Venture to the remote Canadian Arctic and find solace in the wilds of the Northwest Territories.
Although over a dozen official campgrounds can be found throughout the Northwest Territories, the region is best suited for experienced adventurers looking to chart their own path and wander freely to find the solitude and wilderness of backcountry camping. Whether you go it alone or set up at a territorial campsite with washrooms and day-use areas, you can get a restful night’s sleep under the stars—or the midnight sun, if visiting in summer. Remember that the NWT make up one of the most dramatic landscapes on the planet. Wake up lakeside, hike to waterfalls, and feel small as you stand in the shadows of impossibly giant, ancient mountains. In the heart of the Northwest Territories, you can paddle along Canada’s longest river—the Mackenzie stretches through Sahtu—then wind down in a natural hot spring. This is the true north.
Yellowknife is the charming capital city of the NWT, with all the trappings of any other southern Canadian city, including hotels, restaurants, regular festivals, and events—plus what is likely the best shot at seeing the northern lights in the world (from November to April). Outside the city, campers will find the barren wilderness around Great Slave Lake, where caribou and muskoxen can be spotted among the unspoiled nature.
The south side of Great Slave Lake is known for its wildlife, paddling, and hub city of Hay River. The most experienced paddlers will be challenged by the enormous truck-sized waves in Slave River at the Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park, while animal lovers can visit area wildlife sanctuaries and keep an eye out for roaming bison. Fort Providence, set on the west side of the lake, is set on the Mackenzie River.
Home to Nááts'ihch'oh and Nahanni national parks, Dehcho also includes the home base city of Fort Simpson, sections of the colossal Mackenzie Mountains, and villages belonging to the Dehcho First Nations community. Sambaa Deh Falls and Blackstone territorial parks are popular formal camping spots.
Farther north and more remote in the center of the Northwest Territories, the Sahtu region is most often reached by air. Highlights include the town of Norman Wells, the massive Great Bear Lake (Canada’s largest), and the cultural heritage of the indigenous Dene and Métis people. Track through the Mackenzie Mountains on the Canol Heritage Trail, and keep your eyes out for moose, caribou, and mountain sheep.
When we say the Western Arctic is out there, we mean it—getting here via the Dempster Highway will have you traveling on the most northerly drive in Canada. It’s also the only place in Canada where you can reach the Arctic Circle by road. Visit the homelands of the Gwich’in and Inuvialuit people and see the Arctic Ocean from Tuktoyaktuk, Aklavik, and Inuvik, three main towns in the region. Other draws include Tuktut Nogait National Park, all of the many pingos (dome-shaped ice hills), and reindeer.