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 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.
Lying north of Great Slave Lake, this area is rich in minerals like gold and diamonds and home to some of the oldest rock in the world – the 4 billion-year-old Acasta Gneiss. 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, the NWT’s most populous Indigenous nation.
North Slave is also home to Yellowknife. This wild metropolis – the capital of the territory and its “little big city” – came to be as the thick gold veins across, and later under, the area were explored. 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.
Big rivers and big mountains. Tucked in the territory’s southwest, it’s home to the 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 back-of-beyond, it’s the trackless core of the territory and remote even by Northern standards. Oil has flowed from Norman Wells for a century, but traditional lifeways still 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.
A storybook landscape – of tundra, ice, mountains, reindeer, polar bears and muskox – where the Mackenzie flows into the Arctic Ocean in a rich and productive delta that’s a haven for bird and plant life. The Western Arctic includes parts of 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.