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17 Best Towns in Northwest Territories

You will connect with something much bigger than yourself when you make the journey to the Northwest Territories. It was an authentic, life-changing experience for me. Visiting the tiny towns in Northwest Territories teaches you awareness of the beauty as well as the struggles of people living up there.

Getting to these small communities is half of the adventure. In summer, free ferries take drivers across unbridged rivers. A handful of the towns in Northwest Territories on my list are all-season road-accessible. Others can only be reached by ice road in winter, or year-round by air.

During fall freeze-up and spring break up these ferries do not run preventing overland access. In winter, ice roads give you access to most of Northwest Territories’ small towns.

I am planning to visit the small towns in Northwest Territories, the wonderful northern people, the vast land of waterfalls, and wild wonders again pretty soon.

I was always the first one in line to witness the wonders of the North, and most times I was the only one on the road. It felt like having the whole world for myself.

Read more: Road Trip Planner for the Wilderness

Best towns in Northwest Territories

Facts about small towns in Northwest Territories

The Northwest Territories is home to a small population but a great many people, Dene, Metis, and Inuvialuit have lived here for thousands of years. The territory consists of a number of self-governing First Nations and more official languages than most countries have.

Coral Falls Northwest Territories
Coral Falls – Waterfalls Route NWT

Northwest Territories is the land of the midnight sun with dense boreal forests and wild open Barrenlands. It’s where herds of bison belong to the landscape. It’s the land where ice roads connect communities during winter, and where wild, rushing rivers reach into every corner of the land.

17 Best Towns In Northwest Territories to visit

1. Tsiigehtchic

Tsiigehtchic, small towns in Northwest Territories
Tsiigehtchic – Dempster Highway route

The name of this little town in Northwest Territory is translated to “Mouth of the Iron River” and has a population of just below 200.

Located on top of a bluff at the confluence of the MacKenzie and Arctic Red Rivers, you can stroll this Gwich’in community’s river bank, and hike a network of local trails. It’s a great stopover for Dempster road-trippers.

Read more: Dempster Highway – road trip to the Arctic

Bucket List Tsiigehtchic:

  • Have a picnic at the community’s picturesque 80-year-old church and enjoy the sweeping river views.
  • Enjoy the adventure to get here.

Access: Via the Dempster, with a ferry in summer and an ice bridge in winter

2. Fort McPherson

Dempster - Lost Patrol
Fort McPherson’s and Lost Patrol – Dempster Highway route

This friendly Gwich’in hamlet on the Peel River is the first you will encounter when driving up the Dempster.

The town with a population of approximately 790 people is located in the Mackenzie Delta and is home to the Telit Gwich’in people.

McPherson is famous for their Tent and Canvas Shop, a source of heavy-duty trapper’s tents. I ordered a trapper tent from them, long before I visited the small town in NWT and knew where this place was.

Here you also find the graves of the four Mounties who died on the Lost Patrol from Fort McPherson to Dawson City in the winter of 1911.

Read more: Dempster Highway – road trip to the Arctic

Bucket List Fort McPherson:

  • Visit McPherson’s world-famous Tent and Canvas Shop.
  • Visit the graves of the tragic Lost Patrol of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police.
  • Check out the Midway Lake Music Festival in August.

Read the true story about the Lost Patrol:

Access: By road on the Dempster Highway

3. Inuvik

Inuvik - Igloo church - small towns NWT
Igloo Church Our Lady of Victory in Inuvik, Dempster Highway route

Inuvik is an Inuvialuktun word and means “place of man”. Built in the 1950s as an administrative centre in the Western Arctic, it is currently Canada’s largest town above the Arctic Circle, with a population of approximately 3,500.

Today, Inuvik is the Western Arctic’s cosmopolitan hub with hotels, restaurants, galleries, and a variety of tour providers. The Igloo Church is the landmark of Inuvik and it’s definitely worth having a glimpse inside and looking at the paintings by local Inuvialuit artist Mona Thrasher.

Behind the church is the Inuvik Community Greenhouse, the northernmost greenhouse in North America.

