Majestic mountains and a wild river of world significance
02 February 2012 | Fact sheet
Nahanni National Park Reserve, Canada, World Heritage site
Nahanni National Park contains several canyons with fast-moving rapids, as well as Virginia Falls, known as Nailicho in the local Dene language, a large waterfall more than twice the height of the Niagara Falls. One of the key features of this park is the South Nahanni River. Originating as a small stream in the Mackenzie Mountains, it grows dramatically over the course of the next 563 km, hurtling through the deep mountain canyons, some over 1,200m deep, and scenic valleys of the park before it calms and meets with the Liard River. Along the path of the river, some of the notable landmarks in the park are the Rabbitkettle hot springs, and caves such as Grotte Valerie, which contains dozens of skeletons of Dall’s sheep (Ovis dalli).
Created in 1976, Nahanni National Park Reserve protects a representative sample of the Mackenzie Mountains Natural Region. The park was designated among the twelve first UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1978.
Nahanni is cooperatively managed by Parks Canada and the Dehcho First Nations. Parks Canada is the Canadian federal government agency responsible for protecting and presenting nationally significant examples of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage and fostering public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment in ways that ensure the ecological and commemorative integrity of these places for present and future generations. Founded in 1911, Parks Canada is the world’s first national parks service and is a global leader in conservation.
The Dehcho First Nations is the organization that represents the interests of the local Dene & Métis communities. The vision of the Dehcho First Nations is to maintain “Strong, proud, happy people through self-government and sustainable economic development while maintaining the integrity of the land and Dene/Metis traditions”.
View photos of the World Heritage site
Size and Location
Nahanni National Park Reserve is located in the southwestern corner of the Canadian Northwest Territories, approximately 500 km west of the city of Yellowknife. The park is most commonly accessed by chartered floatplane. The World Heritage site covers an area of approximately 476,560 ha.
Flora and Fauna
Rivers, canyons, alpine tundra and boreal forests create the scenery in Nahanni National Park Reserve. Many wildlife species live in the park, including wolf (Canis lupus), grizzly bear (Ursus arctos), mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus), moose (Alces alces), beaver (Castor canadensis) and many species of birds and fish.
Nahanni is home to seven species at risk in Canada, including wood bison (Bison bison athabascae), woodland caribou – Northern Mountain population (Rangifer tarandus), olive-sided flycatcher (Contopus cooperi), common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor), rusty blackbird (Euphagus carolinus), yellow rail (Coturnicops noveboracensis), and short-eared owl (Asio flammeus). Species on the IUCN Redlist with status higher than Least Concern include ‘American bison’ (includes wood bison and plains bison; Near Threatened), olive-sided flycatcher (Near Threatened), and rusty blackbird (Vulnerable).
The woodland caribou is a species of great cultural significance to the Aboriginal people of the Dehcho. Several factors, including habitat loss and alteration, predation, and hunting and disturbance by humans may have contributed to the decline of the woodland caribou in Canada. Due to their importance to local communities around the park, several research initiatives have occurred over the past 15 years to ensure the long-term health of local woodland caribou herds.
The park also includes the only known locations of a rare plant species, the Nahanni Aster (Symphyotrichum nahanniense), which is closely associated with mineral springs.
The re-establishment of a winter road to a lead-zinc mine adjacent to Nahanni National Park Reserve has the potential to cause negative environmental impacts to the land, waters & wildlife within the park.
Bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) is a species of special interest within Nahanni National Park Reserve. This fish is sensitive to impacts of industrial development, and is scheduled for assessment by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
Dealing with the threats
Park staff and Dehcho First Nation representatives have been working with the mining company through a technical team, providing feedback on mitigation of environmental impacts of the new winter road. Parks Canada is also actively participating in the environmental assessment and regulatory permitting process to ensure protection of the park environment.
To ensure adequate protection for the Bull trout, a research program in cooperation with Fisheries and Oceans Canada is underway, which includes the use of acoustic tags and receivers to show movements of fish.
Parks Canada is committed to make every national park a treasured place and a living legacy for all Canadians, connecting hearts and minds to a stronger, deeper understanding of the very essence of Canada. Visitors can experience the wonders of Nahanni by camping, fishing, canoeing and hiking. Nahanni National Park Reserve has the reputation as Canada’s premier wilderness river national park. Several rafting, canoeing and kayaking trip options are available for a variety of skill levels, lasting from eight days to three weeks, on which visitors can experience true Canadian wilderness.
Air charters are also available for flight-seeing trips over the park to Virginia Falls (Nailicho).