If you’re looking for the road less travelled, hit the gas – the rugged highways of Canada’s Northwest Territories are gateways to a world you never knew existed. Unlike other Northern destinations, you won’t get stuck all day behind a line of Winnebagos, creeping toward some kitschy theme-park. The alpine highways and wildlife-lined trails of the Northwest Territories see few tourists and even fewer tourist-traps. What they do offer is the Northland at its wildest and most free.
Here, you’ll find an endless hinterland of evergreens, virgin rivers and lakes so big they could pass for freshwater seas. Fishing holes and duck-ponds dot the roadsides, while bison and bears walk the centerlines, unfazed by the occasional motorist. That’s the charm of this place: Whether it’s the woods, the wildlife, or the colourful locals whose traditions remain vibrantly alive, what you’ll witness on a Northwest Territories roadtrip is the real deal.
- At the visitor centre, arrange a tour of historic McPherson House and the cabin of eccentric Nahanni-area trapper Albert Faille.
- Stroll along the riverfront and through Papal Flats, where thousands gathered to welcome Pope John Paul II in his landmark visit to the North in 1987.
- Take a daylong flightseeing tour of Nahanni National Park, with stops at 30-storey-tall Virginia Falls and mountain-flanked Little Doctor and Glacier Lakes.
- Explore area craftshops specializing in Dene and Inuit art or, even better, visit during the mid-July Great Northern Arts Festival.
- Continue on to Tuktoyaktuk on the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway, ending at the Arctic Coast, where some of the world’s largest pingos erupt from the landscape.
- For the more adventuresome, use Inuvik as the jumping-off point for adventures in Tuktut Nogait, Aulavik or Ivvaik National Parks, or to historic Herschel Island.
- Stroll (or paddle) around Old Town, where goldrush-era shacks jostle for lakeside space with architecturally elaborate mansions.
- Check out the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, the North’s biggest museum, with displays on First Nations and non-Aboriginal culture and history.
- Take a flightseeing tour to Great Slave’s East Arm, where granite cliffs drop into pristine bays and outsized Trout swim in the deepest lake-waters on the continent.
- Check out the excellent Northern Life Museum, with displays on everything from the revolutionary Conibear trap, invented by local Frank Conibear, to Canus, the whooping-crane sire who largely saved his species from extinction.
- Walk the extensive boreal trails along the Slave River, where pelicans fish in the rapids and world-class whitewater kayakers come to play.