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Home Story What to Do in the Dehcho Region

What to Do in the Dehcho Region

Experience the North’s natural beauty in the Dehcho Region. Here, where the Northwest Territories borders British Columbia and the Yukon, you will see mountains stretching to the sky, waterfalls roaring down between colossal canyons and the legendary Mackenzie River as it flows past communities where traditional living remains vibrant and thriving.

Welcome to Dehcho – here’s your guide to everything you should see.

You Can’t Miss The Big River

Dehcho means “big river” which is the traditional Dene name for the Mackenzie River. The river has always been an important mode of travel for the community, beginning its 1,600-kilometre (995 miles) journey to the Arctic Ocean through some of the NWT’s most remarkable landscapes.

Along this timeless river, traditional lifestyles endure. Jean Marie River, Fort Simpson and Wrigley mark your path north along the Mackenzie. All along the Dehcho, historic and culturally significant sites are preserved and buildings that are decades old can be found along the river’s edge. Fort Liard and Nahanni Butte remain easy to access for road trippers from the Yukon and B.C. — and they provide great entry to the Nahanni National Park Reserve.

Fill Your Days In Fort Liard

Fort Liard remains a major service centre along the Alaska Highway and provides access  to the NWT’s Liard Trail. Located just two hours by road north of Fort Nelson, B.C., this is  where many people stay to trek along the all-season highway north through the stunning Liard River Valley.

Modern settlement began in Fort Liard in 1807, when the Hudson Bay Co. founded a fur-trading post known as “Riviere aux Liards” (River of Aspens). Today, the community is the perfect place to buy Dene arts and crafts (handcrafted birchbark baskets are the local specialty), or cast a fishing line from the banks of the two local rivers.

Next Stop, Nahanni Butte

In Nahanni Butte, Blackstone Territorial Park provides easy river access and camping spots to travellers coming through the community. The park is a common stop for paddlers pulling up to shore as they exit paddling trips through Nahanni National Park Reserve.

While visiting, don’t miss out on a chance to hike Nahanni Butte’s namesake steep mountain for its incredible views of the community and surrounding landscape.

Step Into History In Fort Simpson

In Fort Simpson, built on an island where the Liard and Mackenzie rivers meet, you’re at the gateway to Nahanni National Park Reserve. This island has been a seasonal gathering place for Indigenous people who call this junction Łíídlı Kųę – “the place where rivers come together.”

The Nahanni Park Reserve Visitor Centre, located near the entrance of Fort Simpson, offers great resources including exhibits, maps, brochures, and videos with insights into the history of the area and must-see landmarks. The staff can answer any of your questions and give recommendations on what to see, where to visit, and the best lunch and dinner spots.

Historic buildings in Fort Simpson, designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1969, showcase the history of  gold-seekers, fur-traders, and missionaries, as well as Dene and Métis culture, and so much more.

Big Sights, Big Adventure

In Fort Simpson, you will also want to check out Edhaa National Historic Site. This seasonal gathering place for the Lı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ Dene also hosted Pope John Paul II’s 1987 visit. The site now features a 16.5-metre (55 foot) high teepee (tipi) – said to be the world’s largest. It was built in 2017 from 12 yellow cedar logs to replace the teepee that the community put up in 1984 to welcome the Pope. At the top, huge logs spiral in the direction of the setting sun.

Depending on when you visit Fort Simpson, you may also be able to catch events like the Annual Beavertail Jamboree. The winter carnival includes traditional games, snowmobile races, and other celebratory events. There’s also the Open Sky Festival, held every year on or around Canada Day weekend. This beloved arts festival features music, theatre, and crafts along with public workshops and demonstrations.

Nothing Compares to Nahanni

There are countless ways to experience the natural wonder, beauty, and power of the Dehcho, but Nahanni National Park Reserve is, without a doubt, the most popular. The entire park, which stretches across 30,000 square km (11,500 sq. miles,) has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you’ll understand why once you’ve witnessed its beauty.

Its stellar attractions are numerous and include the earthshaking Virginia Falls cascade, the dauntingly steep Cirque of the Unclimbables, the lush Fairy Meadows, as well as riverside hot springs, burbling limestone tufa mounds, and hikeable peaks.

Among the highlights is the South Nahanni River. Framed by four towering canyons, this river spills through the alpine habitat of bears, big-horned Dall’s sheep, and woodland caribou. For a close-up view of the park’s magnificence, you can take a daylong flightseeing trip from Fort Simpson or Nahanni Butte. You can also embark on a guided or independent expedition by canoe or raft.

Take The Trip Up To Wrigley

For a glimpse of traditional life in small communities and an authentic experience of how traditions and culture are kept thriving in the Dehcho, there is no better place to go than Wrigley. Wrigley has a population of about 120, most of whom live a traditional lifestyle of trapping, hunting and fishing, just as their ancestors did for millennia. To this day, the community remains intertwined with the incredible wilderness that surrounds it. To the north of the town lies the confluence of the Wrigley River.

You can contact Pehdzeh Ki First Nation to hire a guide that can take you by boat to explore the scenic areas along the Mackenzie River such as; Old Town, Blackwater and the rapids at River Between Two Mountains. Within a short distance of the community, you can find many hiking trails leading to beautiful areas such as Smith Creek Falls, and Hodgson Creek.

Jaunt Over To Jean Marie River

The community may be small but for some, it is the most impactful part of touring the Dehcho. Jean Marie River is a tiny, tranquil Dene settlement beautifully situated on the flats where the Jean Marie meets the Mackenzie, and it’s home to fewer than one hundred people. Traditional customs remain strong here, and many residents maintain traditional skills for hunting, trapping, and fishing.

Stop by the Sambaa Deh Falls Park, located east down Highway 1. Its 20 non-powered campsites are nestled on the Trout River, known as Sambaa Deh in the Slavey language. A traditional transportation route before and during the fur trade, the river’s falls forced travellers to portage around this dangerous stretch of water.

Today, hiking trails take you to both Sambaa Deh Falls and Coral Falls, named for the coral fossils that wash down the river every year. If you’re an avid fisher, you probably know the NWT has a reputation for spectacular fly fishing. This is the perfect place to set up and catch Arctic grayling and pickerel-walleye.

Set Your Line In Sambaa K’e

Sambaa K’e is another spot in the Dehcho famous for its fishing. In addition to absolutely gargantuan lake Trout, anglers can also expect to find amazing Walleye, Pike, and Arctic Grayling.

Local Dene fishers, hunters and trappers have been using this idyllic site for centuries. Nowadays it’s close enough to other hubs in the Dehcho, Hay River, Yellowknife, and even northern communities in Alberta that avid anglers will make the trip just to enjoy a day of amazing fishing.

Ready for the road to adventure? Plan your route along the best scenic road trips through the NWT – you’re sure to find a spectacular horizon calling to you.

The Northwest Territories is home to some of the most pristine national parks in Canada. The humbling beauty and wild landscapes of the North are on full display. Read our guide to the 6 Canadian national parks in the NWT  for a taste of what awaits you there.

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