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Heritage Route (Mackenzie Highway 1)

Epic Road trip: From Checkpoint to Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories, an extension of the Liard Highway

Fort Simpson located at the confluence of the Mackenzie and Liard Rivers
Mackenzie and Liard Rivers

If you drive across the Liard Trail from British Columbia to Checkpoint, the Heritage Route will be an extension of your trip taking you northwest to Fort Simpson.

Fort Simpson is the place to get gasoline and stock up with travel essentials, but that’s not the only reason to visit this northern community. Fort Simpson is an interesting historical place and has lots to offer. Don’t miss it.

The Journey

Kilometres reflect the distance from the NWT Alberta border and are only approximate.

Km 413 – Checkpoint

Checkpoint is at the junction of Highway 1 (Heritage Route) and Highway 7 (Liard Highway). There are no services available at this intersection

Checkpoint Intersection, NWT, Heritage Route
Checkpoint Intersection, NWT, Highway #1 and 7

The nearest location to get gasoline and other travel essentials is the community of Fort Simpson, 61 km away. Therefore the side trip to Fort Simpson is pretty much a must unless you carry fuel with you.

Continue northwest on Highway 1 to travel the Heritage Route to Fort Simpson and Wrigley.

The stretch of road from Checkpoint to Fort Simpson is paved all the way and has hardly any traffic. To get to Fort Simpson you cross the Mackenzie River on the Lafferty ferry, a daily free service from May to October.

Km 456 – Liard River crossing on the Lafferty Ferry

The Lafferty Ferry operates daily from 8.00 am until 11.45 pm on-demand from late May through to October. In winter an ice road replaces the ferry.

ATTENTION! During spring break-up and fall river freeze-up crossing the river is not possible. The same applies to the Johnny Berens Ferry on the way to Wrigley. Check current river crossing conditions before heading that way at www.inf.gov.nt.ca

During spring break-up and fall river freeze-up crossing the river is not possible. The same applies to the Johnny Berens Ferry on the way to Wrigley. Check current river crossing conditions before heading that way at www.inf.gov.nt.ca

 Driving off the Lafferty Ferry on the way to Fort Simpson
Driving off the Lafferty Ferry on the way to Fort Simpson

Km 471 – Junction of Highway 1 and Fort Simpson Access

Highway 1 turns left and winds northwest 220.5 km to the community of Wrigley, the end of the Heritage Trail. Continuing straight will take you to the village of Fort Simpson.

Fort Simpson

Fort Simpson (population 1,209) is located at the confluence of the Mackenzie and Liard Rivers and is known by the Dene as Liidlii Kue (a place where the rivers come together).

Fort Simpson walking tour, Old Barn Heritage Trail
Along the historical walking tour at Fort Simpson

Fort Simpson is the largest community in this region and the oldest former trading post on the Mackenzie River. It is also the Gateway to the Nahanni and the starting point for trips to the mountains by air or boat.

The Hudson's Bay Company
The Hudson’s Bay Company

Nahanni National Park is one of Canada’s largest and most spectacular nature reserves, accessible primarily by air charters.

If you’re bound for the Nahanni, make sure to stop in at the administration office for Nahanni National Park Reserve. The office provides information, registration and reservation services.

Simpson Air, Fort Simson Northwest Territories
Simpson Air, Fort Simson Northwest Territories

Unfortunately, the flight I booked into the Nahanni with Ted Grant from Simpson Air was cancelled during my recent Fort Simpson visit. This is one more reason for another Northwest Territories road trip.

A friendly local at Fort Simpson, NWT
Checking out the neighbourhood at Fort Simpson

Take a walk through Fort Simpson’s colourful history and visit the riverfront heritage sites. Learn about the Dene culture, check out the exhibits at the visitor centre. Book a flight to Virginia Falls, or launch a canoe into the mighty Mackenzie River (the Dene name is Dehcho).

The Visitor Centre sells a selection of local arts and crafts made by local artists of the Decho region and offers historic walking tours.

Papal Site where Saint John Paul visited in 1987
Papal Site where Saint John Paul visited in 1987

Fort Simpson Highlights

  • Historical Walking Tour with a local guide. (Inquire at the Visitor Information Centre).
  • Fort Simpson’s Papal Site where Saint John Paul visited in 1987. The site is now home to the largest wooden teepee in the world.
  • Open Sky Festival, an annual arts/music festival held the first weekend in July.
  • Book an air charter to Nahanni National Park and Virginia Falls for an experience of a lifetime.
  • Home to many different species of birds. Also look out for migratory waterfowl, including tundra swans and snow geese.

History

Fort Simpson has been a gathering place for First Nations long before European fur traders, explorers and missionaries arrived.

During the fur trading years, the area was an important location for the Northwest Trading Company and the Hudson’s Bay company. The community “Fort of the Forks” was established in 1803 and was later reamed Fort Simpson after the first governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Fort Simpson NWT Cemetery
Fort Simpson’s Cemetery

Accommodation

Nahanni Inn and Maroda Motel, plus a couple of bed and breakfast if you don’t like to camp.

Maroda Hotel, Fort Simpson NWT
Maroda Hotel, Fort Simpson NWT

Fort Simpson Territorial Park

The Territorial Park is located at the entrance to Fort Simpson, and at the confluence of the Mckenzie and Liard Rivers.

The park has powered and non-powered sites and is within walking distance to town. It offers drinking water, firewood, picnic facilities and a kitchen shelter with easy access to the community trail that surrounds Fort Simpson.

Showers close at 8 pm to 8 am and so did the toilets. I had to walk a fair distance to find an outhouse. Peeing in the bush was not an option as my spot wasn’t private enough. I changed spots the next day which solved that problem.

DID YOU KNOW? Water is trucked into most of Northwest Territories Parks. Please use wisely!

Northwest Territories mighty rivers Fort Simpson, Heritage Trail
Along Northwest Territories mighty rivers

Detour to Wrigley

Km 471 – Junction of highway 1 and Fort Simpson access

To complete the Heritage Route, head 220 km northwest to Wrigley. Please note: I didn’t venture to Wrigley this time around and used information from the NWT Parks brochure.

You will cross the one-lane bridge at Martin River and another one-lane bridge at Shale Creek at km 529. At km 550 the Johnny Berens Ferry – Nduleh Crossing will take you across the river on demand from 9 am to 11 am and from 2 pm to 8 pm from late May through October. Check the current river crossing rapport before heading out www.inf.gov.nt.ca

You will be rewarded with grand mountain view of the Mackenzie Mountains, as well as the McConnell Mountain Range on your way to Wrigley.

Wrigley

Wrigley (population 119) is the northernmost point along the Heritage Route. You can reach this small Slavey Dene community after a scenic two-hour journey from Fort Simpson.

Originally called Old Fort Island, Wrigley was relocated to its present spot in 1965. The picturesque community overlooks the Makenzie River, with the Franklin Mountains in the distance.

Most of the Dene people in Wrigley live in log homes and carry on their traditional lifestyle of hunting, fishing and trapping.

In winter the community is used as a stopover for vehicles heading further north on the winter roads to the communities of Tulita, Deline, Norman Wells, Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake.

Outfitters in Wrigley offer Mackenzie River canoe trips, hiking in the Mackenzie Mountains, chasing northern lights, fishing trips and much more. Call the band office for more information at 867 581 3321.

Emergency Services

For emergency services dial 911 or phone the local RCMP.

Travel Information

globe icon Show map of Heritage Route / Mackenzie Highway

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