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Home Story Five must-do stops on the Wood Buffalo Route

Five must-do stops on the Wood Buffalo Route

If you’re following the Wood Buffalo Waterfall Route up from the 60th parallel to Hay River, the right turn at the junction of NWT Highway 5 and 6 will set you toward Fort Smith and onto the final approach to Wood Buffalo National Park – Canada’s largest National Park and one of the largest in the world. It’s a popular route for many Northern road trippers, and with so many impressive stops to make along the way, it’s not hard to see why.

Get ready for truly impressive landscapes, more wildlife than you can count, and endless opportunities to immerse yourself in the beauty and serenity of Canada’s North. Here are five can’t miss stops on the road to Wood Buffalo National Park.

Meet the Wildlife

This stop may not be optional if you find yourself caught in what is a familiar situation for most Northerners: bison wandering onto the road! Slow down and give these enormous creatures plenty of room while you take the opportunity to admire their relaxed roadside grazing.

The road to Wood Buffalo National Park represents an unparalleled opportunity to see iconic Northern wildlife – bison, bears, moose, and lynx are some of the larger creatures that may make an appearance along the roadside. All 170 of North America’s largest, rarest and most elusive birds, Whooping Cranes, nest in this area as well. A glimpse of these striking birds is rare, but there have been successful international efforts to save the species back from extinction. The watery muskeg in the Region is the only known summer breeding range of this exotic bird with a two-metre wingspan.

The Expansive Salt Plains

A gigantic salt lick for those aforementioned creatures, the Salt Plains are a continuation of the Region’s ancient seabed. Salt water bubbles to the surface and evaporates to create salt flats, resulting in a spectacular and unique landscape. Once harvested by Indigenous peoples to preserve meat and fish, today the salt draws a variety of wildlife, leaving perfectly preserved tracks in the soft salty surface of the plains. Catch the park’s Wood Bison sneaking a treat, or wander the flats barefoot and enjoy nature’s spa treatment.

Detour down Parsons Lake Road to the Salt Plains Overlook for a grander view of the landscape, or wait till you arrive in Fort Smith to take a 20-minute flightseeing tour of the park and get a true sense of scale for the spectacular scenery.

What to see in Fort Smith

Fort Smith is poised on the edge of Wood Buffalo National Park, providing year-round road access to the park for residents and visitors alike. The community has many of its own must-see attractions, including many opportunities to learn more about the local Dene people, who travelled along the nearby Slave River for centuries.

Take a tour of the town to see the Fort Smith Mission Historic Park and St. Joseph’s Cathedral, or stop at the Northern Life Museum and Cultural Centre or the new Fort Smith observatory. If you’re visiting in late August, you can enjoy the Thebacha & Wood Buffalo Dark Sky Festival. This Northern celebration of space and science for novice stargazers and seasoned astronomers of all ages is held in Fort Smith and Wood Buffalo National Park. You may even be lucky enough to spot the world’s best Northern Lights dance across the autumn sky.

Roaring Slave River Rapids

While the National Park is a big attraction for many travellers, whitewater rafting and kayaking enthusiasts flock to Fort Smith for a different piece of the landscape – the spectacular Slave River.

There are four sets of rapids on the Slave River at Fort Smith, located along the Trans Canada Trail. These rapids are the perfect place for both novice and expert kayakers to test their skills – some challenge the roiling white water of the thundering Slave River while others take calmer routes to enjoy the scenery.

Pitch your tent in Queen Elizabeth Territorial Park and be lulled to sleep by the sound of the nearby rapids.

Wood Buffalo National Park

Welcome to Canada’s largest National Park and one of the largest in the world. So large in fact, that the park covers as much land as Denmark. Here, there’s no shortage of hikes ranging from easy loops under a kilometre to more difficult 14 km hikes through field and forest trails. Wood Buffalo National Park is a perfect example of what makes life in the NWT so spectacular – the park is extremely accessible from Fort Smith, meaning you can enjoy its natural beauty and serenity without having to travel far from the comforts of a community.

Founded to protect the Western Hemisphere’s most hefty land animal, the rare Wood Bison, the 44,807 square kilometre park straddles the NWT’s South Slave Region and parts of Northern Alberta. The park comprises sweeping boreal forests, the massive Peace-Athabasca freshwater delta, and the otherworldly Salt Plains. Spend any amount of time in the park, and you’ll agree it’s a perfect example of what is so alluring about the NWT.

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.

The Northwest Territories is home to some of the most pristine national parks in Canada. The humbling beauty and wild landscapes of the North are on full display. Read our guide to the 6 Canadian national parks in the NWT  for a taste of what awaits you there.

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