Liard River - Fort Liard to Fort Simpson

CanadaNorthwest TerritoriesMackenzie
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Michael Pealow
Trip Date : 
Additional Route Information
360 km
4 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
0 m
Longest Portage: 
0 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Not applicable
Not applicable
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

- Put in at the boat launch in Fort Liard. Inquire at the local craft shop for advice on the river and current river conditions.
- The right bank has some dangerous boils above the Muskeg River. Stick to the left bank, moving to the right bank after the Muskeg River joins the liard (a long sandy bluff on the right bank).
- Stick to the main current through the splits. If you have trouble finding the main current, stick to the right bank.
- Flett Rapids may not be noticable (nor a challenge), depending on water levels.
- There is an emergency pullout on the right bank after the Flett Rapids, indicated on topographical maps as a road. This road is never used by vehicles anymore, so a walk to the Liard Highway will be required. It may be several hours before a vehicle passes on the highway.
- Whistle Landing (some cabins on the right bank, visible from upriver) is another emergency exit point as is close to the Liard Highway. The river bank is steep and muddy here.
- The river slows and makes several large meanders at this point. The Nahanni Butte (Tthenaago) will be visible in the distance. Keep your eyes open for cabins and camps along the banks, belonging to residents of Nahanni Butte between this point and the confluence of the Liard and South Nahanni Rivers.
- There is a winter road/ice bridge crossing before the confluence of the Liard and South Nahanni Rivers (which should be indicated on topographical maps). If you want to visit the community of Nahanni Butte, you can hike the road into the community. The other alternative is to track up the South Nahanni River. Please note that tracking canoes up the South Nahanni River to the community is difficult due to the mud and trees along the steep banks.
- You may see some powerboats and canoes between where the South Nahanni joins the Liard and Blackstone Territorial Park.
- Blackstone Territorial Park has showers, cooking shelters, and an interpretive centre. It is an alternative pull-out point of you choose to end your journey here.
- Several kilometers below Blackstone Territorial Park is Lindberg's Landing, a homestead that provides cabins and some services to river travellers. This is also an alternative pull-out point if you choose to end your journey here. There are no other pull-out points between Lindberg's and Fort Simpson.
- After Lindberg's Landing, you have entered the "Long Reach". Campsites can be few and far between on the Long Reach, so grab a spot when you find one, because it might be 10 km before you find another one.
- Depending on water levels, there can be some large standing waves alongside and below the island above the Birch River.
- Below the Poplar River (the last good campsite until well past the Beaver Dam Rapids, due to steep river banks), the Poplar River Rapids (Large standing waves, Class II-IV) stretch for over 10km. Stick close to the right bank for easier paddling.
- At the Beaver Dam Rapids (just past a large gravel slide), stick to within a foot of the right bank and the rapids will not be a problem. The large standing waves (caused by a limestone ledge that stretches across the river) are much larger than they look from shore, and vary in height depending on water levels. Running the rapids is not recommended (many people have drowned here), but if you must run them, use a spray skirt.
- The Lafferty, a vehicle ferry, crosses the Liard River as part of the Mackenzie Highway. This is an optional take-out point. Please stay clear of the ferry.
- Stick to the left bank of the river from this point on.
- Pull out at the Fort Simpson boat launch, which is just past the main part of the community and can be easily spotted.

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:250,000): 
095B 095G 095H Note: It has been some time since the topo maps for this area have been updated, and the river, especially in the splits north of Fort Liard, can change significantly, even in the course of a year. The best option is to stick to the main channel through the splits or to the right bank, downsteam as an alternative. Other Maps Colour copies of the satellite imagery from is useful.
Special Comments: 

The Liard River between Fort Liard and Fort Simpson is a seldom paddled, but utterly fantatic route. With sweeping mountain vistas, bison congregating on the sand bars and moose feeding on willows along the shore, the river is a wildlife watcher's dream.

Area residents have a close association and deep respect for the river because they know that, while it is an easy downstream paddle at most times, the river can change from calm to angry in a matter of minutes.

River Safety: This is a large and remote river, so use caution at all times. Help is usually a long way off.

Stay reasonably close to the shore in windy conditions. Strong winds can cause large waves.

Stay >100 away from cutbanks while paddling on the river. The river can erode the muddy banks quickly, causing trees to collapse into the river, especially in the splits just north of Fort Liard.

Campsites: You can choose your own campsite anywhere you like, but camp high above water level whenever possible. The Liard River watershed is huge and water levels can rise rapidly, even several feet in a matter of minutes. Snow melt from the mountains in BC and the Yukon can cause the river to climb over 10 feet, even in July. Ask the locals what the river has been up to before setting out on your trip.

Major Rapids: Through the Poplar Rapids and Beaver Dam Rapids, stick to within a couple of feet of the right bank. (Try not to be too distracted by the wall full of fossils flying by!) There are no portages around these rapids. If you want to avoid these rapids altogether, end your trip at Blackstone Territorial Park or Lindberg's Landing.