Best known as the “Tropics of the North” for its warm microclimate (many locals maintain vegetable gardens), this town of 400 is set among a lush forest of poplar and birch on the banks of the Liard River. The area has been settled since 1807, when the North West Company established where the Petitot River drains into the Liard.
Until the 1960s, most of the Dene inhabitants spent winter away from Fort Liard, and modern development didn’t begin until the highway opened to Fort Nelson. Traditional lifestyles are still important to residents, nearly all of whom spend time trapping, hunting, fishing, and making clothing and crafts.
The women of Fort Liard are famous for these baskets, made for storing food, collecting berries, carrying supplies, or even boiling water. Birch is abundant in the area and has a remarkably pliable nature, ideal for bending and sewing. The bark contains a natural wax, making it not only rot-resistant but also waterproof.
Baskets are still made in the long, tedious process handed down from generation to generation. They are sewn together with specially prepared roots and decorated with porcupine quills.
The small but well-maintained Hay Lake Campground has pit toilets, firewood, and drinking water. It’s along the Fort Liard access road. Accommodations above the Liard Valley General Store (867/770-4441, $125 s, $150 d) sleep 24 in 12 basic rooms. Back out on the highway is the only gas station (7 a.m.–11 p.m.) between Fort Simpson  and Fort Nelson.