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Carcajou Falls

CarcaJou falls after the center column collapse NWT

In June of 2023, Carcajou Falls, located in the MacKenzie Mountains in the Sahtu Region, underwent a natural and dramatic transformation. In the past, onlookers experienced the famous falls splashing over a stony column then spraying refreshing mist into the mountain air. The distinctive column made Carcajou an unmistakable Canadian landmark.

Then one fateful day, the defining pillar disappeared.  Although photos distinctly capture the before and the after of the great collapse, the exact moment when nature took its course, crumbling the pillar into a million pieces and sending it down the river, is uncertain.

Carcajou Falls is part of the Canol Trail, the longest wild hiking path in North America requiring three or more weeks to complete. Norman Wells is the nearest community, and the falls are typically experienced by aerial flight tours. 

Today, Carcajou Falls is still considered one of the crowning jewels of the Mackenzie mountains, and a testimony to the  colossal power and undeniable beauty of the natural world.

Alexandra Falls

A person standing on the cliff at Alexandra falls in the NWT_

A mandatory stop on the drive North of Sixty, this booming 10-storey spillover on the Hay River is the centerpiece of Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park, not far from Enterprise. Shockingly, in 2003, an American daredevil kayaked over the falls – and lived.

This is a dramatically beautiful spot to enjoy a picnic, take a three-kilometre stroll to nearby Louise Falls, or just take in this magnificent waterfall from two viewing platforms. Interpretive displays along the trail provide historical information about the area, including the falls’ spiritual significance to the Dene people who regarded the Twin Falls as the sacred resting place of two spirits – Grandmother and Grandfather. The couple are said to remain here until the falls disappear, protecting the land and ensuring people respect creation. 

The day-use area here has picnic facilities, kitchen shelters, tables, drinking water, outhouses and, of course, ready access to the sights and sounds of the waterfalls.

Arctic Circle Drum

2 people take a photo at the Arctic Circle Drum sign in the NWT

Stop off and see the territory’s newest roadside attraction at the geographical edge of the Arctic Circle. Just 37 kilometres outside of Fort Good Hope, on the winter ice road to Colville Lake, towers what’s possibly the world’s largest drum. Measuring 19 feet high and 19 feet across, the giant drum is a signpost for travellers; located at the only place in the Northwest Territories where the Arctic Circle can be reached via road. 

Drumming is sacred to the Dene and done in honour of those who’ve passed and in celebration at momentous occasions. This new monument, completed in 2021, is crafted from durable steel and coated with a rusty patina to stand the test of time. On the drumstick is printed ‘K’asho Got’ine Néné,’ which is both the name of the local Dene and their name for this area.

 

Arctic Ocean

The best Northern lights in the world dance above the Arctic ocean sign in the Northwest Territories

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the top of the world. Travellers from all over the globe arrive in Tuktoyaktuk and head to the shore to take a dip in the brisk waters of the Arctic Ocean. It’s a mysterious, life-giving body of water that few get to see with their own eyes, let alone stick their toes in.

The smallest and shallowest (and coldest) of the world’s five major oceans, the Arctic Ocean is nevertheless teeming with life – from ice algae and phytoplankton to dizzying schools of fish and awe-inspiring marine mammals like seals, whales, walruses and polar bears.

Follow the Dempster Highway to Inuvik, and then onward on the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway, journeying north as the east channel of the Mackenzie River snakes its way towards the mouth of the Beaufort Sea. You’ll pass the treeline where the boreal forest ends and enter the wide-open tundra of the Barrenlands and the grazing range of Canada’s only herd of domestic reindeer.

The all-season highway, which takes about two-and-a-half hours to drive from Inuvik, ends at the furthest point north someone can reach by car in Canada. Take care on your journey as the highway can be rough in spots and the trip is almost all beyond cell service. Make sure you bring provisions and drive with caution.

Great Slave Lake (Ingraham Trail)

The spectacular Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories

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.

