Deep in the far north, the Northwest Territories morphs into Canada’s wildest wilderness. This is also where the die-hard trekkers come to immerse themselves in stunning scenery and where those who dare to tread in isolated areas can feel Mother Nature all around.
Here’s a look at some of the seven natural wonders that call Canada’s Northwest Territories home.
- 7 Wonders of Northwest Territories
- Northwest Territories National Parks
- 3 Northern Territories National Parks
7 Wonders of Northwest Territories
1- Northern Lights
Claim to fame: Nature’s greatest light show.
Season: Best viewing times between December and March or in September
For romance and an out-of-this-world moment, head to the Aurora Village.
Book a cozy country lodge for this Yellowknife Aurora getaway.
Folks enjoy Northern Lights watching from the comfort of a steaming hot tub.
Others head into the magical winter wonderland and dash across the tundra by dogsled.
No wonder the Aurora Borealis is listed among the planet’s greatest natural wonders.
If you enjoyed this post, there are other outdoor and nature experiences in Canada you might like to find out more about camping on Vancouver Island
2- Mackenzie River
Claim to fame: North America’s second longest river and Canada’s largest river system.
Season: paddling season is short when it’s ice-free.
Spilling into the Arctic Ocean after travelling a span of roughly 1800 kilometres from the Great Slave Lake, this river is truly awe-inspiring
Book a boat tour or canoe under the magic spell of the midnight sun in summer.
Hay River is a common starting point for paddlers.
Either drive and have your vehicle transferred via barge up to the final canoe stop in Inuvik or you can arrive by bush plane.
Bank on a four to seven-week canoe trip between Hay River and Inuvik, but the sights along this Arctic coastline will be life-changing.
Folks can also enjoy a paddling adventure around the Mackenzie Delta to track a herd of reindeer cross the famous delta.
3- Polar Bears
Claim to fame: The world’s largest land predator is a highly revered animal in these parts. All you have to do is take a look at the vehicle license plates to spot a logo of the burly figure which is sadly listed as a NWT’s species at risk.
Polar Bear watching season: Best viewed in July and August
Polar bears favour the icebergs floating along the coastline off the Arctic Ocean.
A few remote lodges provide fabulous overnight stays that offer some of the best wildlife viewing experiences but you can’t always predict what Mother Nature will show.
From Yellowknife (also read things to do in Yellowknife), take a private charter to the Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge high up in the Arctic Circle to watch beluga whales, sea kayak, and of course if lucky, spot the endangered polar bears that thrive up there.
4- Nahanni National Park Reserve
Claim to fame: A UNESCO World Heritage Site and bucket list favourite with one of the most spectacular wild rivers in North America, the South Nahanni River.
Located in the southwest corner, this Northwest Territories national park reserve is on the traditional territory of the Dehcho First Nations.
Get a birds’ eye view in a floatplane and soar over the South Nahanni River.
For more dramatic waters the Virginia Falls is super spectacular — it’s more than twice the height of Niagara Falls.
Multi-day paddling trips are popular.
Guided canoe and kayaking tours are available from several licensed local outfitters.
Nahanni River Adventures combines hiking and flatwater canoeing in one.
Folks who hit the granite spires of Mont Blanc and Patagonia will love seeing the soaring peak of the Cirque of the Unclimbables.
The mountain was recently added in the Nahanni National Park expansion in 2013 which has increased the park six times the original size.
5- Canadian Arctic Archipelago
Claim to fame: The world’s second largest high Arctic land area with 94 islands some of which are in the Northwest Territories like Banks Island, which is Canada’s most westerly island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
Season: summer is best cool with an average temperature of 10 Celsius in July.
In summer, there’s never-ending daylight in this land of the midnight sun.
Hike the rolling tundra like the first European explorers who trekked these remote parts two hundred years ago at the Aulavik National Park located on Banks Island.
This is not for the faint of heart, only a few with the love of wanderlust will also enjoy touring this ultimate backcountry in an amazing backpacking trip.
As an isolated wilderness park, there are no facilities like camping, marked trails or roads.
Chartering an aircraft is the best way to get there.
6- Wood Buffalo National Park
Claim to fame: Canada’s largest national park was created to protect the only herd of wood bison left in their natural, wild state.
Wood Buffalo National Park is also the summer nesting ground of the critically endangered whooping cranes.
Season: Summer or winter
North America’s largest land mammal wanders freely in its home there.
Viewers can often spot the wild bison along the roadsides.
The park is home to many other Canadian animals like bears, wolves, moose, lynx, marten, wolverines, and foxes to name a few.
In the spring be the first to see the whooping cranes preparing for their summer habitat on the salt plains and aim your lens on the continent’s tallest bird.
Another natural wonder you can see using Google Earth technology is the sighting of the world’s largest beaver dam.
It’s believed several generations of beavers have worked on this 850-metre long dam-in-the-making since the seventies.
7- Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary
Claim to fame: Canada’s largest wildlife refuge
Season: best known for its superb summer experiences.
