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Home Story What to Do in the Sahtu Region

What to Do in the Sahtu Region

The Sahtu is the untrodden core of the territory – a land of colossal lakes and rivers, thriving traditional communities and the unbelievably stunning heart of the Northwest Territories. Among these unforgettable sights, you’ll find five vibrant communities thriving on the cusp of the Arctic Circle. Here’s everything you must see in the Sahtu Region of the NWT.

The Home of Colossal Lakes and Rivers

When you’re visiting the Sahtu, keep in mind that  the Dene name for its gigantic Great Bear Lake means “bear waters”, a fitting name for this huge and deep inland body of water – the largest lake located entirely in Canada. The lake is one of the NWT’s most popular locations for fishing enthusiasts looking to set a personal record or perhaps even a world record by reeling in a gargantuan trout.

Here you can follow the path of the mammoth Mackenzie River — six kilometres wide as it presses northward to the Arctic Ocean with its watery cargo of driftwood, fish, barges, and canoeists. Branching off from the path of the Mackenzie, your journey can take you down other renowned rivers like the Redstone, the Keele, and the Mountain.

Connect with the past in Colville Lake

To the north, you will find Colville Lake, where traditional lifestyles of fishing, hunting and trapping are thriving. With around 160 residents, this hamlet is one of the smallest communities in the NWT and sits above the Arctic Circle. A visit here offers an ideal opportunity to relax and connect with the land.

For those looking for the paddling adventure of a lifetime, Colville Lake connects directly to the Arctic Ocean!

Historically, the community was home to Oblate priest, painter, and bush pilot Bern Will Brown, who came north from the United States in 1948. Brown built the community’s Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Mission which is now a museum filled with local artifacts, where Brown painted the gorgeous northern-themed Stations of the Cross murals.

Visitors can take in the tranquil beauty of Colville Lake via flights from Norman Wells or the winter ice road from Fort Good Hope.

Find Adventure in Fort Good Hope

Fort Good Hope has dozens of trails that lead to rich berry-picking and trapping areas. You can try the Old Baldy Trail, a five-kilometre (three-mile) network that will take you up to the top of a long esker where you’ll be met by a stunning view.

An interesting visit  in Fort Good Hope is to Our Lady of Good Hope, a 19th-century Gothic Revival style church that was built between 1865 and 1885 by Oblate missionaries. Its vaulted ceiling depicts a northern winter’s night sky, while Christian imagery is intermixed with depictions of local plants and wildlife. Designated as a National Historic Site in 1977, the church still hosts regular services for parishioners.

Just 37 kilometres outside of Fort Good Hope, on the winter ice road to Colville Lake, towers what’s possibly the world’s largest drum. Measuring 19 feet high and 19 feet across, the giant drum is a signpost for travellers; located at the only place in the Northwest Territories where the Arctic Circle can be reached via road.

Count Kilometers on the CANOL

If you’re a hiker, plan to check out the CANOL pipeline, or venture along the legendary CANOL Heritage Trail.

The CANOL route to Whitehorse was shut down shortly after the Second World War ended, but the path it followed by Norman Wells today forms the famed CANOL Heritage Trail — known as one of the toughest hikes in North America.

Today the pipeline is long gone and the road is an overgrown path. Nevertheless, historic buildings, vehicles, and other relics of the era still dot the trail, making this an irresistible excursion for adventure-hardy history buffs.

The CANOL strikes out through the Mackenzie mountains, bringing backpackers over 355 foot-wearying, eye-popping, soul-stirring kilometres (217 miles). All along the way, there are relics of the development like Quonset huts and rusty vintage trucks. There are also natural wonders like Carcajou Falls which splash over a stony escarpment, sending spray into the mountain air and the red-rock badlands.

Tackling the CANOL is an exercise in self-sufficiency and endurance. Most hikers require three weeks to travel its length, carrying food, survival gear, and an inflatable raft to cross numerous swift, glacier-fed rivers. This is an expert-only expedition, so it’s recommended you go with a local guide or outfitter to be as prepared as possible, and enjoy the hike to the fullest.

Know What to See In Norman Wells

In Norman Wells, beauty and adventure go hand in hand. Whether you’re interested in the community’s oil-boom history, the older cultural stories of the area, or just looking for opportunities to admire the stunning landscapes of the Sahtu, there are plenty of options all based in this regional hub.

Hiking trails wind through the nearby Franklin Mountains, and visitors can dig for fossils in the aptly named Fossil Canyon. Gentler trails are perfect for day trips or guided nature tours, just be sure to bring binoculars to spot golden eagles and sandhill cranes. With your eyes turned skyward, you’ll find that Norman Wells is a popular takeoff spot for flightseeing tours that offer aerial views of the diverse Sahtu landscape.

Take to the water and fish for arctic grayling, northern pike and world-class lake trout, or enjoy a whitewater adventure on daring river rapids.  Or enjoy camping, paddling, and quadding or snowmobiling, around beautiful Jackfish Lake.

Top Spots in Tulita

Established as a trading post in 1869, Tulita, then known by colonial settlers as Fort Norman, sits across the river from the Mackenzie mountains and right underneath the storied Bear Rock. This sacred landmark is symbolized on the Dene Nation’s logo and spiritually connects Tulita to the legendary hero Yamoria who is said to have slain giant beavers, before draping their pelts over Bear Rock.

Tulita is also your jumping-off point for adventures in Nááts’įhch’oh National Park Reserve, nearly 5,000 square kilometres of jagged alps, hushed lakes, rambunctious rivers, and creatures so wild they’ve never laid eyes on a human being.

Nááts’įhch’oh National Park Reserve includes three rushing waterways, making up the wild headwaters of Tehjeh Deé (South Nahanni River): Pı̨́ı̨́p’enéh łéetǫ́ǫ́ Deé (the Broken Skull River), Upper Tehjeh Deé (the South Nahanni), and Łáhtanįlį Deé (Little Nahanni.)

In order to get a licence to operate in the park, many guided paddling trip companies and outfitters provide a cultural component to their excursions. Dene historians, storytellers, and elders meet with paddle groups in Tulita or Norman Wells to tell stories about the places they will witness in Nááts’įhch’oh before they fly in. This makes trips into the park an immersive and unforgettable opportunity to learn more about the Indigenous culture and history of the Sahtu.

Dive Deep Into History in Délı̨nę

On the western shore of Great Bear Lake stands Délı̨nę, a is a community of roughly 500 people. It’s the only community on the shores of the massive Great Bear Lake and its name means “where the waters flow.” For interested anglers, there are few places with better access to the lake and staying at any of the nearby fishing lodges almost always includes a trip into the community.

Fur traders established posts in this area as early as 1799. Today you may wish to bring a hockey puck with you to honour their history. That’s because Délı̨nę also served as the winter quarters for Sir John Franklin’s second Arctic expedition in 1825. According to his diaries, Franklin’s men would spend their leisure time playing games on the ice with skates and sticks similar to modern-day hockey. For this reason, Délı̨nę is known as the birthplace of ice hockey.

Near Délı̨nę you’ll also find Saoyú-ʔehdacho National Historic Site, two peninsulas on Great Bear Lake, and the largest National Historic Site in Canada, which is jointly administered by Parks Canada and the Délı̨nę Got’ine Government.

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.