Skip to main content

Find out more about the current wildfire and wildfire-related concerns in the NWT.

Home Story Traffic Jams

Traffic jams:
Up here, they’re just a bit different

When traffic grinds to a halt in the Northwest Territories, don’t blame congestion or roadwork. Usually, wildlife has overtaken the highway. But motorists barely notice the hold-up: their minds are reeling in awe.

Indeed, here in the Far North, animals commonly saunter down the centerline, unbothered by the schedules of humankind. After all, it is they, not us, who are in control here.

It’s likely that your Northern roadtrip will be stalled at least once – by a barricade of bison, or a brood of curious bear cubs, or a vast herd of caribou heading nowhere fast.

Travel with your camera on the dash and you’re nearly certain to capture unforgettable images of these wild fellow travellers. Here’s what to look for, where, and when:

Bison

What: Up to six feet tall at the shoulder and weighing close to one tonne, the wood bison of the Northwest Territories are the biggest land animals in North America, dwarfing their lighter-coloured cousins on the Great Plains. They thrive on sedges, grasses and other vegetation.

Where: Wood bison abound in the southern Northwest Territories. Look for them in and around Wood Buffalo National Park, on Highway 3 between Fort Providence and Behchoko, and on the Liard Trail.

When: Bison are a very common sight year-round. During summer they are especially likely to gather on highway corridors, as the wind keeps the bugs at bay.

Moose

What: Sometimes topping six feet at the shoulder and weighing more than 1,000 pounds, moose are kings of the deer family. Male moose typically sport a sprawling set of antlers. In summer they feast on pond weeds and waterlillies; in winter they switch to nibbling trees.

Where: Moose are nearly ubiquitous in the mainland Northwest Territories, but as lonesome wanderers, there’s no telling when or where you’ll see one. To increase your chances, head for the Liard Highway or up into the Mackenzie Mountains.

When: Year-round, but especially in autumn, when males are in rut and thus less shy than normal.

Grizzly

What: With a long snout, a prominent hump and a ruff around their muscular necks, grizzly bears are a familiar predator in the Northwest Territories. They can tip the scales at 450 pounds. They’re omnivores, eating everything from roots to muskoxen.

Where: Grizzly bears are common both in the mountains and the Barrenlands of the Northwest Territories. The likeliest place for a visitor to see one is along the Dempster Highway, where they patrol the open alpine country in search of food.

When: Late spring, summer, fall.

Lynx

What: The tigers of the northern woods, lynx are eerie, stately and distinctive, with big paws, gangly legs, ear-tufts and a weight of up to 25 pounds. They prowl the boreal forests preying on snowshoe hares.

Where: Lynx range throughout the Northwest Territories, but are most commonly sighted in the Dehcho region (along the Liard and Mackenzie Highways) and Mackenzie Delta (along the Dempster Highway).

When: Year-round.

Polar Bears

What: The great white lord of the Arctic, polar bears are right at home in the Northwest Territories. They are solitary wanderers, weighing 1,000 pounds or more and standing 10 feet tall. Seals are the staple of their diet.

Where: Polar bears are found all along the Arctic coast and throughout the High Arctic islands. There’s a small chance of seeing one on the Inuvik-to-Tuktoyaktuk Highway.

When: Summer, early fall. The rest of the year, polar bears are where they’d rather be: way out on the sea-ice.

Dall's Sheep

What: These bright-white, nimble mountain sheep typically weigh between 130 and 200 pounds, with both sexes sporting amber-coloured, curling horns. Lichen, mosses and grasses make up their diet.

Where: Dall’s Sheep are true alpinists – meaning that, to spot them, you have to head for the hills. Motorists can glimpse them by driving into the Northwest Territories from the Yukon, on the Tungsten, South Canol or Dempster Highway.

