In summer, winter, spring or fall, the Northwest Territories is one of nature’s great playgrounds, with vast acres of varied, unspoiled scenery that offer transcendent outdoor experiences.
Those experiences are accessible to sports and outdoor recreation enthusiasts of every level. Whether you’re joining the NWT’s proud tradition of Olympic athletes, a dedicated amateur or even just an occasional weekend camper, the North has something for you in every season.
Winters can get cold, but that doesn’t stop hardy NWTers from getting out and enjoying the beauty of the season, or the endless opportunities for fun provided by an unlimited supply of pristine ice and snow. From carving a fresh trail across a stunning lake on your cross-country skis, to climbing into a cheery ice-fishing tent with some pals, some refreshments and a heater, winter is full of opportunities for fun, exercise and relaxation.
The Northern Lights phenomenon, in which bands of celestial light appear in the skies, is one of the great natural wonders. And the NWT is one of the best places to catch it. Northern Lights watching is a tradition in the Northwest Territories, and it doesn’t take much to indulge in it: a short walk out of town to minimize the already minimal light pollution, and there you go.
Visit SpectacularNWT for more information about Aurora viewing.
There’s a storied history behind cross-country skiing up here, where six of the eight members of the Canadian cross-country skiing team for the 1972 Winter Olympic Games in Sapporo, Japan were from Inuvik, NWT. That group of six also included NWT Sports Hall of Fame members Sharon and Shirley Firth, who from 1972 to 1984 represented Canada in four consecutive Winter Olympics. Today most major communities have groomed trail systems and active ski clubs.
Visit NWT Ski for more information.
Visit Canada Trails’ NWT page to find trail maps and other resources.
From major transportation method to beloved spectator sport and hobby, dog sledding has a rich history in the NWT. Today you can watch dog mushers across the territories as they compete on the spring racing circuit. Catch races at events such as Yellowknife’s Long John Jamboree and Hay River’s Kamba Carnival, or take in the famous Canadian Championship Dog Derby.
With its endless waterways, its thick lattice of lakes of all shapes and sizes, its deltas and arctic coastline, the NWT is a fishing paradise – all year long. A winter ice-fishing expedition could include pike, pickerel or lake trout – and up on the coast, char. Check with local information sources about ice strength and safety, be sure to keep warm, and… enjoy a quintessential Canadian sport, available a short distance away from just about every NWT community.
For more information visit SpectacularNWT .
Combining the thrills of sailing, kiteflying and skiing into an exhilarating mix, kite-skiing is just one more addition to the mix of activities to be seen on Great Slave Lake throughout the year. It can be done on your own, with a little bit of ingenuity, or through a growing number of kite-skiing operators.
For more information visit SpectacularNWT.
A sport enjoyed by weekend fun-seekers across the NWT, snowmobiling is also integral to the northern way of life. Snowmobiling opportunities and well maintained trail systems, not to mention ice roads and frozen rivers lace our communities together. During the late winter carnival season, many communities host snowmobile races.
Summers in the NWT are intense, with long, endless days (and nights) full of sunshine and endless list of ways to play in the great outdoors.
The Northwest Territories is a mountain biker's paradise, with thousands of kilometres of trails and haul roads throughout the region. (It’s also bear country, so always take precautions to avoid confrontations and know how to react if one occurs.) It’s also a fine place to be an urban biker, with hardy, enthusiastic fellow riders present on the streets of all NWT communities – including the Dettah Ice Road -- even in the midst of a chilly January. An NWT-based cyclist – Denise Ramsden – was a proud member of the Canadian Olympic Team in the 2012 Olympics in London.
The NWT is covered with a vast network of rivers and lakes and many NWT communities are located on an accessible river or lake. The larger communities offer boat launches and docks. The Territories’ most popular lake for boating and sailing is Great Slave, the ninth largest lake in the world. There are plenty of places to explore but the big lake can also feature huge waves and sudden changes of weather. Many Yellowknife residents cruise out to the East Arm of the lake for fishing and sightseeing. Hay River, on the southern shore of Great Slave, is the largest marine centre in the NWT. Both the Mackenzie River and the Slave River are navigable by boat, and still serve as summer transportation corridors.
