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Less-travelled than Hidden Lake Territorial Park, which lies further downstream on the Cameron River, the Cameron River Crossing Known traditionally as Tinde’e, Tu Nedhé, and Tucho, among other names, the body of water today called Great Slave Lake is the second-largest in the Northwest Territories (after Great Bear Lake), the deepest lake in North America and the tenth-largest lake in the world. It covers an area of over 27,000 square kilometres and at some points is over 600 metres deep. Put in context, Great Slave could sink the CN Tower.
Along its shores stand the communities of Hay River, Behchokǫ̀, Fort Resolution, Łutsel K'e, Dettah, N’dilo and, of course, Yellowknife. Many of the locals in these places still utilize Great Slave Lake’s life-giving waters for sustenance and to provide for their families. Beneath its sparkling waves, this lake teems with Whitefish, Lake Trout, Grayling, Walleye, Cisco, Inconnu and many more species.
Great Slave Lake’s astounding East Arm is punctuated by countless islands and towering cliffs. It’s here you’ll find the bewildering beauty of Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve. On the vibrant North Arm, home to Yellowknife Bay, floatplanes soar overheard and houseboats bob with the current. In winter, the icy surface is alive with festivals and northern activities while incandescent Aurora dance above.
The lake’s name originates from “Slavey,” an outdated name used by early settlers to describe the Dene people of the region. The Indigenous people of the North were the first to make a home around these waters when glacial ice retreated nearly 10,000 years ago. Later in the mid-18th century the lake drew the attention of fur traders and the Hudson’s Bay Company. More explorers traversed and mapped the area up until the 1930s when, with the discovery of gold on the North Arm, Yellowknife and eventually other mining towns were established.
Great Slave Lake starts freezing over in late November and the ice remains thick (up to four feet or 125 cm thick) until early May. During that time an ice road connects Yellowknife to the nearby community of Dettah. The “shoulder seasons” of breakup and freezeup can be treacherous so always pay attention to local announcements and signs about ice safety.
By June, the open waters welcome back a chorus of fishers, boaters, and hobby craft. There are many operators who can show you around Great Slave Lake’s vast and impressive waters during both seasons.