Ever since the first waters flowed, waterfalls have mesmerized. And Canada’s Northwest Territories, with an almost unseemly share of the world’s water and no end of cliffs for it to spill from, is a waterfall wonderland. Whether it’s a frothing roadside chute in the South Slave region, an ear-splitting tsunami in the Mackenzie Mountains, or an idyllic pour-over in the Barrenlands, these Northern waterfalls are examples of nature at its most powerful, peaceful and primeval.
A liquid avalanche that never quits, the North’s showcase waterfall each day sends 100 million tonnes of the Nahanni River down a 30-storey face. For generations, Dene Indigenous people have made pilgrimages to Virginia Falls. Sometimes they have been joined by particularly hardy and persistent travelers touring the Nahanni National Park. Even if you’re not religious, you leave Virginia Falls feeling like you’ve just been blessed.
Lady Evelyn Falls
So perfect it seems planned, this road-accessible cascade is just outside the little village of Kakisa, a five-minute turnoff of Highway 1. It occurs where the Kakisa River jumps off an ancient coral reef, forming a crescent-shaped, 17-metre-high curtain of spray.
La Ronciere Falls
Because of its rugged, vast and yet simple landscape, Tuktut Nogait National Park is also just spectacular. The park skirts the famous Northwest Passage, the sea route that takes you along the Canadian shores from the Atlantic through the Arctic seas to the Pacific – or the other way around. Up here, 200 kilometres above the Arctic Circle, the Hornaday River takes this 21-metre plunge near the end of its canyon-flanked journey into the Arctic Ocean.
This booming, 10-storey spillover on the Hay River can be found just off of Highway 1 and it's the centerpiece of Twin Falls Territorial Park, not far from Enterprise. Here, for the first time after crossing the 60th parallel, you can get gasoline, groceries and handmade souvenirs; a motel is also in town. In 2003, an American adventurer had the crazy idea to kayak down Alexandra Falls. You might wonder how, but he actually survived. For the “normal” Canada-lovers among us a photo stop at the waterfall is spectacular enough!
Once at Alexandra Falls, why not go on another hike? A three-kilometre stroll downriver from Alexandra Falls or upriver from Enterprise, this tiered, 15-metre-high cataract in the Hay River Canyon is visible from one of the finest (and most popular) campgrounds in the Northwest Territories.
Eight-metre-high Parry Falls, on the Lockhart River at the east tip of Great Slave Lake, is a sacred site. Here is found Ts’ankui Theda, the Old Lady of the Falls – a medicine woman who is said to sit in a cave behind the waterfall. The people of Lutsel K'e host a spiritual gathering here every summer, paying their respects and making offerings.
About 45 minutes by road east of Yellowknife, a short, scenic trail leads over the undulating outcrops to 17-metre Cameron Falls. Here, the Cameron River takes a tumble en route to Great Slave Lake. A bridge straddles the river, allowing picnickers to access the placid bank on the far side and anglers to descend to the fish-filled pools at the base of the waterfall.
Sambaa Deh Falls
Roaring directly beneath the Mackenzie Highway not far from the community of Jean Marie River, flashy, splashy Sambaa Deh Falls gets deserved attention from motorists. Roughly one kilometre upstream, there is another waterfall - Coral Falls, a sweeter, shyer fall that invites fossil-seekers.
The stunning Whatı̀ Waterfalls, known as “Nàı̨lı̨ı̨” in Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì, features two 20m high thundering spillways, with several kilometres of cascading rapids downstream with fine grayling fishing in the rapids below. The waterfall is only a short drive from the Tłı̨chǫ community of Whatı̀, which is connected to the rest of the NWT by the recently constructed Tłı̨chǫ All Season Road (HWY9). In addition to Nàı̨lı̨ı̨ there are many reasons to venture out on the land. Local operators offer guided tours and can show you the best spots to fish, picnic, and take in the scenery.
Not far from the Canol Trail west of Norman Wells, Carcajou Falls splashes over a stony escarpment, sending spray into the mountain air. It's considered one of the most idyllic waterfalls in the North, and it's almost never visited.
Further information on the Northwest Territories can be found at www.spectacularnwt.com.