Geographical Area

The NWT measures 1,171,918 sq km (452,652 sq miles). The highest point is 9,098 ft, (2,773 meters), and the lowest point is at sea level (the Beaufort Sea). The greatest distance, east to west is approximately 1325 km - Dubawnt lake to Christie Pass, Mackenzie Mountains. The greatest distance North to south is approximately 2000 km, from the 60th Parallel to Cape Malloch, Borden Island.

Mountain Ranges

  • The Mackenzie Mountains cover some 233,125 sq km and stretch 800 km
  • The highest point in the Northwest Teritories is Mount Nirvana at 2773 metres (9098 ft)
  • The Richardson Mountains cover some 41,169 sq km and stretch 400 km
  • Highest point: 1240 metres
  • The Franklin Mountains cover some 37,158 sq km and stretch 500 km
  • Highest point: 1200 metres

Biggest Lakes

Our big lakes are Great Bear and Great Slave Lake, the two largest lakes entirely within Canada.

Great Bear Lake is fourth in size in North America, and the eighth largest lake in the world. It covers 31,328 sq km and is 413 metres deep.

Great Slave Lake is the fifth largest lake in North America and tenth largest in the world. Its surface area is 28,568 sq km and it is one of the deepest lakes in the world at 614 metres.

Major Rivers

For information on our rivers, please see the river section of the website:

The Precambrian Shield

This is the name of the world's oldest exposed bedrock formed some four billion years ago. It reaches north and east from Great Slave Lake to the tundra, west to the Mackenzie lowlands and east into Nunavut. Acasta Gneiss formed 4.03 billion years ago is considered to be part of earth's original crust, and the world's oldest exposed rock. The Acasta gneiss is located about 300 km north of Yellowknife.

The Treeline

The treeline, or the northern limit of trees, cuts an eastward trending line from Inuvik in the north to the Nunavut border east of Great Slave Lake. In some places the transition is quite dramatic, where the "land of little sticks" (the boreal forest) gives way to wizened willow and berry bushes and the tundra carpet.

Barrenland Basics

The tundra or barrenland, stretching north and east from the treeline is far from barren. Some 1700 different plants grow in the Arctic and Subarctic, creating a dense carpet of low shrubs, reindeer moss, grasses, sedges and about 400 species of flowering plants. Natural features of the barrenlands include low relief, sandy eskers, muskeg, and thousands of lakes and ponds. This is home to migrating barrenground caribou, grizzly bears, wolves and foxes, and in summer, the nesting area for many thousands of migratory birds.

Mackenzie Delta

Canada's longest river, the Mackenzie, (1800 km) empties into the Beaufort Sea from the Mackenzie Delta. The Mackenzie Delta is some 13,500 sq km of braided streams and ponds laid over permafrost. The river delta freezes each winter and floods every spring when the river melts before the sea does. The delta is a favored summer habitat for breeding swans and many thousands of ducks, geese and songbirds from both North and South America.

The Mackenzie River

The river called Dehcho in the Dene language drains a major part of western Canada from Dawson Creek and Fort McMurray in the south to Lake Athabasca, Great Slave and Great Bear Lakes toward the North. The river is 1738 km long, the second longest river in North America. The river's flow varies from about 10,000 m/s to some 30,000 m/s in spring. This was once the major highway through the Northwest Territories and there are 10 communities along its banks. They are: Fort Providence, Jean Marie River, Fort Simpson, Wrigley, Tulita, Norman Wells, Fort Good Hope, Tsiigehtchic, Aklavik and Inuvik.

Parks and Heritage Sites

Parks Canada operates four major parks and a campground in the NWT - Tuktut Nogait National Park, serviced from Paulatuk; Aulavik National Park, accessed via Sachs Harbour; Nahanni National Park, serviced from Fort Simpson, and Wood Buffalo (Canada's largest), located near Fort Smith.

  • Nahanni National Park: 30,000 sq km, a World Heritage Site
  • Wood Buffalo National Park: 44,800 sq km, a World Heritage Site
  • Aulavik National Park: 12,200 sq km
  • Tuktut Nogait National Park: 16,300 sq km
  • A campground is operated at Pine Lake within Wood Buffalo National Park. More information can be found at Parks Canada: Wood Buffalo National Park

Territorial Parks

The Northwest Territories offers a range of impressive parks and campsites, each with a variety of services.