Face it, we’re not all seeking the same comforts and qualities when we pull into a campground. After a long day of highway driving, some want to glamp it up and relax with all the conveniences of home. Others are just looking for a stretch of flat ground to roll out their sleeping bag before heading out to explore the endless wilderness around them.
Luckily in the Northwest Territories, there’s a place for everyone—and that makes for a lot of happy campers. But a word to the wise, book your site early—NWT campgrounds will fill up, especially on weekends and holidays.
Hay River Territorial Park Campground in Hay River
Roll into Hay River to grab some burgers, buns and refreshments, and continue through town to Vale Island until you reach the campground. Now, park your RV in one of more than 30 large, shaded sites, set the kids loose and relax.
If you’ve got a few hours to kill, grab your book and dig your feet into the sandy beach a short walk away. If you get too hot, have a dip in Great Slave Lake. (That will cool you down quickly.) After dinner, bring the dog for a walk down a forested trail along the lake shore. Or explore nearby Old Town. Investigate the large, rusted tankers and fishing vessels to learn about the town’s storied marine history.
Just make sure you get back to the beach to take in a long, breathtaking sunset over the lake. (No rush—if you’re there in June or July, that won’t happen until 10 or 11 p.m.)
Happy Valley Territorial Park in Inuvik
Stop in Inuvik for a couple of nights and pitch your tent in Happy Valley Territorial Park, literally a stone’s throw from downtown.
Soak your bones in a hot shower following your drive up the Dempster Highway and, after a short nap, explore the town’s famous landmarks like Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, just minutes away by foot. Feeling peckish? Head down the road to Alestine’s, a charming restaurant that serves up locally sourced whitefish tacos and reindeer chilli with a smile.
But beware, time will play tricks on you so far above the Arctic Circle, where the sun just doesn't go down in the summer. So make sure you have some hotdog wieners to cook up back at your campsite for the very real scenario that you went out looking for restaurants at 2 a.m., thinking it was actually dinnertime.
Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park, near Jean Marie River
From the bridge over the Trout River, you couldn’t be blamed if you spent an entire day trying to comprehend how the rushing waters below carved such a dramatic gorge into your rocky surroundings. But after meeting the friendly and helpful staff at Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park who explain everything you can do at the park, you’ll probably
want to get moving.
You can explore a network of trails around the river, including a hike a couple of kilometres upstream to look for fossils at Coral Falls. Or you might beat the heat by lounging in pools of cool water above the falls. (But don’t get too close!) You will definitely want to stop and take some photos of Sambaa Deh Falls from the bridge, as the river crashes through the path its cut for itself through the limestone over millions of years. Bring your fishing rod, because all you have to do is follow a trail along the canyon rim and down below the falls to cast a line for Northern pike, walleye and Arctic grayling. They’re usually biting.
By now, you’re probably hungry. Trek back to the campsite to fillet and fry up your catch and then crawl into your sleeping bag, exhausted after a fun-filled day.
Blackstone Territorial Park, between Fort Liard and Fort Simpson
Ideally placed between Fort Liard and Fort Simpson on the Liard Highway, this is the perfect spot to stop to catch up on some shuteye.
Make sure you’ve gassed up and grabbed supplies in either Fort Liard or Fort Simpson before you set off for this well-maintained and picturesque park. That way, you can enjoy an evening picnic without a care in the world. Set down your blanket near the fast-flowing Liard River—you’ll get a view of the mountain bluff that overlooks the small community of Nahanni Butte, across the river. You may also get lucky and meet some paddlers coming in after a weeklong adventure in Nahanni National Park.
Break some bread and share a story or two around a campfire, before retiring to bed for a peaceful night’s sleep at this quiet park.
Queen Elizabeth Territorial Park in Fort Smith
They’re friendly. They’re funny. And best of all, NWT Parks staff know their stuff. So, when you pull into an NWT campground, you might as well think of the first person to greet you as a friend in waiting. NWT parks staff are famous not only for their attentiveness, but also their ability to spin a yarn. That’s because they’ve seen it all—many have been doing the job for years and they’ll know exactly what you want to do before you’ve even stepped out of your vehicle.
If you’re staying at Queen Elizabeth Territorial Park in Fort Smith, this will include daytrips to the nearby salt flats or to gawk at the hulking bison in Wood Buffalo National Park. Or maybe you will want to see the white pelicans at Mountain Rapids. Or test your white-water kayaking skills in the world-class Slave River rapids.
At any rate, since many NWT campgrounds are used by travellers and locals alike, you’re sure to meet some new friends to share these experiences with. Or, at the very least, a campfire at the end of the day.
Reid Lake Territorial Park, outside of Yellowknife
You arrived in Yellowknife and it exceeded all expectations. Under a midnight sun, you filled up on fresh fish at Bullocks Bistro and tested a flight of local craft beers at the Woodyard Pub. From Pilot’s Monument, you watched a Twin Otter on floats come in to gently kiss the calm waters on Yellowknife Bay, as house-boaters made their paddle-powered commute home in the background. Still, you find yourself longing for the outdoors.
Fortunately for you, a whole world of adventure exists a short drive down the Ingraham Trail—a highway dreamed up by John Diefenbaker in the 1960s as a Road to Resources that never really got finished. Drive across the Yellowknife River bridge, and weave around too many lakes to count until you get to Reid Lake Territorial Park, roughly 50 minutes from the city. Here, you’ll find a beach, a playground, a boat launch and the ideal base to discover the rest of the what the network of lakes and parks along the Ingraham Trail has to offer.
Make sure to stop at the Cameron Falls Day-Use Area for a short hike into the namesake falls. Closer to Reid, explore recently charred forest and watch how nature regrows after a wildfire. You may find some morel mushrooms—and forget the big city’s only an hour away.