Four people swim in a lake with pine forests and mountains in the background. The four people are all smiling and laughing.

Why a trip to Canada’s stunning Northwest Territories should be on your summer bucket list

Affectionately known as the Land of the Midnight Sun, the summer months present one of the best months to visit the Northwest Territories.

From June to August, the NWT sees clear blue skies, flanked by a shimmering sun that never truly sets. Divided by the Arctic Circle, on June 21, which marks the Summer Solstice, the sun never sinks below the horizon, meaning that until mid-July, the Northwest Territories sees a delirious amount of sunshine at all hours of the day. Depending on how far north travellers trek into the Arctic Circle, the constant sunshine can last for up to six months.

While darkness truly never comes to Canada’s far north from April to July, by August, the Aurora Borealis resumes visibility and paints the northern skies in brilliant shades of electric green, deep purple, and inky indigo. 

The Northwest Territories are divided into six definite regions, each one distinctly beautiful from the next.

SOUTH SLAVE

South Slave, located south of Great Slave Lake, is the jumping point into the Territory, with direct access from the Alberta border. South Slave is home to Canada’s largest national park, Wood Buffalo, which spans 44,741 sq. km and is open for camping from now until Sept. 30. 

Photo credit: Angela Gzowski

NORTH SLAVE

To the north of Great Slave Lake lies North Slave, an area that’s home to the oldest rock formation in the world, the four billion-year-old Acasta Gneiss. North Slave is also home to the NWT’s largest Indigenous population, the Tłı̨chǫ (sometimes spelled Tlicho) people. 

Photo credit: Angela Gzowski

DECHO

Adventure travellers shouldn’t skip out on a visit to Dehcho, where breathtaking mountain backdrops and winding rivers abound. Dehcho is also home to the Nahanni National Park Reserve, which was designated as a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its incomparable geological land formations, which include deep canyons, thunderous waterfalls, and ancestral Dehcho First Nations sites. 

Photo Credit: Destination Canada

SAHTU

Sahtu, which borders the Yukon Territory on its western side and Inuvik to the north, is a backcountry camping lover’s dream, and is considered one of the most remote places in NWT, meaning travellers are very likely to come across an abundance of regional flora and fauna, like wood buffalo, moose and grizzly bears. 

Photo credit: Colin Field

WESTERN ARCTIC

The Western Arctic, a land of polar bears and sprawling tundra, is flanked by the Mackenzie River, and is where travellers can find a direct link to parts of the famed Northwest Passage. 

Photo Credit: Gerold Sigl/NWT Tourism

YELLOWKNIFE

Finally, Yellowknife, NWT’s capital, provides endless fun year round, and is a “little big city” that’s buzzing with community and culture.

From paddling, rafting, cruising or fishing the dozens of lakes and rivers, to embarking on a road trip down one of many scenic highways, to camping out under the Northern Lights, playing a round of golf, or embarking on an Indigenous-led tour, there’s no shortage of things to see and do this summer in the Northwest Territories.




Land of Lore and the Midnight Sun

Here comes the sun – in a major way. The Northwest Territories is now basking in long, sunny days, with summertime hikers, paddlers, and adventurers enjoying the midnight sun and exploring the Great Outdoors. 

But take note, winter also brings advantages for outdoor  enthusiasts, including spectacular viewings of the Northern Lights, with the celestial show available on average 240 nights a year, thanks to a combination of generally clear nights, low humidity, and the Northwest Territories being ideally located for maximal Aurora activity.

And all that underscores how the Northwest Territories is a dream location for those seeking a pristine part of the planet. 

The sprawling territory is home to only 42,000 people, nearly half of whom are Indigenous. Topography includes Arctic islands, huge swaths of forest, the barrenlands, and rugged mountain ranges. The Northwest Territories has six national parks and national park reserves, including Nahanni, home to towering Virginia Falls, and Thaidene Nene, Canada’s newest national park. 

Nahanni is steeped in legend, home to the likes of Deadman Valley, so named for two brothers who set off in 1905 in hopes of gold, but were later found dead, minus their heads, fueling all kinds of speculation about their fate. Another draw is Wood Buffalo National Park, which straddles the NWT-Alberta border and is a summer home to endangered whooping cranes, bison, and other intriguing wildlife. Both Wood Buffalo and Nahanni have UNESCO World Heritage Status. 

One option for exploring the North is road tripping the Dempster Highway, a 737-kilometre-long journey that begins just outside Dawson City, Yukon Territory, and works its way over rugged mountain ranges, crossing the Yukon-Northwest Territories border and the Arctic Circle before arriving in the Arctic community of Inuvik, NWT From Inuvik, you can continue onto the Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk where you can dip your toes in the Arctic Ocean. This road is the only highway to the top of the world and connects Canada from coast to coast to coast.

With wide-open spaces, spooky stories, the world’s best Aurora, fantastic fishing, a world of waterways, and rich Indigenous cultural experiences, the Northwest Territories is nothing short of spectacular. 

Story by Ian Stalker