Located in Canada’s northern Arctic region north of the tree line sharing the borders between the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, this remote area is quite frankly boreal forest heaven.
Dubbed, “Canada’s wilderness jewel,” it’s easy to understand once you visit.
Activities include day hiking and canoeing on the Thelon River which is designated as a Canadian Heritage River.
The sanctuary is accessible by a private charter from Yellowknife. Tour operators like Black Feather offer 2-week paddling trips on the Thelon River.
Northwest Territories National Parks
Come to the edge of the world where the locals rap poetic about “The land of the midnight sun” and where the vast horizon stretches forever.
Between all this is wildlife viewing as you’ve never seen before. Canada’s north comes alive in the Northwest Territories national parks.
That’s no surprise.
The territory extends from the sixtieth parallel to the North Pole and spans some 1.17 million square kilometres, the majority are isolated pockets of wilderness.
The Northwest Territories is also big park country: picture five national parks and 34 territorial parks.
Compared to many other Canada National Parks, the national parks in the Northwest Territories are truly wild and untouched.
The gateway to many of the parks is from Inuvik, a town at the end of the iconic Dempster Highway.
Visitors can also arrive by plane from, Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Edmonton daily.
With that in mind here are three Northern Territories national parks to put on the radar:
3 Northern Territories National Parks
1- Tuktut Nogait National Park
One of Canada’s undiscovered gems, Tuktut Nogait meaning ‘young caribou’ is a sanctuary for the rare Bluenose West caribou and a Mecca for archeological sites.
You have arrived in the land of caribou, canyons and culture.
Located north of the Arctic Circle, the park was established in 1998 to protect the calving grounds of the young tuktut nogait.
The park is also home to wolves, grizzly bears, muskox and bird species like raptors.
Archaeologists have discovered over 400 ancient sites dating back some 1,500 years of Inuit civilization.
Activities: Parks Canada offers five-day guided base camp trips with an Inuvialuit guide.
Learn tracking skills en route a caribou trail and experience the spirit of the place through traditional oral storytelling.
No trails, no campgrounds, it is the ultimate backpacker’s dream turned reality.
When to visit: Summer.
2- Aulavik National Park
Wanna paddle the most northern navigable river in the world?
Then head to the high Arctic to remote Banks Island for the ultimate wilderness getaway.
Ironically Aulavik, meaning “place, where people travel” in Inuvialuktun, is absolute no man’s land with only about a dozen visitors a year who arrive to tread this seemingly uncharted terrain.
With the exception of one small settlement, the park is located on a vast virtually uninhabited island (12,200 square kilometres) steeped in low lying tundra but has a lush river valley as its main draw.
Expect to see major wildlife viewing along the Thomsen River.
Don’t be surprised by all the muskoxen either.
Home to the world’s highest density of muskoxen, the park also protects the seasonal moulting habits of Brant geese and lesser snow geese.
Paddlers will see federal bird sanctuaries established along the lower Thomsen River and by Castel Bay.
Void of facilities, and trails the park is only reachable by air charter for a limited time during the summer.
Activities: Advanced trekkers enjoy taking a two or three-week paddling trip.
Start at the southern end of the park by the rolling tundra landscape of the Thomsen River which quickly changes to rocky banks and eventually spills into the frigid Castel Bay in the north.
Expect plenty of sightseeing along this secluded river that also makes for great pit stops for hikers to explore the valley.
Guided excursions are available from licensed outfitter Black Feather.
3- Ivvavik National Park
Another park named for its young wild animals, Ivvavik meaning ‘nursery’ in Inuvialuit epitomizes the spiritual calving grounds during spring of the majestic porcupine caribou.
Canada’s first national park to be established under settlement also straddles the border of neighbouring Yukon.
The best way to reach this secluded slice of heaven is via Inuvik in the NWT by a charter plane.
Exploring the 9,775-square-kilometre unglaciated expanse of national park is not for everyone.
Only about 100 outdoor adventure lovers dare to immerse themselves for this bucket list trip which only occurs during a short spell in the summer months.
You will quickly discover why the Northwest Territories has been pegged the land of the midnight sun as summertime is when folks there experience 24 hours of daylight.
One of the best places for wilderness encounters is to raft along the Firth River, thought by some to be Canada’s oldest river.
A popular past-time for rugged backpackers, rafters will get the ultimate work-out in a two-week rafting adventure as they challenge themselves on the Firth’s Class IV rapids.
The adrenalin-induced journey is well worth it however due to the excellent wildlife spotting. Imagine seeing grizzlies and king eider ducks from your raft.
If you don’t want to delve deep into the inner sanctum of the park by foot or by raft, twin otter plane tours available at the Inuvik airport are another option.
Private air tours fly over the Mackenzie River Delta and soar between the peaks of the British Mountains.
Inquire about catered and self-catered fly-in camping options from Parks Canada.
The catered camping trips are cultural exchanges led by an Inuvialuit cultural host who relays ancient and modern traditions.