Most things to do in the Northwest Territories lie within its vast wilderness, much of which remains untouched by human settlement. The area is filled with experienced, local tour guides willing to help first-time visitors navigate their way through these remote and sometimes intimidating lands. Yellowknife and the Greater Slave Lake area are the only true urban areas in the Northwest Territories.
Visitors expecting to see nothing but frigid tundra are often pleasantly surprised to encounter green mountains, forests, and even colorful wildflowers. Spotting one of Canada’s biggest wild bison herds at Wood Buffalo National Park, gazing upon a waterfall twice as tall as Niagara Falls, and paddling down the 2,635-mile-long Mackenzie River, are just a few unforgettable activities worth the long journey to the Northwest Territories.
The Mackenzie River, the longest in Canada, flows less than 25 miles from Canoe North, which not only organizes canoeing trips, but also shorter trips around Great Slave Lake’s east arm and the several smaller waterways near Hay River. Nahanni Wilderness Adventures specialize in similar excursions along the Nahanni River.
The Nahanni River is also a popular whitewater rafting destination, and the Black Feather wilderness adventure company’s most challenging tour takes participants past the Mackenzie Mountains to 2,000-foot river drops called the Rock Gardens, and then onto the 312-foot-tall Virginia Falls. Visitors can paddle all the way to the Arctic Ocean during the Coppermine River Rafting tours organized by Adventureus.com.
Tukto Arctic Fly-In Fishing Lodges, as the name suggests, is just one of many Northwest Territories fishing lodges whose isolated locations can only be reached by small aircraft. Virtually all Northwest Territories communities have their own local outfitters willing to share expert advice on where fishers are most likely to make the biggest catches of their lives within the crystal cold bodies of water throughout this region. Ice fishing is safe well into spring, and the most frequent catches are grayling, trout and great northern pike.
North-Wright Airways provides aerial journeys and hiking excursions through the Canol Heritage Trail, one of Canada’s most physically challenging treks. Only the fittest athletes should attempt the 220-mile Mackenzie Mountains route between Norman Wells and the Yukon border. Aerial food drops must be arranged during the trip as the trail has literally no services. A far shorter and easier Hay River Canyon trek lasts under two miles and connects Twin Falls Territorial Park’s Alexandra and Louise waterfalls.
The vast wilderness of the Northwest Territories provides countless wildlife watching opportunities, but visitors should not get too close to bison, caribou, musk ox, bears, or any other large animals without trained guides from companies like North Star Adventures, a First Nations-owned organization offering both summer and winter tours.
Most of the 240 nights a year the Northern Lights can be seen from the Northwest Territories occur between its coldest months of October to March. However, the Great Canadian Travel Company organizes unforgettable excursions to the same lodge where Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge stayed during their 2011 tour of Canada. Guests can feast on gourmet meals and warm up in an outdoor hot tub as part of their royal treatment at this spacious log cabin.