Fort Smith is a friendly little town full of big adventure. Perched on the Slave River, right at the NWT-Alberta border, it was long the gateway to the Northwest Territories. Now, it's your entrance to Canada's biggest national park and is home to some of the best whitewater paddling around. Speaking of whitewater, your first stop in Fort Smith should be down to the river to watch the Slave River Rapids. Chances are, you won't be alone: a colony of American White Pelicans nest, feed, and generally go about their pelican lives around the rapids. These majestic seabirds rival the Trumpeter Swan in length and have a wingspan second only to the California Condor among North American birds.
Fort Smith is located at the terminus of the Wood Buffalo driving route, and you'll have your pick of campgrounds close to the community. For a small, peaceful and picturesque park, book a site at Little Buffalo River Falls. Or opt for Queen Elizabeth Territorial Park with its excellent amenities and its walking trails that will take you right into town. If you prefer to sleep indoors, there are B&Bs, inns and cottages on offer. Try the welcoming Whooping Crane Guest House, Whispering Pines Cottages, or Wood Buffalo Inn.
In Fort Smith you're on the doorstep of Wood Buffalo National Park—Canada's largest national park, and the second largest in the world—and the awesome Salt Plains. On your way through, you're bound to run into a few of the park's namesake beasts. Be sure to slow your vehicle and observe these gentle giants. Stay in your car, allow the buffalo to go about their way and enjoy seeing the largest terrestrial animal in North America. Book a night or a weekend in one of Parks Canada's comfortable Pine Lake Cabins and relax.
Follow the signs to the Salt Plains and walk down the short trail. Enjoy the whiteness of the salt from ancient seas. Walk in your bare feet along the cracked, powdery surface – think of it as Nature’s day spa. Keep an eye out for animal tracks as bears, bison, moose and caribou are all frequent visitors to this natural salt-lick
If you've planned your visit for the August long weekend, you're just in time for Slave River Paddlefest! With its location at the Slave River Rapids, Fort Smith is in a prime position to host this premiere whitewater festival. Watch expert demos and take a few lessons if you're a beginner or want to learn a few new skills. You can also just join in for the fun of it—and maybe give the pool floatie race a go. Whatever floats your boat, there’s something for you at Paddlefest.
If you choose to visit Fort Smith at the end of August, you're just in time for Wood Buffalo's Dark Sky Festival. In addition to being Canada's largest national park, Wood Buff is also the world's largest Dark Sky Preserve. This makes it an ideal place to get to know the night sky. Bring your telescope and try to pick out your favourite constellation, and learn all kinds of cool things about science and space through fun activities. Seeing as this is the Spectacular Northwest Territories, you’ll have a high chance of catching the Aurora. Fort Smith is kind of a perfect place for any sort of celestial phenomenon.
No trip to Fort Smith would be complete without a stop at perhaps the best little coffee shop in the whole region, the Rusty Raven Gallery and Gift shop! You’ll want to make it a daily routine during your time here. In addition to fantastic lattes and tempting baked goods, this beautiful little cottage of a coffee shop doubles as a gallery and craft store. This is the place to pick up locally-made beaded crafts. And every time you smell that delicious woodsy scent of tanned moosehide, you'll remember a lovely visit to the Place Beside the Rapids.