When to Visit
When’s the right time to come to the Northwest Territories? The answer is obvious. The right time is now.
Up here, every season is surreal and unforgettable. Summer, of course, boasts open water, splendid camping, hot weather and the delirious midnight sun. Autumn offers vivid colours in the mountains and bountiful berry-picking in the Barrenlands, plus blissful displays of the Aurora Borealis. The Northern Lights are even more striking as the crystal-clear winter sets in, making the colder months of the year the NWT’s prime tourist season. And finally, in the springtime, the sun returns with vigour to bathe this snowcapped land, making this the perfect period for snowmobiling, dogsledding, ice-fishing, skiing and more.
Where to Visit
There’s truly something spectacular to find in every corner of the Northwest Territories. From enduring and untouched landscapes to thriving and vibrant communities, some people will spend a lifetime taking in the breadth and diversity of the territory. The five regions of the NWT all have their own landmarks, cultures, and unique adventures to experience.
The North Slave Region is named after one of its largest defining features. It’s the Region north of Great Slave Lake. Here, you can find the capital city of Yellowknife, bustling and lively year round. Out on the East Arm, you’ll find the towering red cliffs plunging into the deepest lake in North America near Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve, and the dramatic Barrenlands.
The Western Arctic is the NWT’s northernmost Region, a treeless tundra that is nonetheless very much alive with activity and community. Here, you’ll find many of the North’s iconic animals, from polar bears to muskoxen and beluga whales. It’s all here, along with the people who call it home — the Gwich’in and Inuvialuit, who’ve thrived here for millennia
The Sahtu is a Region of renowned rivers and legendary lakes. At the very cusp of the Arctic Circle, you’ll find a mountainous landscape crisscrossed by waterways like the Mackenzie, Redstone, and Keele. The untrodden core of the territory is also where you’ll find the grand inland body of water, the largest entirely in Canada – Great Bear Lake. The Region is known around the world by avid anglers and canoeists looking for adventure.
In the Dehcho Region, where the Northwest Territories borders British Columbia and the Yukon, you’ll find some of the grandest displays of the North’s natural beauty. Dehcho means “big river” – the Dene name for the Mackenzie River – and it’s only one of the defining natural features of the Dehcho. Full of unclimbable heights, roaring waterfalls, and colossal canyons, the Dehcho is the definition of spectacular. Communities there are eager to welcome you and show off their marvelous surroundings.
The South Slave is a place of big waters, big wildlife, wide open spaces, and welcoming residents. If you’re travelling by road, this is the gateway to the NWT’s wild frontier. The South Slave is also a land of wilderness, where the North’s iconic animals roam free. Bison amble along the roads and a huge variety of birds gather in the lakes deep within parks and outside of communities.
The bottom line is there is no right answer to where you should visit in the NWT. In a land so rich with natural beauty and history, a place so expansive that it covers many diverse landscapes, and a home to so many different peoples and cultures, there’s something spectacular about every part of the NWT.
What to Expect
Certainly, a more relaxed and humane pace of life.
But remember that not all NWT towns are built the same. In Yellowknife and larger communities like Fort Smith, Hay River and Inuvik, you can expect to find most – if not all – of the every-day amenities you would in the south. Once you arrive in smaller communities though, you may not have access to a 24-hour-a-day grocery store or gas station, for example. So be sure to plan accordingly.
What to Pack
This depends on when you’re planning to come.
In winter, bring all of the outdoor gear you’d expect to need to stay warm in Northern Canada: a thick parka, heavy-duty winter boots, mitts, a scarf, toque and snow-pants. You can definitely rent or purchase these items in Yellowknife and most NWT communities, but when you take that first step off of the plane in the brisk and magical Northwest Territories, you want your only focus to be on the mesmerizing Aurora Borealis dancing miles above you.
Come summer, you’ll want to pack your sunscreen (for the 24-hours of daylight, of course). If you plan on spending time in the backcountry, you will want to pick up some bug-spray and maybe even bring a bug-jacket. And for longer hikes outside of NWT communities, it may give you peace of mind to take some bear-spray with you, just in case you have a chance encounter with one of the territory’s furrier residents.
Most importantly, make sure you bring your sense of adventure. The Northwest Territories is a land of beauty, with friendly and hospitable people eager to make yours an unforgettable visit.