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Home Story All roads North: What to know on your drive to Yellowknife

What to know on your drive to Yellowknife

Are you starting to plan the great Northern road trip to Yellowknife? Are you imagining yourself crossing the 60th parallel into the NWT?  Do you envision yourself driving while the midnight sun hangs in the sky? Need a nap? There’s a campsite for that. Need gas? We’ll tell you where to fill up. Need Instagram content? Just look out your window for the bison.

Here’s everything you need to know for driving to Yellowknife. We’ve got all your needs covered.

Announcing your arrival

 

The 60th Parallel welcome sign is a must-stop site and you can’t miss it. Get a photo here to commemorate the time you officially made it to the North —you’ve crossed a latitude that less than 5% of Canadians have been to. The 60th Parallel Visitor Information Centre is also a great place to find out about the road, weather and wildfire conditions, as well as what’s going on in the Northwest Territories. Grab a cup of coffee and ask the friendly staff anything. There’s a campground here to boot, should you need to catch a little shuteye before carrying on.

Tip: The midnight sun can really throw off your sense of time, as mid-day will stretch on and on into hours of beautiful and sunny driving. Keep track of the time and your progress and don’t forget to step out and stretch your legs when you can.

Take a stop by spectacular waterfalls

About 75 kilometres north of the border, Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park is the perfect place to stretch your legs. Feast your eyes on the 32-metre-tall Alexandra Falls and then tiered Louise Falls, just a few kilometres down the Hay River. Take the wonderful walking trail that connects the two sets of falls, and a campground offers yet another scenic spot to set up for the night.

Stock up, gas up: Enterprise is the first community you’ll pass through along Highway 1 in the Northwest Territories. There’s a motel here, in case you forgot your tent, and an arts and crafts store, where you can purchase some handmade moccasins, beading or birchbark baskets. Should your tank be getting near empty, you will want to drive into Hay River, roughly 20 minutes away from Enterprise on Highway 2. Fill up in “The Hub” as it is affectionately known and if the sun is shining, consider laying out a towel on the beach, or hitting the prettiest golf course in the territory for a quick nine holes.

Tip: In the North, gas stations are few and far between. Keep an eye on your tank and be sure to gas up when you see an opportunity on your way up into Yellowknife

Cross the Longest Bridge in the North

At the junction of Highway 1 and 3, you’ll head north on Highway 3 and soon cross the storied Deh Cho Bridge across the mighty Mackenzie River. You really can’t miss it. This is the only bridge to span the Mackenzie and this crossing is the only way to continue north to Yellowknife. Keep an eye out for the bison gates that keep the hulking beasts from crowding the bridge.

Tip: Looking for another picturesque posting moment? The Deh Cho Bridge is a spectacular architectural achievement – the largest bridge in the north spanning our largest river feeding into our most impressive lake. Enjoy the majestic strength of the Mackenzie River as a teaser of the kind of sights you can find all across the NWT.

Welcome to Fort Providence

Just down the road from the Deh Cho Bridge, along the edge of the Mackenzie River, Fort Providence has everything you might need and it’s just a few minutes off the main highway. Stop into the Snowshoe Inn for their famous homemade donuts. Looking for a quicker stop? The Big River gas station along Highway 3 has fuel, washrooms, and a restaurant that serves up a highly touted (and absolutely mammoth) bison burger.

Wildlife watch: Speaking of bison, you’re sure to see a few along the highway here so watch your speed and have your camera ready. The grazing giants can often be spotted resting along the shoulder, but they have been known to stop traffic a time or two as well.

Tip: Do not approach a bison on foot, no matter how docile or calm they seem these powerful animals can run at 56 km per hour (35 miles per hour) and are agile enough to spin and jump on a dime.

Spot the big lake

Roughly two hours north of Fort Providence, you’ll have your first glimpse of Great Slave Lake on your right. Stop in at North Arm Territorial Park to take in the view — and maybe use the facilities. Just ahead is another bridge crossing that spans the Frank Channel, leading to the community of Behchoko. You are now on Tlicho Dene territory, and the centre of this First Nation’s government is another 7 kilometres off the highway.

Tip: Great Slave Lake is more than just the largest lake in the NWT – it’s the deepest in North America and the 10th largest in the world! Spend some time on its beaches or paddling down any of the 31 rivers that flow into it. Great Slave Lake continues to influence the daily lives of many people in the NWT and is important to understanding our history and cultures.

The final stretch

The last leg of this Great Northern roadtrip now heads southwest, following the shore of the North Arm of Great Slave Lake. Watch as the endless boreal forest gives way to a network of small lakes and pink rock outcrops. Soon, you’ll pass the airport, where World War II-era planes operated by Buffalo Airways, including the famous DC3,  take off to deliver services and supplies across the North. Pass the Welcome to Yellowknife sign, in front of a Bristol freighter that once landed at the North Pole, and you’ve arrived in the NWT capital for an experience of a lifetime!

Tip: Do you notice small markers on the right side of the road? Those are indicating places where permafrost changes have created bumps in the road. While not an issue at slower speeds, coming off hours of highway driving can make it difficult to remember to take those sections slower. Slow down and enjoy the ride – your car’s undercarriage will appreciate it.

Then you’ve arrived in Yellowknife, where the adventures are limitless and the people are welcoming. Whether you spend a week in the city or fly out to a distant lodge or regional hub, you’re sure to fall in love with this bustling and quirky city.

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.

If you’re searching for more adventure, look no further than these 15 strange and dangerous places across the NWT. From exhilarating to inspiring, you’ll find a deep appreciation for the North.

 

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