Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Nahanni ~ our flight-seeing tour

Nahanni National Park Reserve is the best known Northwest Territories park, and was the highlight of our visit there.

It is located in the southwest corner of  NWT, in the traditional territory of the Dehcho peoples.

We had heard of this beautiful natural area of deep river canyons, mountain ranges, huge waterfalls, hotsprings, and lakes...having read several books by Dick Turner set in the Nahanni. 

The park was originally established in 1972 with a total area of 4,766 square kilometres, became one of the world's first Unesco World Heritage sites in 1978,  and was expanded to 30,000 square kilometers in 2009.  UNESCO calls the Nahanni 'one of the most spectacular wild rivers in North America.'

The only way into Nahanni National Park is by helicopter or float plane...or maybe by foot, if you are a little crazy. We booked our flight months in advance with Simpson Air based in Fort Simpson and planned our vacation around it.

Our pilot for the day was Ted Grant, owner of Simpson Air. What a privilege to have him both at the controls and as our tour guide, with his vast knowledge of the area and decades of experience.  He came to Fort Simpson as an RCMP officer originally, fell in love with Nahanni and bought Simpson Air in 1981. His goal is to become the world's oldest bush pilot. I think he might just accomplish that.

We boarded the Cessna on the banks of the Mackenzie River, where we met a couple from Ontario who were our flight-mates for the day.  As it turned out, there were three float planes doing the 'Nahanni all-day tour' that day...and we met up at each of our stops.

We left Fort Simpson behind and then soared westward...

...over low swamplands and boreal forests

...and on to the canyons of the Nahanni.

The Nahanni River begins in the Mackenzie Range and winds it way through mountains and valleys before it empties into the Liard River.

We landed on the river just above Virginia Falls.  All was calm and peaceful here!

From there we walked to the falls...

...with a park ranger as our guide.

Virginia Falls drops some 96 meters (302 feet)...twice the height of Niagara Falls.  It was really quite spectacular!

We had lunch on a rock with a view...with a thundering river providing background music.

After lunch, we flew within arms length of the Cirque of the Unclimbables, a group of several cirques with 9000' granite peaks that drain through an alpine garden. First visited in 1955, these jagged rugged peaks were thought to be unclimbable.  Now they are a challenge to expert climbers from around the world.

There were hotsprings, geothermal ponds and Rabitkettle Tufa Mound...the largest tufa mound in Canada, standing thirty meters tall.  Thousands of years old, the mound is formed by thermal springs that bubble up from the volcanic ground, leaching calcium carbonate that hardens into a crust of tufa.

Our next stop was Glacier Lake.

Peaceful. Tranquil.

Until three float planes arrived.

It was also a fuel-stop.  Unless they gassed up, we would not be returning to Fort Simpson! That cabin-shed on the shore had a good supply of fuel...brought in by the barrel before the tourist season.  All that was needed was a Canadian Tire bucket, a funnel and a strong arm to fill up the tank. 

Oh, and one more thing.  Something on the wing needed fixing!  The owner sent the young Aussie pilot up to do the job.  And then, we were good to go.

We 'shared the chairs' at Glacier Lake, skipped rocks on the water, built Inukshuks,  and by the time the planes were serviced, it was time to go.  On to Little Doctor Lake...

...and Nahanni Lodge.  The lodge is nestled among the trees on the shore of  lake...a remote, private wilderness retreat.  It is owned and operated by Ted Grant, our pilot and the owner of Simpson Air.
A couple from Victoria, BC were staying there for several days, and came out to greet us as we landed. They were having the time of their life...and thought it would be a fabulous place for a family reunion.

As the day came to an end, we climbed back into our plane for the last leg...a flight of 100 kms. back to Fort Simpson.  Below us was the  Ram Plateau...grassy plains, deep canyons, as well as hoodoo and karst formations. We saw a group of Dall's sheep above the cliffs.

It was evening by the time we landed in Fort Simpson.  Our 6-8 hour day trip was extended to 10 hours.  And a most delightful 10 hours it was!

With only about 1000 visitors per year, we feel especially privileged to have had the opportunity to visit Nahanni National Park as Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary.


  1. Very impressive trip...too "crazy" for me. 🙂 I always admire your sense of adventure. Which one of you first suggests such a journey? (About the time the wing needed fixing, I'd need a pill. Ha!)

  2. Beautiful place. Would love to be able to see it and walk along the river and stay at the lodge. That would be a great experience.

  3. I've probably said it before but the two of you win travelers of the century! Love the spots you pick and enjoy. Such adventurous spirits. What amazing scenery you got to enjoy. The falls were incredible.

  4. It looks like Nahanni National Park is a well kept secret! I, for one, had never even heard of this place before you mentioned it ... and it's so beautiful! I can only imagine how you enjoyed the floatplane ride with your own tour guide... your pictures are proof. It is a very surreal experience we had a taste of in Indonesia... and yes... those little planes need continual maintenance because they are made of such light materials, I was told.

  5. Wow! What a fabulous day. I learned a lot about Nahanni National Park from you. It might be added to my list of places to visit one day.

  6. All I can say is WOW! What a fabulous experience.

  7. I missed seeing this post until now, Judy. What a remarkable national park to visit! Our world still holds such pristine wonders--God's masterpieces unspoiled by man.


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