Our highway system crosses northern rivers via free ferry service. These are all classic river ferries, operated by friendly crews and licenced marine captains. They are fast disappearing elsewhere. Enjoy!
There are five ferries, with the busiest one at the Mackenzie River crossing near Fort Providence. Service usually operates from mid May to January, from 6 am to midnight. There is a ferry on the Liard River near Fort Simpson, and on the Mackenzie River north of Fort Simpson. On the Dempster, there are ferries on the Peel and the Mackenzie/Arctic Red rivers.
In winter, ice bridges replace our ferries. There are short periods, at "freeze-up" in the winter, and at "breakup" in the spring, when river ice may not be able to bear the weight of vehicles or when our rivers have too much floating ice to allow the ferries to cross. When this occurs, highways requiring ferry service are closed.
To check on current road conditions and ferry schedules, visit the Government of the Northwest Territories road conditions service website or phone toll free 1- 800-661-0750 and listen for your travel area.
We grade our highways in winter, but don't usually use salt as it is ineffective in our cold temperatures. Your winter safety package should include sand or cat litter for traction, a tow rope, a shovel, blankets, candles, matches, high-calorie snacks, extra clothing, gloves and a sleeping bag for each person in the vehicle.
Each winter, a network of winter roads is added to our permanent highways. They extend northwards to service mines and the communities without permanent roads.
Winter roads are usually open from mid-January to late March, but that can vary with weather conditions. They are often privately built, operated and maintained, and offer no services, emergency or otherwise. Extreme caution is recommended. The posted speed limits should be observed for your own safety. Speeding on ice roads can cause wave action in the water under the ice, which will damage the road, and causes potentially fatal holes to open in the ice. You use ice roads at your own risk.
Rules of the Road
Both headlights and seatbelts are required on our highways and community roads. Speed limits vary from 70 km/hr to 100 km/hr and are radar-enforced. While the Mackenzie Highway is paved from Alberta to Yellowknife, other highways are generally hard-packed gravel. Conditions are similar to paved roads; however, rain and loose gravel can create treacherous patches, and dust can be a problem in dry spells. Reduce speed and pull to the right when meeting oncoming cars or trucks. On long-distance drives, carry a good spare tire, jack, water, insect repellent, flares and a first aid kit.
Ensure your vehicle is dependable and well maintained. Ensure that all of your tires are in good condition, with lots of tread, and carry at least one full-sized spare tire in good condition, or two, if your tires are an unusual size.
If you have car trouble, don't hesitate to flag down a passing vehicle. Most northern drivers are willing to assist, and large trucks can radio for help. If you have an accident, report it to the RCMP or police in the nearest community. Most communities along the highway system have a health centre and medical assistance is as close as the telephone. However, emergency evacuation is expensive. Visitors should arrange travel insurance before they leave home.
Most communities on the highway system have service stations, so it's not necessary to carry extra fuel. But plan ahead and keep your tank as full as possible, especially in winter. Service stations and automobile dealers in the major centres can offer repair services. Car washes are available in the larger centers.
Vehicles with trailers should not exceed 20 metres (65 ft ) in length, 3 metres (10 ft) in width, or 4.2 metres (13.8 ft) in height.