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Home Story A Dazzling 4-day detour off the Alaska Highway

A Dazzling 4-day detour off the Alaska Highway

Driving to Alaska this summer? Don’t let this wild side-trip pass you by.

Halfway up the Alaska Highway, there’s a secret detour that’s the gateway to great adventure. Leave behind the parade of RVs and giftshops for a sample of the Northwest Territories. A two-hour drive from beautiful Fort Nelson will bring you to the 60th Parallel – where wild waterfalls, stunning parks, placid campgrounds and authentic Indigenous culture await. Here’s how to make the most of it.

Day One

Gas up in Fort Nelson, and then turn north from the ALCAN onto the Liard Trail to begin a great adventure.

Two hours north, after crossing the stunning one-lane Petitot River Bridge, you enter the Northwest Territories. Watch for bison, and the Mackenzie Mountains rising to the west!

After 38 kilometres is the idyllic Fort Liard. Spend the afternoon in this aspen-shrouded Dene village, wandering the banks of the riverbanks, checking out historic sites, and shopping at Acho Dene Native Crafts – perhaps the finest source of Indigenous art in the Northwest Territories.

Continue northbound, crossing the Muskeg River (Pike and Pickerel fishing!) and then the Netla River (look for waterfowl). Arrive at Blackstone Landing. With stunning views of the 1,396-metre Nahanni Butte, this is a perfect place to bunk down for the night. Camp at Blackstone Landing Territorial Park and enjoy its many amenities – a boat dock, showers, and visitor centre. For a more private experience, rent a cabin next door at the historic homestead of Lindberg Landing.

DAY TWO

After a riverside breakfast and coffee, point your vehicle north again. Cross the Poplar River, boasting excellent spots to fish for Arctic Grayling and Pike, and weave through a corridor of endless jackpines and tamaracks. Keep your eyes peeled for moose.

Arrive at the junction of the Mackenzie Highway. Bear east and then north to tiny Jean Marie River, one of the North’s most traditional Dene communities, on the banks of the Mackenzie River. After picnicking on the bluffs, continue on to Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park. Gawk at the furious cascades, hike the many trails along the canyon rim, and fish below the falls. Then snooze at one of the park’s 20 secluded, pristine campsites.

DAY THREE

Return west on the Mackenzie Highway. Pavement begins at the Checkpoint. Forty-three kilometres later you’ll reach the Liard River crossing, where the M/V Lafferty ferry bears you across the current. You’ve arrived at the hub of the Dehcho region, fantastic Fort Simpson.

Get oriented at the excellent Visitor Centre at the entrance to town, with a wealth of exhibits, maps, brochures, videos and friendly staff.

Tour the famed Edhaa National Historic Site, and, if your timing is right, take in a cultural performance and celebrate with the people who call the area home. See the cabin of legendary gold seeker Albert Faille, and structures that showcase the Metis and fur-trade history of the town, including the historic McPherson House, Lafferty House and the Hudson Bay Company shed.

Try your hand at fishing on the banks of the Mackenzie, or go golfing at the lush Seven Spruces nine-hole course –

Bunk down at the Fort Simpson Territorial Park campground or at a local bed-and-breakfast or inn.

DAY FOUR

Climb aboard a floatplane for the prettiest day of your life – a flightseeing tour of Nahanni National Park Reserve.

Soar up the great gorges of the Nahanni River’s First, Second and Third canyons. Set down on the river and walk the portage trail for heart-stopping views of furious Sluicebox Rapids, 300-foot-high Virginia Falls and imperious Mason’s Rock.

Re-board and take off for Lotus Flower Tower and other peaks in the Cirque of the Unclimbables – dramatic 9,000-foot spires embracing the Fairy Meadow, an idyllic alpine garden.

Then fly over Rabbitkettle Lake, home to Canada’s largest Tufa Mound, and the Nahanni Plateau, featuring the Ram River Canyons.

Stop at glorious Little Doctor Lake for a relaxing visit to Nahanni Mountain Lodge before returning to Fort Simpson.

Then it’s back south, driving toward the Alaska Highway.

Ready for the road to adventure? Plan your route along the best scenic road trips through the NWT – you’re sure to find a spectacular horizon calling to you.

Read a kilometre-by-kilometre guide to the NWT’s best road trip routes to point you in the direction of iconic photo spots, thriving communities, and detours to truly spectacular landscapes and unique experiences – this place will change you.

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