A version of this post was first published on the Spectacular Northwest Territories website.
Welcome to the land where ice roads were born. Each winter, our legendary web of frozen freeways spans nearly 2,000 kilometres, offering the coolest automotive adventures. Just outside Yellowknife is the ice road to the Dene village of Dettah – a literal spin on the four-foot-thick surface of Great Slave Lake. Way up in the polar zone you can drive on the Arctic Ocean. And across the rest of the territory? A glittering array of winter-only highways to traditional communities, wild lodges, and stupendous natural scenery. Here are nine reasons to rev up for a polar road trip.
1. Reindeer x-ing
The best place to see reindeer in Canada? On the Mackenzie Delta winter road system. Each spring, 3,000 domesticated reindeer are herded to their calving grounds on the coast, crossing the ice road just north of the town of Inuvik. The event has become an international spectacle, with hundreds of locals and visitors gathering to witness the migration.
2. Cool communities
Ice roads are a lifeline to the North’s off-the-beaten-path communities. A dozen of our otherwise-inaccessible towns depend on these wintertime links to the outside world. For you, ice roads are a way in – to experience rich culture and remarkable sights in towns like Whati, Deline, Trout Lake and Aklavik.
3. Drive to the lights
The best Northern Lights are far from the streetlamps of town. Drive an ice road into the dreamy darkness, recline your seat back, and watch the sky come alive.
4. It's safe!
Winter roads aren’t dangerous. A foot of ice can support a passenger car. The ice roads of the Northwest Territories are far beefier, with many of them a metre thick or more. Crews monitor and maintain them on a constant basis, flooding the surface to add extra layers of ice.
5. Drives where Alex drives
Ice Road Truckers, the TV series, featured Yellowknife trucker Alex Debogorski – a wild Northern character if ever there was one. You can roll the same roads that made Alex a legend. You might even meet him in person.
6. Cruise to the castle
Ice roads are the only way to reach Yellowknife’s famous ice castle, the centrepiece of the March-long Snow King Winter Festival. Don’t miss it!
7. Where the wild things roam
Don’t be buffaloed. Each freezin’ season, a winter road stretches south of Fort Smith through epic Wood Buffalo National Park. This is the best way to visit the park’s remote southeastern reaches – and a great chance to experience historic Fort Chipewyan, one of the North's oldest and most scenic communities.
8. Drive to Nunavut
Want to drive to Nunavut? For two months each winter, the Barrenlands of the Northwest Territories are traversed by the planet’s longest ice road – a 600-kilometre frozen highway rolling across lakes and tundra clear to the Nunavut border. Though designed for mining transport trucks, this private road also carries hunters, photographers, and adventurers. If you tackle it, you'll need guts, gas, and Arctic-grade cold weather gear.