Thomsen RiverThomsen River
© Parks Canada / Wayne Lynch

The heart of Aulavik National Park is the Thomsen River, one of the most northerly navigable waterways in North America. This slow flowing river runs north through the park for 160 kilometres. Rated Class 1, it has no rapids or obstructions and can easily be paddled by canoe or kayak. The Thomsen River valley is the most lush area in the park and is home to an abundance of wildlife.

Paddling the Thomsen RiverPaddling the Thomsen River
© Parks Canada / Wayne Lynch

River trips typically start at headwater lakes, or at the parks southern boundary, or at Green Cabin, and usually end at Muskox River or Castel Bay. The trip takes two to three weeks, depending on your start and end points. This allows for a few bad weather days, and time to take advantage of the incredible hiking along the river corridor.

The river may be iced over until mid June and by early August the lower reaches may be too shallow to float a canoe. Thus, the best time to paddle the Thomsen is late June to late July.


The wind in the Thomsen River Valley can be strong and relentless. Summer winds blow predominantly from the north creating frequent headwinds for paddlers. At times, considerable waves can be generated, slowing progress and making travel dangerous.


Loading canoes onto a Twin Otter planeLoading canoes onto a Twin Otter plane

The only way to access Aulavik for a river trip is by aircraft. The maximum load a Twin Otter aircraft might manage is 3 or 4 nested canoes, 8 people and their gear. If you choose to use folding boats, the aircraft may accommodate more people and gear. Discuss the maximum load thoroughly with your aircraft charter company when planning your trip.

It is also important to discuss suitable landing sites with your pilot for starting and ending your trip. Ultimately, landing locations are up to the discretion of the aircraft pilot and may be affected by current weather conditions, snow cover and water levels.

Guided paddling excursions on the Thomsen River are available through a licensed outfitter. For private trips, canoes may be available for rent from an outfitter in Inuvik. For more information on these companies, paddling the Thomsen, or for a copy of the Thomsen River Guide, please contact the Park Office in Inuvik.

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