When: Summer

Muskox

What: As tall as a man’s chest and weighing up to 700 pounds, these sheep-like ungulates are leftovers from the Ice Age. They sport an underlayer of extremely warm wool, covered by a shaggy mane of dark-brown hair. They thrive on a diet that includes willows, rushes and crowberries.

Where: The majority of the world’s muskoxen live on Banks Island, in the High Arctic. Very rarely, the beasts pop up in other regions of the Northwest Territories, including on the Sahtu Winter Road and near Yellowknife and Fort Smith.

When: Year-round.

Reindeer

What: A domesticated version of caribou, reindeer share their wild cousins’ lanky proportions and splayed, snowshoe-like hooves. They’re typically white, tan and brown, and both sexes have antlers.

Where: Canada’s largest reindeer herd, 3,000 animals strong, roams the tundra of the Mackenzie Delta.

When: In spring, usually coinciding with Inuvik’s Muskrat Jamboree, the reindeer are driven to their calving grounds on the Arctic coast. Hundreds of spectators gather to watch them cross the winter ice-road north of town.

Wolf

What: Creatures of myth and mystery, wolves abound in the Northwest Territories. Looking like long-legged husky dogs, they range in colour from ghostly white to jet-black and can weigh up to 100 pounds. They thrive in packs, subsisting on caribou, muskox and moose.

Where: Motorists could spot wolves along any of the Northwest Territories’ highways, but they are perhaps most common up north, along the Dempster Highway, and down south, near Wood Buffalo National Park.

When: Year-round

Black Bear

What: The smallest and most common of the Northwest Territories’ bear species, black bears can weigh up to 400 pounds and measure one metre high at the shoulder. They typically forage on plants, eggs, berries and carrion.

Where: Along any of the forested highways of the Northwest Territories – Highways 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

When: In spring, black bears seem to flood the roadsides; this writer once spotted more than two dozen during a single day’s drive.

Caribou

What: Weighing up to 300 pounds and standing more than a metre tall at the shoulder, caribou have traditionally been the most abundant ungulates in the Northwest Territories, and the most coveted human food-source to boot. They have long legs and broad-hooves – ideal for floating over the snow – and primarily graze on lichen.

Where: Woodland caribou thrive in low densities throughout the forests of the Northwest Territories. You stand a better chance of seeing Barrenground caribou, which form great herds. Look for them along the Dempster Highway, Inuvik-to-Tuktoyaktuk Highway, and the Tibbitt-to-Contwoyto Ice Road northeast of Yellowknife.

When: Year round on the Inuvik-to-Tuk Highway; autumn on the Dempster Highway; winter and spring on the Tibbitt-to-Contwoyto Road.

Ptarmigan

What: You might be inclined to believe these charming little balls of feather aren’t very bright, but you’d be overlooking the fact that they are true masters of disguise. In summer they blend in seamlessly with tundra or underbrush, and in winter they can be mistaken for fluffy lumps of snow. Until you almost step on them, of course.

Where: All throughout the Northwest Territories, most often seen flying low in flocks across roads in winter.

When: Year-round, although they tend to be more elusive in summer, preferring to breed in the northern parts of the territory.

DISCOVER A MOMENT THAT LASTS A LIFETIME. Aylmer Lake Lodge is located in Rocknest Bay, which is on the Barren......

Tundra North Travel is an Inuit company based in Inuvik, Northwest Territories that was established with the dream of being......

Best Northern Road Trip! Now you can drive all the way to the Arctic ocean linking Canada from coast to......

Comfortable lodge a 20 minute by floatplane ride from Yellowknife. Guided fishing for Lake Trout (to 34 lb), Arctic Grayling (to......

With over 30 years of living in Yellowknife, we offer a variety of tourism experiences for our guests. We are......

Book an adventure with us at Trail Blazer Tours for an unforgettable experience! Your adventure with us will create lasting......

Join us for an unforgettable experience on the mighty Mackenzie River. Day trips are available for a full or half......

