Wide open spaces. Long stretches of road all to yourself. Pure, unspoiled wilderness. This is the enduring appeal of the Spectacular Northwest Territories.
Here’s a guide to NWT highways.
Q: Where to camp and plug in?
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.
Head here for a comprehensive list of each campground's amenities.
Q: How are the road conditions?
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 of 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?
Ha! There’s almost zero traffic – so 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.
Q: Is it possible to run out of gas?
Not if drivers 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.
Q: Any advice on tires?
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: 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?
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 cell phone reception along the highway?
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 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.