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NWT themed highway routes

Some of the best memories are made while sitting around the campfire, exploring new trails, catching a fish or dipping your toe in water. In the Northwest Territories (NWT), where open spaces are plentiful and wanderlust rules, your next great camping experience is just around the corner.

The fall colours on the Dempster Highway continuously wow you with every turn. © Terry Parker/NWT Tourism

Pack up your camping gear or RV and come and explore one (or more!) of NWT’s eight themed highway routes. A total of 32 territorial parks, including a mix of campgrounds and day-use areas, are speckled along the route to provide you with a place to rest and experience nature.

By road, there are three ways to enter the NWT — via Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon.

Alberta’s Highway 35 becomes NWT Highway 1 and the beginning of the majestic Waterfalls Route. As you enter the North, make sure you commemorate your journey with a “selfie” at the iconic 60th Parallel sign. Here you will also find a welcoming visitor centre and an opportunity to look at Aboriginal arts and crafts displays and visual presentations of the North.

Most of the waterfalls along this route are located in the territorial parks (except Wallace Creek). The waterfalls are easy to access and most of them are a short walk from the park’s parking lot or campground area. The awe and the sounds of these waterfalls will not disappoint you. Pack a picnic and enjoy lunch with a front-row seat to the waterfalls — even five-star restaurants can’t compete with these impressive views.

Waterfall Checklist

  • Alexandra Falls
  • Louise Falls
  • Lady Evelyn Falls
  • Sambaa Deh Falls
  • Coral Falls
  • McNallie Creek Falls
  • Wallace Creek Falls
On Saturdays throughout the summer enjoy local fish, produce, and yummy treats at the Fisherman’s Wharf in Hay River. © Tara Tompkins/NWT Tourism

Continue along Highway 1 to experience the Heritage Trail Route. Free vehicle ferries will take you across the scenic Liard River to Fort Simpson and across the Mackenzie River to Wrigley, the most northern part of Highway 1’s all-weather road.

Once you set up your RV or tent in the Fort Simpson Territorial Park campground, take your camera and go for a stroll through the community and enjoy views of the confluence of the Liard and Mackenzie Rivers. The 55-foot-high teepee in the historic Papal Site was built by the stars of the hit reality-TV show Timber Kings in 2016 and makes a great photography subject.

During the fur trading years, Fort Simpson was an important location for the Northwest Trading Company (subsequently, Hudson’s Bay Company). Today, it is a destination to start a fly-in trip to experience the stunning Nahanni National Park Reserve.

Did you know you can see Aurora during mid-August? The teepee in Fort Simpson makes a great photography subject beneath the Aurora! © Todd Noseworthy/NWT Tourism

Entering the NWT from British Columbia, your journey begins on the Liard Trail Route (Highway 7) you will be travelling northeast from Fort Liard to Checkpoint. Blackstone Territorial Park provides great scenic views of the Liard River and Nahanni mountains. Its proximity to the South Nahanni and Blackstone Rivers makes it a great location for the start or the end point for canoeists, boaters, or anglers.

The Great Slave Route begins on Highway 2 and travels along Highways 5 and 6. It takes you to the communities of Hay River and Fort Resolution. Make sure you visit the Great Slave Lake beaches in Hay River. The sandy shores are dotted with drift wood and are a great spot to spend the day swimming, reading a booking and watching barges and fishing vessels go by. The Hay River Territorial Park is located on one of these beaches and is a perfect spot to relax on your journey. Try to schedule your summer trip to this area around a Saturday to make sure you can visit the Hay River’s Fisherman’s Wharf for fresh filets from Great Slave Lake, local produce and crafts.

Wood Buffalo Route travels through Wood Buffalo National Park, the largest National Park in North America, to the Town of Fort Smith. Some unique must-sees along this route include:

  • Bison (drive with caution, as they can be on the road)
  • Salt Plains
  • Pelicans at the Slave River rapids in Fort Smith
  • Whooping Cranes
  • Fort Smith Mission Heritage Park

Queen Elizabeth Territorial Park is located just outside of Fort Smith. The park connects with trails to views of the Slave River, whose rapids provide a world class venue for white water kayaking and rafting. If you are a whitewater enthusiast, coordinate your trip with Paddlefest, a thrilling summer paddling event that takes place in Fort Smith.

