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Hay River NWT Travel Guide

Hay River is the Hub of the North and is an important stop on your epic journey through the Northwest Territories.

Hay River sandy beach Great Slave

Situated along the shore of the Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories, the community of approximately 3,820 residents boasts a large number of activities and events as well as many local attractions. The town is also an ideal base for day trips.

When you arrive in town and stop at the Visitor Centre you will feel a warm welcome in this unique northern town. The hospitality and friendliness I experienced during my visit left me with fond memories.

Why you should visit

  • It’s the largest shipping centre in the north.
  • Hay River is like a seaport with its tugs, barges, and commercial fishing operations.
  • Here you have miles of beautiful sandy beaches.
  • Some of Northwest Territories’ spectacular waterfalls are only a short drive from town.
  • Hay River has one of the best golf courses in the north.
Old Shipyard NWT
Old Ships at the shipyard

Getting there and around

Hay River is situated along the freshwater lake of Great Slave Lake and is surrounded by wilderness.

Like many other small communities in the north, you cannot reach Hay River by public transportation. You will need a vehicle to visit the town and its surroundings.

Take Mackenzie Highway #1 through Northern Alberta to Enterprise, Northwest Territories. When you get to Enterprise, take Highway #2 to Hay River. From Enterprise to Hay River is 40 km, about a 30-minute drive.

If you come across the Liard Highway 7 from British Columbia, Highway 7 will turn into Mackenzie Highway 1 which will take you to the High River turn-off.

Watch the 40 km/hr speed limit when you drive around town.

History of Hay River

The people of the Great Slave NWT
The people of the Great Slave – the Dene

The area was the original homeland of the Slavey Dene. In 1868 the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post established a permanent settlement and it was followed by a Roman Catholic Mission in 1869 and an Anglican Mission in 1894.

Top things to see and do

A day at the beach

Hay River has the best beach in the North with miles of dunes stretching out along Great Slave Lake. The area is ideal for camping, strolling in the sand and photographing the piles of driftwood along the way.

Fisherman’s Warf

Sandy beach Great Slave Lake
Sandy Beach on the Great Slave Lake

If you happen to be in town on a Saturday morning during the summer months, make sure to take a drive down to Vale Island. Explore the outdoor market at Fisherman’s Wharf, situated along the river near all the local fishing boats. There you will find local vendors selling fresh fresh-caught Great Slave fish, produce, baked goods and local arts and crafts.

Fisherman’s Wharf operates on Saturdays in summer from 10 am to 2 pm. 

The old shipyard Hay River NWT
The old shipyard at Great Slave Lake, Hay River

Hay River Heritage Centre

The heritage building on Vale Island was once the old Hudson Bay Store. The museum hosts several events, exhibits, and artifacts. Please check the Hay River Museum’s website for a complete listing of events.

The Hay River

Explore the Hay River (in South Slavey: Kátå’odehche) with its origins in the muskeg of northwestern Alberta. In the Northwest Territories, it passes over two spectacular waterfalls, the Alexandra Falls and Louise Falls. It flows through the town of Hay River and discharges into Great Slave Lake.

Both waterfalls are an easy drive from the town of Hay River.

Hay River NWT
Hay River

Day trips

  • Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park – located 43 km southwest of Hay River. Watch from two viewing platforms, Alexandra Falls and Louise Falls. For a more magnificent experience, walk the beautiful 2 km trail that winds along the Hay River Gorge from Alexandra Falls to Louise Falls.
  • Fort Resolution – 159 km to Fort Resolution one way.  It will take approximately two and a half hours. If you are not limited with time, make it a two-day trip. It is worth it.
Shore of Great Lake NWT
Walk along the shores of the Great Lake from Fort Resolution to Mission Island

Hiking

The eight-kilometre Twin Falls Gorge Trail follows a canyon rim through lush boreal woodlands with spectacular vistas and informative signage. You can hike the trail yourself, or sign up for an interpretive walk with a local Dene storyteller and tour guide.

Alexandra Falls Enterprise NWT
Spectacular Alexandra Falls

Aurora

The Northwest Territories are where you want to see the Aurora Borealis dancing overhead. When it gets dark again in late summer, scan the skies when sitting around the campfire late at night.

Where to stay

Hay River has an excellent Territorial Campground and a couple of private ones, as well as hotels and B & B accommodation.

Hay River Territorial Campground

Located on Vale Island, the campground is directly adjacent to the beach with easy access to town while still having a remote location feel. Group camping areas are also available right on the beach.

This is the perfect spot to relax on the sandy beach under the midnight sun and watch the waves of the Great Slave.  

Other accommodations in Hay River

Visitor Information Centre

Hay River Visitor Information Centre
Visitor Information Centre

Stop at the Visitor Information Centre at 923 Mackenzie Highway (on the corner of Mackenzie Highway and McBryan Drive) the first thing you get into town. Knowledgeable staff will share information about the surrounding region and what is happening in town.

Washroom facilities are available and free Wifi. Check out the artisan shop featuring local art.

If you are travelling by camper, top up your water and drain your septic tank here.

Gasoline and Groceries

Whichever direction you’re heading, Hay River is where you want to fill up your gas tank. Don’t count on getting gasoline in Enterprise. The service station was shut down when I was there and I had to drive back to Hay River.

There is a Super A Foods Store in town where you can stock up on your food supply.

Read more about the North

NORTHWEST TERRITORIES