Welcome to a land that’s on top of the world. The biggest. Boldest. Wildest. Weirdest. Friendliest. The most superlative place you’ve ever been. From the Aurora in the heavens to the fish down deep, here’s why your visit to the Northland will be the ultimate adventure.
Yellowknife is the best place on the planet to see the heavens dance. Here you’re as close to the Aurora as any earthbound spectator will ever get, and with no mountains to block your view and no ocean near enough to send cloudy weather, you’re assured of a front-row seat as the Aurora flares and shimmers. In Yellowknife and other Northwest Territories locations the luminous lights shine 200-plus nights per year. There’s a ton of ways to see them – in a hot tub, on an ice road, aboard a dogsled, or from the comfort of a heated outdoor lounge chair.
Collectors covet Northern arts and crafts. Here’s a shopping list to get you started. Beaded, smoke-tanned moosehide moccasins from Great Bear Lake. A woven birch-bark basket from the forests near Fort Liard. Jewellery by a local metalsmith, featuring diamonds from the Barrenlands or muskox horn from Banks Island. And an Inuit stone-cut print, depicting traditional life along the Northwest Passage.
The Dempster Highway, named for a heroic Mountie of yesteryear, is the wildest time you can have while sitting down. The 700-kilometre route is Canada’s northernmost driving adventure. Departing Dawson City, Yukon, you’ll traverse the jagged peaks of the Tombstone Range, cross the Arctic Circle, drop into the Mackenzie River Delta, and finally roll into surprising, dynamic Inuvik, the hub of the Western Arctic. So gas up your RV or rental car and head north!
Sixteen years ago, while fishing at a lodge on Great Bear Lake, American doctor Aviars Slucis reeled in his Moby Dick – a leviathan trout, perhaps a century old and estimated by his guide to weigh a world-record 79 pounds. Did he mount it on his office wall? Nope. He let it go. And he returns, year after year, hoping to catch it again. It, and thousands more like it, remain in deep, clean waters of the Northwest Territories, waiting for him – and for you.
We think you’ll agree – the North has the very best festivals. Dance in hazy midnight sunbeams to the beat of a world-class band. Frolic among glittering ice sculptures beside a palace made of snow. Join artist-led workshops far above the Arctic Circle. Wear a classic old-time costume and hoist a beer, toasting the frontier past. Or gather as storytellers mesmerize crowds on the banks of the rushing Mackenzie.
You could spend your whole life wandering Wood Buffalo National Park and never see it all. It’s North America’s largest protected area, at nearly 45,000 square kilometres. That’s more space than Switzerland, and eight times as big as Prince Edward Island. Here you’ll find grand rivers, rare birds like the whooping crane, bizarre salt plains and sinkholes, plus wild bison – among the last free-roaming herds on Earth.
No, their noses don’t glow – but they do like dashing through the snow. The Northwest Territories is home to Canada’s only free-ranging herd of domesticated reindeer. About 3,000 of the antlered critters browse the rolling tundra north of Inuvik. If you come in spring, a guide can take you to see the annual reindeer drive, when herders usher the animals across the frozen Mackenzie River to their summer calving grounds.
In your whole life, have you ever gone a single day without seeing another soul? Spent more than a few hours without music and chatter? Been totally still, calm and present? Here, far beyond the edge of the familiar world, the first person you’ll meet is yourself. You’ll have the chance to be more at peace than you’ve ever been. You’ll feel the crystalline silence. You’ll know, for the first time, infinity.
Three hundred fifty-five kilometres. Steep climbs and slick descents. Rushing rivers to cross. Wandering bears. Cold rain and searing heat. North America’s ultimate long-distance backpacking route, the Canol Trail, is the toughest challenge you’ll ever tackle. That’s why doing it feels so darn good.
They were built nearly 70 years ago, and they continue to fly passengers across the gleaming waves of Great Slave Lake. They’re vintage DC-3s – throwbacks to an earlier, more romantic age. Aviation buffs from around the world come to ride in their well-worn seats. For the price of a ticket, you can do the same.
The names of our big lakes are legends: Great Bear. Great Slave. Lac la Martre. Colville. But we have thousands more – in fact, too many to name. In total, freshwater lakes comprise 14 percent of the Northwest Territories, covering 163,000 square kilometres. Find one to call your own.
If you visit the Northwest Territories in the warm season, you’ll enjoy months of endless daylight. Under the radiant midnight sun, it’s hard to tell the dead of night from the height of day. Events and festivals stretch into the wee hours, dusk slides seamlessly into dawn, and life goes into overdrive – an ecstatic celebration of the bright, brilliant, brief Northern summer.
Our mighty Mackenzie is the mother of all Canadian Rivers, with a watercourse more than 4,200 kilometres long. If you launch a canoe at the headwaters you can float for months before you reach the sea. It’s a journey that will take you through a wild array of landscapes (plains, big peaks, rolling tundra) and past a dozen vibrant riverside villages. At the end, you’ll come to the fabled Mackenzie Delta, one of the greatest river estuaries on Earth – thronging with belugas, birds, reindeer and more.
Up here, the world is strange and new. Trek to the top of a pingo – an icy dome, bursting from the tundra. See a glittering salt plain, imprinted with the tracks of buffalo and wolves. Meander through a drunken forest, where spruce trees twist in turmoil. Hike along an esker – the snaking, sandy outwash of an ancient glacier. Or stand barefoot on a tufa mound, built from minerals burbling from the depths of ancient ground.
Be sure to pack your Coppertone – Yellowknife enjoys the clearest spring and summer skies of any city in Canada. With sun-drenched days (and, during the summer, no night) life is radiant. And during the dark winter, the heavens are still clear – ideal for witnessing the Northern Lights and other celestial phenomena. Indeed, our Wood Buffalo National Park is the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve.
Our territory is built on Earth’s foundation – a flowing wave of bedrock that reaches back to the world’s beginnings. Indeed, pretty much the oldest thing on the planet is the Acasta gneiss, an outcropping of rock discovered by geologists near the shores of Great Bear Lake. It’s over 4 billion years old – 20 times more ancient than the first dinosaurs. Appropriately, we call it our Rock of Ages. Keep your eyes peeled – or take a tour with a local rockhound – and you’ll find plenty of other stunning rock. Quartz flecked with gold, diamond-strewn kimberlite, shale imprinted with fossils – you name it. No matter where you look, the Northwest Territories rocks.
Virginia Falls may be the world’s greatest wilderness waterfall. The centrepiece of Nahanni National Park Reserve, it’s where the Nahanni River throws itself off a football-field-sized escarpment, exploding into a maelstrom. If you get within 100 metres of the base, the jet of wind and spray will nearly bowl you over. Floatplane operators provide daytrips here – or, sign up for a paddling expedition down the South Nahanni River. Don’t worry, there’s a portage around the falls.