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Aurora and float plane on the Mackenzie River, Fort Simpson

Fort Simpson

Fort Simpson

Perched at the scenic confluence of the big Liard River and the even-more-massive Mackenzie, Fort Simpson is the Dehcho’s friendly and vibrant regional centre, the gateway to Nahanni National Park Reserve, the only “village” in the NWT, and a cradle of Indigenous culture and tradition.

Many visitors come here on their way to the stunning Nahanni or surrounding mountains, but even if you remain right in town, you'll be charmed and entertained – by the wealth of riverfront heritage sites, by a rolling nine-hole golf course, and by local trails, craft shops, and activities. 

Home to about 1,200 residents, Fort Simpson is the hub of the Dehcho. For eons, First Nations people used this island as a seasonal gathering place, appropriately calling this junction of the Liard and the Mackenzie, Łíídlı Kųę – “the place where rivers come together.” European traders arrived in 1803, founding “Fort of the Forks.” A few decades later, the Hudson's Bay Company constructed a trading post that it named for the then-governor of Rupert's Land, George Simpson.

Historic buildings in Fort Simpson showcase this legacy of gold-seekers, fur-traders, missionaries, Dene and Métis culture, and so much more. The community was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1969. In 1984, Pope John Paul II attempted to visit, but was prevented from landing due to fog. He eventually returned three years later, holding mass on the flats beside the river (now known as the Papal Site). Notable locals from Fort Simpson include Nahanni pioneer Albert Faille, former territorial premier Jim Antoine, senator Nick Sibbeston, and legendary bush pilot Ted Grant.

Every March, Fort Simpson hosts its annual Beavertail Jamboree. The winter carnival includes traditional games, snowmobile races, and other celebratory events. The Open Sky Festival, held every year on or around Canada Day weekend, is a beloved arts festival of music, theatre, crafts, and public workshops and demonstrations.

Daily direct flights will bring you here from Yellowknife. Fort Simpson can also be reached via a scenic drive from Fort Nelson, British Columbia on the Liard Trail Highway (watch out for bison!), or a drive from High Level, Alberta, skirting the Mackenzie River. Take note that the community isn’t accessible to cars during the freeze-up or break-up months, when ferry and ice road services across the Liard are suspended. Be sure to check service dates before planning your trip.

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