cliffs with two canoes and four canoeists in foreground. Virginia Falls, Nahanni National Park World Heritage Site

Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories

Three rafts on rocky beach in forground with river and tall clifs in background. Rafting the Gate on the South Nahanni River
Mineral-encrusted rock with small stream. Tufa Mounds, Nahanni National Park World Heritage site

Date of Inscription: 1978

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Nahanni National Park was designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee under the following criteria:

Criterion (vii): The Nahanni River is one of the most spectacular wild rivers in North America, with deep canyons, huge waterfalls, and spectacular karst terrain, cave systems and hot springs. Exposure of geologic and geomorphologic features includes the meanders of ancient rivers, now raised high above present river levels.

Criterion (viii): In Nahanni National Park, there is exceptional representation of on-going geological processes, notably fluvial erosion, tectonic uplift, folding and canyon development, wind erosion, karst and pseudo-karst landforms, and a variety of hot springs. The major geologic and geomorphologic features provide a combination of geological processes that are globally unique.


Prospectors started searching the South Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories for gold a century ago. They found little. But they did encounter vast reaches of the most varied and spectacular environment imaginable - towering mountains and tundra plains, wetlands and sand dunes, badlands and luxuriant forests, grizzly bears and trumpeter swans. There are steaming hot springs and complexes of caves, some lined with ice crystals, others with colourful stalagmites and stalactites.

And everywhere rivulets and streams and rushing rivers, all feeding the restless, prodigious South Nahanni, alive with frenzied rapids and whirlpools, with meanders and braids, crashing over the cataract of Virginia Falls, twice the height of Niagara Falls, cutting for kilometres through canyons 1,000 metres deep, then bending through a tortuous constriction called Hell’s Gate.

Today, remarkably, nothing has changed. The South Nahanni still swirls and crashes, the hot springs steam, the grizzlies prowl. This is a wilderness largely unmodified by humans. Indeed, running water remains the major agent of change. Rivers cut canyons through the Mackenzie Mountains and spread alluvial fans. And since the region escaped glaciation during the last Ice Age, canyon walls remain sharp and deep, neither widened nor smoothed by grinding ice.

More Information

Parks Canada:

Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada

World Heritage Centre:

World Heritage - Nahanni National Park