The Northwest Territories are still not fully discovered by tourists. Even if there is no lack in places to visit in the north, since most of them don’t have a road access, you need to spend a good amount of money and time to get there. One of the roads ends in Yellowknife and connects to only a few little communities. The second one being the famous Dempster Highway in the Yukon, which ends in Inuvik, a little town on the Northwest Territories’ side of the border.
During the northern lights season Yellowknife gets a few thousands of tourists, mostly from Japan, Korea and China. In the summer, lodges situated away from town in the middle of nowhere, accessible only by float planes, host rich American visitors, who are coming here mostly for fishing. Another popular activity for devotees are canoe trips on the numerous, northern rivers. But when it comes to the number of visitors, the Northwest Territories are still way behind the Yukon or Alaska.
Here are a few reasons to get off the foot-worn path of other tourists and come to the Northwest Territories:
1. Enjoy the beauty of Nahanni Park
Nahanni National Park is one of the biggest parks in the world, it is almost as big as Switzerland. It was one of the first places inscribe on UNESCO’s Heritige List. The park is located in the southern part of the Northwest Territories, just north from the little community of Fort Simpson. It covers a big part of McKenzie mountains with its rich natural habitats. Nahanni river, its big canyons and the 90 meter tall Virginia falls with Mason rock in the middle are the biggest attractions of this area.
You can get to the Park with an organized group for a few days long white water rafting or canoe trip. Those kind of outings take from 7 to 22 days. Depending on their length and how much you want to see, the price will vary from 5 to 10 thousand Canadian dollars.
Another option, especially popular within those who have money but not too much time is to charter of a float plane from one of the local airlines. There are a few smaller and bigger float plane operators in Yellowknife’s Old Town. Some of them organize one day trips to Nahanni National Park. For your information, to charter a 7 person Cessna for this kind of tour, it would cost 10 thousand Canadian dollars. A cheaper option is to charter a plane from Fort Simpson which is situated way closer to the Park.
2. Sink into Liard Hot Springs
Liard hot springs are located on British Columbia’s side of the border, on the road connecting the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. To get there often you have to pass through one or another. The hot springs are in the heart of the Canadian, boreal forest and there is a good chance to meet a bear or moose. There is a basic tourist infrastructure there, like wooden boardwalks to get to the pools, changing rooms and camp site.
3. Venture off on an exciting trip on remote rivers of the north
The Northwest Territories are filled with picturesque and remote rivers. Besides the Nahanni river that I mentioned before, there are other popular ones among canoeists: including the Thelon, Tree, Coppermine and Yellowknife river. Most people organize their canoe trips on their own, but there are companies, which can help you with your expedition. Some people charter a plane to a place from where they can paddle their way back to Yellowknife. Others flying further north. A float plane drops them off in one place and after certain amount of time picks them up in another. A very important thing is to pack everything you need, including sufficient amount of food because more than likely there will be no human settlements along your route. A sat phone is crucial to contact your plane operator with to let him know about any changes or delays in your plans as well as to call him with a weather report to make sure that the plane will be able to land and pick you up.
Here is a link to a little report and a lot of pictures from Nestor’s canoe trip on Thelon river in summer 2015.
4. Drive Dempster Highway all way up to arctic communities of Inuvik and Tuktoyakut
The Dempster Highway is the only four-season road in Canada crossing the Arctic Circle. The majority of the road is in the Yukon territory. It starts 40 kilometers east from Dawson City, a town famous from the gold-rush era, and travels all way up to Inuvik. Inuvik is situated in the McKenzie river delta, just over the border in the Northwest Territories. During the winter there is a ice road extension going to the little community Tuktoyaktuk on the shore of Arctic Ocean.
The best time to visit Inuvik is summer, when you can enjoy endless daylight and the midnight sun. One of the most popular attractions up there are boat trips on the McKenzie delta and to the Arctic Ocean. December is a good month to visit for those who want to experience sunless, arctic darkness. Winter is an excellent time to try
dog sledding. All year long there are plenty of traditional festivals. The most popular one is the Great Northern Arts Festival in June. Many traditional artists from different parts of the vast north come to Inuvik at that time. It is a great opportunity to see and buy traditional articles and art straight from the artists. On top of that there are numerous workshops where you can learn traditional crafts on your own.
Tuktoyaktuk is a base for expeditions to untypical rocks called Pingos, created by frozen water. The community has a population of 850 people, most of them are Inuvialuit. The natives in a big part are still living off the land and they often hunt for caribou and sea mammals. If you are lucky you might witness a traditional whale hunt, or you might taste a regional delicacy muktluk – which is frozen skin and blubber of a whale.
5. Set off for an incredible journey in time on the Canol Heritage Trail
The Canol Heritage Trail has 355 kilometers and goes from Norman Wells, situated west from the Great Bear Lake, to the Northwest Territories and Yukon border. The trail is all that remains of a road built here alongside a pipeline, transferring oil from Norman Wells to a refinery in Whitehorse. Both were constructed during the Second World War by the American Army and finished in 15 months. It was pretty fast considering the harsh climate, very hard geographical conditions and remoteness of this area. The pipeline was operating for only 13 months. The Canol Heritage Trail is a historical trek among rusted machines and cabins, which soldiers and workers left behind. It is a journey to the most distant ages of the earth. To the times when continents were created. In some places on the Canol Heritage Trail you can see dolomite from 300 millions years ago and a limestone with shells and fish fossils from the period when was sea was still in this place.
There are small aircraft operators in Norman Wells, who can take you for a flight over the McKenzie mountains and over the Canol Heritage Trail. For fit and experienced hikers there is an option of crossing the trail on foot. In this case, you can charter a small plane, which will take to the very end of the trail at the Northwest Territories – Yukon border. Walking the whole road takes from 22 to 24 days. The plane might also drop food supplies along the trail, so you don’t have to carry everything with you. Because of its length, remoteness and numerous river crossings the Canol Heritage Trail is considered one of the most challenging trails in Canada.
6. Stand eye in eye with a buffalo in the Wood Buffalo National Park
Wood Buffalo National Park lies on Alberta and the Northwest Territories border. It was established in 1922 to protect the largest free roaming herd of wood buffalo in the world. The park also protects two significant wetlands. The first one is the Peace-Athabasca Delta and the second is the nesting area of whooping cranes. There are bears, moose and wolves living in the park too. You can get there easily by car. Fort Smith, which is a gate to the park, has a 4-season road connection with Highway 5. There is also a winter road from Fort McMurray in Alberta.
7. Discover amazing Yellowknife
Yellowknife has 20 thousand citizens and it is the capital of the North-West Territories. It is probably the most accessible place in the territories. The road connects it with Alberta and rest of the country. Yellowknife has also numerous airline connections. There will be a separate post about things to see in Yellowknife.
These are just a few places worth to see in the north. The Northwest Territories are full of remote national parks, wildlife and the indigenous culture. The north is a great place to travel for romantics who are longing for the vast and untouched wilderness. The Arctic is also filled with old legends, belonging to the people who have been living here from thousands of years, and stories of explorers who for decades, were looking for the Northwest Passage.
P.S. I haven’t been to most of the places listed above, but they are all on my very long bucket list.