Canada’s vast western territory is a harsh yet enticing playground for any outdoor enthusiast or adventurer. An enormous territory with little in the way of urbanity or population, the Northwest Territories suits fishermen, hikers, climbers, wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers much more than the relaxed traveler. The Northwest Territories can be a daunting travel destination for the uninitiated. However, the basics of the territory are pretty, well, basic and, if the Northwest Territories stoke your fire, it will be hard to make a poor choice when deciding where to travel.
The territory is partially Arctic, so there is a good deal of tundra in the Northwest Territories, yet the region contains areas of large boreal forest. The southern portion is particularly woody and pocked with large and small bodies of still water, including Great Bear Lake (the largest lake entirely within Canada) and almost equally sizable Great Slave Lake, fed by roaring rivers with ferocious rapids and brilliant waterfalls. Caribou and Wood Buffalo are just two of the many rugged species that inhabit the Northwest Territories. The Northwest Territories is a great destination for taking in a view of the spectacular Northern Lights.
But where to go? Well, the territory is split into eight regions. Below is a quick, un-encompassing bullet point description of each one:
• The Western Arctic - The far northern region of the territory is the place to find Caribou herds, Northern Aboriginal traditions, the Dempster (ice) Highway in the winter and great arctic hiking trails.
• The Sahu-Mackenzie Heartland – Here, monster trout can be caught in lakes above the Arctic Circle; historic log buildings seen at Colville Lake; the powerful Natla-Keele, Mountain and Mackenzie rivers floated; and the carol heritage trail hiked into the Yukon. This is the region for outdoor adventurers wanting a challenge.
• The Northern Frontier – Nature country. Here, ancient rocks grant character to the region’s many rivers and lakes. It is a paddler’s paradise in an area hardly reachable by foot.
• Nahanni – An entire trip can be spent in the Nahanni National Park Reserve. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park boasts waterfalls, hot springs, wildlife and history.
• Dehco – The accessible driving region of the Northwest Territories. The Deh Cho Connection is a scenic road through parks and by waterfall after waterfall.
• Yellowknife – The smallest region in the Northwest Territories and its capital. Yellowknife is the “Diamond Capital of North America.”
• Great Slave Gateway – A great place for fishing. Cast from the sandy beaches of Great Slave Lake, or charter a fishing boat on the Hay River.
• Wood Buffalo Country – This territory houses the Wood Buffalo National Park. One of the largest parks in the world, it’s also a nesting ground for the equally threatened Whooping Crane and a number of other birds.
Driving into the Northwest Territories can be done relatively easily, but roads only go so far. The Alaska Highway, Alberta Highway and British Columbia Highway all run into the Northwest Territories. Direct flights fly into Yellowknife Airport from Edmonton and Calgary six times daily and from Vancouver during the winter. Once in Yellowknife, regional and local services can be contracted for access to the rest of the Northwest Territories.
Again, parts of the Northwest Territories are arctic; it will be bitter cold anywhere in the territory during the winter. Summers in the southern regions are short, but temperatures will push the mid 70°s during the day. Summers in the north are short and cool with daytime highs often failing to reach 60°.