The Frontier Trail Route spans the north side of Great Slave Lake as you travel on Highway 3. Interesting communities along this route are Fort Providence, Rae, Edzo, N’Dilo, and Yellowknife. Your trip will take you across the Mackenzie River via the Deh Cho Bridge. Built in 2012, the bridge provides all-season road travel to a route that was previously serviced only by ferry and ice road. For about 80 km from the bridge is an area set aside for free roaming wood bison. Be on the lookout and use caution as bison will often be on the highway.

Several parks on this route allow you to connect with nature. The Fort Providence Territorial Park provides an opportunity to camp and fish to further experience the Mackenzie River. Nature’s wonders continue with a stop at Chan Lake Territorial Park Day Use Area where you can pull out your binoculars to look for Sandhill cranes and waterfowl. North Arm Territorial Park provides a great stopping point and viewpoint of Great Slave Lake. Fred Henne Territorial Park, located in Yellowknife, is the busiest of all the parks. Here you can enjoy a swim in Long Lake or a hike on Prospector’s Trail.

Yellowknife is the capital of the NWT and contains approximately half (20,000) of the territory’s population.Here you will again have access to Great Slave Lake. Great views of the city and the houseboats that dot Great Slave Lake can be found from Pilot’s Monument. Some key sites to visit include the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre to view cultural and historical displays and the Legislative Assembly building that has tours explaining one of the most unique legislatures in Canada.Informative tours highlight NWT’s consensus style government and the traditional values of the people of NWT, which is also explained in the design of the building.

As you travel east from Yellowknife you will head down the Ingraham Trail Route — a location that is a very popular recreation area for locals. Approximately 10 km down this route, you will find the access road to the Dene community of Dettah, which, during the winter time, is also serviced by an ice road across Great Slave Lake. The Ingraham Trail Route contains campgrounds and many day use parks that provide waterfront settings and easy access to water for swimming, boating and canoeing. Hiking on the Cameron River Falls Trail in Hidden Lake Territorial Park is a popular hike with locals and visitors.

You can enter NWT through the Yukon by travelling along the epic Dempster Highway Route. The “Dempster” encompasses a 740-km adventure that begins 40 km east of Dawson City, Yukon, and ends in Inuvik, NWT.This route takes you on the only public highway in Canada that crosses the Arctic Circle! It is a bucket list trip for sure and people come from all over the world to complete the journey. If visiting from mid-June through early August, you will enjoy 24 hours of daylight which further adds to the memories of this trip.

Park campground and other tourist accommodations and services are located along the Dempster Highway (in both the Yukon and NWT sections). Before you begin your journey, it is recommended that you stop in at one of the NWT visitor centres located in Dawson City or the Town of Inuvik to find out more about current road conditions. Both visitor centres have amazing displays to help introduce you to the region. Also worth a visit is a stop at the Nitainlaii Territorial Park interpretive centre, approximately 75 km past the NWT/Yukon border, to learn more about the Gwich’in people.

Stunning mountain ranges will awe you, as will the changes in the landscape and opportunities to see wildlife. Free vehicle ferries will take you across the Peel River to Fort McPherson, and the Mackenzie River and Arctic Red River to the Community of Tsiigehtchic and onward to Inuvik. Make sure you let ferry personnel know you want to go to Tsiigehtchic, so they make that stop!

Gwich’in Territorial Park (approximately 277 km past the NWT/Yukon border) connects visitors to two campgrounds, two day-use areas and a scenic lookout. Natural wonders make up and surround this park: limestone cliffs, rare Arctic plant communities, migratory bird staging areas, and Campbell Lake, an example of a reversing delta. Reaching Inuvik, you will have driven the iconic Dempster! Check out the Igloo Church — Inuvik’s best known landmark and the Community Greenhouse, a former arena and now a gardener’s paradise.

Your adventure doesn’t stop at Inuvik, as there are opportunities to explore other Western Arctic communities through various tour operators. And, of course, your trip back down the Dempster will provide you with a whole new perspective of the route.

Shortly visitors will be able to explore the Western Arctic further with the new all-weather highway from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk scheduled to open in the fall of 2017. This road will connect road travellers to the Arctic Ocean year-round!

The Northwest Territories provides an opportunity to explore and build new camping memories. What are you waiting for? Pack the marshmallows, grab your camera and get ready to be inspired.

Visit nwtparks.ca and download or request a copy of the Northwest Territories Road and Campground Guide for more information about themed routes, parks, communities and other attractions and services. Tara Tompkins is the Manager, Park Operations, Government of Northwest Territories.