Geography

The lay of the land

The Northwest Territories is a land that has never been tamed. Larger than all but a handful of sovereign nations, it’s where Canada’s biggest river weaves through an empire of peaks. It’s where herds of caribou darken the horizon. Where lakes are ocean-sized and fish are human-sized. Where polar bears roar and great whales spout. And where people trace timeless paths, following lifeways richer than the modern world can know. 

The Northwest Territories is a land of six distinct regions: 

The South Slave is the gateway to the territory. Sprawling from the Alberta border to Great Slave Lake, it’s a boundless country of evergreens, bursting rivers, limestone chasms, and one big national park: Wood Buffalo. It’s also a medley of vibrant cultures: Cree, Chipewyan, Métis and non-Aboriginals. 

The North Slave lies atop Great Slave Lake. It’s a place of stone and water: waves of shield-rock, urgent streams, innumerable lakes, and spruce-trees that dwindle to nothing where the Barrenlands begin. This is the home of the Tłı̨chǫ people, our most populous Indigenous nation.  

The Dehcho has big rivers and big mountains. Tucked in the territory’s southwest, it houses Nahanni National Park Reserve – Canada’s most storied adventure destination. It’s also the home of the mighty Liard and the even mightier Mackenzie, along with a half-dozen idyllic Dene villages, among the most traditional in the territory. 

The Sahtu is our back-of-beyond. The trackless core of our territory, it’s remote even by Northern standards. Traditional lifeways rule – on the shores of Great Bear, Canada’s biggest lake; along the flanks of the mile-wide Mackenzie; and up in the Mackenzie Mountains, thronging with moose, grizzlies and nameless peaks. 

The Western Arctic is a storybook landscape – of tundra, ice, mountains, reindeer, polar bears and muskox. It includes the rich delta of the Mackenzie as well as the historic Northwest Passage and the rugged islands that reach toward the pole. This is the country of the Gwich’in and Inuvialuit – Canada’s northernmost people. 

Yellowknife is our wild metropolis – the capital of the territory and our “little big city.” With just 20,000 folks, you might think it’s laid back, but it buzzes with frontier spirit and cultural ferment. Add to that its setting – perched on pink outcrops above the waves of Great Slave – and you’ve got the ideal place to experience the modern North.