This post was originally published on the Spectacular Northwest Territories website.
The Wood Buffalo Route is a picturesque Northwest Territories highway that takes you all the way into Wood Buffalo National Park. The destination, though, is only half the fun. Here are a few must-dos along the way.
A different kind of rush hour
Bison are a familiar sight along NWT Highway 5 to Fort Smith - a 247-kilometre route that crosses the northern range of the second largest national park in the world. Keep your eyes peeled for bears, wolves, lynx, and moose, plus some 5,500 bison and plenty of smaller critters you may spot along the route.
Stop for a picnic
At Little Buffalo River Territorial Park there are picnic spots, trails, a waterfall and a campground. The region features karst topography – the land was part of an ancient seabed. Subsurface rivers dissolve the soluble rock, which causes the ground to collapse unexpectedly, forming dramatic waterfalls, mysterious sinkholes, and trees that lean at precarious angles.
The world’s biggest salt lick
The Salt Plains are a continuation of the region's ancient seabed. Salt water bubbles to the surface here to create salt flats. Once harvested by northern people to preserve meat and fish, today the salt draws wildlife to the enormous salt lick. Catch the buffalo sneaking a treat, or wander the flats barefoot.
Big birds in the park
All 170 of North America's largest, rarest, and most elusive birds, Whooping Cranes, nest in this area. A glimpse of these striking birds is rare, but there have been successful international efforts to bring the species back from extinction. The watery muskeg in the region is the only known summer breeding range of this exotic bird with a two-metre wingspan.
More to explore – A town on the edge of the park
Pitch your tent in Queen Elizabeth Territorial Park, and be lulled to sleep with the sound of the nearby Slave River rapids. Long before aircraft and roads, northbound traffic travelled by water on the Slave River, which borders historic Fort Smith. Visit the Northern Life Museum and Cultural Centre, and the Mission Territorial Park, and marvel at the dangerous Rapids of the Drowned in the river below.
Play with the birds
There are four sets of rapids on the Slave River at Fort Smith, located along the Trans Canada Trail. At the Mountain Rapids, a daredevil flock of American White Pelicans nests on midstream islands. These rapids also host novice to expert kayakers determined to challenge the boiling white water of the thundering Slave River.