The Deh Cho Connection is a circle loop that winds through northern Alberta, the South Slave and Dehcho regions of the Northwest Territories and northern British Columbia. Travellers starting this journey can begin anywhere along the route, but the most common starting points are Grimshaw, Alberta and Dawson Creek, B.C. There are advantages to starting this trip at different times in the year – a winter road trip means ice roads, snow castles and snowmobiling out to wall tents – but summer is truly the popular season for road trips, so this itinerary is based on summer driving.
Your adventure starts in Northern Alberta. The Mackenzie Highway begins in Grimshaw, Mile Zero, which is about five and a half hours driving distance from Edmonton. Ensure you’re gassed up with a plenty of snacks and a rocking road trip playlist.
Drive 469 km on Alberta Highway 35 and you’ll be at the border of Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Congratulations! You’ve crossed the 60th Parallel which means you are officially in the North. This portion of the trip should take about four hours and 40 min, which means you’re ready to get out and stretch your legs. Don’t forget to take a photo at the 60th parallel sign. Stop in at the excellent visitor centre at 60th Parallel Territorial Park and pick up a road and campground guide. This visitor centre also features great displays of NWT wildlife and cultural artifacts. Have a picnic at the campground that overlooks the Hay River before getting back in the car.
Your next stop is a quick 50 min drive to Enterprise, NT. Near Enterprise you can view thunderous Alexandra Falls and scenic Louise Falls, both accessible from hiking trails in Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park.
This is a perfect spot to explore the hiking trails along the very aptly named Waterfalls Route.
Back in Enterprise, be sure to check out the craft shop right on the highway. Don’t leave the NWT without picking up some beautiful Dene beadwork crafts, whether it’s a luxurious pair of moose hide moccasins or a handmade cardholder.
A quick jaunt from Enterprise and Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park is the town of Hay River. There’s a lot to see in this bustling little town, so consider checking in at one of the hotels in town, or setting up camp on the beach and spending a few days in Hay River. Get in a round of golf at the NWT’s best golf course, have a Back Eddy Caesar, make a driftwood bonfire on the beach and be sure to check out the fishing in the Hay River. From here, your road trip could continue on toward Fort Providence or you could take a side trip on Highway 5 to Fort Smith. The town is 272 km from Hay River, or a little over three hours, which will take you right through the northern section of massive Wood Buffalo National Park. Keep an eye out for Wood Bison – they hang out on the side of the road, or sometimes right in the middle of it! Make a stop at the Salt Plains in the park. This is the remnants of an inland sea that dried up ages ago. Animals of the park are often attracted to the salt licks.
At Fort Smith, grab a coffee at the charming Rusty Raven café. If you’ve timed your road trip for the August long weekend, you’re just in time for Paddlefest. Be sure to check out the Slave River rapids, score a round of golf and keep an eye out for Fort Smith’s white pelicans.
Back on the highway, make your way to Fort Providence by way of Kakisa. This is where you’ll find yet another impressive waterfall, Lady Evelyn Falls. There is good fishing at the base of these falls, so hopefully you’ve packed your rod. Continue on to Fort Providence, crossing the Mackenzie River on the massive Deh Cho Bridge with a span of 1.1 km. It was opened in 2012, replacing ferry service and a winter ice road across the river. Majestic bald eagles are known to hang out around this bridge, so keep your camera handy. On the other side of the river there is a restaurant/gas bar/rest stop. If the fried chicken is fresh from the fryer, it will be some of the best you’ve ever tasted. Get a snack pack of chicken or a bison burger to keep you fueled on your adventure.
If you’re looking for a more substantial meal, make your way to the cozy Snowshoe Inn, and as always in the South Slave, mind the bison. They’re everywhere in Fort Providence. The Snowshoe Inn’s craft shop is also an excellent place to look for Dene arts and crafts, like porcupine quill bracelets and tufted wall hangings.
If you’re ready for another side trip, take Hwy 3 north to Yellowknife. Count on a few days in the territory’s capital city because you won’t want to miss out on any of the fun. A few suggestions for what to do with a limited amount of time include: climbing to the top of Pilot’s Monument, grabbing a pint at the Woodyard, dining on some of the best fish and chips in the country at Bullock’s Bistro and two-stepping at the Gold Range. Rent a canoe or paddle board and see Houseboat Bay up close. Or check out stunning Cameron Falls, a quick 25-minute hike (each way). The falls are along the Ingraham Trail, about 40 km from Yellowknife.
Now that you’ve explored Yellowknife and vowed to yourself to come back and spend even more time in this incredible city, it’s time to get back on the road and make your way to this road trip’s namesake region, the Dehcho. Make another quick stop in Fort Providence to get fuel and head for incredible Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park. This park features two waterfalls, Sambaa Deh and Coral Falls, as well as some excellent hiking trails that were part of traditional portage routes in fur trader days. Set up camp for the night and fall asleep to the peaceful rumblings of the waterfalls.
From Sambaa Deh, it’s 152 km or about 2 hours 40 min to Fort Simpson, which is the regional seat of the Dehcho. Like Hay River, this is another town where you could spend a few days really exploring all it has to offer, but our must-do highlights would be seeing the world’s largest wooden teepee (and get a photo of yourself next to it for scale!) and booking a flight-seeing tour of the stunningly beautiful Nahanni National Park.
Leaving Fort Simpson, access the Liard Highway and head south. Spend a night at the beautiful Blackstone Territorial Park, right on the banks of the Liard River with a view of the mountains.
A short distance away you can take the access road to the Liard River across from Nahanni Butte and take a river taxi to reach this charming community at the mouth of the South Nahanni River and the impressive mountain for which it’s named.
The last stop on the Liard Highway before crossing the border to B.C. is Fort Liard. Browse the art and crafts at Acho Dene Native Crafts. Their birch bark baskets decorated with porcupine quills are known around the world…but they also offer other products including tanned moose hide moccasins.
Continue on down the Liard Highway changing to B.C. Highway 77 once you cross the border and enjoy the rest of your road trip to Dawson Creek, which is also Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway.