Northwest Territories

Highlights of Fort Simpson

Nahanni National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, lures people from all over the world to visit Fort Simpson

by Breanne Massey
Float planes land at the docks on the Mackenzie River
Float planes land at the docks on the Mackenzie River. — Terry Parker photo

The Dene people were the original inhabitants of what is now Fort Simpson, and they refer to the area as Liidli Kue—the place where two rivers meet.

Fort Simpson has a population of 1,246 people, who reside on an island between two rivers and two highways—both known as the Liard and the Mackenzie. The area is a cultural gem offering regional amenities to locals and visitors alike and is famous for being an integral part of the Deh Cho Travel Connection.

Historically, Fort Simpson played a significant role in the progress of the Hudson's Bay Company in northern Canada. The area was named after Sir George Simpson to honour the impact his trading group made on Canada's fur trade.

In the 1890s, Fort Simpson participated in the rush to the Yukon goldfields. Stories of prospectors lost in the mountains and of their incredible determination shine through on the historical tours that are offered in Fort Simpson.

Today, the village is an Arctic community that boasts excellent displays of the aurora borealis, among other natural wonders.

1) A spectacular park

The popular Nahanni National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers breathtaking views of mountain ranges, gorges, waterfalls and a unique limestone cave. The only way to access the park is by air, but local tour operators (Simpson Air and Wolverine Air) have competitive prices on flight tours and expeditions. Visiting the area provides the opportunity to explore geological and ecological wonders.

2) Spot some wildlife

Quite frequently, visitors are lucky enough to see mountain goats, woodland caribou, black bears, grizzlies, Dall sheep, wolves and trumpeter swans in the Nahanni. There are many opportunities to hike in the area, including Sunblood Mountain Trail and Glacier Lake Trail. For more information about the park, contact the Nahanni National Park Reserve.

3) Enjoy the water

Canadian writer Pierre Berton once said, “A Canadian is someone who knows how to make love in a canoe without tipping it.”

Maybe making love in a canoe isn’t something to encourage, but we do recommend taking a canoe down the Nahanni. Another perk is the chance of a relaxing soak in the mineral waters at Liard River Hot Springs.

Boat trips in the Deh Cho region are available through a number of tour operators, including Shetah Adventures, which takes its clients along the Deh Cho River on jet boats with optional fishing opportunities; and the North Nahanni Naturalist Lodge, which offers guided boat trips in the Deh Cho region with scenic breaks en route and cultural interpretation.

4) Open Sky Creative Festival

If you're visiting Fort Simpson between June 29 and July 1, 2012, don't miss this cultural arts festival in Fort Simpson. Features range from modern dance to traditional fiddling, new media screenings to storytelling, plus moose hair tufting and much more. Local arts and crafts are on display and also for sale at this event. For more information visit the website.

5) Historical walking tours

A historical walking tour will introduce visitors to the cabin of prospector Albert Faille as well as the Papal Grounds and Fort Simpson Heritage Park, which was probably the location of the first trading post in the Northwest Territories (circa 1801). Walking tour information is available at the village's visitor information centre, which also houses displays about the history, culture and geography of the region. For more information visit the website.

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