Unlike many communities along the Mackenzie River, which began as fur trading posts, Norman Wells was the first place in the NWT established for oil. Its traditional name – Tłegǫ́htı̨ translates to “where there is oil.” This historic town of roughly 650 residents is nestled between the Mackenzie River and the Franklin Mountains. There’s plenty of history here, and plenty of room for incredible Sahtu adventures.
Alexander Mackenzie spotted oil in these lands in 1789 while exploring the river that would later bear his name. Imperial Oil eventually opened a refinery here in 1939. Norman Wells was also the starting point for an important pipeline that fueled military operations in Alaska and the Yukon during World War II. The CANOL pipeline to Whitehorse was shut down shortly after the war ended, but the path it followed today forms the famed Canol Heritage Trail — known as one of the toughest hikes in North America.
In Norman Wells, beauty and adventure go hand in hand. Hiking trails wind through the Franklin Mountains, and visitors can dig for fossils in the aptly named Fossil Canyon. Take to the water and fish for Arctic Grayling, Northern Pike and world-class Lake Trout, or enjoy a whitewater adventure on daring river rapids. Wind down with some gentle day trips through the wilderness with a pair of binoculars to spot the golden eagles and sandhill cranes punctuating the skies. As the aviation hub of the Sahtu, Norman Wells is also the spot for flightseeing tours. So don’t forget your camera!
Daily flights provide access to Norman Wells from Yellowknife, Inuvik and Edmonton. Visitors also navigate along the Mackenzie River in the summer, or take the winter ice road from Wrigley or Fort Simpson.