Autumn in the Northwest Territories

Autumn has always been my favourite season for photography. With an explosion of colours, Mother Nature reminds us her beauty is unmatched. With all the changing colours and that cool crisp air making its way back, it’s a nature-lover’s paradise. Couple this with an arctic backdrop and you have yourself a photographer’s paradise.

Autumn colours of the Northwest Territories in late August.

In August of 2016, I was fortunate enough to be able to go to the Northwest Territories to see what it had to offer. Being further North than my hometown of Toronto, the Autumn season in the Northwest Territories starts around mid-August. The days slowly start to get shorter and darkness starts to fall at night, allowing us to see the Aurora Borealis again.

If you’ve ever wondered what the Northwest Territories are like, follow along as I take you through my journey through the southern portion of this beautiful territory.

My trip started in Yellowknife (flying from Toronto to Calgary to Yellowknife via Air Canada). We rented a Jeep to explore various areas of the territory, camping along the way. We had no set itinerary; we just drove where we wanted to go. With breathtaking scenery at every turn from waterfalls to remote towns and of course, the Aurora Borealis, it was an inspiring trip to say the least.

Outlined below are the major stopping points that we took during our four-night, five-day road trip through the southern portion of the Northwest Territories.

Ingraham Trail

The Ingraham Trail spans more than 60km from Yellowknife and makes its way to Tibbitt Point where it ends. In the winter time, this area is the starting point to an ice road that leads trucks to several mining sites.

Yellowknife to Tibbitt Point

Tibbit Point

Other than a small parking lot, there’s not much else to Tibbit Point. However, we were tipped off by another photographer saying it’s a great place to see the night sky. Upon arrival, we saw small rocky shores along the lake, where you can spend your nights gazing at the Aurora Borealis. That’s exactly what we did one evening, witnessing a spectacular display of the Northern Lights.

Along the Ingraham Trail there are several Territorial Parks, camping sites, and areas that offer spectacular lakefront views for the Aurora Borealis. Not too far from Tibbit Point was Cameron Falls, which we went to visit during the daytime.

Cameron Falls Trail

We made a stop at the Cameron Falls Trail, which is part of the Hidden Lake Territorial Park.

Map from Yellowknife to Cameron Falls

The waterfall is roughly around a 30min. hike on a well-marked trail from the parking lot, which seems to be open year-round (along with a nearby outhouse). The water cascades down the rocks and makes for a great place for photos. There is a lookout with a bench that offers this view, as well as the view down the river.

Cameron Falls Trail is located within Hidden Lake Territorial Park, about 47km into the Ingraham Trail.

A little further down the Ingraham Trail is where you can find the Cameron River Ramparts Waterfalls, which are smaller than these ones here. I didn’t make it out there so I have no photos of it, but the two are connected through an eight to nine kilometre hike along the river.

Looking down the river that Cameron Falls opens to.

While we couldn’t make it out here during the evening, we went to another spot that was also suggested to us by another photographer. Cassidy Point, we were told, is not too far from Yellowknife, and has a great lakefront view of the Northern Lights.

Cassidy Point Park

Cassidy Point Park is accessed by the Cassidy Point road, which is the entryway to the famous Aurora Village. Rather than turning on Aurora Village Road, you simply continue on Cassidy Point until you see a small opening to your left. The park is a small beached area with a dock, and boats perched alongside it. The lake here freezes over in the winter, making an unofficial ice road to go to the other side. During Autumn, however, it provides for a great backdrop to the Northern Lights.

Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary

The Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary (just northeast of Fort Providence) is a protected area bordered on the west side by Highway 3—otherwise known as the Frontier Highway—and by Great Slave Lake on the east side. There is no road within the sanctuary, but imagine driving down a highway and seeing groups of bison roaming around the side—sometimes even crossing the highway. That’s what it was like driving down Highway 3 from Yellowknife. They are majestic in their own ways, silently roaming around and minding their own business even when they see you.

A herd of bison roaming along the side of the Frontier Highway—otherwise known as the Yellowknife Highway, or Highway #3.

Kakisa

The drive from Yellowknife to Kakisa passes by the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary, bordered by Highway 3.

Driving further South, we reached the small town of Kakisa. It seemed almost abandoned as we didn’t see a single person there while we drove around during the day. I later found out this is a traditional Dene settlement with a population of just 45. It is in fact the smallest community in the Northwest Territories. Located just by the Kakisa river, we did notice that it offered a great view that would only be accentuated by a showing of the Northern Lights.

So naturally, we went back that night to be confronted with a brilliant showing of the Aurora Borealis.

This Aurora Borealis showing in Kakisa was intense, bursting with flare everywhere we looked.
The many different colours of the Aurora Borealis showed its presence that night.
Beautiful curves of the Aurora Borealis in Kakisa.

Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park

Having a craving for waterfalls, we continued further south along Highway 1 (Mackenzie Highway) to the Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park. This park comprises of Alexandra Falls—the third highest in the Northwest Territories—and Louise Falls, which is the smaller of the two.

Kakisa to Alexandra Falls and Louise Falls

Both waterfalls are beautiful in their own way. The sheer power of Alexandra Falls is mesmerizing, especially when you’re able to sit right on the edge of the rocks, listening to the power of the water rush by you.

The larger of the two waterfalls that comprise the Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park.
Alexandra Falls is where the Hay River plunges into a deep limestone canyon.
Louise Falls—the smaller of the two waterfalls—is a few kilometres further south of Alexandra Falls in the Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park.
Seeing the raw power of Louise Falls is exhilarating up close.

Alexandra Falls was so memorable to me I remember I really wanted to come down there during the night to see this landscape with the Aurora Borealis. Seeing the waterfall plummet to the river down below with the rocky gorge surrounding it, I imagined a scene of utter beauty.

It wasn’t until we arrived there at night that I realized this wasn’t going to happen. Walking along rocky shorelines and steep passes in pitch black wasn’t the smartest choice. I reluctantly stayed in the car by the side of the road, hoping to see any glimpse of the Aurora Borealis that evening.

It wasn’t until about 1:20am that we saw some lights appear. It was, however, short-lived.

As it turned out, it wasn’t a very active night for the lights, so we slowly made our way back to the campsite feeling a little empty inside.

Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park

Driving all the way back west on Mackenzie Highway, making several pitstops along the way, we finally made it to what would be the final stop of our camping tour: Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park. With its raw power, this waterfall was fantastic to see up close.

The scenic drive from Alexandra Falls to Sambaa Deh Falls on the Mackenzie Highway (Highway 1).
Peering over the ledge overlooking the waterfall.
The river on the north side of Highway 1.
The raging river on the south side of Highway 1.

Since we weren’t able to see a lot of the Northern Lights the night prior, we were really hoping to see it again this night. The only problem? Clouds were coming in quickly. By nightfall it was pouring rain, and it didn’t seem like it was going to let up anytime soon.

The tent we were in was so fragile that the strength of the pounding rain nearly toppled it over. Rather than sleep in it, we opted to sleep in the Jeep, where at the very least we knew we would be kept dry overnight.

Needless to say we didn’t get much sleep that night.

As much as I would have loved to continue exploring the Northwest Territories—we were only a couple hours away from Fort Simpson after all—we had a schedule to keep that day, so we made our way back to Yellowknife, ending a fantastic five days of driving and exploring around the southern side of the Northwest Territories.


Continue on my Autumn adventures in the Northwest Territories with my blog post on my first visit to Blachford Lake Lodge.


Taku Kumabe is currently offering a photography workshop in Yellowknife this August to photograph the Northern Lights! Click this link for more details or click on the image below.

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