Don’t be fooled by the picture above, the Northwest Territories of Canada are not always covered in snow. Beautiful summer and fall months allow visitors to experience a wide variety of activities and sites. With an area larger than the Yukon, NWT ranks second largest in Canada’s territories and provinces, but only holds a population of approximately 45,000. Yellowknife, in the southern part of the territory, is the capital. For those travellers who are looking for some adventure and more off the beaten track places in Canada, the Northwest Territories does not disappoint.
Wildlife, remote areas, traditional villages, First Nations culture and lots of history can be found throughout the area. You may have to fly into remote areas or spend a lot of time driving on unpaved roads to get to your destinations, but it is well worth the time and effort.
We have chosen 15 of the best and unique places to visit in this territory, listed here in no particular order.
NAHANNI NATIONAL PARK RESERVE and VIRGINIA FALLS
This beautiful national park is situated about 500 kilometers north of Yellowknife and has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site. There are unlimited adventure activities available here, such as hiking and canoeing. The spectacular Virginia Falls, twice the height of Niagara Falls, is only one of many natural sites within this park. This remote wilderness destination is for those seeking something different, especially because this is not an easy place to get to. Most visitors charter a floatplane out of Fort Simpson or Yellowknife, but can also be chartered from Watson Lake, Yukon or Muncho Lake, BC. The park office is located in Fort Simpson, check the website for fees and advisements before travelling.
INUVIK’S IGLOO CHURCH and TOWN
There are two ways to get to this small town located 200 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. You can drive the Dempster Highway starting in the Yukon by Dawson City, or you can fly into the small airport here.
If you don’t have a lot of time but you want to explore the area, flying in is the best choice. There are only a few accommodation options here, so you need to reserve in advance.
Inuvik means “place of the people” and has some unique features, including its location on the Arctic Ocean. There is amazing fishing here and interesting things to see and do, such as the unique Igloo Church. To help plan your visit you can get a free guide here:
TUKTOYAKTUK and PINGOS
This small Inuvialuit community is commonly referred to as Tuk. There is a new road connecting Inuvik and Tuk which allows visitors to Inuvik to navigate the area on their own, although there are several operators in Inuvik that offer guided tours to Tuk along with First Nations experiences.
An adventurer’s dream, you can try traditional food, put your feet in the cold Arctic Ocean and tour the Pingo National Landmark area nearby. Pingos are mounds of earth-covered ice found in the Arctic and subarctic that can reach up to 70 metres (230 ft) in height and up to 600 m (2,000 ft) in diameter.
You can visit using the boardwalks that provide interpretive signage or sign up with a local operator for a boat tour. In the fall and winter you can view amazing Northern Lights displays and experience dog sledding at its best.
AKLAVIK and the GRAVE of the MAD TRAPPER
This remote town used to be the administrative center of the region and was founded way back in 1912, although the Gwichin and Inuvialuit peoples were there for years previous.
You can visit by scheduled tour with an operator or flights from Inuvik. There are limited options for accommodations though, so plan in advance if you are going to stay the night.
This is an excellent area to see Northern Lights during the winter, or experience fantastic fishing (or ice fishing), hiking or climbing. You can take a boat tour or cruise to the Richardson Mountains or right to the Arctic Ocean or visit Herschel Island, a famous whaling Island and also the millennium-old home of several First Nations tribes.
Don’t forget to visit the grave of the famous Mad Trapper of the North!
DEMPSTER HIGHWAY and the NWT SIGN
The Dempster Highway is a stretch of 740 kilometers between the turnoff to Dawson City in the Yukon and the town of Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. This unpaved road tempts tourists with vehicles to explore the wilderness areas in the Yukon and NWT. There is much to explore along this highway, so if you have the ability to camp this is an excellent way to travel.
There is only two places with hotels, located at Eagle Plains and the other at Fort McPherson. Gas is also available at both of these places, although we highly recommend travelling with a gas can full of fuel. Also recommended is a full sized spare tire.
Along the Dempster Highway you can find, along with the NWT sign, the Arctic Circle signs and lots of photo opportunities. The landscapes will amaze you.
GREAT SLAVE LAKE
The 2nd largest lake in Canada and the 11th largest in the world, as well as the deepest in North American, Great Slave Lake is a great destination for those who would like a little bit of wilderness that is a easier to get to. Northern pike, Arctic grayling and trophy-sized trout being anglers from around the world but the size of the lake almost guarantees that you can be far away from anyone else.
There are five communities on the lakeshore itself – Yellowknife, Hay River, the Metis town of Fort Resolution, the traditional Łutselk’e on the scenic East Arm; and fast-growing Behchokǫ̀ on the North Arm.
Check out the colorful houseboats in Yellowknife Bay, where, if you happen to be there at the right time in the fall, you can enjoy a film festival viewed from canoes. Along with the fishing, travellers can enjoy paddleboarding, sailing, canoeing and kayaking on the waters of the lake, or travel to the area in the spring to do some major birdwatching of the thousands of migrating water birds. There is plenty to keep you busy for days on end.
