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The NWT's toughest trail

Hikers step through water on the Canol Heritage Trail in the Northwest Territories.

The NWT's toughest trail

In all of North America, there's nothing like the Canol Trail. The continent's roughest and most rewarding trail begins at the Yukon border and ends 355 kilometres later on the banks of the Mackenzie. In the three weeks it takes to get from start to finish, the trail weaves through a world of infinite mountains, creatures with no fear of man, glacier-fed rivers, rich World War II history – and likely not a single human being.  

A hiker on the Canol Heritage Trail in the Northwest Territories

A living history

The Canol may be the strangest war-story ever told. Back in World War II, America needed oil to fuel the battle for the Pacific. So, in the course of a few short and brutal years, U.S. troops and Canadian contractors laid a pipeline through impossibly rough country clear from Norman Wells to Whitehorse. Excruciatingly hard to maintain, the line moved little oil and was abadoned after just 13 months. Eventually, the pipe was hauled out, but military barracks, telephone poles and rusting army jeeps remain, giving mute testimony to one of the most heroic and absurd of wartime endeavours.

Dall's sheep on a mountain ridge in the Northwest Territories.

The world like when it was new

Elsewhere on Earth, nowadays, what passes for wildlife is usually fenced in, driven out, or hiding from human beings. Not here. Like a track through Eden, the Canol is flanked by moose, mountain sheep, caribou, grizzly bears, wolverines, and who knows what all else. This is their virgin kingdom – "a world with the dew still on it." That's why the Canol is like going back through time.

Carcajou Falls, an amazing stop on the Canol Trail in Canada's Northwest Territories

remote wonders

The Canol is pretty country. I mean, real pretty. Along the trail are famous landmarks like Dodo Canyon, the Twitya River, the Intga Valley, Devil's Pass and Carcajou Falls. These remote wonders remain rarely seen to this day.

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