What you should know before RVing in the Northwest Territories

A road trip through Canada's wild Northwest Territories

What you should know before RVing in the Northwest Territories

This isn’t your father’s RV trip. It’s way better.

There’s nothing stodgy about road-touring the Northwest Territories, Canada’s epic motorhome adventure. It’s not just a drive but a pilgrimage, away from the teeming, tame south and into a humbling realm where the woods and wildlife are still in charge. It’s a trip that’ll change your life – and it’s perfect for RVs.

As long as you're careful and plan ahead, you shouldn't have any problems on the NWT's roads. Here’s a handy Q&A to get you up to speed about RVing in the Northwest Territories.

The NWT has a bounty of campgrounds where you can plug in your RV.

Q: Where can I camp and plug in?

Across the Northwest Territories you’ll find a dozen or so RV-friendly territorial campgrounds, complete with convenient pull-through lots, electricity, running water, showers, dumping stations and amazing local sights and trails.

Head here for a comprehensive list of each campground's amenities and to book your lot. Remember, book early.

The vibrant fall colours along the NWT's Dempster Highway into the Western Arctic.

Q: How are the road conditions?

In the southern part of the territory, around Great Slave Lake, the highways to towns like Hay River, Fort Smith and Yellowknife are mostly smooth pavement and chip-seal. If you’re heading up or down the Liard Trail or up the Dempster Highway, the surface is generally well-groomed gravel but you'll want to take your time in spring when conditions are wet. And be sure to check the NWT government's highway website or stop in at visitor information centres along the way for weather and condition updates.

Take your time and it’ll be easy cruising.  

A road trip into Canada's Northwest Territories is a journey like no other.

Q: Are any of your roads too narrow, too hilly of too soft?

Throughout the Northwest Territories, you’ll find gentle grades and plenty of elbow room even for the broadest RV. The Liard Trail into the Dehcho Region from Northern B.C. can get soft after heavy rains, so again, ask ahead.

Expect wide-open spaces to beautiful places on road trips into Canada's Northwest Territories.

Q: Is the traffic bad?

Ha! There’s almost zero traffic – so you can take your time without worrying about a line of vehicles honking impatiently behind you. Even Yellowknife is pretty easy to navigate in a motorhome. The only thing likely to hold up traffic in the NWT is a herd of bison.

Be sure to gas up when you stop in a community in Canada's Northwest Territories.

Q: Will I run out of gas?

Not if you plan ahead. In the southern NWT, the longest stretches without gas are the 236 kilometres between Fort Simpson and Wrigley and the 213 kilometres between Fort Providence and Behchokǫ̀. On the Dempster, there’s no gas for 363 kilometres between Klondike Corners and Eagle Plains.

Be sure to gas up whenever you can.

Open skies on a road trip into Canada's Northwest Territories.

Q: Any advice on tires?

Make sure they’re in good condition – and, especially if you’re driving the Dempster, consider bringing two spares. RV drivers should try to keep their weight down by emptying their grey water before hitting the road, as unnecessary weight can be hard on tires.

Camp at the Northwest Territories beautiful campgrounds on your northern RV road trip.

Q: And what if I need repairs?

All of the NWT's regional hubs (Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River, Fort Smith, and Fort Simpson) have service stations and tire fix-it shops. If it's a major repair, it may take a day or two for parts to get shipped up, but that’ll just give you more time to relax with the locals and go fishing.

Say hello to the ferryman plying his boat over a wild river in Canada's Northwest Territories

Q: I see rivers on the map, but no bridges…

Never fear. Public ferries are waiting to carry you across the Liard, Peel and Mackenzie rivers. They’re free and easy: roll-on, roll-off. But they close overnight, so don’t arrive too late, or you’ll be bunking down beside the water – which really isn't so bad.

Stop anywhere and soak up the scenery on a road trip into Canada's Northwest Territories

Q: Is there radio reception?

CBC Radio can be received near most communities along the highway, but it deteriorates quickly outside of them. You may want to bring your own music or download some podcasts for the ride.

Q: Will my cell phone have reception along the highway?

Only around communities, but likely not in between them. Check with your phone company to make sure it has Northern coverage – some providers do not operate in the NWT.

Lush foliage on a road trip in Canada's Northwest Territories.

Q: What about rocks and dust on the roads?

Yep, on unsealed roads flying rocks can be a problem. Some people install little screens over their headlights. Also, be careful when passing – and being passed – on dusty stretches. It can cause a brief smoke-screen, which momentarily reduces visibility.

Grizzly bears on the the Dempster Highway in Canada's Northwest Territories

Q: Any other hazards?

Watch for wildlife on the road – bears, moose, lynx, and especially bison. Passing through the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary or Wood Buffalo National Park, you’re sure to encounter these one-tonne beasts strolling down the road. Stop, snap photos, and let them clear the road in their own sweet time.

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