Driving to Yellowknife can be very straightforward. While many people drive to Yellowknife for fun as a road trip destination, many also drive to Yellowknife out of necessity, such as when you’re moving to the city.
There are many things to do and see along the way, but overall you don’t need to stop if you don’t want to.
Where you and this article starts
Firstly, we are not experts on travelling through Alberta or British Columbia for that matter. We only know and are focusing on Northwest Territories because we have driven them for a long time.
Grimshaw, Alberta to the NWT Border
For the sake of the article, We will start from the beginning of the Mackenzie Highway, which is Grimshaw, Alberta. The Mackenzie Highway – Alberta Highway 35 – will take you straight up through Northern Alberta and into the South Slave region of the NWT – NWT Highway 1.
Distance: 350km to NWT Border, 450km to Enterprise, NWT
Cell Service: Bell/Telus LTE from Grimshaw to north of High Level, AB then nothing until Enterprise, NWT.
Enterprise, NWT to Highway 3
When you pass through Enterprise, NWT you will still be on Highway 1, but this is also the place where you can turn onto Highway 2 into Hay River, NWT. As you travel on Highway 1 west, you will eventually come to a highway intersection for Highway 1 and Highway 3. Turn right off of Highway 1 onto Highway 3, which will take you to Yellowknife. where you can turn onto Highway 3.
Cell Service: Bell/Telus LTE Only around Enterprise and Fort Providence
Highway 3 to Yellowknife
When you turn onto Highway 3 you will shortly come upon the DehCho Bridge over the Mackenzie River and then pass by the turn off to Fort Providence. At this point you are 310km from Yellowknife.
The stretch between Fort Providence and Yellowknife is fairly uneventful other than the occasional bison. There are no roadside services.
Cell Service: Bell/Telus LTE/3G only around Fort Providence, Behchoko and Yellowknife
Where to get gas
There are gas stations along the way from Alberta to Yellowknife. Typically a person can fuel up in High Level, Ab and make it the 414km to Fort Providence to fuel up again before the last 300km to Yellowknife. With the closure of Lisa’s Place in Enterprise, NT, there is no longer gas there. If you think you require gas/fuel between High Level, AB and Fort Providence, NT the most reliable option is to detour 40km into Hay River, NT or carry a jerry can.
High Level is the last reliable place to get gas in Alberta before entering the NWT. They have several gas stations and options.
[CLOSED] Enterprise (273km from High Level) is a small community at the intersection of the Mackenzie highway and the highway to Hay River. It has a self-serve gas station and convenience store that is open year round with reasonable operating hours.
Hay River (312km from High Level) is a community on the shore of Great Slave Lake. It is off the NWT Highway 1 that heads to Yellowknife, on NWT Highway 2, but if you are in need of gas and the Enterprise station is close, it is the place to go.
Fort Providence (141km from Enterprise/414km from High Level) is the major fuel up spots along the highway to Yellowknife. The gas station, open until 10 pm daily, also has fast-food and a restaurant within it. Fort Providence is the last stop before Yellowknife.
Behchoko (230km from Fort Providence) is the last resort if you can not make it the additional 90km to Yellowknife. The small community has a gas pump in town which is 10km off the highway.
Yellowknife (315km from Fort Providence) has several major gas stations, one of which is open 24/7.
Reverse the order if you are driving out of Yellowknife heading south.
A common questions we have gotten is what the road conditions are like. Note that all of the highway sections you will be driving from High Level, AB to Yellowknife are paved, which the exceptions of roadwork areas.
In the summer, there are no concerns regard conditions. One obstacle to watch out for between Fort Providence and Behchoko is herds of Bison on the highway. The can surprise you around a corner. The best thing to do is just slowly drive around them, or wait if they are completely blocking the road.
Come winter the roads are regularly plowed and kept clear so there are no concerns of snow on the road unless there was just a snowfall. For the most part any car can travel on these highways without issue. In the winter all-season or winter tires are recommended. Four-wheel-drive is no required.
Behchoko to Yellowknife
A stretch of road approximately 100km between Behchoko and Yellowknife is often subject to significant frost heave in the Spring and Fall. This makes this part of the highway very uneven and bumpy in some sections. The best option here is to drive slow and drive based on how you feel about the road. Small cars could bottom out if they hit a bump too fast.
Where to stay
Campground – In the summer there are 4 territorial campgrounds along the highway for you to stay at:
- 60th Parallel Campground at the border of Alberta and the NWT,
- Louise Fall Campground just south of Enterprise,
- Kakisa Territorial Campground outside the community of Kakisa between Enterprise and Fort Providence,
- Fort Providence Territorial Campground along the road to Fort Providence off the highway.
Hotels – There are motels in Enterprise and Fort Providence; quality, cost and availability unknown. Hay River has a few full-service hotels.