Every small town has something unique to give the world, and when the next community over is hundreds of miles away, the incentive to deliver is even greater.
While most folks in the 32 NWT communities enjoy a trip to the capital to do some well-deserved shopping at retail outlets they can’t access at home, there’s a lot outside of Yellowknife that warrants a visit from city residents as well.
So EDGE has compiled a guide to some of the best small-town offerings in the NWT, from food to recreation to attractions, all items or experiences that you either can’t get in Yellowknife — or at least not at such a high level of quality.
Fort Simpson: Best campground
While not technically in Fort Simpson, the community would be right to lay claim to the NWT’s nicest territorial park and campground. Sambaa Deh boasts two incredible waterfalls with opportunities for fishing, swimming and boating, incredibly well-serviced campsites, helpful staff and some of the hottest, cleanest showers you’ll find at any campground. Whether you’re there with your drinking buddies or your kids, you’ll have tons of fun and privacy for your weekend away.
Lutsel K’e: Best shore lunch
When it comes to fishing, it’s hard to find a place that rivals the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, known for having the deepest, coldest, cleanest waters in the entire territory — along with some of biggest lake trout. Whether you turn that trout — or its eggs — into a tasty stir fry or fish taco, or just roast it on the fire, you will be blessed with the best shore lunch of your life.
Tsiigehtchic: Best dry fish
Located at the confluence of the Mackenzie and the Arctic Red River, Tsiigehtchic has been a prime fishing spot for thousands of years, and the Gwich’in folk who call it home have certainly made use of that time by perfecting the art of drying fish. At once greasy with soul-nourishing oil and thick with satisfying chunks of tasty meat, the restorative dry fish out of Tsiigehtchic gets top honours. You will feel more whole with every bite.
Fort Resolution: Best place to hunt waterfowl
The Slave River Delta is one of the main flyways for geese and ducks on their north-south migrations, and there’s no better place in the North to get the greatest variety of birds — from ducks to geese, or even swans — than Fort Res. During spring and fall, the area hosts thousands of birds, some flocks so thick that you barely have to aim your shotgun.
A common goldeneye on the wing
Hay River: Best market
There aren’t too many NWT communities that can boast terrific markets in both summer and winter, but Hay River provides the best of both worlds. The Fisherman’s Wharf is a classic go-to during the warm months, set up near the lake and featuring all sorts of fresh goodies, not the least of which are delicious fish filets. That kind of enjoyable outing doesn’t have to stop when it gets cold, either; Hay River’s weekly winter market features delicious goodies featuring local ingredients, preserves, crafts, soaps and more every Saturday at the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre.
Inuvik: Best burger and fries
If you’re looking for a good burger and fries, traveling all the way up to Inuvik might seem like a stretch. But you’d have to be a fool to pass one up at Inuvik’s airport restaurant, the Cloud Nine Cafeteria, where everything is freshly made, the burgers are juicy and the fries are crispy and golden. The Mile High Clubhouse sandwich is also touted as the best in the delta. See if it lives up to its reputation.
Norman Wells: Best Legion
The Royal Canadian Legion has a presence in every regional centre in the North, where beyond serving as the standard clubhouse for their members, they serve a dual purpose as a nightclub in a lot of smaller communities where bars are few and far between. Such is the case in Norman Wells, which boasts the most hopping Legion in the territory.
Fort Liard: Best craft store
Ever seen a gorgeous birch-bark basket in one of Yellowknife’s craft stores? Chances are it came from one of the artisans behind the Acho Dene craft store in Fort Liard, the territory’s top basket makers. Apart from its extensive basket collection, the store also sells breathtaking beadwork and clothing for all seasons, all hand-made and supporting local Indigenous artists.
A traditional Dene berry basket from Fort Liard’s Acho Dene craft store
Fort Providence: Best donuts and milkshakes
The Snowshoe Inn in Fort Providence deserves a lot of accolades — from its rockin’ live music venue to its craft store — but dessert might take top honours. The family-owned hotel boasts the best homemade donuts North of 60 — just make sure to order ahead — and what could quite possibly be the most delicious milkshake, as well, so don’t forget to pack your sweet tooth on your next stay.
Wrigley: Best downhill skiing
There aren’t too many places where you can downhill ski in the NWT, at least not officially, but Wrigley — set in the beautiful Mackenzie Mountains — has two “windy, steep and dangerous” runs (according to a local) that probably only really experienced skiers should attempt. If you hurt yourself, at least you can relax it off in a nice hot spring.
Gameti: Best community garden
When you’re able to grow rice in the NWT, you know you’ve got more than a green thumb. Under the tutelage of town SAO Judal Dominicata, who has a PhD in agriculture, the community has quickly turned its interest in gardening into a full-on food security mission. With the largest community garden in the territory, complete with a greenhouse, corn fields, goats, chickens and rice paddies, Gameti is probably the best place in the North to successfully achieve your 100-mile diet.
Fort Smith: Best pizza
If there’s one thing Fort Smith should be known for, beyond its world-class rapids and the mesmerizing landscapes of Wood Buffalo National Park, it’s the perfect slice. The family behind Berro’s Pizzeria has been serving up, hands down, the best pizza in the NWT since 2007. The crust is the perfect mix of soft and crunchy. You will never be short on cheese or sauce. Toppings are fresh. And whether you want a donair pizza with sweet sauce, a tropical chicken pizza or a classic, you can bet the experience will leave you re-energized after a paddle or hike through the town’s other wonders.
A Berro’s “Mexican” pizza
Enterprise: Best waterfalls
The Twin Falls Gorge, which includes sister falls Alexandria and Louise, are easily the most photographed waterfalls in the NWT, but it’s not like they don’t deserve it. The towering chutes are couched in a scenic gorge and are magnificent to view from above or below in any season.
Deline: Best stories
Every northern community has its fair share of characters, but if it’s mind-blowingly friendly people and fascinating stories you’re most interested in, Deline is the place to go. The community has a strong spiritual side, a deep connection to culture, a fascinating history of prophets, tales of fantastic beings and a great sense of humour. No matter where you’re from, you can be sure you’ll be welcomed to Deline with open arms.
Fort McPherson: Best jigging
Ever wanted to learn how to jig? You’ll find the fastest feet in the territory at the Midway Lake music festival in Fort McPherson, where fiddling and jigging are a way of life for people of all ages. The annual summer celebration of Gwich’in culture attracts people from throughout the Mackenzie Delta, Yukon and Alaska, all bringing their A-game to the dance floor.
Tuktoyaktuk: Best community tour
Easily one of the territory’s most picturesque communities, Tuk on the Arctic Coast shows off its goods with the best official tour for visitors. Tourists can check out the community’s ice freezer, take a dip in the Arctic Ocean, eat caribou stew, and visit dog teams and fish smoke houses. Oh, and you’ll also find out where Courtney Love slept when she played there along with Metallica during the Molson concert of 1995.