Read more:

Bucket List Inuvik:

  • Drop in at the friendly Western Arctic Visitor Centre.
  • Visit the famed Igloo Church.
  • Take a tour of the Community Greenhouse.

Access: Via the Dempster or flights from Yellowknife or Whitehorse

4. Tuktoyaktuk, one of the most unique towns in Northwest Territories

Welcome to Tuktoyaktuk, unique towns in Northwest Territories
Welcome to Tuktoyaktuk, the end of the road at the Arctic Ocean

When you get here, you made it to the end of the road, to the end of the continent. Take a dip in the Arctic Ocean, you deserve it.

With a population of approximately 980, Tuktoyaktuk is the biggest town in Northwest Territories above the treeline. “Tuk” overlooks the Arctic Ocean.

Tuk has a long history as a traditional whaling town. Since ancient times, the Inuvialuit have lived on the shores of the Arctic Ocean and established the permanent settlement at Tuktoyaktuk in 1905.

Over the years this small town in the NWT has served Inuvialuit as a base for caribou and beluga hunting. Tuk was also used as a DEW Line radar site and has been a centre for oil and gas exploration.

Read more:

Bucket List Tuktoyaktuk:

  • Take a tour of Ibyuk, the world’s second-largest pingo.
  • Check out Our Lady of Lourdes Schooner.
  • Take part in the Beluga Jamboree in April.
  • Stay for the Land of the Pingos music festival in July.

Access: By road, year-round from Inuvik

5. Fort Liard

Fort Liard NWT
The small community of Fort Liard- on the Liard Route

Fort Liard is located off the Liard Trail, some 30 km north of the NWT-BC border, and is home to approximately 600 people. The local Dene have lived in the area for as long as 10,000 years, hunting, fishing, and trapping.

This riverfront small town in Northwest Territories is known as the tropics of the North, enjoying a mild climate and great vegetation, and is visited regularly by herds of bison.

Read more: Liard Highway Route

Bucket List Fort Liard:

  • Browse the beautiful arts and crafts at the Acho Dene Native Craft store.
  • Camp at Hay Lakes campground for a night and walk around the lake.

Access: By air and by road, just off Highway 7

6. Nahanni Butt

Nahanni Butt winter road in small towns in Northwest Territories
Nahanni Butte, winter road only

This small town in Northwest Territories is named for the impressive mountain guarding it. The Dene community of approximately 99 is situated where the Nahanni River joins the Liard.

Nahanni Butte is a common stop for paddlers and offers awesome hiking to the top of the butte.

Read more: Liard Highway Route

Bucket List Nahanni Butte:

  • Visit the log church and the school.
  • Hike to the top of the butte.

Access: By river taxi in summer (call ahead) or via winter ice road across the Liard.

7. Fort Simpson

Heritage Trail Mackenzie and Liard Rivers
Heritage Trail at Fort Simpson

This beautiful and historic Northwest Territories town with a population of approximately 1300 is located at the confluence of the massive Liard River and the even bigger Mackenzie. This area has been inhabited for nine thousand years by the Slavey peoples and their ancestors.

Most of the town’s resources are on the main drag, 100th Street.

There are riverside heritage sites to explore, like the old Hudson’s Bay Company post and an area known as the Flat or the Papal grounds.

Fort Simpson is also the jump-off point for visitors to the Nahanni National Park and Reserve and the surrounding mountains.

Read more: Heritage Route NWT

Bucket List Port Simpson:

  • Walk the Heritage Trail. Inquire about walking tours at the Visitor Centre.
  • Book a flight with Simpson Air to Nahanni National Park.

Access: Direct flights from Yellowknife. By road (except during break-up/freeze-up)

8. Wrigley

The road to Wrigley NWT town
The road to Wrigley, one of the remote towns in NWT

Driving all the way to Wrigley, the northernmost point of Mackenzie Highway will take you to the Dene community of approximately 200 people. This is a scenic two-hour drive north of Fort Simpson.

The little town sits on a big bluff overlooking the Mackenzie River. In the distance, the Franklin Mountains are calling to the adventurous.

Wrigley was relocated to its present spot in 1965 for easier access. The traditional Slavey lifestyle of trapping, hunting, and fishing is still practiced here.

