See the best of Canada's Northwest Territories on a southern road trip
See the best of Canada's Northwest Territories on a southern road trip
7 DECEMBER 2020
Hay River, NWT
Pack up your camping gear, strap your kayak and bikes to your vehicle, and start planning a wild, week-long summer road trip adventure to Canada’s Northwest Territories © Colin Field / NWT Tourism
It’s the very definition of a wild road trip.
Here, the highways wind through a boundless Northern wilderness, where herds of hulking bison block traffic. Pull over whenever you feel the urge and cast for quick-biting Northern Pike in innumerable roadside creeks, rivers, and lakes. Dig your toes into the sand on the shores of a great Canadian lake, before a short stroll takes you to your clean, comfortable campsite. Follow the roaring echo from just off the highway to watch a mighty river that tumbles over the side of the cliff.
You really can choose your own adventure in the South Slave region of Canada’s Northwest Territories. Fly-fish for spawning Arctic Grayling in early May. Tee off at midnight under 24 hours of sun in June. Be entranced by the Northern Lights in late August. Spend a day immersed in Northern history and culture in the friendly communities of Fort Smith, Hay River and Fort Resolution. Explore Canada’s largest national park — Wood Buffalo — where you can follow the tracks of giant beasts on the surreal salt plains.
Pack up your camping gear, strap your kayak and bikes to your vehicle, and start planning a wild, week-long summer road trip adventure to Canada’s Northwest Territories.
Alexandra Falls © Hans Pfaff / NWT Tourism
The thunder of Twin Falls Gorge
Your first hint of what lies ahead at Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park is the plume of mist billowing over the distant evergreens. Pull into the highway-side parking lot, step from your vehicle and feel the ground tremble. Now, follow a short trail to a viewpoint high up the rim of the Hay River Gorge and watch 33-metre-high Alexandra Falls plummet into the abyss below.
From there, a short hike down a scenic woodland trail brings you to gracefully tiered Louise Falls, and a Twin Falls Gorge campground. Here you’ll find a wealth of tree-shrouded tent and RV sites, along with washrooms, showers, fresh water, firewood, and helpful staff. With abundant hiking trails and fishing spots, you will want to stay for a night, a weekend or more.
Lovely Lady Evelyn Falls
If you haven’t had your waterfall fix just yet, drive on to Lady Evelyn Falls Territorial Park near the small Dene community of Kakisa. Take a trail to the bottom of the picturesque crescent cascade and dip your feet in refreshing, slow-moving waters of the Kakisa River. If you choose to book a night at the quiet campground, spend your day relaxing on the riverbank, where you’re bound to see anglers fly-fishing for Arctic Grayling — particularly in early spring when the fish are running.
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Hay River Fisherman's Wharf © Hannah Eden / NWT Tourism
Hay River: The Hub
At the tiny hamlet of Enterprise, turn onto Highway 2 and make the 20-minute drive to the town of Hay River. If you’ve arrived on a Saturday, race down to the Fisherman’s Wharf market on Vale Island (open from 10am to 2pm all summer) and lunch on the catch of the day, fresh from Great Slave Lake.
Hay River, the second most populous community in the Northwest Territories, is affectionately dubbed the Hub due to its importance as a rail, aviation and shipping centre. Wave goodbye to barges as they depart for week-long trips down the Mackenzie River to the Arctic Ocean. Tour the town on foot or by bike using an extensive trail network, which weaves through forested areas and then skirts the high banks of the river. In June, start a round at midnight at Hay River’s nine-hole grass golf course, laid out cozily among lofty stands of birch trees.
Hit the Hay River beach
Settle in at the Hay River Territorial Park campground on the southern shore of Great Slave Lake — a sweeping inland sea, deeper than any other water body on the continent. Bask in the sun on the sandy beach or find a secluded spot to fish for Northern Pike.
Head out with a local commercial fisher to see the variety of freshwater fish that call the big lake home. Check the nets for Walleye, Lake Trout, Burbot or Whitefish and then enjoy a succulent shore lunch.
Fort Resolution © Kyle Thomas / NWT Tourism
Historic Fort Resolution
Just south of the Slave River Delta, you’ll arrive in Fort Resolution, a tranquil community of roughly 500. The Hudson’s Bay Company built a fur trading post here in 1819 to compete with a nearby Northwest Company post constructed three decades earlier, making Fort Resolution the oldest continuously occupied town in the Northwest Territories. But the history of Denínu K’úę (“Moose island place”) — and the Chipewyan, Dene and Métis who live here — goes back far longer than that. Journey to Mission Island and find a comfortable place to roll out a blanket for a perfect picnic on Great Slave Lake.
Buffalo in Wood Buffalo National Park, Fort Smith © Darren Roberts / NWT Tourism
Wondrous Wood Buffalo National Park
In Canada’s biggest national park, it goes without saying that you will encounter herds of North America’s largest land animal — the stoic and photogenic wood bison. But there’s so much more to the park. From the Salt River Day-Use Area, explore an array of intriguing landforms: deep limestone sinkholes, creeks that vanish into the ground, saline rivers, and the famous glittering salt flats — where you’re bound to come across animal tracks that lead all over this epic salt lick.
Wood Buffalo is also the largest dark sky preserve on the planet. Behold the cosmos in all its glory in mid-August during the Thebacha and Wood Buffalo Dark Sky Festival, as the Northern Lights come out to play, far from any artificial light pollution.
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Fun, festive Fort Smith
Nestled in among dense boreal forest and bordered by the Slave River, Fort Smith is a town of 2,500 that’s long been an important entry-point into the Northwest Territories as a major river-and-portage route. Learn all about the town’s history at the Northern Life Museum and Cultural Centre, which also features rotating art exhibits from all over the NWT. And then find out why Fort Smith is considered an outdoor lover’s paradise: hiking and mountain bike trails lead all over the area and provide panoramic views of the epic series of river rapids. Queen Elizabeth Territorial Park, at the edge of town, is a perfect place from which to explore it all.
Paddling the Slave River rapids © Darren Roberts / NWT Tourism
The Slave River Rapids are world-famous to whitewater enthusiasts, drawing intrepid kayakers the world over to flip out in the regularly house-high waves. During the August long weekend, join in on the fun at Slave River Paddlefest, which features competitive whitewater kayaking, canoe races, stand-up paddle-board jousting, raft rides and pool toy races.