One of three Canadian territories (the Yukon and Nunavut are the other two), the Northwest Territories is a vast wilderness of uncompromising nature. Stretching from the 60th parallel across the Arctic Circle and into the High Arctic, it takes in some of the world’s biggest and deepest lakes, the massive Mackenzie River, and treeless tundra that seemingly extends forever.
Although the Northwest Territories is vast, many of the highlights are accessible by air or road, including one route leading north through Northern Alberta from Grimshaw. Whether it’s your first time or your 40th, crossing the 60th parallel into the Northwest Territories marks the beginning of a new adventure. And for road travelers, the adventure starts in the most accessible section of the territories, along the Waterfalls Route through a vast expanse of stunted boreal forest broken only by two of North America’s largest rivers, the Slave and Mackenzie.
To the north lies Great Slave Lake, named for the Slavey Dene who have trapped and fished along its southern shores for thousands of years. This vast inland freshwater sea is the world’s 10th-largest lake. The region’s main communities are Hay River, on the south shore of Great Slave Lake; and Fort Smith, the gateway to Wood Buffalo National Park, the second-largest national park in the world. Paved and improved gravel roads link the two towns and continue around the west and north sides of Great Slave Lake to the city of Yellowknife, known as the “Diamond Capital of North America.”
From this point, it’s air travel only north to two of the world’s 10 largest lakes, one of the world’s longest rivers, a waterfall twice the height of Niagara Falls, one UNESCO World Heritage Site, three more national parks, and an amazing abundance of wildlife. Hiking the Canol Road, canoeing the South Nahanni River, fishing for trophy-size lake trout in Great Bear Lake, and touring for wildlife around the Beaufort Sea are just the highlights.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition