In summer, winter, spring or fall, the Northwest Territories is one of nature’s great playgrounds, with vast acres of varied, unspoiled scenery that offer transcendent outdoor experiences.
Those experiences are accessible to sports and outdoor recreation enthusiasts of every level. Whether you’re joining the NWT’s proud tradition of Olympic athletes, a dedicated amateur or even just an occasional weekend camper, the North has something for you in every season.
Winters can get cold, but that doesn’t stop hardy NWTers from getting out and enjoying the beauty of the season, or the endless opportunities for fun provided by an unlimited supply of pristine ice and snow. From carving a fresh trail across a stunning lake on your cross-country skis, to climbing into a cheery ice-fishing tent with some pals, some refreshments and a heater, winter is full of opportunities for fun, exercise and relaxation.
The Northern Lights phenomenon, in which bands of celestial light appear in the skies, is one of the great natural wonders. And the NWT is one of the best places to catch it. It occurs with regularity in the skies above the capital city (which offers 240 potential Aurora viewing nights a year, compared to Edmonton’s 90) and in other locations. Northern Lights watching is a tradition in the North, and it doesn’t take much to indulge in it: a short walk out of town to minimize the already minimal light pollution, and there you go. But there are plenty of variations on this, from a friendly bonfire party on the ice to luxurious lodges that offer hot-tub viewings a la carte!
Visit SpectacularNWT (http://www.spectacularnwt.com/whattodo/aurora) for more information about Aurora viewing.
There’s a storied history behind cross-country skiing up here, where rolling landscapes, plenty of snowfall and crisp, clear conditions combine to create a near-perfect cross-country skiing environment. Maybe that’s why, of the eight members of the Canadian cross-country skiing team that attended the 1972 Winter Olympic Games in Sapporo, Japan, six were from Inuvik, NWT. That group of six also included NWT Sports Hall of Fame (http://www.sportnorth.com/Content/Hall-of-Fame.asp?langid=1) members Sharon and Shirley Firth, who from 1972 to 1984 represented Canada in four consecutive Winter Olympics.
Today most major communities have groomed trail systems and active ski clubs, and the NWT continues to be a breeding ground for future champions, as well as a great place for skilled amateurs and enthusiasts!
Visit NWT Ski (http://www.nwtski.com/) for more information.
Visit Canada Trails’ NWT page (www.canadatrails.ca/xc_ski/xc_nw.html) to find trail maps and other resources.
From major transportation method to beloved spectator sport and hobby, dog sledding has a rich history in the NWT. Today you can watch dog mushers across the territories as they compete on the spring racing circuit. Catch races at events such as Yellowknife’s Long John Jamboree and Hay River’s Kamba Carnival, or take in the famous Canadian Championship Dog Derby. Choose a trip by dog sled with a local tour operator. You can, if you’re ambitious, start your own dog sled team. Some of the more popular dog sledding destinations in the Northwest Territories include the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary northeast of Fort Providence, Great Slave Lake, and the Mackenzie Delta in the Inuvik region.
For more information visit SpectacularNWT (http://www.spectacularnwt.com/whattodo/outdooradventure/dogsledding) or Sled Dog Central (http://www.sleddogcentral.com/clubs_canada.htm#nwt).
With its endless, pristine waterways, its thick lattice of lakes of all shapes and sizes, its deltas and arctic coastline, the NWT is a fishing paradise – all year long. The pleasures of ice-fishing are more contemplative than a summer fishing expedition, but the pike, pickerel and lake trout – and up on the coast, char – stay the same. Check with local information sources about ice strength and safety, be sure to keep warm, and… enjoy a quintessential Canadian sport, available a short distance away from just about every NWT community.
For more information visit SpectacularNWT (http://www.spectacularnwt.com/whattodo/fishing/icefishing).
Great Slave Lake sees a lot of activity all year long, from sailboat cruising in the summer to an early spring sport that grows in popularity every year: kite-skiing. Combining the thrills of sailing, kiteflying and skiing into an exhilarating mix, kite-skiing is just one more addition to the mix of activities to be seen on the lake throughout the year. It can be done on your own, with a little bit of ingenuity, or through a growing number of kite-skiing operators.
For more information visit SpectacularNWT (http://www.spectacularnwt.com/whattodo/outdooradventure/kiteskiing).
A sport enjoyed by weekend fun-seekers across the NWT, snowmobiling is also integral to the northern way of life. Used by First Nations hunters, trappers and ice- fishers, snowmobiles are ubiquitous across the territories. Snowmobiling opportunities and well maintained trail systems, not to mention ice roads and frozen rivers lace our communities together. During the late winter carnival season, many communities host snowmobile races.
For more information visit the Great Slave Snowmobile Association
(http://www.yktrailriders.com/), or SpectacularNWT (http://www.spectacularnwt.com/whattodo/outdooradventure/snowmobiling).
Summers in the NWT are intense, with long, endless days (and nights) full of sunshine and endless list of ways to play in the great outdoors.
