Find out more about Canada’s Northwest Territories

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Amid the growing demand for adventure travel, Canada’s Northwest Territories ticks every box – in fact, it’s been said that you’re not a true traveller until you’ve visited this fascinating region.

The Northwest Territories (NWT) is the world’s Northern Lights mecca, where the Aurora can be seen on average 240 nights per year. People say there’s no better place to see this natural phenomenon.

Visitors can take road trips through scenic, unspoiled wilderness; drive to the Arctic Ocean; spot an abundance of wildlife and make lasting memories in a big-hearted region that still lives free and wild.

Here’s why Canada’s NWT is a destination like no other that should be on every adventurous client’s wish list.

Best place to see nature’s greatest lightshow

Float plane on Four Mile Lake. Photo credit: Yuichi Takasaka

Seeing Northern Lights in the Northwest Territories is a different experience from seeing them anywhere else. The colours are brighter, the displays last longer and the movements are more elaborate. This is because Canada’s subarctic is blessed with crystal-clear nights, no light pollution, ultra-low humidity, and is located directly beneath the thin band around the Earth where the most intense Auroral activity occurs – the ‘Auroral oval’.

Licensed NWT tour operators provide a range of Northern Lights experiences – from rugged Aurora-hunting adventures to stays at legendary lodges. There are two Aurora seasons in the NWT: autumn and winter.

The open road

Dempster Highway. Photo Credit: Colin Field

NWT has open roads that take visitors through scenic, unspoiled wilderness, yet with easy access to campgrounds, picnic sites, service stations and visitor information on all major highways along the way.

Along the Dempster Highway, visitors will see jagged peaks, crowds of caribou, the Arctic Circle, tight-knit Indigenous communities and the mighty Mackenzie River.

Canada’s all-season Inuvik-to-Tuktoyaktuk Highway to the Arctic Ocean opened in 2017, the first road to reach the polar shore of North America.

The highway stretches 140 kilometres from Inuvik, the hub of the Western Arctic, to the dynamic Inuvialuit community of Tuktoyaktuk on the wild Arctic coast.

When crossing the 60th parallel from Alberta into the NWT, Alberta Highway 35 becomes NWT Highway 1 and the beginning of the Waterfalls Route.

This route features numerous waterfalls, ranging from small and charming to large and spectacular, as well as numerous rivers and lakes. The powerful roar of a waterfall embodies everything timeless and enduring about the North’s spectacular landscapes. It’s also a chance to visit the salt plains and spot Bison grazing in Wood Buffalo National Park.

Abundance of wildlife

Grizzly bear. Photo credit: Gerold Sigl 

Travellers are highly likely to share the road with other creatures, so be prepared to slow down to let them cross, or just pull over and enjoy the performance.

Animals in the NWT include wood bison, which – at up to six feet tall, are the biggest land animals in North America – the lonesome moose, lynx, muskox, mountain sheep, reindeer, wolf and caribou.

The most likely place for visitors to see Grizzly bears is along the Dempster Highway in late spring, summer and autumn when they are out searching for food.

Unusual landform – the pingo

Pingo in Tuktoyaktuk. Photo credit: J.F. Bergeron

A pingo (Inuvialuit for small hill) is a type of ‘periglacial’ landform, created through processes of freezing and thawing. Covered with tundra on the outside, they contain a core of ice.

For centuries they’ve been used as landmarks and viewpoints and, more recently, visitor attractions.

Pingos can be as big as a football stadium – up to 70 metres tall, with a circumference exceeding half a kilometre.

The Mackenzie Delta has the highest concentration of pingos on Earth – approximately 1,350 of them, including Ibyuk, just outside Tuktoyaktuk. It’s 1,300 years old, it’s the second largest pingo on Earth, rising to the height of a 15-storey building and 1,000 feet wide at its base.

Many pingos, including Ibyuk, are protected by Parks Canada in the 16-square-kilometre Pingo National Landmark outside Tuktoyaktuk.

Easy access

Yellowknife. Photo credit: Adam Pisani

There are daily services from southern Canadian destinations into Yellowknife, the capital city of the Northwest Territories.

Air Canada serves Yellowknife from Calgary (2 hours), Edmonton (1.5 hours) and Vancouver (2.5 hours); with Westjet operating from Edmonton and Calgary.

Canadian North also operates from Edmonton and Calgary, while Air North has flights from Toronto and Ottawa (both 4 hours).

Yellowknife serves as a connection point for flights into other NWT regional hubs and communities and many more NWT airlines offer scheduled or charter services within the NWT to communities, wilderness rivers, national parks, remote fishing lodges and fishing lakes.

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Main image: Northern Lights, Sahtu. Photo credit: Angela Gzowski

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