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Off the beaten path: 17 authentic experiences in Canada’s Northwest Territories


Credit: Colin Field & NWT Tourism

Many visitors get to know the Northwest Territories in a classic way within the framework of the well-known tourist offers - and experience a lot of fun! But if you want to get to know the region like a local and become part of it, you should not miss certain experiences! Many of them, by the way, are completely free! Here’s 17 ways to do the Northwest to the fullest:


See the “Big Four”

The “Big Four” include muskoxen, caribou, moose and bison. All these species call the Northwest Territories home – it’s one of Canada's largest untouched wilderness areas and a paradise for the four-legged fellows! There are excellent wildlife viewing opportunities almost everywhere: on the North's unique highways, from bush planes and boats, on winter's ice roads, and on guided tours with local outfitters. Let's go on a polar safari!


Muskoxen on Victoria Island - Credit: Wayne Lynch

Land a 40-pounder

… because any fish smaller is what we call “bait”. Whether fly fishing for grayling or pike, targeting trout while trolling, trying your hand at ice fishing, or simply casting a lure from shore, every fisherman in the Northwest Territories is sure to hook a fish sooner or later. The huge rivers, quiet streams and hundreds of lakes (named and unnamed) are notorious for their abundance of giant fish eager to take the bait.


Fishing on Great Slave Lake - Credit: Corey Myers

Fly in the co-pilot’s seat

The Northwest Territories are a true flightseeing paradise. Scenic flights take off from many different locations in all directions, promising breathtaking bird's-eye views of rugged landscapes and wildlife. How about flying over the beautiful East Arm of Great Slave Lake, over galloping herds of bison in Wood Buffalo National Park, over the imposing peaks of the Mackenzie Range, or the uninhabited Barrens where huge herds of caribou roam the land? Flying in a small plane is cool. Landing on the water? Even cooler! If you've never sat in a seaplane, the Northwest Territories is the best place for a first experience with this mode of transportation. Bonus points for anyone who takes a ski plane in the winter!


Floatplane on the Mackenzie River - Credit: Angela Gzowski

Steer a dog sled

In the Northwest Territories, the dog sled was once the most popular form of winter transportation. That tradition continues today with dog sled races as a spectator sport. It's fun to steer a team of eager huskies, and the rules are fairly simple. You can also leave the driving to experienced mushers and let them pull you through the countryside as a passenger on the sled. But in fact, that doesn't really count...!


Credit: Destination Canada

Drive to the end of the road

The roads of the Northwest Territories pass through scenic, unspoiled wilderness, yet there are campgrounds, picnic areas, gas stations and visitor information along all major highways. Three highways in the south connect with the legendary northern routes. After a drive on the Alaska Highway through the Yukon, you reach the iconic Dempster Highway, which leads to the center of the western Arctic at Inuvik. From there, you continue on the still fairly new all-season road to the Arctic Ocean, ending in the friendly Inuvialuit community of Tuktoyaktuk. In Alberta, follow Alberta Highway 35 north through the lush boreal forests to meet NWT Highway 1 and the "waterfall route" south of Hay River. Many impressive waterfalls line the route here and invite to beautiful stops. From British Columbia, Highway 77 takes you to the pioneering Liard Highway, which parallels the Mackenzie Mountains in the lush Dehcho region of the NWT and ends in Fort Simpson. However, the highlight of any road trip is going beyond the end of the road - on foot, by canoe, or by snowmobile.


Credit: Ole Helmhausen

Ski through the frosted forest

Once all the lakes and rivers of the Northwest Territories freeze over in winter, limitless opportunities open up with trails and passages that simply aren't there in the summer. Ski clubs in various communities groom first-class trail networks that are wonderful for gliding through the woodsy Winter Wonderland. Little bonus: in the Northwest Territories' super-cold winter, a frosty layer of ice forms on every cold surface, bathing each trail in a unique, glistening light.


Credit: Emmanuel Chaillon & NWT Tourism

Sail out of sight of land

In the Northwest Territories, the lakes are like vast freshwater oceans with plenty of room for (sail) boats. Great Slave Lake is one of the best sailing spots in the world - pristine and almost deserted. Sailors can spend weeks cruising the East Arm of the lake without seeing another boat up close. In addition, there is excellent fishing and a variety of shoreline landscapes (from dunes to 180-meter cliffs) that make the area a diverse sailor's paradise.


See the dance of the aurora borealis

The Northwest Territories are the aurora mecca of the world. Here, the Aurora Borealis dance an average of 240 nights a year. Why are the northern lights so common here? Because Canada's subarctic is blessed with crystal clear nights, extremely low humidity, and a perfect location just below the "Aurora Oval." In the NWT, there are two seasons to view the aurora: in late summer, when the land and lakes are still warm, and in winter, when the lakes are frozen. Licensed tour operators offer all kinds of aurora experiences - from rugged outdoor adventures chasing auroras to pampering programs at legendary lodges. But no matter which way you choose to experience the mysterious, magical and vibrant cosmic dance, a front row seat is assured for everyone!


