Waterfalls Route NWT
Epic Road Trip: I drove the Waterfalls Route from Checkpoint, NWT travelling east to Enterprise and to the Alberta/NWT border.
There is nothing like chasing the spectacular waterfalls in Canada’s remote Northwest Territories. The waterfalls are off the beaten track along the lonely Mackenzie Highway 1, designated as the waterfalls route. There is a good chance that you will be on your own watching the thundering masses of water pounding over the cliffs.
Canada is blessed with an abundance of gigantic waterfalls. The most famous ones on Canada’s tourist spectacle list are Niagara Falls in Ontario and Helmecken Falls at Wells Gray Provincial Park, BC.
About the Waterfalls Route
The epic Waterfalls Route in the Northwest Territories is a sightseeing route through the remote wilderness with large and small waterfalls along the way and plenty of rivers and lakes. Distances between the Falls are long, but herds of bison, black bears, and other wild animals along the track and the abundance of birds make the long drives totally bearable.
The waterfall Route (Highway 1) is also known as the Mackenzie Highway. The Mackenzie Highway was built in 1942 and is named after the famous explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie who visited the area 200 years ago.
The section of Highway 1 between the Alberta border and Enterprise has been designated as the NWT Highway of Heroes. This part of the highway is a reminder of the sacrifices made by Northern soldiers, and everyone else who has died in the line of duty.
All of the major waterfall sites along the way include campgrounds. To get the best experience of the road trip I suggest spending at least one night at each one of the parks. If you have the time to do so.
- Sambaa Deh Falls and Coral Falls
- Lady Evelyn Falls
- Breathtaking Alexandra and Louise Falls
- The small Dene community of Kakisa
- Bison and bears along the road
- Excellent fishing
- Great area for fossils enthusiasts
- A pure wilderness heaven
How to get there
Km 0 of the waterfalls route (Highway 1) starts at the Alberta\NWT border and travels northwest to the service community of Checkpoint. I travelled the route in the opposite direction from Checkpoint to the Alberta/NWT border and continued south from there. Please note that this is reflected in my route description
Communities to visit along the Waterfalls Route
- Jean Marie River
The total distance of the Waterfall Highway Route from Km 0 at the Alberta/NWT border to Checkpoint is 413 km. This is the main transportation route into the Northwest Territories when you’re travelling from Alberta. I travelled the Waterfall highway from Checkpoint to the Alberta/NWT border.
About half of the Waterfalls Route was gravel when I travelled through, the rest was paved.
Be prepared for slippery and rough sections depending on the weather conditions. Always look out for equipment working on the road and follow their guidance.
Gas stations are far apart and might not be open. Plan your route accordingly and carry a jerry can of gasoline with you for an emergency fill-up. There was no gas available at Enterprise when I travelled through. Check on the situation before starting your trip.
It’s not guaranteed that you will be able to fill up your gas tank in small communities. You should be prepared for that.
- Hay River – I detoured to Hay River twice to fill up my gas tank
- Fort Resolution
- Indian Cabin if you travel south to Alberta (might not be open)
- High Level, Alberta
When to visit
Visiting the waterfalls and the sites along the Waterfalls Route in the Northwest Territories results in a special experience all year round. To see the waterfalls, rivers, and lakes frozen, I can only imagine what that would be like. I remember the magic of the frozen Niagara Falls when I lived in Hamilton, Ontario.
May to September is probably the best time for travelling this route. This is the time when the campgrounds are open and the Waterfalls are accessible.
Attention! All small Visitor Information Centres and Territorial Campgrounds are closed mid-September to mid-May.
The journey along the Waterfall Route (Highway 1) starts from Checkpoint
Total distance to NWT/Alberta border: 413 km. (Distances used are only approximately)
Checkpoint – Junction of Highway 1 and 7
There are no visitor services at Checkpoint.
Attention! The closest location for fuel is Fort Simpson, 60 km from this junction on the Heritage Route. If you take the Liard Trail from here, the next available gas pump will be at Fort Liard, 223 km away. On the Waterfalls Route, the next gas pump is at Kakisa, 245 km away.
Jean Marie River Bridge
Jean Marie River Bridge is the starting point for paddlers to reach Fort Simpson via the Jean Marie and Mackenzie Rivers.
