Some of the most authentic travel experiences lie off the beaten path. Discover the hidden gems prized by some of Canada’s most experienced Indigenous guides.
by Debbie Olsen
The best way to experience the wild beauty of British Columbia’s coastal rainforest is through the eyes of those who have lived there since time immemorial. Tamara Keiver works with K’awat’si Tours, owned and operated by the Gwa’sala Nakwaxda’xw First Nation near Port Hardy. “My favourite place is the Nakwakto Rapids,” says Keiver. “There are whales and wildlife and the fastest navigable tidal rapids on earth. It’s an incredible way to get a glimpse of untouched wilderness.” — kawatsitours.ca
West Coast Expeditions on northwest Vancouver Island offer multi-day kayaking adventures in the territory of the Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’ and Che:k:tles7et’h’ First Nations. “One of the highlights of our five-day Sea Otter Kayak Tour is a traditional Indigenous salmon dinner prepared by the Jules family, one of our Cultural host groups,” says owner David Pinel. “The meal is always incredible, but the best part is the conversation around the campfire. It’s about people meeting people.” — westcoastexpeditions.com
Girth Hitch Guiding’s Tim Taylor discovered his passion for mountaineering at a summer camp when he was a boy. It was a pivotal moment in his life. Today he works to empower others through rock climbing and ice climbing in Alberta’s Canadian Rockies. “The Fox Via Ferrata near Abraham Lake is a real hidden gem,” he says. “It’s outside the National Parks and few people know about it. A Via Ferrata is a great option for someone who has never climbed before.” — girthhitchguiding.ca
Moccasin Trails offers interpretive walks and canoe excursions along the ancestral paths of Indigenous Peoples in the traditional territory of the Secwepemcuu’l’ecw, Syilx and Nlaka’pamux People. Each adventure includes storytelling, drumming, dancing or Indigenous ceremonies. “The hike to Coyote Rock near Kamloops is a hidden gem,” co-founder Frank Antoine says. “The rock formation is sacred to the Shuswap Nation and I love sharing our legends.” — moccasintrails.com
Knowledgeable guides at Mahikan Trails specialize in helping guests connect with the land on medicine walks and through other adventures. It’s something they call heart-centred walking. “There are two places that are favourites of mine,” says owner-operator Brenda Holder. “I love showing guests the ancient Indigenous pictographs in Grotto Canyon near Canmore. People often walk right past them. The other spot is Cascade Ponds in Banff National Park. The views are incredible.” — mahikan.ca
With Takaya Tours, it’s all about experiencing the special power that comes from paddling the protected waters of Burrard Inlet and Indian Arm. Guides from the Coast Salish Nation point out ancient village sites, tell legends and sing songs along the way. “There are some 500-year-old pictographs that are really hard to find,” says Takaya’s Dennis Thomas. “They are physical proof that my ancestors roamed and paddled here, and I like sharing them with my guests.” — takayatours.com
Blaine Mirasty, of Cree North Adventures, offers teepee camping, canoe rentals and land-based Cultural experiences on Flying Dust First Nation land near the City of Meadow Lake. “We go snowshoeing on the frozen river and into the bush where there are no trails,” he says. “Along the way, I show guests how to look for rabbit tracks and how to set snares. It’s hands-on learning and it’s what my ancestors did.” — creenorthadventures.ca
“The Saskatchewan River Delta is the largest inland delta in North America and one of the most biologically diverse places in Canada, but very few Canadians know about it,” says Michela Carrière, who offers herbal medicine walks, guided canoe trips and other experiences with Aski Holistic Adventures. “I love sharing the wilderness and my home with my guests. They are welcomed as part of our family. It is a special experience and a true connection to nature.” — askiholisticadventures.com
Mukwa Adventures offers ATV tours and Cultural land‑based activities in the forests of Northern Ontario. This stunning wilderness lies between the Algoma District and the Sudbury District. “I like taking people into wilderness areas that can’t be accessed by motor vehicles,” says owner Arthur Trudeau. “Many of our guests have never seen or experienced real wilderness and it can be life‑changing. Sometimes we take them fishing. It’s rewarding to see someone catch their first fish.” — mukwa.ca
Situated on the grounds of the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa, Indigenous Experiences is one of the only Indigenous tours offered inside Canada’s capital city. The organization has ambassadors from across Canada who share traditional songs, dances and stories. “Every guest comes away with a connection to Indigenous People,” says Stephanie Sarazin. “We give guests a real understanding for how many Indigenous Nations have lived on this land and our different Cultural Traditions.” — indigenous-experiences.ca
Tommy Taylor knows the Yukon River like few others. Speakers of the Hän language are called Hän Hwëch’in which means “people who live along the river.” Taylor grew up on the Yukon River and gives guided boat tours there. “My favourite hidden gem is Dog Island,” he says. Guests who visit Dog Island on a tour with Fishwheel Charters learn about the traditional lifestyle of the Hän people and get to explore a family fish camp.
The Yukon is home to some of the largest protected wilderness areas on the planet with diverse landscapes and many plants and animals. “Our guests visit the Yukon hoping to glimpse Northern wildlife in their natural habitat—grizzly or black bears, moose, caribou, Dall Sheep, mountain goats and even our small game critters,” says Teena Dickson of Who, What, Where Tours. “We are so connected to the land, the wildlife and the wide-open spaces and we love sharing that with them.” — whitehorsetours.com
Debbie Olsen is an award-winning Métis writer and a national bestselling author. Follow her at — wanderwoman.ca