MAIN RIVER, NEWFOUNDLAND
Officially designated as a Canadian Heritage River last year, the 36-mile Main slices through Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsulaa pristine wilderness of tundra, old-growth boreal forests, and grasslands. The first half is technical Class II-III whitewater. The grand finale is a nail-biter through a 14-mile, steep-cliffed gorge. The salmon fishing, black bear, moose, and caribou sightings, and frequent stops for scouting and portaging easily turn running the Main into a weeklong wilderness adventure.
SEASON: May and June.
DO-IT-YOURSELF: To reach the headwaters you must charter a floatplane (about $330 for two people and a canoe). Contact Parks and Natural Areas of Newfoundland & Labrador for permits, regulations, and services: 800-563-6353; www.gov.nf.ca/parks&reserves/default.htm. Guided Trips: Eastern Edge Kayak Adventures (709-782-5925; www.kayakjim.com) offers an eight-day trip for $760 per person.
SOUTH NAHANNI RIVER, NORTHWEST TERRITORIES
Tumbling through Nahanni National Park Reserve, the Class II-III South Nahanni River offers Grand Canyon thrills in an alpine tundra setting. In the shadow of the toothy 5,000-foot Mackenzie Mountains, the Nahanni snakes through 4,000-foot canyons and past fields of rare orchids. With highlights like 297-foot Virginia Falls (almost twice the height of Niagara Falls), numerous hot springs, and extensive cave systems, it's no surprise the park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.
SEASON: Early July to late August.
DO-IT-YOURSELF: The 220-mile canoe trip from Rabbitkettle Lake to the Liard River takes about two weeks. Reservations and registration are required; call Nahanni National Park Reserve (867-695-3151).
GUIDED TRIPS: Nahanni Wilderness Adventures (888-897-5223; www.nahanniwild.com) runs a raft-assisted canoe trip from Rabbitkettle Lake to the Liard River ($2,088 per person).
WABAKIMI WILDERNESS PARK, ONTARIO
Ontario's 1.1-million-acre Quetico Provincial Park is a well-loved destination among avid wilderness canoeists. But double its size and remove 99 percent of the people, and you've got Wabakimi Wilderness Park, just 200 miles north of the Quetico. Established in 1983and expanded sixfold in 1997the park is rugged, remote, and accessible only by train, floatplane, or canoe. Including adjacent provincial wilderness parks, Wabakimi offers almost seven million acres of interconnected lakes and rivers, making it the largest wilderness-canoeing destination in the world.
SEASON: Late May to early September.
DO-IT-YOURSELF: A classic multiday trip down the Class II - IV Allanwater River and across various lakes begins with serious rapids and ends with placid water. The two-hour train ride in and floatplane out cost around $300 per person (canoe transport included). For information on permits call the park at 807-475-1634.
GUIDED TRIPS: For rental equipment and guided-trip information, contact Wabakimi WildWaters Canoe Outfitters (807-767-2022; www.wabakimi.com).
MAIN RIVER, NEWFOUNDLAND