As water levels drop, the Jean Marie River may become impassable. Check wateroffice.ec.gc.ca/ for river conditions.
Distance: 1 km – Checkpoint to Jean Marie Bridge
Access Road to Jean Marie River
A 27 km access road leads to the community of Jean Marie River, population 71. There you will find a small community campground if you want to spend a night. The Community is known for its fine artisans. Some of the artists have great skills to create beautiful crafts using moose hair tufting.
Distance: 37 km – Jean Marie River Bridge to the access road
Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park
Km 325 – This was another one of my favourite places in the NWT. The powerful waterfalls and chasm are awe-inspiring
Sambaa Deh was a traditionally important transportation route for the indigenous people before and during the fur trade. The falls forced travellers to portage around the treacherous stretch of water.
You are able to few Samba Deh Falls from the bridge across the Trout River.
Various hiking trails along the escarpment on both sides of the bridge offer excellent views of the Sambaa Deh Falls.
Coral Falls are approximately 1 1/2 km upstream and can be reached from the campground through a wooded area along the Trout River with views of the gorge. There is a viewing platform at Coral Falls. Fossils can be found throughout the area.
The campground was well kept and I was the only camper there at the time. Free coffee was available and the campground host was friendly and helpful.
Distance: 50 km – Jean Marie River access road turnoff to Sambaa Deh Falls
Km 321 – Look out for signs of the winter-only road to Sambaa K’e, population 85. A 126 km ice road gives vehicle access to the Dene community of Samnaa K’e during the winter month. There is no road access to Sambaa K’e during summer. Charter flights are available from Fort Simpson and Hay River.
The community of Sambaa K’e is recognized for its traditional lifestyles. The community runs the Sambaa K’e Fishing Lodge offering rustic fishing adventures.
Distance: 26 km – Sambaa Deh Falls to Sambaa K’e winter road access
Km 195 – This is another highly recommended fishing spot if you’re planning to catch dinner.
Distance: 26 km – Sambaa K’e turnoff to Redknife River
A short down the road from Bouvier Creed you get to the Wallace Creek rest stop. Here you can take the forest trail that leads you down to the small but pretty nice waterfall. It’s about a 15-minute walk.
Distance: 6 km – Redknife River to Wallace Creek
Stop at this scenic point to look for interesting fossils or cast the fishing rod.
Distance: 12 km – Wallace Creek to Bouvier Creek
Km 188 – Junction of Highway 1 and 3
Continue east on Highway 1 to complete the Waterfalls Route. Highway 3 is the beginning of the Frontier Trail and takes you to Yellowknife.
Distance: 90 km – Bouvier Creek to Highway 1 and 3 Junction
Kakisa River Territorial Park Day Use Area
Stop for a picnic along the Kakisa river and cast a fishing rod. From here you can hike a trail all the way to Lady Evilyn Falls.
Distance: 19 – Highway Junction to Kakisa River Day Use Area
Lady Evelyn Falls Territorial Park and Campground
Another amazing natural wonder along the Waterfalls Route. Take the access road and follow it for 6.8 km to get to the park. Plan on staying at least for a night if you can. The falls are spectacular and well worth the side trip off the highway.
From the parking lot, a small staircase takes you down to the base of the dramatic falls. From there you can watch as the Kakisa River plunges over the limestone escarpment. It looks like a giant, but a delicate curtain of water with shimmering rainbow colours at times.
This is also a good spot for fishing right near the base of the falls.
Check out the bat house and the information signs with information on the local bat population. Did you know there were bats up here?
If you’re staying at the campground, you will hear the sound of the roaring water from your campsite, which is pretty special.
The campground has 23 powered sites and is only a short drive away from the little village of Kakisa.
Distance: 1.7 km – Kakisa River Day Use Area to Lady Evelyn Falls access road
Follow the access road for another 5 km past Lady Evelyn Falls to visit Northwest Territories tiniest town with a population of 40. At the end of a 13 km detour from Highway 1, situated on Kakisa Lake, this picturesque log hamlet with its friendly Dene community is worth a visit.
There are a small convenience store and a gas bar with limited hours.
Interesting Fact! The community relocated here from Tathlina Lake in 1962 to be closer to the highway.
Stop at the cemetery on the way to the village and look at some of the old tombstones and let your mind wander.
