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The Northwest Territories is northern Canada’s least visited hinterland, with visitors often sidestepping the region in favour of Yukon or Nunavut. But if it’s an aboriginal, sparsely populated wilderness that you’re after, this part of the country is hard to beat. From the capital, Yellowknife, outdoor lovers will find endless opportunities for canoeing, hiking and fishing in summer, but winter visitors will need to brave arctic conditions in order to appreciate the Northern Lights and superb dog-sledding.
The best way to tour this remote northern region at your own pace is with car hire in Northern Territories. Pick up a vehicle at Yellowknife Airport or Yellowknife city centre through a leading supplier such as Alamo, National or Hertz. Be sure to compare car hire beforehand to secure the lowest price.
Airports dot the territories, making covering vast distances by air easy. Yellowknife is the main gateway, but there are airports at Fort Good Hope, Fort Simpson, Fort Liard, Fort Smith, Inuvik, Hay River and Norman Wells. All airports offer domestic flights only. There is no rail service but Greyhound buses come in from neighbouring provinces. Highways 1, 7 and 8 connect with Alberta, British Columbia and Yukon, respectively.
Driving the highways with car rental in Northwest Territories is a memorable experience, with wildlife around every corner. While the wildlife makes for great viewing, drivers need to take care not to hit bison, black bears or caribou. Winter weather sees some routes close so plan road trips in advance. Gravel roads are best negotiated with a four-wheel drive, but some rental agreements only allow for travel on paved roads.
From Yellowknife, visitors can make side trips into the hinterland to appreciate the Northern Lights or go dog-sledding or wildlife viewing. Drivers can travel the Dempster Highway to Inuvik to see the so-called Igloo Church and explore the surrounding wilderness. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Nahanni National Park Reserve protects the spectacular South Nahanni River and features hot springs, waterfalls, river canyons and other beauty spots.
Summer temperatures in Yellowknife can hit 20°C and are accompanied by continuous or long daylight hours, making for ideal outdoor activity conditions. July and August are the most popular months with visitors. Winter temperatures of -40°C are not uncommon, making a January visit only for the brave. Things are less bracing in March or April, when snow is still on the ground.