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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
Access: By river taxi in summer (call ahead) or via winter ice road across the Liard.
7. 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Come for the Arctic Grayling run in early spring, if you are an angler.
Access: By road
12. Hay River
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.
Watch out for Aurora Borealis dancing overhead when it gets dark.
Access: By road, direct flights from Edmonton, Yellowknife
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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
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.
Stop at the Tljcho Store to pick up an exquisite pair of moccasins.
Access: By road
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.
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
This website contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and companies I use and the income helps keep this website up. Thank you!
TRAVEL PLANNING RESOURCES
Looking to book your next trip? Why not use these resources?
Book Your Flight Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on KAJAK or Momondo. Save money on airfare by searching for cheap flight tickets with these two search engines.
Book Your Accommodation Book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you are planning to stay at other accommodation, use Booking.com as it offers the cheapest prices for guesthouses and hotels.
Travel Insurance Don’t forget Travel Insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It gives you protection in case anything goes wrong. My favourite company that offers the best service and value is Safety Wing.
Get Your Travel Visas Get your Travel Visa hassle-free with iVisa. Apply directly online with their simplified application process and personal assistance. They also offer a passport renewal service.
Need More Help Planning Your Trip? Jump over to Travel Resource Page where I highlight all the great companies that I trust when I travel.
Need New Camping or Travel Gear, Maps, or Outdoor Clothes? Check out Backcountry Store for the best companies.
Sign Up for Free Canadian travel tips and monthly newsletters
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.
Heading that way in late June, maybe my Rav will come across your Rav somewhere! Safe travels.
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!