Slave River Lowland Viewpoint
Back on Highway 1, continue on the Waterfalls Route to the Slave River Lowland Viewpoint. From here you get a good view of the Slave River lowlands and you can see as far as Hay River, 50 km away.
Distance: 44 km – Lady Evelyn Falls turnoff to Slave River viewpoint
McNallie Creek Territorial Park Day Use Area
This is a pleasant rest stop and picnic area with a short trail down to McNallie Creek Falls. Watch out for the swallows nesting in the ravine walls.
Distance: 32 km – Slave River Lowland Viewpoint to McNallie Creek
This small community is located at the junction of Highways 1 and Highway 2. There were no services available when I travelled through. The gas station and Tourist Information booth were shut. Drop in at the hamlet office on Robin Road for more information.
Distance: 35 km – McNallie Creek to Enterprise
Escarpment Creek Camping area
This is the place for group camping with 12 powered sites and is also suitable for day-use activities. Check out the series of small waterfalls along the Hay River Gorge.
Distance: 6 km – Enterprise to Escarpment Creek
Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park – Louise Falls and Louise Falls Campground
Nestled between jack pines with millions of years old limestone formations along Hay River makes this a great stop for a night. The campground has 28 powered sites and offers drinking water. Please note that the closest RV water-fill station is located at the Hay River Visitor Centre.
From the campground, a unique 138-step spiral staircase takes you down the embankment to a viewpoint overlooking Louise Falls. I was amazed by how close to the falls I could get. You actually can go underneath Louise Falls and look through the falls at the river. It’s just stunning.
Distance: 3 km – Escarpment Creek to Louise Falls Campground
Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park: Alexandra Falls Day Use Area
Continue 2.6 km on the Waterfall Route to reach Alexandra Falls at Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park. This is the first of the spectacular waterfalls on this trip.
It is a must-stop on the route north of Sixty. If you’re based in Hay River for a couple of days, Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park is an easy 20-minute drive which makes it a great day excursion.
At the entrance of Alexandra falls there is a large parking lot and day-use area with picnic tables, fire pits, firewood, viewing benches, a kitchen shelter, and beautiful interpretive signs. Many of the information panels explain the cultures and traditions of the Dene First Nation people and the surrounding ecosystem.
Alexander Falls is the third-highest waterfall in the NWT and plunges 32 metres into the Hay River Canyon. It forms part of the Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park. Alexandra Falls is featured on most NWT tourist sites and it is even more spectacular than I imagined.
A two km boardwalk connects Alexandra and Louise Falls. Hiking trails with viewing decks along the Hay River take you to the top of both Falls. Informative interpretive panels are located along the trail.
Distance: 2.6 km – Louise Falls Campground to Alexandra Falls Dau Use Area
60th Parallel Visitor Centre and Campground
Km 0 starts at the 60th Parallel where you either enter the Northwest Territories coming from Alberta or like me, you’re leaving it heading south.
If you’re travelling from Alberta, that’s where Highway 35 becomes the Waterfall Route (Highway 1). Stop at the NWT Visitor Information Centre for a free coffee. If you’re heading into the Northwest Territories, pick up brochures and maps. This is also the place to get your fishing licence and camping permits.
Displays of First Nations art and crafts and audio-visual presentation at the visitor centre give you some insight into the northern way of life. This is a great start to your NWT road trip.
Drinking water and washroom facilities are also available. The Visitor Centre is open from mid-May to mid-September.
Adjacent to the 60th Parallel Visitor Centre is 60 Parallel Territorial Park with 9 non-powered campsites and a scenic picnic area overlooking the Hay River.
Distance: 72 km -Twin Falls Gorge to NWT/Alberta border
All the campgrounds along the waterfall route are located in wilderness settings.
- Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Campground
- Lady Evelyn Falls Territorial Park
- Twin Falls Gorge – Louise Falls Campground
- The 60th Parallel Campground
- I highly suggest travelling with a good spare tire.
- Fill up your gas tank whenever you have a chance. Gas stations are far apart. I always take spare gasoline along, just in case.
- Never travel without a safety kit.
- Drive with the headlights on and wear your seat belt at all times.
- Always watch out for Wildlife crossing the road.
- Wilderness Road Trip Planner
- Wilderness Camping
- Canadian Wildlife
For emergency services dial 911 or phone the local RCMP.