Virginia Falls

Virginia Falls in Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories

In Nahanni National Park Reserve, there’s no spot as celebrated as Virginia Falls. It’s a thundering and furious wall of whitewater, four acres in size and 300 feet high. Virginia Falls is one of the many spectacular natural wonders in Nahanni National Park Reserve, and its powerful presence can be heard – and even felt – on your approach.

There are many ways to experience the majesty of Virginia Falls – whether it’s from above on a flightseeing tour out of Fort Simpson, from up close on the historic Virginia Falls portage trail, or from the comfort of your campsite at the Virginia Falls campground.

You can reach the brink of the falls via the park’s famous portage-trail boardwalk. At the lip of the falls, the Nahanni River whips itself into a fury, plunging through the notorious Sluicebox rapids and hurtling off to crash far below. The roar of the waves is deafening; the stony ground shudders; the air itself is churned into a maelstrom. No viewpoint on Earth is so humbling.

If you’re up for a hike, the 16-kilometre round-trip climb up to Sunblood Peak climbs higher than the falls themselves, so you can enjoy the pure power of one of Nahanni National Park Reserve’s most impressive sights. No matter how you see it, you’ll agree Virginia Falls is a must-see destination in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

Inuvik Community Greenhouse

Inuvik Community Greenhouse

The most northern commercial and community greenhouse in North America, and the largest of its kind in the world, the Inuvik Community Greenhouse provides fresh, local, sustainable produce north of the Arctic Circle.

In the summer, Inuvik gets 24 hours of sunlight, which means produce grows fast. The greenhouse’s 16,000-square feet of space is used by locals who pay a small fee to garden and volunteer their time to maintain the space. There are over 170 garden beds in the greenhouse, with dedicated plots for Elders, group homes, children’s groups and the local food banks. The greenhouse also contains a commercial space where plants are sold to cover operational costs.

Scheduled tours are available from June through September. Contact the Inuvik Community Greenhouse online to book or purchase gift shop items outside of regular hours.

Pingo Canadian Landmark

Aurora northern lights dance above a pingo in the NWT

Erupting from the pancake-flat tundra just outside the community of Tuktoyaktuk is the bulbous, ice-filled mound known as Ibyuk, the second-largest “pingo” on Earth. These unique Arctic landforms provide a distinctive backdrop to this welcoming community at the end of the Dempster Highway. 

Ibyuk is 305 metres (about 984 feet) wide at its base and rises to the height of a 15-storey building. Other pingos here range from five metres to 70 metres tall and represent different stages of growth, from budding newborns to elderly pingos that are shrinking and slumping back into the earth.

The Mackenzie Delta has the highest concentration of pingos on Earth – approximately 1,350 of them. Eight, including the famous Ibyuk and Split Pingo, are protected by Parks Canada in the 16-square-kilometre Pingo Canadian Landmark. The region was the first of what was to be a Canada-wide series of national landmarks proposed in the 1980s. The program, however, was never finished, leaving the pingos as Canada’s only official National Landmark.

For centuries, the pingos have acted as navigational aids for Inuvialuit travelling by land and water across this area. They were also of a convenient height for spotting caribou on the tundra or whales offshore. Today, the area is a popular tourist destination and the focus of scientific research to understand the origin and growth of these peculiar Arctic giants. Because of the delicate vegetation and permafrost active layer, walking on the pingos themselves is prohibited from April 15 to October 31. However, a boardwalk is in place to provide visitors with an opportunity to experience pingos up close. 

Log Bridges

Log bridge in Norman Wells photographed by Angel Gzowski in the NWT

Crossing the streams and gullies on the walking trails of Norman Wells are footbridges constructed out of huge driftwood logs. Like many a Northern visitor, these logs floated their way here from the south. Brought north from southern forests by the Mackenzie River, the logs were woven into the supports of the bridges by the NWT’s premier log builder and legendary resident, the late Rick Muyers, to create unique and gorgeous overpasses that have stood the test of time. Ricks logging artistry can be further admired in the meticulous restoration of the Wildcat Cafe in Yellowknife.