10 reasons why Arctic Canada’s Northwest Territories is a sure bet

For your post-COVID adventure holiday

The one good thing about COVID travel restrictions is that it gives us plenty of time to research the perfect adventure holiday destination!  When restrictions lift, make your first trip outside Australia count. For our money, Canada’s arctic region, the Northwest Territories is the adventure destination that delivers the goods – all year round!

With a helpfully descriptive name of the Northwest Territories, this Canadian arctic region is situated in Western Canada and stretches all the way up to the Arctic Ocean. Iconic regions like the gateway township of Yellowknife, quaint villages of Inuvik and Tuktoyaktok or mountainous National Parks of Nahanni and Thaidene Nene all in their names themselves draw attention for exploration.

There is SO much to do and see in the Northwest Territories, but we’ve put together our TOP TEN reasons why this arctic region of Canada should be at the top of your travel hitlist once international borders open.

1. One of the best places on the planet to view the Northern Lights (Aurora)

Boasting a 98% chance of seeing the northern lights if you stay for 4 days, it is not surprising that the Northwest Territories are known as the Aurora Capital of the world. Here, the Northern Lights dance on average 240 nights per year.

The gateway city of Yellowknife is blessed with subarctic crystal-clear nights, ultra-low humidity and the perfect location beneath the Earth’s band of maximal aurora activity – the “Auroral Oval”.

Yellowknife aurora viewing stations are situated approximately 20 minutes out of town to avoid the city lights for maximum aurora viewing, or if you want to go really remote take a bush plane from Yellowknife to an off-the-grid aurora viewing lodge-like Blachford Lake Lodge or Frontier Lodge.

2. Iconic National Parks

The national parks of the Northwest Territories are Earth in its ideal form: glorious, wild and free. Here, rivers race with pure snowmelt. Peaks poke the heavens; waterfalls plummet from just as high.

Some parks are spoken of in reverent tones, others are unsung gems virtually untrammelled parts of the planet, waiting to be explored. Three icons amongst the mix include:

  1. Thaidene Nëné is Canada’s newest National Park, this ecologically diverse area stretches from the sheer cliffs of Great Slave Lake’s East Arm northeast to the Barrenlands, exploding life.
  2. Nahanni National Park, framed by four towering canyons and an earthshaking cascade of waterfalls including Virginia Falls, twice the height of Niagara Falls, many canoeing and rafting expeditions begin in this remote location.
  3. Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada’s largest national park, founded to protect the rare wood bison, the biggest land animal in the Western hemisphere. The park encompasses pine-studded plains, gleaming salt flats, Karstland caves and the Peace Athabasca wetlands.

3. Go remote – via the direct route

The capital city of Yellowknife is the primary departure point for flights within the Northwest Territories and accessible with direct services from Vancouver in British Columbia, or Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta. From Yellowknife charted bush plane flights access remote national parks and iconic arctic communities.

Three all-season highways connect the Northwest Territories to neighbouring Canadian provinces and territories. A day’s drive from north Edmonton along Alberta’s Highway 35 will see you reach Hay River in the Northwest Territories waterfall rich South Slave region.

British Columbia’s scenic Highway 77 starts west of Fort Nelson and two hours later enters the Northwest Territories Dehcho region home to Fort Simpson, the gateway to Nahanni National Park.

Finally, the famed Dempster Highway begins in neighbouring territories, The Yukon starting in Dawson City running northwest through stunning alpine country to the Northwest Territories Western Arctic region. A 12-hour drive will bring you to the arctic town of Inuvik, two hours more and you’ll reach the Arctic Ocean in Tuktoyaktuk.

Image courtesy Northwest Territories Tourism
Image courtesy of George Fischer

4. Wildlife and wilderness

One of the largest pristine wilderness areas in Canada, the Northwest Territories is a polar Serengeti, patrolled by strange beasts and rare birds. Sometimes the animals are elusive and sometimes they block the highway.

There are opportunities for wildlife viewing almost everywhere – from the epic Northern highways (wood bison, moose, fox, black bear, beaver and muskrat) to bush planes or boats (caribou, grizzly, muskox, whale), to winter roads (caribou, wolf, marten) and on nature tours with Northwest Territories outfitters.