Read more: Heritage Route NWT

Bucket List Wrigley:

  • Book a Mackenzie River canoe trip with one of the outfitters.
  • Hike in the Mackenzie Mountains.
  • Go on a northern lights tour.
  • Take a fishing excursion.

Access: By road (except during break-up/freeze-up on the MacKenzie)

9. Jean Marie River

Along the Frontier Trails NWT
Along the Frontier Trail

Pull into this tiny community of approximately 90 people on the Mackenzie River’s south shore. Jean Marie River got its start in 1915 as a trading post, strategically located on the flats where Jean Marie meets Mackenzie.

Read more: Heritage Route NWT

Bucket List Jean Marie River:

  • Photograph the historic tugboat now retired on the shore.
  • Launch a kayak or canoe and paddle downriver to Fort Simpson.

Access: By road, via a 27 km access road off Highway 1

10. Fort Providence

Small towns in NWT Fort Providence
Fort Providence on the way to Yellowknife

Fort Providence with a population of 719 is stretching along a high bank overlooking the Mackenzie River. This historic Dene community in Northwest Territories is an essential stop for road trippers, with a gas bar and lodging.

Fort Providence has a beautiful quiet campground on the riverfront, top-notch fishing, and special crafts like porcupine quill work.

Read more: Frontier Trail to Yellowknife

Bucket List Fort Providence:

  • Look out for some hulking bison, which ramble the dusty streets and graze in local yards.
  • Take a walk along the shoreline.

Access: By road

11. Kakisa

Kakisa Hamlet small town in Northwest Territories
Kakisa on the waterfall route

This small, traditional Dene settlement of log cabins between trees is nestled beside beautiful Kakisa Lake. The small village is just a short distance from Lady Evelyn Falls which is the place for camping, fishing, paddling, and sightseeing opportunities.

Read more: Waterfall Route NWT

Bucket List Kakisa:

  • Spend time at the beautiful Lady Evelynn Falls
  • Stop at the old Cemetary.
  • Come for the Arctic Grayling run in early spring, if you are an angler.

Access: By road

12. Hay River

Hay River beach Northwest Territories Canada
Hay River beach on Great Slave Lake

Hay River, situated on the south shore of Great Slave Lake is NWT’s second-largest town with a population of approximately 3,820. The town is known as the “Hub” because it’s the terminus of Canada’s northernmost railway, a launch point for Actic-bound barges, and a key commercial fishing port.

Here you can enjoy Northwest Territories’ best beaches 24 hours a day for weeks during the summer months.

Hay River has a variety of accommodation options, restaurants, and shops as well as a Territorial Campground and a friendly Visitor Centre.

Read more: Hay River NWT Travel Guide

Bucket List Hay River:

  • Enjoy the best beaches in the NWT.
  • Spend time at Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • Visit Hay River’s Heritage Centre.
  • Watch out for Aurora Borealis dancing overhead when it gets dark.

Access: By road, direct flights from Edmonton, Yellowknife

13. Enterprise

Louise Falls, Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park  NWT
Louise Falls, Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park near Enterprise

Enterprise is located along the Hay River Canyon at the junction of Highways 1 and 2, just an hour north of the Alberta border. This small town of approximately 110 people is within hiking distance of Louise and Alexandra Falls.

Read more: Waterfall Route NWT

Bucket List Enterprise:

  • Be sure to visit the art shop and studio.
  • Spend a day at the waterfalls at Twin Falls George Territorial Park.
  • Check the Enterprise Events calendar for Dogsled Races.

Access: By road, year-round

14. Fort Resolution

Fort Res town in Northwest Territories
Fort Resolution, a beautiful town in Northwest Territories

Fort Resolution is a small town in Northwest Territories where the Slave River washes into Great Slave Lake and it has a population of approximately 570 people. This beautiful Chipewyan and Metis hamlet is the oldest in the Northwest Territories. It was founded when the Hudson Bay Company began trading furs here in the the1780s. Trapping remains a key local industry, along with commercial fishing and timber harvesting.

A walk to Mission Island is a must. Fort Res is another one of the small towns in Northwest Territories where you find friendly locals who love sharing their stories.

