South Nahanni

South Nahanni River

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Natural Heritage

The South Nahanni River originates in the Selwyn Range of the Mackenzie Mountains, 200 km northwest of the western boundary of Nahanni National Park Reserve. The section of the South Nahanni River designated as a Canadian Heritage River is 300 km long.

The river’s outstanding natural features include Virginia falls, one of North America’s great waterfalls, with almost twice the vertical drop of Niagara Falls. The four massive canyons below Virginia Falls form one of the most extensive canyon systems in the world north of 60 degrees. Further downriver, are the 35 degree Celsius water of Kraus Hot Springs, often used as a spa by weary travelers, and Yohin Lake, Nahanni’s largest lake and an important nesting area for the trumpeter swan. The boreal forest and alpine tundra that run along the river are the home to an abundance of plant and animal species.

Cultural Heritage

According to Dene oral history, the Dene people have been travelling, harvesting and hunting in these ancient mountains for thousands of years, following the natural corridors and the movements of the animals.

Early trappers and prospectors were lured here by stories of gold. To the trappers and prospectors, the Dene people were referred to as the “Nahanies” – a word that sounded much like a word used by the Dene themselves. This eventually led to the adoption of Nahanni as the current name for the river.

Recreational Heritage

The South Nahanni, one of Canada’s premier paddling destinations, offers outstanding recreational opportunities such as river trips by canoe, kayak or raft. Between rapids, the flat water also makes some great photography possible.

The South Nahanni offers a number of river trips for visitors ranging from those who are new to the experience and are accompanied by guides and outfitters, to those who are skilled white-water enthusiasts. Fishing and hiking are also popular as is hiking on many exciting trails that are accessible only by boat.

Who Manages the River?

The South Nahanni River is managed by Parks Canada.

Fun Fact:

The Dene word “Dehé” refers to the main river system that flows through the mountain ranges including that first range of mountains. This explains why this river is called, Nah?a Dehé. Since the majority of this river flows through the Park Reserve, this name, Nah?a Dehé is also used for Nahanni National Park Reserve in respect of this rich heritage.

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