The Northwest Territories is a mountain biker's paradise, with thousands of kilometres of trails and haul roads throughout the region. (It’s also bear country, so always take precautions to avoid confrontations and know how to react if one occurs.) It’s also a fine place to be an urban biker, with hardy, enthusiastic fellow riders present on the streets of all NWT communities – including the Dettah Ice Road -- even in the midst of a chilly January. An NWT-based cyclist – Denise Ramsden – was a proud member of the Canadian Olympic Team in the 2012 Olympics in London.
The NWT is covered with a vast network of rivers and lakes. Before the arrival of modern air and road travel, that network was the major transportation route used for travel, fishing and hunting. As a result, many NWT communities are located on an accessible river or lake. The larger communities offer boat launches and docks. The Territories’ most popular lake for boating and sailing is Great Slave, the ninth largest lake in the world, the deepest lake in North America and the second largest lake (completely within Canadian borders) in Canada. There are plenty of places to explore but the big lake can also feature huge waves and sudden changes of weather. Many Yellowknife residents cruise out to the East Arm of the lake for fishing and sightseeing. Hay River, on the southern shore of Great Slave, is the largest marine centre in the NWT. Both the Mackenzie River and the Slave River are navigable by boat, and still serve as summer transportation corridors.
Visitors pay big money to come up and fish in the pristine waters of the NWT, where the waters appear to teem with trophy-size specimens. Popular species include the famous – and delicious – Arctic Char of the Arctic coast, the Bull Trout of the Liard and Mackenzie watershed, fierce Northern Pike , massive Lake Trout and many more. For residents, all you need is an easily available fishing license, and the countless rivers, lakes and coastal waters of the NWT are your playground. To ensure the fishing remains excellent, there are restrictions on the size and numbers of fish caught. Almost anywhere you choose to live in the NWT, fishing opportunities are just a few minutes from your front door. For sport fishing – whether it be trolling a lake or fly-fishing a stream – you can’t beat living in the NWT.
Visit here (http://www.spectacularnwt.com/whattodo/fishing/species) for more information about NWT fish species.
Canoeing and Kayaking
Canoeing is one of the most quintessential activities in the NWT. The territory’s many connecting lakes and rivers provide a good selection of paddle routes and sightseeing opportunities for both self-guided and guided canoe adventures, while there are whitewater routes available for almost any skill level. Most communities are on a body of water that allows for casual weekend or post-work paddles at the drop of a personal flotation device. You are rarely more than 15 minutes away from a canoe-or-kayak-friendly route. Popular rivers include Canada's longest river – the Mackenzie. Some other notable canoe/kayak routes include the South Nahanni River and the Yellowknife River. The Slave River is famed for its exciting whitewater kayaking. Choose a well established canoe route linking lakes in the southern region, or an adrenalin producing mountain or Arctic river further north.
For more information, visit SpectacularNWT (http://spectacularnwt.com/whattodo/outdooradventure/canoeing) or NWT Kayaking (http://www.nwtkayak.com/).
Camping and Parks
It’s almost un-Northwest Territorian to not camp. And no wonder. The NWT is home to an extensive system of parks, both Territorial and National. They include stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/24) reserves such as Nahanni, and Wood Buffalo, as well as Territorial wayside parks and campsites where daytrippers can stop off for a barbeque while enjoying an uncluttered view of nature at its most serene.
The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) operates 34 parks. Most of them are open, with services provided, from May 15th to September 15th. Several offer online booking for their campgrounds and kitchen shelters during the summer season, as well as reservation by telephone or e-mail; or by selecting an available site upon actual arrival at the gatehouse. For more information visit http://www.campingnwt.ca/, or download the NWT Road and Campground Guide for useful information about routes, highway and park services, points of interest, and more.
Natural Environment Parks
- Hidden Lake Territorial Park
- Lady Evelyn Falls Territorial Park
- Twin Falls Territorial Park
- Alexandra Falls Day Use Area
- Louise Falls Campground & Day Use Area
- Escarpment Creek Group Campsite
- Sixtieth Parallel Territorial Park
- Blackstone Territorial Park
- Fort Providence Territorial Park
- Fort Simpson Territorial Park
- Queen Elizabeth Territorial Park
- Fred Henne Territorial Park
- Gwich’in Territorial Park
- Ehjuu Njik Day Use (Cabin Creek)
- Nihtak Day Use Area (Campbell Creek)
- Vadzaih van Tshik Campground (Caribou)
- Happy Valley Territorial Park
- Hay River Territorial Park
- Jàk Territorial Park
- Little Buffalo River Crossing Territorial Park
- Little Buffalo River Falls Territorial Park
- Nitainlaii Territorial Park
- North Arm Territorial Park
- Prelude Lake Territorial Park
- Reid Lake Territorial Park
- Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park
- Boundary Creek Territorial Park
- Cameron River Crossing Territorial Park
- Chan Lake Territorial Park
- Dory Point Territorial Park
- Kakisa River Territorial Park
- Madeline Lake Territorial Park
- McKinnon Territorial Park
- McNallie Creek Territorial Park
- Pontoon Lake Territorial Park
- Prosperous Lake Territorial Park
- Tetlit Gwinjik Territorial Park
- Yellowknife River Territorial Park
There are five national parks in the NWT, each one of them jaw-droppingly beautiful in its own distinct way.
