The Northwest Territories is a vast land of forests, mountains and arctic tundra, dotted with water, including the Great Slave Lake. There are only two roads, one through British Columbia and one through Alberta. There are approximately 40,000 inhabitants in these territories, half of whom live in the capital Yellowknife, north of the Great Slave Lake.
To reach the Northwest Territories is to cross the 60th parallel. 🙂 From Alberta, it is well signposted at the entrance and there is even a stop to sleep, drink free coffee or tea and use the toilet during opening hours.
Our first base in the Northwest Territories was the city of Hay River. It is the largest city (3,500 inhabitants) south of the Great Slave Lake. We found a great place to sleep by the lake beach and spent several days there to rest after so much road to get to it. We were able to swim and spend an evening with a small driftwood fire. 🙂
The city center had everything you needed to live there and the houses looked very comfortable. It kind of made me want to live in this setting with the beautiful lake and the most beautiful forests I have ever seen. It wasn’t very warm in summer, you can’t imagine winter. But that’s probably why the houses were sturdy.
Wood Buffalo National Park
Wood Buffalo National Park was a must for us. Imagine! This park is bigger than Switzerland! It is Canada’s largest national park and the second largest national park in the world, the first being Northeast Greenland National Park. Wood Buffalo NP has the largest beaver dam in the world and the largest herd of wild wood bison in the world. It is also a starry sky reserve, the largest in Canada. In short, a must!
There are 270 kilometers between Hay River and the city, Fort Smith, at the end of the only road that passes through the national park. We took our time to travel this road, stopping to see a sinkhole. It is a large hole formed by the collapse of underground rivers.
Then, we did a small detour on a dirt track to go for a walk on the salt plains, the only ones in Canada. They testify to the presence of an inland sea 270 million years ago.
Arriving at Fort Smith, we found a place to sleep with a magnificent view of the Slave River. The next day, we drove back and saw many wood bison. It was very impressive, they are beautiful animals.
Yellowknife, capital of the Northwest Territories
From Hay River, we hit the road to Yellowknife trying to do it all at once. There are 481 kilometers, part of which is located in a nature reserve for wood bison. You should also know that over the last 100 kilometers before arriving in Yellowknife, it is difficult to drive more than 70 kilometers an hour because of the condition of the road. This region of Canada is built on permafrost so it moves, and the road is not designed to move so there are a lot of holes and bumps … With the RV, we drove an average of 50 kilometers an hour.
Arriving in Yellowknife in the early evening, we waited until the next day to set off to explore the city. We wandered around the two small lakes which are in the heart of the capital. We also went for a walk on the edge of the Great Slave Lake which completely changes landscape in this city, where the inhabitants settled on the water with floating houses. It was wonderful!
The road leading to Yellowknife, more or less stops there, or 70 kilometers further. Afterwards, it becomes a private road which leads to active diamond mines. Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, was built on gold, but it grew thanks to diamonds.
A surprising encounter
We met a young couple, like us in a motorhome, who had decided to come to Yellowknife from Nova Scotia to find work and settle. Their plan was to live in their RV year-round on the lake. You should know that it is -30 °C in winter in Yellowknife.
When we met them, they were re-insulating by adding several layers to the body of the camper. They even installed a wood-burning stove in the RV. They were waiting for winter to park on the frozen lake and live there. During the winter, they plan to build a makeshift raft and turn their moterhome into a floating house. A crazy project that made us dream.
Leaving Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories
We really fell in love with this little town in the middle of nowhere, we have long wondered about the possibility of living there. When we left, I was really not well. We didn’t want to leave, but we had to continue our road trip, and we had so much driving to do to reach our next destination. It was the biggest problem when considering living in Yellowknife, it’s so far from it all. You have to take a plane as soon as you want to go somewhere else.
On the way back, after a few kilometers, Pierre-Adrien parked without warning and turned off the engine. He went to the back of the truck, re-started the music that was playing and knelt next to me between the two seats of the camper. He was holding a ring from a Kinder Egg toy we got in Thailand a year ago. This is how he proposed on August 08, 2019. And I obvioulsy said yes! 😀 Time almost stopped for the duration of our stay in Yellowknife, it was a perfect moment.
That evening, we drove to the 60th parallel for the night. Pierre-Adrien drove three days in a row to return to Edmonton (1,500 km). Then we passed by Calgary before leaving for the Rockies.