Looming over the little town of the same name, Nahanni Butte is a 1,239-metre-high prominence marking the confluence of the Nahanni and Liard Rivers. Also known as Tthenáágó, or “strong rock,” it is a sacred site for area Dene. According to ancient lore, Dene were menaced by giant beavers until the Great Spirit used his walking stick to put a hole in the top of Nahanni Butte, chasing the beavers deep inside. Today, locals can ferry you across the river, where trails will take you to the top of the peak.
Just before the mighty Mackenzie River pours into the Arctic Ocean, it fractures into an infinite maze of channels and islands, forming the Mackenzie Delta. Here is the North’s richest ecosystem, where the murky sloughs and silty shores support a menagerie of waterfowl and fur-bearers. The best place to get a lay of the land is in Ja’k Territorial Park, just outside Inuvik, where an observation tower provides excellent views of the surrounding scenery. Watch especially for falcons, eagles and ducks.
The most popular attraction in Tuktoyaktuk is this great green mound, swelling high above the Arctic coast. As tall as a 15-storey building, it’s called Ibyuk Pingo – the most massive pingo in Canada. Engorged with ice, it is slowly expanding, like a pop can bulging ominously in the freezer. Eventually, like that can, it will split its top and burst, then sag back into the tundra. Pingo walks can be arranged with local guides.
Revered as "one of the most aesthetically beautiful rock faces in the world," Lotus Flower Tower is a sheer, breathtaking 2,200-foot cliff – one of the world's tallest, most severe walls of stone. The signature face in the Cirque of the Unclimbables, this skyscraping escarpment attracts world-class alpinists. It's not for the faint of heart: It takes iron guts to keep your cool when there's a half-mile of thin air between you and terra firma.
Trivia question: What’s the name of the Northwest Territories' tallest mountain? If you said “I don’t know,” then you’re correct. The territory’s highest peak – a 2,773-metre summit in the Nahanni’s Ragged Range, just east of the territorial border – doesn’t have an official name. Informally, the icy rampart is sometimes called Mt. Nirvana, or Summit 2773, or Summit 9027 (its height in feet), or simply Unnamed Peak. It’s rarely climbed, and only by alpinists skilled on rock and ice.
Nahanni is synonymous with paddling, but to really get to know the lay of the land you've got to head uphill. The trek to the summit of 1,450-metre-high Sunblood Peak, rising above legendary Virginia Falls, is the park's most famous stroll. It's a 16-kilometre round-trip climb, certain to stretch your legs for half-a-day or longer. The trail begins directly across the river from the Virginia Falls campground, leads northeast through a mature spruce forest and then continues up an open scree ridge toward the summit.
Like a bizarre lunar stalagmite, the largest tufa mound in Canada rises near the shores of the Rabbitkettle River in Nahanni National Park. Thirty metres tall and 10,000 years old, the mound is formed by thermal springs that burble from the volcanic ground, leaching calcium carbonate that hardens into a crust called tufa. Take off your shoes and follow park officials on a barefoot hike to the delicate summit.
A solemn yet stunning vantage point, this vertiginous Yellowknife attraction honours the flyboys who opened up the Northland. The monument perches atop the highest point of the city’s funky Old Town, the six-storey-tall “Rock.” From here you’ll get 360-degree-views of Back Bay, the famous Great Slave Lake houseboats, the floatplane aerodrome, and the downtown skyline. The hike up is like a rustic Stairmaster, with scores of wooden steps to the summit.
On the shores of Cape Bathurst in the Western Arctic, the bleak Smoking Hills have smouldered for centuries, sending sulphuric soot billowing over the Northwest Passage. A place of fire and brimstone, the area is underlain with oil shales that spontaneously ignite when exposed to air. Adventurers typically traipse the area after paddling down the nearby Horton River. Just east is the community of Paulatuk: the name means, appropriately, “place of coal.”