Visitors pay big money to come up and fish in the pristine waters of the NWT, where the waters appear to teem with trophy-size specimens. Popular species include the famous – and delicious – Arctic Char of the Arctic coast, the Bull Trout of the Liard and Mackenzie watershed, fierce Northern Pike, massive Lake Trout and many more. For residents, all you need is an easily available fishing license, and the countless rivers, lakes and coastal waters of the NWT are your playground. To ensure the fishing remains excellent, there are restrictions on the size and numbers of fish caught.
Visit here for more information about NWT fish species.
Canoeing and Kayaking
Canoeing is one of the most quintessential activities in the NWT. The territory’s many connecting lakes and rivers provide a good selection of paddle routes and sightseeing opportunities for both self-guided and guided canoe adventures, while there are whitewater routes available for almost any skill level. You are rarely more than 15 minutes away from a canoe-or-kayak-friendly route.
Camping and Parks
It’s almost un-Northwest Territorian to not camp. And no wonder. The NWT is home to an extensive system of parks, both Territorial and National. They include stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed reserves such as Nahanni, and Wood Buffalo, as well as Territorial wayside parks and campsites where daytrippers can stop off for a barbeque while enjoying an uncluttered view of nature at its most serene.
The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) operates 34 parks. Most of them are open, with services provided, from May 15th to September 15th. Several offer online booking for their campgrounds and kitchen shelters during the summer season, as well as reservation by telephone or e-mail; or by selecting an available site upon actual arrival at the gatehouse. For more information download the NWT Road and Campground Guide for useful information about routes, highway and park services, points of interest, and more, or visit NWTparks.ca.
There are five national parks in the NWT, each one of them jaw-droppingly beautiful in its own distinct way.
Aulavik, meaning “place where people travel” in Inuvialuktun, protects more than 12,000 square kilometres of Arctic lowlands on the north end of Banks Island. This pristine Arctic environment is home to both the endangered Peary caribou and to the highest density of muskoxen in the world. The wildlife and land have supported Aboriginal peoples for more than 3,400 years, from Pre-Dorset cultures to contemporary Inuvialuit.
Measuring 4,850 square kilometres, Nááts’ihch’oh National Park Reserve adjoins Nahanni National Park Reserve (which was significantly expanded in 2009) and it touches the Yukon boundary to the west. This area, Canada’s newest national park, has been important for hunting and its spiritual relevance to the Shutagot’ine (Mountain Dene) of the Tulita district. The mountain from which the park takes its name is credited with great spiritual powers.
A key feature of the epic Nahanni is the Naha Dehé (South Nahanni River). Four mighty canyons line this spectacular whitewater river. At Nailicho (Virginia Falls) the river plunges in a thunderous plume. A visitor centre in Fort Simpson features displays on the history, culture and geography of the area. The park was inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1978.
Offering rolling tundra, wild rivers, precipitous canyons, and a variety of unique wildlife and vegetation, Tuktut Nogait (‘young caribou’) is one of Canada’s undiscovered gems. This remote park 170 kilometres north of the Arctic circle is home to the Bluenose West caribou herd, wolves, grizzly bears, muskoxen, Arctic char, and a high density of raptors.
Straddling the NWT/Alberta border, Wood Buffalo National Park is the country's largest national park and one of the largest in the world. It was established in 1922 to protect the last remaining herds of wood bison in northern Canada. Today, it protects an outstanding and representative example of Canada's Northern Boreal Plains.
In the more remote, unspoiled regions of the Northwest Territories, free-roaming game outnumbers the human population. In the Mackenzie Mountains, Dall’s sheep and mountain goats stand sentinel on rocky crags. Bears and muskoxen rule the Western Arctic coast and islands. In the Barrenlands, wolves and grizzly follow the migrations of the caribou. To find out about your rights and restrictions as a hunter in the NWT, check out the territory’s hunting regulations here.
An umbrella organization consisting of 28 territorial sport organizations, ranging from badminton to wrestling, Sport North provides a variety of services – including financial assistance such as scholarships for promising athlete scholars, and training funding programs for young athletes who show promise.
Sport North members include:
Northwest Territories Biathlon Association
NWT Broomball Association
NWT Curling Association
NWT Judo Association
NWY Kayak Association
NWT School Athletic Federation
NWT Federation of Shooting Sports
NWT Soccer Association
NWT Track and Field
Another good resource for information about sports and recreation in the NWT is the NWT Recreation and Parks Association, which works with communities across the NWT to promote healthy living through active recreation.