This river's name is thought to come from the Athabaskan "Deh Gah Got'ine", the name for the Slavey group of the Dene First Nations and has nothing to do with slavery. The Chipewyan had displaced other native people from this region.
The Slave River and the rapids around Fort Smith are some of the best whitewater kayaking in the world. There are four sets of rapids: Pelican, Rapids of the Drowned, Mountain Portage, and Cassette. The rapids range from easy class I to unrunnable killer class VI holes. Huge volume, massive waves, and the home of the northern most river pelican colony in North America characterize this river. The pelicans nest on many of the islands at the aptly named Mountain Portage Rapids. These islands serve as a sanctuary to the birds and are closed to human traffic from April 15th to September 15th. It is very important to respect these regulations as human intrusions into the pelican nesting area cause widespread nest abandonment.
Boaters have been killed in the Slave River rapids. The earliest recorded fatalities occurred as a part of Grant's Ill fated expedition on the far river right of the Rapids of the Drowned (a class IV feature). A more recent fatality occurred in the Land of a Thousand Holes (class IV).
The river is 434 km in length, and has a cumulative drainage area of 616,400 km².