The Sahtu embraces the Mackenzie River south of its delta as far as Tulita and the great swath of land across to and including Great Bear Lake to the east, the world’s eighth largest lake. There’s no year-round road access: you either fly in, canoe the Mackenzie – no mean feat – drive on the famed winter access road or sign up with fishing and hunting charters that boat or fly you into the backcountry, home to some of North America’s finest fishing lodges and lakes. In 1994 a road was built as far as Wrigley, 225km northwest of Fort Simpson, but plans to push it through to Inuvik will be a long time in the making. In the meantime, most tours operate out of the area’s nominal capital at Norman Wells, on the banks of the Mackenzie River in the lee of the Franklin Mountains, which separate the river and Great Bear Lake. The Sahtu has just four other communities: Fort Good Hope, north of Norman Wells; Déline on Great Bear Lake; Colville Lake, north of Great Bear Lake; and Tulita, south of Norman Wells.
The Canol Heritage Trail, and its attached Doi T’oh Territorial Park, is becoming an increasingly popular long-distance wilderness trail. Stretching some 372km from Norman Wells to the Yukon border, the journey can take three to four weeks and ranks among the world’s tougher treks, passing through some of the NWT’s most spectacular ranges. The route meanders through the Mackenzie Mountains west of Norman Wells, across three challenging rivers (at least one must be crossed by raft) and through grizzly bear country. Unless you sign up for a tour to see this magnificent but utterly wild region, you should have extensive backcountry experience. If you venture on the trail without a guide, inform the local detachment of the RCMP about your itinerary in either Dawson City (t 867 993 2677) or in Ross River, Yukon (t 867 969 2677).
Mountain River Outfitters and Canoe North Adventures provide both package tours and logistical support for individual hikers on the Canol trail.