Some may think of the Northwest Territories as a cold, desolate place. But nothing could be further from the truth. The vast region is a rich tapestry of ecosystems.
Each environment is as unique as it is beautiful. Five distinct ecosystems make up the Northwest Territories. The Taiga Plains, Taiga Shield, Cordillera, Southern Arctic, and the Northern Arctic.
The landscapes in these regions range from metres to thousands of square kilometres. They range from deep forests and wetlands to mountainous landscapes.
And then the land spreads to tundras and rocky Canadian Shield. Black spruce forests sit on soil frozen in time. Yet, in other areas, an array of vegetation and species thrives.
Sunlight is present all day long during the summer months. And then the polar night takes over the rest of the year. But with that blanket of darkness comes a front-row view of the most incredible light show on Earth.
The enormous block of ice that once covered this territory was more than a mile thick. The land opened for human exploration from west to east when it receded.
The first people to roam the vast landscapes of the Northwest Territories were the Denes. They lived in the boreal forests for millennia. A thousand years ago, the Inuvialuit appeared in the Mackenzie Delta on the Arctic coast.
The Metis brought the fur trade to the region about 300 years ago. Following them were the European Canadians of the Hudson's Bay Company. As communities developed, missionaries and whalers came next.
As industrial influences progressed, RCMP detachments appeared to oversee the new settlements of miners. Many of today's communities were once trading posts for people searching for gold and oil.
Inuvik got established to provide modern services to indigenous people. But many of the First Nations settlers have returned to traditional lifestyles. With a population of less than 50,000, the vast territory makes plenty of room for diverse cultures.
Getting Around Northwest Territories
In a place six times bigger than Great Britain, you have lots of choices for getting around. How you travel only depends on the kind of getaway you want. Then, almost any mode of transportation is available to move around.
Several Canadian airports have direct flights to the Northwest Territories. Of course, the closest originate from Alberta or Whitehorse.
But you can travel from Ottawa or grab connecting flights from Canadian hubs. And there are charter flights available for remote areas like fishing lodges.
Northwest Territories is second in size of all the Canadian territories. The region is flanked on the East by Nunavut and Yukon to the west. The territory begins at the 60th parallel bordering Alberta and Saskatchewan.
It expands to the High Arctic islands and the Arctic Ocean to the North. NWT covers over 1.3 million square kilometres or almost twice the size of Texas.
Yellowknife is an ideal place to start your vacation. There is always something going on in the capital city. Located on the North shore of Great Slave Lake, Yellowknife is central to the whole territory.
The historic gold mining town features art shops and stores for browsing. The city holds a festival for almost every season. Restaurants and hotels offer the friendly flare that makes Yellowknife a destination city.
Yet, steps beyond the city's limits are the vast wilderness of untouched splendour. All the Northwest Territories have to offer has a route from Yellowknife.
Road travel is your best option if you want to experience the Northwest Territories in all its glory. The route is accessible from the Trans Canada Highway in Alberta for long haulers. You can drive into Yellowknife from the west along Highway 3.
There are no bridges on your route, so you will cross rivers on ferries. But in winter months, ice roads open on frozen lakes if you're feeling brave. These routes will open if they are safe, but be sure to carry the insurance you need for these ventures.
The main routes have outposts and rest areas for travellers. There are also plenty of camping grounds for overnight stops.
When flying to Yellowknife, you will find ample facilities for vehicle rentals. Arrange ahead of time for everything from cars and trucks to RVs. It might even surprise you to learn you can rent a Limo for an ice road party.
But for nature lovers, you can rent motorboats and watercraft of various sizes. And if your party is travelling into the interior, you can charter flights on small airplanes.
1. Nahanni National Park
The UNESCO world heritage site spans 30,000 square kilometres. Nahanni National Park is a must-see for paddlers and alpinists alike. Virginia Falls on the Nahanni River drops 295 feet, double the size of Niagara Falls.
Yet, you will also find 4,000-foot canyons and sulphur hot springs inside the park. Hikers love the incredible mix of mountain ranges, tundras and forests to explore. And you won't find a better place to see caribou and Dall's sheep in their natural habitat.
Nahanni Alpine Experience
The Cirque of Unclimbables is an expert hiker's paradise. On the trail is Vampire's Peak, the highest in Northwest Territories. You won't find views and vistas like this anywhere else on the planet.
To get the most out of this adrenaline-producing experience, you should hire a guide and camp. Summer months are ideal for extended stays on the trails.
You can also book heli-hiking experiences for this adventure of a lifetime. These planned excursions will take less experienced trailblazers to Ram Plateau. By flying, you will also get a chance to enjoy Vampire's Peak.
The Alpine experience is also a mountain climber's dream. The granite of Ragged Range on Mackenzie Mountain tests your rock climbing skills.
Nahanni Day Flight Experience
The best way to experience all the grandeur of Nahanni is by airplane. You can book flights from as far as BC or Yukon.
