Northwest Territories — Attractions
Although most Northwest Territories attractions lie within its vast wilderness, its capital, Yellowknife, contains large numbers of art galleries and museums for a city of its size. Yellowknife is also the departure point for most fishing, hunting, hiking, and boating tours throughout the area so it’s easy to combine culture with outdoor recreation. Nahanni National Park Reserve, Aulavik National Park, and most of the other rural areas in the Northwest Territories are accessible only by air. However, visitors do not need to venture far outside of Yellowknife to glimpse the spectacular Northern Lights.
Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre
The official government museum in the Northwest Territories is the best place to learn more about this vast land’s many cultures and traditions, several of which would have otherwise been lost forever. Current exhibits are dedicated to Yellowknife gold mining life, beluga whales, wildlife photography, and First Nations artifacts. The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre also hosts the official archives and organizes Sunday afternoon children’s activities.
Address: Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, 4750 48 Street, Yellowknife, NT X1A 2L9
Nahanni National Park Reserve
A Fort Simpson visitor center depicting the Nahanni National Park Reserve’s history and breathtaking geography is the first stop for a majority of the roughly 1,000 annual visitors to one of Canada’s most diverse protected areas. Hiking from Tungsten Road or, far more common, flying aboard helicopters or floatplanes are the only ways to travel in or out of the reserve. All visitors must not only register prior to entering the park, but also deregister within a day of their departure. Sulphur hot springs, four gigantic canyons along the South Nahanni River, and Virginia Falls are among the outstanding landmarks that make the journey to get here worthwhile. Visitors wishing to see Virginia Falls, which is twice as high as Niagara Falls, must make reservations months in advance.
Address: 10002 100 Street, P.O. Box 348, Fort Simpson, NT X0E 0N0
Wood Buffalo National Park
Canada’s biggest national park straddles Alberta’s boundary with the Northwest Territories and contains one of the nation’s largest wild bison herds, the world’s only known natural whooping crane nesting location, the northernmost red-sided garter snake population on Earth, and the world’s largest beaver dam. Few national parks in the world rival the size of this wildlife refuge north of Alberta’s bustling oil sands. The Birch, Athabasca, and Peace rivers meet to create one of the biggest freshwater deltas on the planet. This massive area can most easily be reached along the Mackenzie Highway through the border community of Fort Smith.
Address: Wood Buffalo National Park, P.O. Box 750, Fort Smith, NT X0E 0P0
Tuktut Nogait National Park
The Inuvialuit people still hunt caribou, trap, and fish in the northwest part of the Northwest Territories’ newest national park, whose name, appropriately enough, means ‘young caribou.’ The Hornaday and Roscoe rivers flow through to create steep canyons more than 105 miles above the Arctic Circle. Despite it’s isolated location, over 350 different archaeological sites have proved humans have lived here since at least the year 1000.
Address: Parks Canada, P.O. Box 1840, Inuvik, NT X0E 0T0
Aulavik National Park
The world’s highest density of muskoxen roam around this Banks Island park whose name translates to ‘a place where people travel.’ Endangered Perry caribou along with more commonly seen caribou breeds can be seen throughout the north end of this westernmost island. The only way visitors can enter the isolated area is at one of the park’s four air landing sites. No trees grow in this polar desert, which nonetheless provides access to one of North America’s northernmost navigable waterways, the Thomsen River. Banks Island was completely uninhabited for several centuries prior to the Inuvialuit’s 17th century arrival, and Sachs Harbour remains the island’s only official community.
Address: Aulavik National Park, P.O. Box 29, Sachs Harbour, NT X0E 0Z0
Perhaps the best way to see much of the Northwest Territories within a relatively short span of time is by driving the scenic Waterfalls Route. Beginning at the territory’s border with Alberta, visitors can pick up their official ‘North of 60’ certificates before heading further north. The Waterfall Route takes visitors past three territorial parks boasting a combined total of five towering waterfalls. Visitors can also hike the Hay River Canyon connecting Alexandra Falls with Louise Falls before taking the free ferry to Fort Simpson, where guests can fly to Nahanni National Park and see the most impressive waterfall in all the Northwest Territories, Virginia Falls.
Address: Southcentral Northwest Territories
Pingo National Landmark
Canada’s only official national landmark is a series of eight unique pingos popping up from the flat tundra just over three miles outside of the community of Tuktoyaktuk. The 160-foot high and 984-foot wide Ibyuk Pingo is not only the largest among the region, but it is also the highest pingo in Canada and the second highest on Earth. The Inuvialuit have long used these ice-cored hills for caribou and whale spotting, as well as for navigational purposes. No fewer than 25 percent of the world’s pingos are situated within this Beaufort Sea coastal area. The viewing platforms from the boardwalk trail are the best places for visitors to see both the pingos and the unique tundra polygons formed from ice wedges.
Address: Western Northwest Territories