Delve into the wild and out of your comfort zone in the Northwest Territories.
If the mystical dancing, shimmering aurora borealis (Northern Lights) are high on your bucket-list, you’re not alone. The Northwest Territories provide some of the best aurora vantage points of this natural phenomenon in the world. During autumn and winter when the sky is clear, wrap up, sit back, look up, and enjoy one of the greatest shows on earth. Rent out a lodge, cabin or teepee in the wilderness and you can enjoy the lights in style, or simply gaze out your hotel window. Witnessing the Northern Lights is one of those poignant life experiences that money just can’t buy.
Great Slave Lake
Great Slave Lake, bordering the provincial capital Yellowknife, is the deepest lake in North America at 613 metres, and the tenth biggest lake in the world. Appreciate this enormous natural phenomenon on high in a floatplane, rent a kayak and paddle the shoreline, or opt for a larger boat and go fishing for lake trout and pike. Don’t forget, there’s ice on Great Slave Lake for eight months of the year, and during much of that time you can cross the water via snowmobile. Pick a spot, park out, and look up for the greatest light show on Earth.
Nahanni National Park Reserve
The remote northern wilderness of Nahanni National Park Reserve is a paddler’s dream. The rushing whitewater Nahanni River flows through the reserve, passing through four large canyons which can reach close to 1220 metres in depth. At one point, the river plunges 90 metres off a cliff forming the Virginia Falls, twice the height of their Niagara counterpart. Sulphur hot springs, mountain ranges, tundra, and forests can all be found within the boundaries of Nahanni. The reserve is remote, but visitors can camp throughout the summer months. Join a guide and ride the rapids for incomparable views and a serious adrenaline rush. Hiking and mountain climbing provides another perspective on the park. Look out for Dall’s sheep, woodland caribou, wolves, and black bears. It’s no wonder National Geographic named the park one of the best trips of 2014.
You might have seen the History Channel show “Ice Road Truckers”? The show was originally filmed on the ice roads of the Northwest Territories, home to the world’s longest ice road. But why watch it from your lounge room when you can experience it firsthand? Drive these roads during the winter months, with the help of local tours. The ice roads, built on top of packed snow and a metre of ice, add 1400 kilometres to the territory’s highways in the winter, connecting them to mines and more remote communities. The conditions can be dangerous, but a number of experienced tour operators will take visitors onto the ice roads for a drive they’ll never forget.
Wood Buffalo National Park
Have you ever visited a national park that’s bigger than Switzerland? Wood Buffalo National Park is Canada’s largest national park, at over 27,800 square kilometres. It’s also home to the world’s largest beaver dam, one of the world’s largest herds of free roaming bison, and is the last remaining natural nesting area for the endangered whooping crane. Beyond the incomparable wildlife watching, the massive park is great for exploring on foot or via canoe. You could spend weeks camping in the park and barely scratch the surface. Make sure you stop by the curious Salt Plains, the dried remains of a 380 million-year-old seabed where salt-like minerals are pushed to the surface from below, resembling stalagmites above ground.
Do you like to push yourself to the limit? Test your gumption out in the wild? The Canol Trail is your kind of attraction. A remnant of the Second World War, the trail was initially created as a road and pipeline route between Norman Wells in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. After being used for a year, it became too difficult to maintain, and rusting trucks, over- ground stations, and other ‘signs of man’ still dot the route. The Canol Trail is no joke. It’s 350 kilometres of unkempt paths, river beds, mountain tracks, and glacier-carved canyons, and is known as one of the most difficult trails in Canada. It takes the average hiker more than three weeks, in remote wilderness void of civilisation, to cover the entire Canol Trail, though most only do part of it. Some have tackled the trail a little faster on mountain bikes, ATVs, snowmobiles, and dogsleds. For the rest of us, many tour companies offer aerial tours of this fascinating historical route.
The 720-kilometre Dempster Highway was designed for the ultimate road trip. Roll from Dawson City, through the rugged mountain peaks of the Tombstone Range, across the Arctic Circle and into the Mackenzie River Delta, before parking in Inuvik. Along the way you can camp, fish, canoe, and generally enjoy the scenery of remote wilderness. The road, named for an RCMP inspector who would cross the route in a dogsled, is now most often driven in summer, where nearly 24 hours of sun can make for long, enjoyable driving days. Take on the top of the world from behind your steering wheel.
Great Northern Arts Festival
During 56 summer days, the Northwest Territories experience 24 hours of daylight. Rather than worry about how it might affect their sleep, locals jump at the opportunity to celebrate this unique setting. For more than a quarter of a century, the Great Northern Arts Festival has showcased the works of 120 Northern painters, sculptors, musicians, and First Nations artists from across the country, under the Midnight Sun. Watch a Gwich'in woman create handmade Aboriginal dolls and see a polar bear gradually emerge from a soapstone in the hands of a native carver. Dance to Inuit hip-hop. Then dine surf-and-turf Arctic-style on char and caribou before kicking up your heels to Northern rock, throat singing, and traditional drumming in your brand new mukluk shoes.
Paddlers from across the world regularly turn to the Keele River for their next adventure. The 345-kilometre river passes through alpine tundra, alpine plateaus, and the Mackenzie Mountains, offering incredible surroundings for the canoers and rafters who move along the waterway. The swift currents, swirling eddies, and fast-moving rapids make for challenging but exciting travel. Grab a floatplane, fly into the headwaters, stretch your shoulders, and grab a seat in the boat. For a more relaxed experience, the Keele also provides great fishing and wildlife viewing opportunities. The moose and beavers you might encounter have been hunted by the Dene Peoples along the Keele for 12,000 years.
Acho Dene Native Crafts
The Deh Gah Gotie Dene (people who live by the river) have always inhabited the Northwest Territories. The history and culture of these First Peoples are carried on with the help of crafts, and it is from this tradition that Acho Dene Native Crafts was born. More than 40 cottage producers living in the community use ancestral techniques to make fur clothing, birch bark baskets, jewellery, moccasins, mukluks, and more. The store is a must-stop for those looking for a souvenir that tells an authentic story about the Northwest Territories.