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Liard Highway Route

Epic Road Trip: Fort Nelson, BC to Checkpoint, NWT via the Liard Trail, the only connection between British Columbia and Northwest Territories.

Northwest Territories Border Liard Highway
Northwest Territories Border Liard Highway

About the Liard Highway

Liard Highway, (Highway 77 in British Columbia and Highway 7 in the Northwest Territories) is an all-weather road linking northern British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.

The Highway is also known as the Liard Trail and starts two hours from Alaska Highway. It is an alternative route to the MacKenzie Highway 1 through Northern Alberta.

This epic gravel highway ends at Checkpoint where it meets Mackenzie Highway 1 known as the Heritage Route.

Bison Herds along Liard Highway
Bison Herds along Liard Highway

Highlights

  • Moose, Bison, Black bears and other wildlife rumbling the dusty roadsides.
  • No RV line ups or commercialized places along the way;
  • Views of the Mackenzie Mountains and the Liard River;
  • Handcrafted local artwork at Fort Liard;
  • Jumping off spot for the Nahanni National Park Reserve; air access from Fort Simpson.
Liard Trail paved to the Northwest Territories border
Liard Trail paved to the Northwest Territories border

Before the trip

Long before I headed that direction I spent hours in front of my old torn Yukon /NWT map trying to plan my travel route north. The Liard Highway somehow worried me.

It’s not that I’m a novice road tripper, not at all. I travelled to the north before. The famous Dempster Highway to Inuvik I survived two years earlier and a few other gravel highways since then.

Still, the Liard somehow seemed to be a challenge. This has to do with the lack of information available about the drive.

In the end, the lack of resources was a good enough reason for me to finally head that way.

Butterflies gathering at a rest stop on the Liard Trail
Butterflies gathering at a rest stop on the Liard Trail

Communities

  • Fort Liard
  • For Simpson

The small remote communities along the Liard Trail live in isolation and deal with the limitations that the remoteness and the cold and long night offer them. Many people in these communities still live off the land.

Road Conditions

The Liard Highway is an all-weather road linking northern British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. The highway is paved to the Northwest Territories border and gravel after that.

Beginning 27 km north of Fort Nelson on the Alaska Highway, it runs approximately 400 km north to join the Mackenzie Highway a short distance south of Fort Simpson, NWT.

Liard gravel highway
The gravel part of the Liard Highway

Gas Stations

  • Fort Nelson
  • Fort Liard
  • Fort Simpson

Car Rental

When to visit

June to mid-August is the best time for road-tripping in the Northwest Territories. That’s when you get pleasant temperatures with an early sunrise and late sunset, if the sun sets at all, in the land of the midnight sun.

Once the summer ends in mid-August the temperatures get cooler quickly and snow can come any time. Northwest Territories’ long winter season begins in October and lasts until May. To see the Northern Lights, you have to go there in winter during the near-constant winter darkness.

The Journey

Triple G Hideaway in  Fort Nelson BC
Triple G Hideaway in Fort Nelson BC

Arriving from southern British Columbia I camped at Triple G Hideaway in Fort Nelson for a night. This private campground is conveniently located opposite the Visitor Information Centre and offers all modern camping facilities plus a restaurant as well as washing machines and dryers.

If you’re sleeping in an SUV or tent, you most probably will be perched between large RV rigs. Another option is to find a camping spot along the river beach where locals seem to spend their time.

It’s free camping and a superb location if you have a travel partner. By myself, I didn’t feel comfortable to put up camp for the night. Inquire at the Visitor Centre how to get there.

Scenic Highway 77 begins 28 km north of Fort Nelson on the Alaska Highway. The section of the Liard Trail (Hwy 77) runs 138 km to the British Columbia and the Northwest Territories borders where it enters the Dehcho region.

Liard Trail Northwest Territories sign
Beginning of the Liard Trail

Fort Nelson to Beaver Lake Recreation Site

From Fort Nelson, drive north on the Alaska Highway (approx 15 minutes), to Highway 77, turn right at the Beaver Lake Recreation Site Highway sign, continue north on Highway 77 to the 10 km marker and turn right at the Beaver Lake Recreation Site sign. The site is approx 200 meters off the highway.