Remote private wilderness paradise on Little Doctor Lake, 100 km west of Fort Simpson. Accommodates 20 in cabins. Fishing, swimming,......

Charter the bus, travel the North by road Your go-to solution for reliable and convenient ground transportation in the North! Shuttle Services Group Travel Sporting Events Corporate Events Out-of-Territory Trips School Trips Luggage Customized Itineraries Budget Friendly Rates and so much more!  ...

100% Indigenous owned!  We are the world’s first Aurora Hunting tour company, we know Aurora. Learn about Aurora, why Yellowknife is the......

Yellow Dog Lodge is a comfortable lodge with 3 private cabins for our guests. The lodge is a short (15 minute) floatplane ride from Yellowknife. Located on Duncan and Graham Lakes, the lodge is your hub for adventure. Choose from an additional 5 lakes for guided day trip excursions. Each lake is unique and offers unspoiled first class fishing. We are the only lodge that operates guided trips on each of these remote lakes located in the NWT taiga wilderness. Packaged trips feature superb sport fishing and safe outdoor adventure. The lakes and streams offer the finest Lake Trout, Northern Pike, Walleye and Arctic Grayling in the region. As an added bonus, our guests will enjoy the midnight sun and may even catch the northern lights later in the fall or early spring....

Arctic Tours Canada is a Yellowknife based tour operating company that offer Aurora Hunting and Viewing tours, Yellowknife sightseeing tours,......

Tukto Lodge has been exceeding anglers’ expectations for more than fifty years. As the only fishing and eco-tourism lodge in......

Peterson’s Point Lake Lodge provides you access to known waters teeming with monster lake trout. Their current record is a......

Aurora Village – A Class of Its Own Aurora Village is a unique Aurora-viewing facility situated 25 minutes from downtown......

Book this entire cabin in the remote wilderness of the stunningly breath-taking, Mackenzie Mountains. This cabin is hands down the......

Our vision is to see the Beaufort-Delta Region of Canada’s western arctic become the dream destination for motorcycle adventure enthusiasts from......

Pehdzeh Ki First Nation is located in the community of Wrigley, Northwest Territories, Canada. We are a Designated Authority in......

Welcoming and friendly with a rustic charm and all modern conveniences, Grey Goose Lodge immediately catches your eye as you......

Fishing and Barrenlands wildlife photography, including migrating caribou, at the Obstruction Rapids in the central Barrenlands north of Yellowknife....

To truly experience the Northwest Territories, take your camping gear for a highway driving adventure! Long ribbons of road without......

Remote naturalist’s lodge snuggled in the Mackenzie Mountains, in the largest mountain wilderness in North America. Located along the Canol......

Inuvik is located 200km North of the Arctic Circle, on the East Cannel of the incredible ecosystem that is the Mackenzie Delta. We are located within the Taiga Forest just south of the treeline and Arctic Tundra. Inuvik acts as the gateway to the Western Arctic as the Mackenzie River, Dempster Highway and Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway […]...

Specializing in polar bear and muskox hunts for up to four people from traditional camp near Tuktoyaktuk. Also providing scenic......

Join us on a subarctic adventure! Spend five nights viewing the Northern Lights, enjoying outdoor activities, and experiencing the culture......

An Arctic Barrenlands trophy fishing adventure for the serious sportsman. Located on Lynx Lake (420 km east of Yellowknife) Lynx......

Call us about our exciting year-round packages and experience the best of the Dehcho region and Denendeh....

Explore the wild splendor of the northern boreal plains, where whooping cranes call and bison roam free. Visitor reception centres......

Providing culturally based tours of Tuktoyaktuk with an opportunity to dip your toes in the Arctic Ocean! Ask us about......

The Deh Cho Travel Connection is a driving route that extends just over 1,800 kilometres from “Mile Zero” of the......

Family owned and operated tour company specializing in Arctic expedition cruising....

Up-to-date information about road conditions, ferry operations and ice bridges, as well as flight information, travel tips and links to......