Being one of the communities on the shores of Great Slave Lake certainly helps this community to be a major destination in the Northwest Territories. An easy half days drive from Edmonton or Yellowknife, Hay River is the largest town in the area and provides a variety of accommodation options for travellers.
Spend some time on the beach and wade into the cool fresh waters. Grab some amazing fish and chips from Fisherman’s Wharf. Use the long summer days to enjoy one of the best golf courses in the north. Visit the nearby Twin Falls Park for hiking opportunities.
Plan your visit around one of the fun community activities, such as Polar Pond Hockey or the annual K’amba Carnival at K’atl’odeeche First Nation, where you’ll find hand games, handmade crafts and thrilling dogsled races.
TWIN FALLS GORGE TERRITORIAL PARK
This easily accessible Park is located in the southern part of the territory and offers a variety of outdoor activities for all levels of adventurers.
Visitors can easily walk the 2.2 kilometer boardwalk to view the amazing Alexandra Falls and then on to Louise Falls. You can climb down to the top of the falls, but be careful, rocks may be slippery. If you can’t walk the entire boardwalk there is also a parking area at Louise Falls.
You can camp here as well, or simply enjoy the area for a day trip.
Banks Island is located in the Inuvik region but separated from the mainland by Amundsen Gulf.
You can fly into Sachs Harbour on the southwest coast from Inuvik. This island is the habitat of Arctic foxes, wolves, caribou, polar bears, and many birds, which makes it a good destination for wildlife and bird lovers.
Banks Island is home to more than half of the worlds muskox population and Sachs Harbour is known as the “Muskox Capital of Canada.”
If you decide you would like to visit, look for a tour operator from Inuvik to help with your plans.
NORMAN WELLS This tiny northern town was established in 1920 as an oil town, in fact, even the traditional name, Tlegohli means “Where There is Oil.”
Surprisingly, this town of only 800 people hosts not one, but two fantastic museums – the Norman Wells Historical Society hosts an area dedicated to the history of the town, the construction of the Canol Trail, the unique fossils found in the area and the local Sahtu Dene crafts.
The Historical Aviation Museum is also a must-see to learn about the early pilots and planes that helped open up the whole region. If you are an archeological buff you may want to head to Fossil Canyon to see if you can come across some ancient artifacts from the Sahtu people.
If you want to hike and have a lot of time, set off on Canada’s longest hike – the The Canol Trail, at 355 km long. This hike can take up to three weeks through challenging territory.
If you only have a day though, contact a local guide about day hikes into the Franklin Mountains. Even if you aren’t a hiker, you can experience a flightseeing tour that will take you over some of the most spectacular scenery you will ever view.
FORT GOOD HOPE
This amazing little community has an incredible amount of history as it was originally established in 1805 as a fur trading post. This town is situated 145 kilometers north of Norman Wells and can be accessed by flight from there.
It is well worth the effort though, as you can enjoy experiencing the traditional way of life of the locals, an amazing number of hikes in the area, and visit the 19th century Gothic Revival style church. This must see attraction was built between 1865 and 1885 and was designated a National Historic Site in 1977. Our Lady of Good Hope was designed and built Oblate missionaries and is full of absolutely stunning murals painted in the 1870’s. It is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the north.
NORTHERN LIGHTS VIEWING IN YELLOWKNIFE
The central city of Yellowknife is by far one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights because of its proximity to the North Magnetic Pole. Aurora Borealis are generally best seen from November to April but can sometimes be viewed in late August and September.
The really cool thing about this city is that it has its own space weather alert system! This means that visitors and locals can check out the tiny Northern Lighthouses around the city to have up to date information about solar wind gusts that may affect the Borealis.
GREAT NORTHERN ARTS FESTIVAL in INUVIK
It makes sense that Inuvik, whose name in the native language means place of the people, should host this interesting festival. This incredible festival allows visitors, over a period of 10 days, to experience and enjoy the culture of the north. You can meet artists and watch them create, take one of the many workshops available, or simply enjoy the traditional shows of singing and dancing. It is an absolute must to reserve hotels or camping ahead of time as this festival draws visitors from all over the world.
Fort Smith sits almost on the border of Alberta, at the southern end of the Northwest Territories.
During the third weekend of August, this small towns hosts a dark sky festival which will allow visitors to not just view the skies but take practical courses such as aurora photography.
There are other reasons to visit Fort Smith though, especially if you are an avid paddler, as the Slave River offers some great whitewater opportunities, and the surrounding lakes have stunning islands and calm waters.
Surprisingly, this is a fantastic place to see American pelicans up close at the Rapids of the Drowned, an easy walk from the town itself.
Spend some time in the Northern Life Museum & Cultural Centre to learn about the interesting history and culture of the area.
WOOD BUFFALO NATIONAL PARK
If you are heading to Fort Smith, then you can also spend some time in the amazing Wood Buffalo National Park. This area is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site and is home to one of the largest free-roaming and self-regulating bison herds in the world.
It is also home to the last remaining natural nesting area for the endangered whooping crane. Wildlife, paddling and hiking enthusiasts will love this wilderness area that offers so many opportunities.
Make sure you check out the salt plains which were created by ancient seabeds.
There are camping areas in the park itself or hotels are available in the nearby Fort Smith.