The Bounty Up North

Slave River & High Arctic Lodge

Apr 27, 2004
Outside Magazine
canada parks, adventures

The isolated bliss of Nunavut    Photo: Corel

Whitewater Kayaking
Slave River
Northwest Territories

Trying to catch the biggest river wave you've ever seen in front of ten pro kayakers is like trying to catch Lance on a breakaway, so I did my best to look casual as I floated stern-first toward The Edge—a 15-foot-high curler. When I found myself actually carving down the face of this monster, my stoic veneer gave way to unhinged glee. I wasn't throwing donkey flips like I'd just seen the pros execute, but this was the most exhilarating surfing of my life.

Still, the pros and I did have something in common: We'd all come to the Slave River, in the heart of the boreal forests of the Northwest Territories, for epic playboating. Consider this: The Slave's monthly flows peak, in June, at almost 200,000 cubic feet per second—more than six times the peak monthly flows of the Colorado through the Grand Canyon. And on its 258-mile course from the northern Alberta prairie to Great Slave Lake, the Slave creates a 17-mile playboating stretch, home to four enormous Class I–VI rapids, each one several miles long. Dozens of pink granite islands dot each rapid, forming hundreds of channels, countless drop-pool rapids, and nearly every kind of river running imaginable. Rumors of this smorgasbord of liquid delights have begun to circulate among boaters, but 100 paddlers per summer would still qualify as a busy season on the Slave. And with the bonus of nearly endless subarctic sunlight, roll-savvy Class III intermediates on up through Class V hucksters can paddle till their arms fall off.

A river that takes nearly an hour to ferry across has myriad places you don't want to be—hire a guide to ensure that your intended Class III wave train isn't actually a Class Death sousehole. Book Keith Morrison, who knows the surf stashes intimately and runs Slave Kayak Lodge, a cluster of five guest tepees and a log cabin overlooking the river. After you ditch your wet duds at day's end, there's a wood-fired hot tub all warmed up and bison steaks on the grill.—Sam Bass
DETAILS: A weeklong package at the Slave Kayak Lodge (866-588-3278,, which holds up to eight people, starts at $1,000 per person, including meals.

Solitude Seeking
High Arctic Lodge

There's no hyperbole in the name High Arctic Lodge. Three hundred miles above the Arctic Circle on Nunavut's Victoria Island, the bright-red cabins have room for only 12 people, guaranteeing a low-impact, high-solitude vacation.

Spend your days looking for polar bears or hiking through the tundra to ancient tent rings left by the Inuit. Bring a rod (or rent one) and fish nearby Hadley Bay, where many a guest has landed a 25-pound arctic char. A flightseeing tour over the Arctic Ocean is a must: Watch icebergs slough off the edge of the polar ice cap. Take a closer look by canoeing the Nanook River, a calm ribbon of fresh water.—T.N.

DETAILS: Seven-night packages at High Arctic Lodge (800-661-3880, start at $3,695 per person.