Read more: Fort Resolution Travel Guide

Bucket List Fort Resolution:

  • Walk down to the shore of the big lake and enjoy a sunny summer day.
  • Take the boardwalk to Mission Island and learn about the history of the town.
  • Stay overnight at the Little Buffalo River Crossing Campground.
  • Make the trip out to the abandoned site of Pine Point, just 45 minutes west of town.

Access: By road

15. Fort Smith

White pelicans Fort Smith NT
White pelicans, Fort Smith NWT

Fort Smith is another one of my favourite towns in the Northwest Territories I visited and have fond memories of. This frontier town once was one of the main entry point into the Northwest Territories. All the northbound river travellers passed through while portaging the Slave River Rapids.

Today, travellers arrive by road to tour Wood Buffalo National Park, a heaven for outdoors enthusiasts. Paddle in the Slave’s foaming whitewater and walk or cycle the riverfront Thebacha Trail.

Read More:

Bucket List Fort Smith:

  • Visit the Northern Life Museum and Cultural Centre.
  • Watch the pelicans at the whitewater rapids near town.
  • Have a picnic at Fort Smith Mission Territorial Park.
  • Enjoy great coffee at Rusty Raven Coffee Shop.
  • Gateway to Wood Buffalo National Park.
  • Stay up for the Northern Lights.

Access: By road, direct flights from Yellowknife, Edmonton

16. Behchoko

Bison along Frontier Trail
Bison along Frontier Trail

The territory’s largest Dene community on the way to Yellowknife with a population of approximately 2,150 occupies the two sites Edzo and Rae situated along Frank Channel. The town of Edzo was supposed to replace the more traditional community of Rae, on the shores of Marian Lake, but most residents refused to leave. The history of this is reason enough to add it to the list as one of the towns in Northwest Territories to visit.

Behchoko is a gateway to Great Slave Lake’s many islands on the North Arm.

Read more: Frontier Trail to Yellowknife

Behchoko Bucket List:

  • Stop at the Tljcho Store to pick up an exquisite pair of moccasins.

Access: By road

17. Yellowknife

Yellowknife old town Northwest Territories
Yellowknife, old town

Over half of the Northwest Territories population lives in Yellowknife, which is the territory’s capital city. Here you meet Yellowknife’s Dene, Metis, and Inuit from the High Arctic and a blend of people from the rest of the world.

With droning bush planes and picturesque houseboats at Yellowknife’s Old Town, you will detect an old frontier spirit. It’s like being in a different world, far away from the rest, surrounded by wilderness.

Like the rest of the northern country, Yellowknife has an interesting First Nation history and was part of the gold rush era.

Read more:

Bucket list Yellowknife:

  • Visit the Old Town with funky cabins, floating homes, and bush planes.
  • Book a free tour at the Legislative Assembly.
  • Visit the NWT Diamond Centre.
  • Hike one of Yellowknife’s beautiful trails.
  • Best place in the world to view northern lights.
  • Take a drive along the Ingrahm Trail and explore the Provincial Parks.
  • Hit the ice road and drive out to Dettah if you are visiting in winter.

Access: Road, direct flights from Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Whitehorse.

Let me know in the comments whether you have visited additional towns in Northwest Territories that should go on this list.

Related Links

Recommended Books to read:

  • Beyond the Trees: A journey alone across Canada’s Arctic by Adam Shoalts
  • Denison’s Ice Road by Edith Iglauer- A real story about driving the ice roads

The Milepost Travel Planner

The Milepost Travel Planner – Mile-By-Mile Highway Logs for Alaska, Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta, and Northwest Territories

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Yrene Dee

Yrene lives in the Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada, and is the founder of BackcountryCanadaTravel.com. She was born in Switzerland, lived and worked on different continents and has travelled the world. Yes, that's me, an Entrepreneur, wilderness nut and animal lover who prefers off-the-beaten-track places. I write about things I love. Mostely.


    • Yrene Dee

      That’s so cool! I just replace my Backcountry Canada Travel sticker on my RAV4 so you won’t be able to miss me. I hope to see you on the road!

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