Along the first stretch of the Liard Highway
Along the first stretch of the Liard Highway

Beaver Lake Recreation Site is a small campground with outhouses, picnic tables, fire pits and a small lake for canoeing but not suitable for swimming. No fees, no services, except toilet paper in the privies and a dumpster for garbage.

Beaver Lake Recreation Site, Liard Trail
Beaver Lake Recreation Site, Liard Trail

Km 0 – BC / NWT Border

At the border, it’s important to set the odometer to zero. Here the Liard Trail (Highway 7) continues for 254 km as a rough packed dirt and gravel road and joins the Mackenzie Highway south of Fort Simpson.

Stop at the NWT welcome sign and shoot some memories.

Bison sign Liard Highway
Bison along the Liard Highway can be a hazard. watch out for them

Km 38 – Fort Liard

The 6.4 km access road leads to the small First Nation village (population 615) west of the Liard Highway at the confluence of the Liard and Petitot River.

Access Road to Fort Liard, NWT
Access Road to Fort Liard, NWT

This short side trip is an absolute must. The view of the rivers and mountains from the access road and to get a feel of this place are worth the short drive.

Fort Liard NWT General Store
Fort Liard General Store

About Fort Liard:

  • Fort Liard is one of the oldest continuously occupied areas of the North.
  • The village is known as “the tropics of the north” with the warmest temperatures and it boosts to have the best growing conditions in the Northwest Territories.
  • The community offers gas, accommodations, food and a chance to buy handcrafted souvenirs at the Acho Dene Native Crafts Centre if you don’t arrive on a Sunday.
  • The area is the home to Acho Dene, renowned for its birch bark and porcupine quill artistry.
  • The Visitor Information Centre is located in the and arts and crafts store.
  • Try to get to Fort Liard on a weekday. The crafts store was closed when I arrived on a weekend in June.
Art and Craft and Visitor Centre Fort Liard, NWT
Art and Craft and Visitor Centre Fort Liard, NWT

Hay Lakes Campground, Fort Liard

Hay Lakes campground is located about 4 km along the access road to Fort Liard next to a small lake. It offers several campsites, an outhouse, firepits, picnic tables and a kitchen shelter along the lakefront. This is a delightful location to spend a night.

A beautiful hiking trail leads around the lake. Unfortunately, when I saw a big bison grazing in the field on the other side of the lake I wasn’t brave enough to do the hike.

Cars drove in and out a few times late at night and in the early morning; it seemed like locals were checking out who was camping.

The only other campers in their large RV had already left when crawled out of my RAV4 in the morning. Their generator was running late at night and again early morning. An annoying disruption in this otherwise quiet and idyllic place at Hay Lake. I fully recommend Hay Lake Campground for a stopover.

Camping at Hay Lakes Fort Liard
Camping at Hay Lakes Campground near Fort Liard

Back on the trail

I checked out Fort Liard the day before and didn’t bother to go back to the village before I continued my trip. Sunday meant the craft store and everything else would be closed.

With a topped up fuel tank, I drove back to the Liard highway and continued on my gravel travel journey.

Photo stop Liard Highway NWT
Photo stop Liard Highway

While parking in the middle of a bridge to take a picture, a fuel truck passed me; the first vehicle travelling the same direction as myself since I started my drive on the Liard Highway three days earlier.

Road sign Liard Highway distance to Yellowknife
Road sign Liard Highway with distance to Yellowknife

Km 47 – Muskeg River

Here is a turnout with information panels at the north end. This is supposed to be a good fishing spot for pike, pickerel/walleye and freshwater clams. It’s used as a swimming hole by local people.

Muskeg River Bridge, Liard Highwa
Muskeg River Bridge, Liard Highway

Km 77 – Liard Valley Viewpoint

This is a rest area providing a picturesque view of the Liard Valley and the mountains in the Liard Range.

