Best known as an access point for Nahanni National Park , the town of Fort Simpson (population 1,200) is at the confluence of two major rivers—the Liard and Mackenzie—with ferry crossing (daily 8 a.m.–11:45 p.m. late May–late Oct., free) required to reach town from the Mackenzie Highway.
Throughout summer, the town is a hive of activity, with a constant buzz of floatplanes taking off to remote fly-in fishing lakes and hunt camps, groups of Gore-Tex–clad adventurers from around the world checking their equipment before heading off for the adventure of a lifetime down the South Nahanni River, and the occasional canoe-load of paddlers stopping in on their way to the Arctic Ocean.
At the south entrance to town is the excellent Fort Simpson Visitor Centre (867/695-3182, www.fortsimpson.com , mid-May–mid-Sept. daily 9 a.m.–8 p.m.), which contains a re-creation of the original Hudson’s Bay Company post and some interesting historical displays. Don’t miss the 1961 National Film Board documentary on Nahanni legend Albert Faille, which is shown, along with others, in the theater.
The main street through Fort Simpson is typical of Northern towns, with all the usual services, a couple of motels, and lots of modular buildings.
The most interesting sights are one block east on Mackenzie Drive, running alongside the Mackenzie River. This was the main street before the highway was completed and businesses moved closer to it. At the south end, a beached stern-wheeler on the riverbank soon comes into view.
Built in 1920, this boat was one of many that plied the Mackenzie River. Also here is a small monument noting the importance of the river in the town’s history.
Across the road is Fort Simpson Heritage Park, the site of the original Hudson’s Bay Company post (the only original building remaining is the company’s outhouse). Here you find a restored home used for various cultural gatherings.
Continuing farther along the river, you pass plaques noting the historic importance of various structures, including the cabin of Nahanni legend Albert Faille, who wintered here between his gold-seeking trips. Peering through the windows and marveling at the wooden scows laying in the yard gives you some insight into the life of this amazing man, particularly if you’ve watched the National Film Board documentary about him shown at the Visitors Centre.
Many local lakes have great fishing for northern pike, pickerel, lake trout, and arctic grayling, but are only accessible by air. Simpson Air (867/695-2505, www.simpsonair.ca ) flies to Little Doctor Lake, where they operate a lodge, as well as McGill Lake and Mustard Lake.
Along the road into town is Bannockland B&B (867/695-3337, $155–175 s or d). Rates for the five rooms include a cooked breakfast and airport transfers. Rooms in both of Fort Simpson’s hotels are little more than basic and both charge from $120 s, $140 d. They are the Maroda Motel (867/695-2602), where some rooms have kitchenettes, and the Nahanni Inn (867/695-2201), which has a coffee shop (open daily at 8 a.m.) and dining room.
On the road to the Papal Grounds is Fort Simpson Territorial Park (mid-May–mid-Sept., $17), where 32 sites (four with power hookups) provide ample privacy. Showers and a large supply of firewood are available.