But from Virginia Falls, Parks Canada Heritage will take you aloft. Interpreters greet their guests and then lead them on a guided walk to a lookout over the falls. It's a perfect vantage point to see Sluicebox Rapids and take in a Dene ceremony.
Then you get the ultimate aerial views as you rise out of the mist of the falls and head toward Glacier Lake. On Ragged Range, visitors get to set down for fantastic photo opportunities.
Nahanni River Trip
If you prefer a view from the forest floor, you will want to do it on water. Witness Nahanni the way settlers did by riding the rivers through canyons. Get prepared for an adrenaline rush with white water rapids to challenge your skills.
Choose from different entry points like Rabbitkettle Lake. You can have a longer run from the South Nahanni Reserve at Moose Ponds or Island Lake. A Nahʔą Dehé (Nahanni River) trip will also include a portage before entering a Class II or III rapids.
The names alone should give you an idea of the adventure that awaits. Begin at Canyon Rapids and then move into Figure Eight Rapids at Hell's Gate. Wrigley Whirlpool, George's Riffle and Rafferty Riffle are close behind for more excitement.
As part of the river experience, you can arrange short day hikes. Park interpreters will guide you on walks. Then campfires will be the perfect setting to share stories with other visitors.
2. Virginia Falls
The South Nahanni River flows southeast into the Nahanni National Park. It carves a path through the canyons dating back 200,000 years from the Wisconsin Ice Age. About 120 kilometres from the Yukon border, the river plunges 295 feet at Virginia Falls.
Sunblood Mountain looms over the falls, creating the most majestic scene nature provides. There is a portage trail along the river that offers differing views. Inside this water dome, a unique ecosystem thrives almost untouched.
Unlike Niagara, the remote location helps preserve this UNESCO site's natural splendour. Visitors can walk along boardwalks to view pools below the falls. There is no more wondrous place on Earth to enjoy a relaxing lunch while the thunderous waters chur alongside you.
3. Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre
Better known as a territorial museum, the PWTHC is also home to the cultural archives of the region. Over 350,000 rare books, photos, and maps have their home at the centre.
Over 2,500 students visit each year to learn about the territory's rich history. Regular programs attract teachers and their classes to explore the NWT heritage. Scholars also find it a treasure trove about the people who settled here first.
On display in the museum are works from local artisans. Also, visitors can see Treaty 11, which created a 100-year relationship between nations.
The Dene Nation exhibit is another featured exhibit. Dene elders collaborate to describe the language and culture of the original settlers. Dioramas give guests a peek into the clothing and lifestyles of past and present.
The heritage centre is open daily in downtown Yellowknife. But for a virtual look at what's on offer, visit online. You will find a wealth of virtual exhibits, audio and video, and photographs of the region.
4. Aulavik National Park
You will need to venture up to the high Arctic to reach one of the most isolated parks on the continent. But for the self-reliant type looking for the extraordinary, Auluvik does not disappoint.
There is no river in the world you can navigate that's further North than the Thomsen. The landscape is void of trees and quieter than any place on Earth.
Situated on Banks Island, the park is a showcase for unusual wildlife. Muskoxen are the most famous creatures roaming the lush lowlands. Hiking is a gentle experience among these fantastic beasts as you walk the open plain.
Their enormous horns look menacing, but Muskox is generally tamer than they seem. Still, it's best not to venture too close to these 600-pound creatures from the sheep family.
During the continuous summer daylight, any direction you travel is wide open. So you won't need hiking trails to find your way up here. Bird watchers can roam everywhere with relative ease and find breeding birds.
Paddle down the Thomsen River and enjoy the same open terrain all around. If you take three weeks to float the river, the M'Clure Strait awaits in the south at Castel Bay. You will be gliding along 160 kilometres of snowmelt that empties into the Arctic Ocean.
Visitors can also arrange canoe trips with guides. And there are fly-in alternatives for booking. Most of the river is a relaxed paddle. But only the most prepared should visit this remote location.
5. Alexandra Falls
Suppose you want a terrific spot to enjoy a picnic, walk along the boardwalks beside the Hay River. At the end, you will find two lookouts over the limestone ridges of Alexandra Falls. The 32-metre plunge of the waterfall is the perfect atmosphere for a summer afternoon in NWT.
Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park provides picnic areas with tables and kitchen shelters. Drinking ware is also available. Trails will give you expansive views of Alexandra and Louise Falls from any of these spots. So pack a delicious picnic lunch and gaze out on the wonderful view of the falls! It'll make for a romantic afternoon date, or a relaxing family-friendly spot for the little ones.
Pack Your Bags and Head to NWT Today!
It's not difficult to see the wonders of nature in unspoiled magnificence. The Northwest Territories are the vacation adventure of a lifetime. And the people who call this region home will welcome you with open arms.
A wealth of tourist destinations in the Northwest Territories are only a call away. Some of the best that Canada has to offer are on full display. The only thing left is to plan your adventure and book your trip.
And while you are planning, don't forget to contact us for the insurance you need to travel with peace of mind.