Hay River, NWT – Travel Guide
Hay River is known as the Hub of the North and is an important stop on your epic journey through the Northwest Territories.
Situated along the shore of the Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories, the community of approximately 3,700 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.
The moment 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.
Table of Contents
- Why you should visit
- Getting there and around
- History of Hay River
- Top things to see and do
- Day trips
- Where to stay
- Visitor Information Centre
- Gasoline and Groceries
- More about the North
Why you should visit
- It’s the largest shipping centre in the north.
- The town has the look of 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.
- Known for having one of the best golf courses in the north.
Getting there and around
Hay River, situated along the freshwater lake of Great Slave Lake is the crossroads of the Northwest Territories 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, NWT. When you get to Enterprise, take Highway #2 to Hay River. The distance From Enterprise to Hay River is 40 km and it’s about a 30 minutes 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 area was the original homeland of the Slavey Dene. In 1868 the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post established a permanent settlement and 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 and strolling in the sand and photographing the piles of driftwood along the way.
If you happen to be in town on a Saturday morning during the summer month, 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.
Hay River Heritage Centre
Located on Vale Island, the heritage building was once the old Hudson Bay store. The museum hosts a number of 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) which has 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.
- 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 absolutely worth it.
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.
The Northwest Territories are where you want to see the Aurora Borealis dancing overhead. Wenn it gets dark again late summer make sure to scan the skies when you’re sitting around the campfire late at night.
Where to stay
The town 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 watching the waves of the Great Slave.
Other accommodation in Hay River
- Accommodation in Canada
- Sign up for Airbnb and get credit for your first stay
- How to find the perfect accommodation on sites like Airbnb
- Wilderness Camping
- How to Find Free Camping in Canada
Visitor Information Centre
Stop at the Visitor Information Centre at 923 Mackenzie Highway (on the corner of the Mackenzie Highway and McBryan Drive) the first thing you get into town. Knowledgable staff will supply you with information about the surrounding region and let you know 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
No matter which direction you’re heading, Hay River is the place 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 your food supply.