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Heart-pounding views: Flightseeing in the Northwest Territories

Nahanni National Park - Credit: George Fischer

If you really want to understand the Northwest Territories, you should climb to lofty heights. For it is only the bird's eye perspective that reveals the impressive country in Canada's North in all its glory.

Small planes take off from many communities for spectacular flightseeing tours. They promise a breathtaking view of unique landscapes, the scale of which you can't even remotely imagine from the ground. Steep peaks and plunging waterfalls loom in view. Huge herds of bison and caribou pass directly beneath the viewers. Remote ghost towns that have all but disappeared from the map come to life. Legendary lakes and swamps spread out on the horizon. When you land back on the ground after an hour (or maybe a day), you will have seen incredible things and looked beyond the boundaries of the world. The heart beats faster, not only during the flight, but sustainably - for Canada's North.

Here are the top 5 flightseeing adventures in the Northwest Territories:

#5 Canol Trail

This is a flight through history: Departing from the town of Norman Wells, your flightseeing tour will take you twisting through the Mackenzie Mountains, tracing the Canol Trail – a ghostly military-supply route carved through impossible country during the frenzy of World War Two.

You'll witness the mouldering evidence of this monumental endeavour – airstrips, barracks, old army trucks, and remnants of the road-bed. Plus, you'll see famous Dodo Canyon, proud Carcajou Falls, and wild critters (like grizzlies, caribou, moose and mountain sheep) that have never laid eyes on a human being.

Carcajou Falls - Credit: Geri Sigl

#4 The East Arm

The East Arm of Great Slave may be the most scenic swath of lakeshore in Canada. Guarded by Canada's newest national park, Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve, the glorious East Arm of Great Slave Lake is 27,000 square kilometres of spectacular and pristine waterways, forests and Canadian Shield.

Taking off from Yellowknife, you'll soar over this glittering expanse of trout-filled bays, cliff-flanked channels, and red-rock island. Below you'll see sailboats leaning against the breeze, fishing lodges busy with anglers, and historic outposts from the North's explorer-past. Muskoxen, moose and bears are often spotted here. Pure glory: a paradise, in blue, green and gold. It's the prettiest sight you'll ever see, from the perfect vantage point, a thousand feet high and floating.

East Arm of Great Slave Lake - Credit: Corey Myers & NWT Tourism

#3 Wood Buffalo National Park

Here it is: the biggest protected area in North America, rolling out before you like a canvas of grandeur. Wood Buffalo has just a handful of roads, meaning most of this Switzerland-sized park can only be experienced from the air.

You'll see the furious house-high waves of the Slave River Rapids, the glittering and otherworldly Salt Plains, and the biologically teeming Peace-Athabasca Delta – Earth's greatest inland estuary. You'll also see the park's namesakes: the biggest herd of wild bison left in North America, browsing the boreal plains and kicking up dust. To look down upon them is to peer backwards in time, into a pure and primordial age. Drink it in.

Woodbisons in Salt Plains in Wood Buffalo National Parks - Credit: Terry Parker

#2 The Mackenzie Delta

Just upstream from Inuvik, Canada's greatest river splits into a million tendrils and the whole world turns into water. Your pilot will guide you out over the Mackenzie Delta, weaving above its maze of channels and pointing out the birds and beasts that thrive in the liquid below. Farther along, there's the Arctic Ocean, often sheathed in ice, sometimes splashing with whales, and always wrapped in mystery as it stretches toward the pole.

Also here: pingos! Those famous, ice-filled hills, erupting from the tundra in Parks Canada's Pingo Canadian Landmark. And finally, plucky Tuktoyaktuk, our hub of Inuvialuit culture, perched precariously on the polar shore, proud of its title as the Northwest Territories' largest outpost north of the treeline.

Mackenzie Delta - Credit: Terry Parker

#1 Nahanni National Park

Nahanni is the granddaddy of all flightseeing destinations. When your plane rises from Fort Simpson, the famous features will soon leap into view. Your pilot will call out their names: the Headless Range. Deadmen Valley. Hell's Gate. Sunblood Peak, Lotus Flower Tower and the Cirque of the Unclimables. Little Doctor Lake. Scimitar Canyon. The Moose Ponds and Rabbitkettle Mound. And of course the centrepiece of it all, Virginia Falls, 30 stories high and roaring beneath your wingtip, too mighty to be believed.

It's a tour every Canadian should take at least once – a pilgrimage, almost. For everyone else, it will merely be the trip of a lifetime – promised!

Virginia Falls in Nahanni National Park - Credit: Darren Roberts

Further information on the Northwest Territories can be found at


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