Destination Canada is opening up our horizons by rail, road and boat from coast to coast to coast for jaw-dropping views, meeting welcoming locals and experiencing awe-inspiring encounters around every corner of Canada. Next stop: Northwest Territories. Let’s go!
The Northwest Territories has a unique mystique and irresistible allure for outdoors lovers with its rugged and remote good looks, culturally significant sites, free-ranging wildlife and untouched wilderness on tap.
With zero light pollution and two peak seasons to witness the phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis, the Northwest Territories has the edge for the ideal northern exposure escape.
Fast and fun facts
- How to get there: Air Canada and Qantas fly direct from Australia to Vancouver with domestic flights via Air Canada and Westjet to the capital, Yellowknife.
- Where is it? Located north of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories also borders Yukon Territory and Nunavut.
- When to go: Anytime! Visit in summer for long days or in autumn and winter for Northern Lights viewing.
- Did you know? The Aurora Borealis is visible 240 nights of the year across the entire territory.
- Ice Road Truckers fan? The Tuktoyaktuk Winter Road is an extension of the Dempster Highway, Canada’s northernmost drive that heads straight to the Arctic Ocean.
- Did you know? There are 11 official Indigenous languages spoken in the Northwest Territories.
- Winter wonderland: The Northwest Territories’ Western Arctic Circle is a fairytale landscape with icy tundra, majestic mountains, reindeer and polar bears that includes parts of the famed Northwest Passage.
To Yellowknife local Mike Morin, the Northwest Territories is definitely best in winter. At the Indigenous family-owned Aurora Village, enjoy activities from ice fishing, dogsledding and snowshoeing to hiking and aurora-viewing tours, including a unique tepee experience under the stars.
Take the slow road and stretch out the eight-hour drive from Yellowknife to Fort Simpson to enjoy the many natural highlights along the way.
Starting in the Northwest Territories capital, Yellowknife, you’ve already crossed the 60th Parallel, a feat most Canadians are yet to complete. Located on the vast Great Slave Lake – North America’s deepest lake with great cultural significance, you can discover more about the town’s Tlicho Dene First Nations roots at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre.
Yellowknife also embraces its gold-mining heritage in Old Town Yellowknife – a charming collection of colourful historic shacks, boutiques and houseboats, and in the local cuisine, a mix of traditional and modern influences using regional ingredients.
Head outdoors for kayaking, canoeing and fishing on Great Slave Lake or walk up Ragged Ass Road for panoramic views from Yellowknife’s highest point. In winter, visit Aurora Village, one of the best vantage points for the Northern Lights and epic wintry activities.
Fort Providence (310km)
From Yellowknife, head out on the Frontier Trail for the 3.5-hour drive south to Fort Providence via North Arm Territorial Park. You’ll cross over the Mackenzie River (Deh Cho or “big river”) via the spectacular Deh Cho Bridge – the longest bridge in the north – complete with bison gates for crowd control.
You can spy thousands of North America’s largest land mammal, the wood bison, at Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary and the majestic beasts are often seen right in Fort Providence, wandering the streets and grazing in gardens.
Located on the river’s northern shore, Fort Providence is ideally explored by water – whether that’s downriver paddling, fishing or strolling the waterfront trails.
Lady Evelyn Falls Territorial Park (64km)
On the way to Fort Simpson, make a picturesque pit stop at Lady Evelyn Falls outside the little village of Kakisa, a 45-minute drive from Fort Providence.
A real showstopper, Lady Evelyn Falls occurs where the Kakisa River skims an ancient coral reef, creating a crescent-shaped, 17m-high curtain of water. Take the staircase into the gorge at the base of the falls to witness the spray up close or head to the lookout.
You can also stay overnight in the powered campsite and enjoy fishing and swimming in the Kakisa River at the base of the falls.
Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park (152km)
Continue chasing cascades at Sambaa Deh Falls, located two hours away and directly under the Mackenzie Highway for convenient access.
The Trout River zigzags through a limestone slot over a dazzling drop for the flashy, splashy Sambaa Deh Falls but there’s more cascades and sights to discover on the network of hiking and walking trails along the canyon rim. Enjoy the view from the platform or stay overnight at the non-powered campsite.
Fort Simpson (152km)
Take the 2.5-hour drive south to Fort Simpson and the conclusion of your Northwest Territories road trip. Surrounded by mountains and at the fork of the Liard and Mackenzie rivers, Fort Simpson is the village hub of the Dehcho and the gateway to the stunning Nahanni National Park Reserve.
Side trip: Nahanni National Park Reserve
Virginia Falls (Náįlįcho) is a standout with rapids that surge over a 90m drop that’s twice the height of Niagara Falls and rated by National Geographic as one of the top 20 places in the world.
Feel the force on a guided tour down the South Nahanni River by raft, canoe or kayak with one of the area’s professional river outfitters. Visit geothermal features, such as the bubbling Tufa Mounds, the Rock Gardens and Kraus Hotspring, which are similarly famous sights.
Keep an eye out for the likes of bears, Dall’s sheep, woodland caribou and other wildlife in their natural alpine habitat, too.
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