Aulavik National Park
Aulavik, meaning “ place where people travel ” in Inuvialuktun, protects more than 12,000 square kilometres of Arctic lowlands on the north end of Banks Island. The park encompasses a variety of landscapes from fertile river valleys to polar deserts, buttes and badlands, rolling hills, and bold seacoasts. At the heart of Aulavik is the Thomsen River, which offers visitors a chance to paddle one of the continent’s most northerly navigable waterways. This pristine Arctic environment is home to both the endangered Peary caribou and to the highest density of muskoxen in the world. The wildlife and land have supported Aboriginal peoples for more than 3,400 years, from Pre-Dorset cultures to contemporary Inuvialuit.
Nááts'ihch'oh National Park Reserve
Measuring 4,850 square kilometres, Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve adjoins Nahanni National Park Reserve (which was significantly expanded in 2009) and it touches the Yukon boundary to the West. This area, Canada’s newest national park, has been important for hunting and its spiritual relevance to the Shutagot’ine (Mountain Dene) of the Tulita district. The mountain from which the park takes its name is credited with great spiritual powers.
Nahanni National Park Reserve
A key feature of the epic Nahanni is the Naha Dehé (South Nahanni River). Four mighty canyons line this spectacular whitewater river. At Nailicho (Virginia Falls) the river plunges in a thunderous plume. The park's sulphur hotsprings, alpine tundra, mountain ranges, and forests of spruce and aspen are home to many species of birds, fish and mammals. A visitor centre in Fort Simpson features displays on the history, culture and geography of the area. The park was inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1978.
Tuktut Nogait National Park
Offering rolling tundra, wild rivers, precipitous canyons, and a variety of unique wildlife and vegetation, Tuktut Nogait (‘young caribou’) is one of Canada’s undiscovered gems. This remote park is located 170 kilometres north of the Arctic circle and is home to the Bluenose West caribou herd, wolves, grizzly bears, muskoxen, Arctic char, and a high density of raptors. The wildlife and land have supported Aboriginal peoples for thousands of years, from the Copper and Thule cultures to contemporary Inuvialuit.
Wood Buffalo National Park
Straddling the NWT/Alberta border, Wood Buffalo National Park is the country's largest national park and one of the largest in the world. It was established in 1922 to protect the last remaining herds of wood bison in northern Canada. Today, it protects an outstanding and representative example of Canada's Northern Boreal Plains.
For more information about camping in the NWT visit MySpectacularNWT (http://www.spectacularnwt.com/whattodo/outdooradventure/camping).
In the more remote, unspoiled regions of the Northwest Territories, free-roaming game outnumbers the human population. In the Mackenzie Mountains, Dall’s sheep and mountain goats stand sentinel on rocky crags. Polar bears rule the Western Arctic coast and islands. In the Barrenlands, wolves and grizzly follow the migrations of the caribou. Plenty of visitors come here for once-in-a-lifetime hunting experiences with such animals in mind, while for many residents, especially in the smaller communities, hunting is as much a way of life as a trip to the grocery store. To find out about your rights and restrictions as a hunter in the NWT, check out the territory’s hunting regulations here (http://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/_live/pages/wpPages/hunting_regulations.aspx).
For more information about hunting in the NWT, visit SpectacularNWT (http://www.spectacularnwt.com/whattodo/outdooradventure/hunting).
An umbrella organization consisting of 28 territorial sport organizations, ranging from badminton to wrestling, Sport North provides a variety of services – including financial assistance such as scholarships for promising athlete scholars, and training funding programs for young athletes who show promise.
Sport North members include:
Badminton NT (http://www.nwtbadminton.ca/)
Basketball NWT (http://www.bnwt.ca/)
Northwest Territories Biathlon Association (http://www.nwtbiathlon.com/)
NWT Boardsport (http://www.nwtboardsport.ca/)
NWT Broomball Association (http://www.nwtbroomball.com/)
Ski NWT (http://www.nwtski.com/)
NWT Curling Association (http://www.nwtcurling.com/)
NWT Gymnastics (http://www.nwtgymnastics.com/)
Hockey North (http://www.hockeynorth.ca/)
NWT Judo Association (http://nwtjudoassociation.com/)
NWY Kayak Association (http://www.nwtkayak.com/)
NWT School Athletic Federation (http://www.nwtsaf.com/)
NWT Federation of Shooting Sports (http://www.nwtfss.ca/)
NWT Soccer Association (www.nwtkicks.ca)
Special Olympics NWT (http://www.sonwt.ca/)
NWT Softball (http://www.nwtsoftball.ca/)
NWT Speedskating (http://www.nwtspeedskating.ca/)
NWT Swimming (http://www.ykpbsc.nt.ca/nwt_swimming.htm)
Tennis NWT (http://www.tennisnwt.com/)
NWT Track and Field (http://www.nwttrackandfieldchampionships.ca/)
Another good resource for information about sports and recreation in the NWT is the NWT Recreation and Parks Association (http://nwtrpa.org/), which works with communities across the NWT to promote healthy living through active recreation.