On a high bluff above the Slave River, Fort Smith is absurdly friendly, idyllic – and somewhat un-Northern. Maybe it's the brick homes, ball fields and water tower, or the fact that the town abuts Alberta. For years this was the gateway to the North, situated at the end of a portage route around the Slave River rapids.
Wood Buffalo National Park
Straddling the Alberta–NWT border, Canada's biggest national park isn't spectacular, but it is weird. In this Switzerland-sized boreal flatland are salt-springs that encrust the landscape, rivers that disappear underground and balls of mating snakes. The park was established in 1922 to protect wood buffalo – a large, dark, distinctly Northern subspecies of bison.
From the Hwy 3 junction, 23km south of the Mackenzie River, the Mackenzie Hwy (Hwy 1) branches west into the Deh Cho region and southeast into the South Slave. This latter branch is well traveled and well paved. It runs 186km to the Alberta border (and thence to Edmonton) and is dubbed the Waterfalls Route, due to some stunning roadside cascades.