Travel in the Northwest Territories, by almost any means takes a considerable amount of time. Consider that Sir Alexander Mackenzie’s 1789 round trip, from Fort Chipewyan to the Arctic Ocean and back to Lake Athabasca took place over three months from June 3 to Sept. 12, and you begin to understand. Travel in the NWT and you get a sense of history and timeless beauty. Travel in June and the wonder of 24-hour-daylight is yours to behold.
Here are some highlights of a camping trip to NWT:
Alexandra Falls: (Google Maps: 9 hours, 45 minutes from St. Albert: 090.4 km) At the 60th Parallel you enter the NWT. You will already be a connoisseur of trees before you reach Alexandra Falls, some 72 km from the border. The trees begin to take on more depth and even seem to acquire personality because there are so many colours of green. There is a day-camp picnic area at Alexandra Falls and a 2.2 km boardwalk trail leads through the Twin Gorge Falls Territorial Park to Louise Falls. The walk overlooks Hay River Canyon.
Hay River: (Google Maps: 10 hours, 21 minutes from St. Albert: 1,029.5 km) Hay River Territorial Park Campground offers generous-sized camping facilities populated in June by a gazillion mosquitoes. A sign on a nearby motel acknowledges the presence of the critters: “Camping smamping. We have a TV, but no bugs!” A fellow camper, who sat around a smudge with us said, “The NWT highway signs should feature mosquitoes instead of polar bears.”
Lady Evelyn Falls: (Google Maps: 10 hours, 58 minutes from St. Albert: 1,081.7 km) There’s a beautiful campground here. If you’ve never heard of these falls on the Kakisa River, it’s likely because the mosquitoes and/or blackflies ate all previous tourists. To fish, you hang onto a rope and hike down the cliff. The sense of timelessness is strong here as you watch the water flow endlessly over the cliff. It’s as if the trees, the water, the mosquitoes and even the huge bison along the way are there forever. It’s the people who are transient.
Yellowknife: (Google Maps: 14 hours 45 minutes from St. Albert: 1,433.3 km) Yellowknife is a bustling boom town and it’s likely it’s been through many boom and bust cycles since gold was discovered here in the 1930s. We had a pickerel supper in the Wildcat CafĂ©. Yellowknife is built on the Canadian Shield and as you drive through the city you see angle-shaped buildings climbing up the cliffs.
We took a three-hour hike through Fred Henne Park trails. This was a strenuous hike that involved clambering over boulders and trekking across peat bogs and muskeg. We got back to our busy campground to find someone had stolen our firewood. Still, I could read the newspaper at midnight and as we settled into our camper van we could hear a raven, which seemed to alternate between hiccoughing and laughing at our attempts to sleep under the midnight sun.
Fort Providence: (Google Maps: 11 hours, 26 min. from St. Albert: 1,131 km) This is the only place to get gas for 224 km. The gas shop and cafĂ© has lots of native art and once on the highway again, you may have to stop for the huge wood bison, which were brought to the area in 1963 by the Canadian government.
Fort Simpson: (Google Maps: 15 hours, 15 min. from St. Albert: 1,383.2 km) Located on an island where the Liard and Mackenzie rivers come together, Fort Simpson is the gateway to the scenic South Nahanni River and the Nahanni National Park Reserve. Fly-in tours are available to a variety of sites, including Virginia Falls. When we were there we would have had to wait 24 hours for a flight, so we continued on our way. The ditches were pretty with purple fireweed, pink foxtails and yellow clover but in some places the skinny poplar trees seemed to have trouble standing upright. They bowed over in the ditch as if to pay homage to our passing.