The compass points due north, as you drive along a seemingly infinite wall of boreal forest.
Then, a beacon appears in the distance. You squint to read what it says. As you approach, it
grows larger and larger, until you roll up to the giant, blue-and-green marker that officially
welcomes you to the Northwest Territories.
At last, you’ve arrived. North of the 60th parallel, where adventure awaits.
Let the anticipation build, if you can handle it. Stop for a photo in front of the sign to mark the
occasion and then pop into the visitor’s information centre for a coffee. Here, gregarious park
staff will dish on all the insider details—what to do, where to go, who to say hi to.
Now, you’re ready to set off on your South Slave journey.
You won’t have to wait very long for a first glimpse of the spectacular. At Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park, just 45 minutes up the highway from the NWT-Alberta border, you’ll feel the power and the roar of the mighty Hay River as it plunges more than 30 metres over Alexandra Falls. Have a misty picnic on the rim of the gorge. Or follow a wooded path downriver to Louise Falls, where the Hay River flows over a beautiful, tiered falls, and have a snack in the shade.
Now that you’re refueled, fill up your vehicle in the nearby community of Enterprise, Gateway to the NWT. Make sure to drop into Winnie’s Dene Art Gallery, where you’ll fall in love with a wide array of made-in-the-NWT arts and crafts—from cozy beaver fur-trimmed moccasins to intricate porcupine quill designs on birch bark baskets—available for purchase.
Gateway Jamboree, mid-August: A day of music and family fun under the summer sun, usually held the Saturday after August long weekend.
Outside Enterprise, turn onto Highway 2 for a short drive to the town of Hay River—known affectionately as the Hub. If you’ve arrived on a Saturday, race down to the Fisherman’s Wharf market on Vale Island (open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., all summer) for the catch of the day and some local tunes. Try some whitefish, fresh from Great Slave Lake.
Continue on to the Hay River Territorial Park campground and settle down at the beach. There’s an extensive trail network through town and along the river that you can explore. Or head just out of town to get in a round at Hay River’s nine-hole grass golf course, laid out among lofty stands of birch trees.
Hay Days Festival, early July: A fun-filled week of arts, crafts and music in the heart of the summer, with workshops hosted by local artists. The event is capped off with an all-day beach party and Saturday Night Shaker.
Explore the geological marvels around the Pine Point ghost town. Photo by Mike Beauregard (Creative Commons).
As you set out for Fort Resolution—ensuring you continue eastward on to Highway 6 at the junction—keep an eye out on the left-side of the road for a turnoff to the ghost town: Pine Point. Here, you’ll discover fenced-off open pits, gravel pads and derelict concrete driveways. These are remnants of a once-bustling lead-zinc mining town that shutdown in the late-1980s, now being taken back by nature. The site remains a popular camping spot for RVers and rock-hounds can search the area for otherworldly dolomite and calcite crystal clusters that formed here.
At the end of Highway 6, you’ll come to Fort Resolution, a tranquil community of about 500 southwest of the Slave River delta. The Hudson’s Bay Company built a fur trading post here in 1819 to compete with a nearby Northwest Company post constructed three decades earlier.
This makes Fort Resolution the oldest continuously occupied town in the NWT, but the history of Denínu K’úę (“Moose island place”)—and the Chipewyan, Dene and Métis who live here—goes back far longer than that.
Take a stroll through town and visit the historic site where the HBC buildings once stood. Keep walking, soaking in the laid back feel of the town, until you arrive at Mission Island. Find a comfortable place to roll out a blanket and look out on the big lake.
Contemplate what life must have been like two centuries ago. And then the many centuries before that.
Deninoo Days, mid-August: A community festival that features a weekend of outdoor events, including traditional games and canoe races.
After a peaceful night’s stay at Little Buffalo River Crossing Territorial Park outside Fort Resolution, head south on Highway 5 for Fort Smith. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself in Wood Buffalo National Park the largest national park in Canada. Don’t be surprised to find bison hogging the road. Respect these strapping beasts and drive with caution. Also, be on the lookout for black bears and lynx along the side of the road.
In Fort Smith, you’ll find a town of 2,500 nestled in among dense boreal forest. The town was an important entry-point into the Northwest Territories, situated where it is, along a major river and portage route. Learn about this history at the informative Northern Life Museum and Cultural Centre, which features rotating exhibits from all over the NWT. And then feast your eyes on the land and water and skies to find out why Fort Smith is so adored by nature-lovers. You can hike into the nearby salt plains, hit the trails on your mountain bike, heed the call of some world-class white-water or gaze up at night for an unimpeded view of the cosmos. Fort Smith is largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world, after all.
Slave River Paddlefest, August long weekend: Pool toy races. Stand-up paddle-board jousting. Raft rides. Canoe races. Take part in the fun near the Slave River’s famed white-water rapids at one of the NWT’s premier events.
Thebacha and Wood Buffalo Dark Sky Festival, mid-August: Explore the wonders of the universe from world’s largest dark sky reserve.