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Pick your park: A Guide to the NWT's National Parks

A breathtaking view of the Cirque of the Unclimbables in the Nahanni National Park Reserve in Canada's Northwest Territories

Pick your park: A Guide to the NWT's National Parks

The Northwest Territories is home to five national parks (soon to be six). Here, rivers run glassy-clear, peaks leap to the heavens, waterfalls plummet and wild beasts abound – muskoxen, caribou, grizzlies, bison, you name it. Some of the NWT's parks, like Nahanni, are legends, on the bucket-list of every adventurer worth their salt. Others are unsung gems – the most untrammeled places on the planet. No matter whether you're waiting for bison to make way for your car in Wood Buffalo National Park, or ascending an unnamed, unclimbed peak in Nááts'ihch'oh, you'll be experiencing Earth in its perfect form: glorious, wild and free.

Here's how to pick your park:

Muskoxen hang out in Aulavik National Park in Canada's Northwest Territories

Aulavik National Park

Best if you are: A flatwater paddler who likes Arctic wildlife, wildflowers and wilderness.
Signature landmark: The Thomsen River, the world’s northernmost navigable waterway.
Signature animal: Muskoxen – zillions of them.
Signature experience: Floating along through a polar Eden.
Best Season: Unless you can build an igloo, come in summer.
Difficulty: Medium. The paddling is a piece of cake, but you're still a long way from help.
Access point: Inuvik, from which you can charter a plane to the park.

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Stepping off a floatplane at Glacier Lake in Nahanni National Park Reserve

Nahanni National Park Reserve

Best if you are: A connoisseur of legendary rivers (or a fan of Pierre Elliot Trudeau)
Signature landmark: Virginia Falls, the Godzilla of Canadian waterfalls
Signature animal: Nimble mountain sheep
Signature experience: Summitting Sunblood Peak, running Figure 8 Rapids, soaking in Kraus Hotsprings
Best Season: Summer
Difficulty: High if you're paddling. Easy-peasy if you're flying in on a daytrip to the falls.
Access point: Fort Simpson, from which you can charter a plane to the park.

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paddling in Nààts'ihch'oh National Park Reserve in Canada's NWT

Nààts'ihch'oh National Park Reserve

Best if you are: Aware that this park exists. It's very new, and a totally hidden gem
Signature landmark: Its namesake peak, stately Naats'ihch'oh mountain
Signature animal: Grizzlies, mountain goats and other alpine critters
Signature experience: Paddling the upper Nahanni or Natla/Keele rivers; hiking trackless alpine
Best Season: Summer
Difficulty: High. The upper Nahanni's "Rock Garden" is 50 kilometres of whitewater
Access point: Chartered floatplane from Fort Simpson or Norman Wells

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La Ronciere Falls in the remote Tuktut Nogait National Park in Canada's Northwest Territories

Tuktut Nogait National Park

Best if you are: In love with solitude, caribou and endless tundra
Signature landmark: La Roncière Falls on the Hornaday River
Signature animal: The Bluenose-West caribou herd, 68,000-strong, which give birth here
Signature experience: Floating the Hornaday, or travelling here with guides from Paulatuk
Best Season: Summer, when cute baby caribou abound (squeeee!)
Difficulty: High. You're totally on your own here, so survival skills are key
Access point: Inuvik, from which you can charter a plane to the park

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Sampling the salt at Wood Buffalo's Salt Plains

Wood Buffalo National Park

Best if you are: A car-camper, bird nerd or world-class whitewater kayaker
Signature landmark: A saltwater river, snake "hibernaculum" and the world's biggest beaver dam
Signature animal: Bison. And, if you're lucky, the world's tallest, rarest bird, the whooping crane
Signature experience: Walking barefoot on (and, if you dare, tasting) the glittering Salt Plains
Best Season: Year-round
Difficulty: Easy
Access point: Fort Smith

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Thaidene Nëné near Lutselk'e on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake in Canada's Northwest Territories is poised to be the NWT's next national park

Thaidene Nëné National Park

Best if you are: A fisherman, sailor, kayaker or dude with a sweet motorboat
Signature landmark: The rugged, rearing shore-cliffs of the Pethei Peninsula
Signature animal: Trout the size of your grandma
Signature experience: Catching those trout, cracking a beer, and frying up a scrumptious shore-lunch
Best Season: Summer for fishing or boater; winter for the Aurora
Difficulty: High if you're an independent kayaker or sailor. Easier if you're on a guided sportfishing trip
Access point: Yellowknife (charter a plane to the park), or Luselk'e, (depart by boat)

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