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Home Story A guide to RVing in the wild Northwest Territories

A handy guide to RVing in the Northwest Territories

Wide open spaces. Long stretches of road all to yourself. Pure, unspoiled wilderness. This is the enduring appeal of the Spectacular Northwest Territories. It’s no wonder so many people make the NWT the destination for their great Northern road trip – from the largest National Parks to the coast of the Artic Ocean itself, there is just so much to see.

Planning a road trip in the NWT? Here are a few handy answers to the most asked questions about road-tripping in an RV around the North. Get up to speed about the Northwest Territories and see what makes it such a spectacular destination for intrepid road trippers.

Here’s your guide to RVing along NWT highways.


Q: Where can I camp with an RV in the NWT?

Across the Northwest Territories, there are a dozen or so RV-friendly territorial campgrounds, complete with convenient pull-through lots, electricity, running water, showers, dumping stations and amazing local sights and trails.

Booking for these campsites is managed by NWTParks, and bookings typically opens in mid-May – just in time for your road trip.

Q: How are the road conditions in the NWT?

In the southern part of the territory, around Great Slave Lake, the highways to towns like Hay River, Fort Smith and Yellowknife are mostly smooth pavement and chip-seal. Driving up or down the Liard Trail, the Dempster Highway or the new Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway, the surface is generally well-groomed gravel but it is wise to go slowly in spring when conditions are wet. It is also important to check the NWT government’s highway website or to stop in at visitor information centres along the way for weather and condition updates.

Q: Are any of the roads too narrow, too hilly, or too soft?

Throughout the Northwest Territories, the roads have gentle grades and plenty of elbow room even for the broadest RV. The Liard Trail into the Dehcho Region from Northern B.C. can get soft after heavy rains, so again, it is wise to check ahead.

Q: Is the traffic bad in the NWT?

Drivers don’t have to worry about a line of vehicles honking impatiently. Even Yellowknife is pretty easy to navigate in a motorhome. The only thing likely to hold up traffic in the NWT is a herd of bison – a welcome sight to any travellers hoping to spot iconic Northern wildlife on the road.

Whenever wildlife is on or near the road, it’s important to slow down and exercise caution. It’s rare that bison create a significant slowdown on the highways, so the best course of action is to wait until the herd clears rather than risk aggravating them by passing too closely.

Q: Where can I get gas in the NWT?

There’s no need to worry about running out of gas as long as you plan ahead. In the southern NWT, the longest stretches without gas are the 236 kilometres between Fort Simpson and Wrigley and the 213 kilometres between Fort Providence and Behchokǫ̀. On the Dempster, there’s no gas for 363 kilometres between Klondike Corners and Eagle Plains. Motorists are encouraged to gas up at every opportunity and consider driving with a full jerrycan to be extra sure.

Q: What tires do I need for highway driving in the NWT?

Make sure they’re in good condition – and, especially when driving the Dempster, motorists should bring two spares. RV drivers should try to keep their weight down by emptying their grey water before hitting the road, as unnecessary weight can be hard on tires.

Q: Where can I get my RV repaired in the NWT?

All of the NWT’s regional hubs (Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River, Fort Smith, and Fort Simpson) have service stations and tire fix-it shops. If it’s a major repair, it may take a day or two for parts to get shipped up.

Q: There are rivers on the map, but no bridges…

Never fear. Public ferries are waiting to carry RVs across the Liard, Peel and Mackenzie rivers. They’re free and easy: roll-on, roll-off. But they close overnight, so motorists shouldn’t arrive too late.

Q: Is there radio reception in the NWT?

CBC Radio can be received near most communities along the highway, but it deteriorates quickly outside of them. Motorists should bring their own music or download some podcasts for the ride.

Q: Will there be highway cell phone reception in the NWT?

Only around communities, but likely not in between them. Check in with phone company to make sure it has Northern coverage – some providers do not operate in the NWT.

Q: What about rocks and dust on the roads?

Yep, on unsealed roads flying rocks can be a problem. Some people install little screens over their headlights. Also, many experienced Northern drivers are careful when passing – and being passed – on dusty stretches. It can cause a brief smoke-screen, which momentarily reduces visibility.

Q: Any other road hazards?

Motorists should watch for wildlife on the road – bears, moose, lynx, and especially bison. In the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary or Wood Buffalo National Park, encounters with these one-tonne beasts are common. Motorists are advised to let them clear the road in their own sweet time.

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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