Bear image courtesy of Gerold Sigl
Reindeer image courtesy of Adam Pisani

5. Aurora across two seasons

Unlike many aurora viewing locations, natures night lights don’t just shine in Winter. There are two aurora seasons in Yellowknife. The first is their late Summer to early Autumn, which occurs from mid-August to early October and their Winter, which runs from late December to early April.

Adding to your aurora experience with daytime adventure in summer you can hike, climb, paddle, bike and even take a dip in the Arctic Ocean.

In Winter your options include fat tire biking, ice fishing, dogsledding exploring ice caves, snowshoeing, ski touring and driving the famous ice road. No matter what the season the Northwest Territories has a lot to offer for the adventure seeker.

Image courtesy of Chris Kelly

6. Explore the iconic Ice Roads

When the winter arrives, new roads appear on the water. That’s right, for thousands of territorial residents, winter is the only time their isolated communities become road-accessible, as nearly 2,000 kilometres of icy highways are ploughed through terrain that’s impassable (or isn’t terrain at all) in the summertime.

In the Northwest Territories, winter roads link 12 towns, giving them temporary access to the outside world. Built and maintained by the territory’s transportation department, some of the routes are short. The winter road to Nahanni Butte, for instance, is just a few kilometres, crossing the Liard River to Highway 7. But others are epic.

The Mackenzie Valley winter road begins at Wrigley and connects to five communities, the furthest of which, Colville Lake, is 651 kilometres away. The winter road season is fleeting, running from late December to early April. In some years though, the road from Inuvik to Aklavik has operated for five months.

8. Climb the Cirque of the Unclimbables (or just hike the valleys surrounding them)

In 1955, the mountaineer Arnold Wexler came across a series of remote cliffs on the western border of the Northwest Territories, now part of Nahanni National Park Reserve. Impressed with their sheer granite walls, he named the jagged monsters the Cirque of the Unclimbables.

A challenge for world-class mountaineers, the Cirque’s most famous peak – a must for every serious climber – is the Lotus Flower Tower, featured in Fifty Classic Climbs of North America.

If climbing isn’t your thing (but impressive dramatic landscapes are), hiking the surrounding valleys is a great alternative. Remote, pristine and incredibly beautiful the landscape is a photographers dream.

With wildlife like woodland caribou, mountain goats and Dall’s sheep as company, the Nahanni National Park Reserve ticks a whole lot of adventure seekers boxes!

9. Unique indigenous culture

Not just a playground for adventures the Northwest Territories delivers a unique cultural experience. With no fewer than 11 official Indigenous languages the Northwest Territories have a strong connection to their first nation’s history. Roughly half of the 43,000 residents are First Nations, Inuvialuit, or Gwich’in. Their languages, traditions and cultures are strong and told in stories, songs and drumming.

You can experience this rich history and living culture firsthand by joining an Indigenous Aurora Teepee Tour to watch the aurora and hear indigenous stories under the night sky.

Sip steaming tea by a crackling fire as you listen to traditional stories. Walk an 800-year-old trail along the shores of the Deh Cho (Mackenzie River) and learn about the many medicinal uses for the plant life growing all around you.

If you like a healthy dose of culture mixed in with your adventures the Northwest Territories delivers!

10. Photographers paradise

If you’re into wildlife photography, landscape photography, nighttime photography, photojournalism, filling your Instagram feed or simply documenting your holidays the Northwest Territories offer endless opportunities for you to up your photographic game.

Just follow @spectacularnwt on Instagram to see what we mean!

Endless stunning landscapes, breathtaking aurora images, and photogenic wildlife (some of which are happy to stand still and pose). Did we mention one of the best places to see the reindeer migration is from a road crossing near Inuvik?

When Canada’s greatest reindeer herd moves from its winter range to its summer breeding grounds beside the Beaufort Sea, it passes near Inuvik. Wildlife-watchers and photographer flock to the road crossing to get a glimpse of one of the most awe-inspiring spectacles in the Arctic.

You can go it alone or join one of the many organised tours with professional photographers into the backcountry to capture your David Attenborough moment.

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