View of the Nahanni Mountains
View of the Nahanni Mountains

K 116 – Netla River

This area is an important waterfowl breeding habitat with gorgeous views of the mountains on the opposite side of the Liard River

Netla River, Liard Highway

Km 140 – Nahanni Butte

Looking west you can see the location of the winter ice road that leads 22.3 km to Nahanni Butte (population 92). This small community at the confluence of the South Nahanni and Liard Rivers is accessible in summer by boat, floatplane or wheeled plane. To arrange for a boat taxi contact the Nahanni Butte Dene Band (867) 602 2900.

Nahanni Butt winter road access
Nahanni Butt winter road access

Nahanni National Park Reserve

Nahanni made history by becoming the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

Nahanni National Park Reserve protects a portion of the Mackenzie Mountains Natural Region and is a favourite destination for flight-seeing visitors, canoers and white-water adventures.

At Virginia Falls the river drops 90 metres nearly double the vertical drop of Niagara Falls.

Nahanni National Park Reserve is the traditional homeland and hunting grounds for the Dene people. There is archaeological evidence of occupation dating back as far as 10,000 years. Today, the land is still hunting grounds for local indigenous people. The traditions, culture and stories associated with the land run deep.

The majority of visitors travel to the park by float plane via Fort Simpson or Yellowknife.

Mountain views along the Liard Trail
Mountain views along the Liard Trail

Km 146 – Blackstone River and Blackstone River Day Use Area

There is a small picnic area between the two bridges

Blackstone River picnic area
Blackstone River picnic area

Km 150 – Blackstone Territorial Park

Blackstone Territorial Park
Blackstone Territorial Park

This park has campsites in a spectacular setting framed by stunning mountain views and abundant wildlife.

Blackstone Territorial Park Visitor Centre
Blackstone Territorial Park Visitor Centre

The visitor information building is built with local logs and has a beautiful display about First Nations history and a pot of coffee is on all day. A short hiking trail leads through a beautiful forest. This is a must-stop for everyone venturing this way.

Camping at Blackstone Territorial Park
Camping at Blackstone Territorial Park

Km 154 – Lindberg Landing

From here a road leads west to a small homestead of Lindenberg Landing spread along the shore of the Liard River. Rustic guest cabins are available for rent. Reservations are required.

Km 220 – Popular River

Know as an excellent spot for Arctic grayling and pike fishing.

Popular River Liard Highway
Popular River Liard Highway

KM 255 – Checkpoint (Junction Liard Highway 7 and Mackenzie Heritage Highway 1)

There are no Visitor Services at Checkpoint. Continue northwest on Highway 1 to travel the Heritage Route to Fort Simpson and Wrigley.

Fort Simpson is the oldest established trading post in the Mackenzie Valley and full of history. Here you find all the basic amenities to support your journey.

For the extension of the Liard Trail at the Checkpoint Junction continue with on Heritage Route to Fort Simpson and Wrigley.

Checkpoint Intersection Liard Highway and Mackenzie Highway
Checkpoint Intersection Liard Highway and Mackenzie Highway

Territorial Campgrounds

Important Safety Tips

  • Never forget that you’re travelling in a wild, rugged country.
  • Sections of the Liard Highway are used for emergency airstrips.
  • Check out weather conditions at your destination and along your route before you leave.
  • Top up the tunk whenever you get a chance; bring extra fuel.
  • Make sure to bring an extra spare tire, just in case.
  • Don’t depend on cell phones. A satellite phone is highly recommended for long trips.
  • Let someone know about the route you’re taking and when you expect to get there.
  • Take a GPS unit along. This will not only help you navigate but if you run into a problem, it will let you know your location.
  • Slow down for vehicles going the other way, especially trucks; it might save you the windshield
  • Watch out for local wildlife a treat it with respect. Huge animals like bison, muskoxen and bears can be unpredictable if they feel threatened.
  • Treat the environment with respect. Be careful with campfires, and don’t leave anything that could damage the unspoiled wilderness and its inhabitants.
  • Near towns, watch out for ATV’s (4-wheelers) and people walking along the road.
  • 30 km/hour is the speed limit in most NWT towns. Adjust your driving accordingly.

Emergency Services

For emergency services dial 911 or phone the local RCMP.

Travel Information

globe icon Show map of Liard Highway

Related Links

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