Northern lights on Slave River near Fort Smith - Credit: Yuichi Takasaka

Join a canoe race

In the small towns of the north, the old-fashioned paddle races are an essential part of local summer festivals. There's only one thing to do: get in a canoe and join the fun! But even without competition, the Northwest Territories are a canoeist's paradise with its many wild waters! Novice paddlers will enjoy the lakes of the North Slave Shield, while experienced paddlers come to the region to paddle legendary rivers like the Nahanni, Broken Skull, Mountain, Thomsen, Mackenzie, Yellowknife, Coppermine, Thelon and Hornaday.


Paddling on the Nahanni River - Credit: Colin Field

Spend a night in a teepee

If you camp in the Northwest Territories, you'll have the best night's sleep ever - that much is guaranteed. The call of the wild is unmistakable! Lulled to sleep by the sound of a waterfall, taking an energizing dip in a pristine river instead of a morning shower, swapping that boring lunch from the canteen for a freshly caught shore lunch, what more could you ask for? In the Northwest Territories, there are more than a dozen Territorial Campgrounds and even more Territorial Parks, stretching across a land of endless tundra, dramatic peaks, thundering waterfalls, rushing rivers and lakes as big as oceans.


Credit: Angela Gzowski

Fill your water bottle at the foot of a waterfall

They are wild, alive, majestic. There is something incredibly fascinating about waterfalls; just looking at them is like a cleansing cure for the soul. The huge masses of water that plunge over cliffs into the depths, the powerful roar that fills the air and the fine spray that rises in glittering rainbow colors - while you feel very small facing the flowing water.... The Northwest Territories are a waterfall wonderland. Whether it's foaming roadside cascades in the South Slave region, a deafening tsunami in the Mackenzie Mountains, or an idyllic spring in the Barrenlands, the region has a vast supply of water and seemingly endless ledges from which the rivers cascade down.


Alexandra Falls - Credit: George Fischer & NWT Tourism

Watch the sun spin circles in the sky

It's the weirdest thing: The sun sinks lower and lower, and... Wait a minute, then it rises again. No night. Just an endless dance of radiant glow in the sky. The Northwest Territories are the land of the midnight sun, where it is eternally bright in summer. At two in the morning, it looks almost like broad daylight. All night long, birds chirp, children play, fishermen fish and golfers putt. Campers turn their days completely upside down, eating lunch at midnight and crawling into their sleeping bags in the morning - because when a day is truly endless, you can just do whatever you want. That's why the midnight sun is so wonderful and wild.


Midnight Sun in the Northwest Territories - Credit: Terry Parker & NWT Tourism

Be warmly dressed at -40°C

In the Northwest Territories, parkas are not a fashion statement. They're like space suits allowing you to thrive in our vigorous interstellar cold. Winters are cold here, of course - but it's a dry cold. The sunny, windless days make the cold fascinating – yes, even pleasant.


Aurora Village - Credit: Adam Pisani

Stroll down “Ragged Ass Road”

The most famous street in Yellowknife's Old Town is as wild as its name suggests. Its name originated in 1970 from a joke by resident Lou Rocher, who owned much of the property along this road at the time. Back then, the street was known as "Privy Road" because of its many outhouses. When a difficult gold-digging season brought in little revenue and residents were convinced that they were "ragged ass broke," they decided to name their street that way. Although the name was widely used, it was somewhat controversial. It wasn't until the mid-2010s, after Rocher's death, that the City of Yellowknife officially recognized it with signs. It is considered one of Canada's most famous streets now.


Ragged Ass Road in Yellowknife - Credit: Kerstin Wahl & NWT Tourism

Go for a spin in an Amphibian

Strange vehicles traverse the land of the north, rolling through landscapes no car could handle. Some remote fishing lodges can only be reached by amphibious vehicle though.


Picknick at the Artic Circle

The legendary Dempster Highway is Canada's only road that crosses the Arctic Circle. Here, adventure seekers enter the true polar zone, a mythical region that only a fraction of travelers on Earth have ever set foot in. The Arctic Circle is undoubtedly a good place for a picnic - nowhere else does lunch taste better than at the "Top of the World"!


Arctic Circle - Credit: Colin Field & NWT Tourism

Awake to a view like this

Need we say more?


Sahtu Region - Credit: Angela Gzowski

Further information on the Northwest Territories can be found at www.spectacularnwt.com.

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