Sponsored by Spectacular NWT
Adventure lives in Canada’s Northwest Territories. With more than 1.14 million square-kilometres to explore—and only about 45,000 residents—the NWT is home to breathtaking wildlife experiences, impressive natural wonders, rich Indigenous cultures, heart-thumping action sports and serene natural excursions.
When it’s safe to travel again—follow your adventurous heart north. Your dream trip awaits. In the meantime, get inspired by these top 10 experiences in the NWT:
Night at the Beach Hay River NWT - Mark Jinks
Did you know the Auroral Oval—the halo of Northern Lights encircling Earth’s geomagnetic poles—passes right overtop of Yellowknife, the capital city of and main entry point to the Northwest Territories? Averaging more than 200 days of clear aurora viewing per year, the NWT boasts the best Aurora viewing in the country. Visitors can view the dancing lights in autumn, amid cool nights and gently lapping lakes; or in the sub-zero temperatures of winter, when the landscape is layered in snow and ice.
The Dempster Highway
Welcome to the continent’s most incredible road-trip. Beginning near Dawson City, Yukon, and winding 740 kilometres north to Inuvik, Northwest Territories, the all-season Dempster Highway is an adventure showcase. Snap a selfie at the Arctic Circle signpost (yes, you will cross 66 degrees north!); stand agog amidst the alpine tundra and remote peaks of the Richardson Range; camp at one of six campsites on the NWT side; and enjoy hospitality—and guided adventures—in the friendly full-service town of Inuvik, the economic centre of the Western Arctic. Looking for more adventure? Keep driving north to Tuktoyaktuk and dip your toes in the Arctic Ocean.
The Midnight Sun
You may have heard of the midnight sun—now experience its magic for yourself. During summer, certain areas of the Northwest Territories receive 24 hours of beaming sunlight—but it’s more than simply bright. Birds sing at 2:00 a.m. Folks on camping trips sleep during the day and hike throughout the evening during an elongated and ethereal Golden Hour. Kids ride bikes at midnight; families host barbecues well past bedtime; sport anglers cast a line as the sun grazes the hilltops, and fight fish deep into the night. It’s a fascinating experience for curious travellers.
Nahanni National Park Reserve
This is an icon of Canada’s north. Traditional lands of the Dehcho First Nation, Nahanni National Park Reserve—or Nahʔą Dehé—occupies more than 30,000 square-kilometres of the NWT’s southwest region. This UNESCO world heritage site may be best known as a paddling destination, with the famed Nahanni River snaking through tall canyons within—but more attractions, like the thunderous cascade of Virginia Falls, the picturesque Cirque of the Unclimbables, pastoral Fairy Meadows, au naturel hot springs, fascinating geological features (like tufa mounds!) and near-endless hikes create an all-encompassing bucket-list adventure destination.
Great Slave Lake
Corey Myers Photography
It’s almost hard to fathom the depth and breadth of Great Slave Lake. The second-largest lake entirely within Canada (next to NWT’s own Great Bear Lake), this leviathan freshwater body is roughly the same size as Belgium. Plus, at more than 615 metres deep, it’s the deepest lake in North America. And it’s right next door to Yellowknife, making lakebound adventures some of the most accessible experiences in the territory. From serene shoreline paddles to sport-fishing for hard-fighting lake trout and pike, to boat tours and more, Great Slave offers lake-lovers a lifetime of experiences.
Come winter, the Northwest Territories is ultimate place to find ice roads. A massive web of frozen freeways extends throughout the territory, spanning nearly 2,000 kilometres and suitable for a variety of vehicles. From Yellowknife, you can start with a cruise over the four-foot-thick ice of Great Slave Lake to the Dene village of Dettah. Looking for something a little further afield? Try driving the ice road to Aklavik, which begins in Inuvik, and continues through the Arctic landscape for 117 kilometres. On every route, you’ll find unique scenery, friendly communities and serenity galore.
Your first question might be—what’s a pingo? It’s a unique ice-cored hill; a periglacial landform only found in areas of permafrost, formed by freezing and thawing underground lakes. Tuktoyaktuk, in the Northwest Territories, has the largest concentration of pingos on Earth—some 1,350 of these wonders surround the area. Eight of these pingos are stewarded in Parks Canada’s Pingo National Landmark; throughout the region they range from budding newborns to elderly pingos slumping back into the earth, some a mere five metres tall up to towering 70-metre cones.
If your idea of fun involves a boat and a PFD, you’re in luck. The Northwest Territories has paddling excursions for everybody. Novice canoeists can enjoy the protected waters of Houseboat or Back bays, on Great Slave Lake, accessed from Yellowknife. Experienced paddlers can tackle iconic waterways like the Thelon, Coppermine, Nahanni and Hornaday rivers. What about multi-day guided rafting trips? You bet! In fact, the lakes and rivers of the Northwest Territories are even home to stand-up paddleboard adventures and whitewater kayaking trips. Endless possibilities!
Within the borders of the Northwest Territories, you’ll discover some of the largest tracts of pristine wilderness on Earth. Of course, these areas are rich with wildlife—and one of the signature wildlife-viewing opportunities is of the wood bison. These lumbering beasts can weigh a metric tonne and stand two metres tall at the shoulder. They roam the landscape, pushing onto roads and highways in herds and offering accessible and responsible viewing opportunities. Bigger and darker than their southern cousins—the plains bison—these brutes are the largest land animals in the Western Hemisphere, and a must-see for any wildlife enthusiast.
Wood Buffalo National Park
It’s fitting that this park, home to North America’s largest land mammal, is also Canada’s largest national park. At 44,807 square-kilometres, Wood Buffalo National Park is larger than Switzerland. Imagine the adventures that await within this stewarded landscape of serene boreal forest, otherworldly salt plains, the Peace-Athabasca River Delta and more… Look for the world’s last surviving whooping cranes. Listen to wolves howl. Spot black bear tracks. And of course, snap a photo—from a safe distance—of the lumbering wood bison. Access this year-round park from Fort Smith. Accommodations range from comfy cabins to remote backcountry camping. And adventure is guaranteed.
Learn more about exciting adventures in the Northwest Territories at spectacularnwt.com.