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Getting to Yellowknife: Driving

Waiting in Fort Providence Highway Closed

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.

Distance: 103km
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.

Distance: 340km
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.

Road Conditions

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.

Summer

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.

Winter

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.

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About the author

Kyle Thomas

Kyle grew up in Yellowknife and is a local entrepreneur, writer, baker, and Yellowknife Advocate who is addicted to learning as much as he can about the community and sharing it with anyone who'll listen. In 2009 he developed YkOnline.ca. A website all about living, working and thriving in Yellowknife for residents, newcomers, and visitors.

56 Comments

  • We are planning a trip to NWT this summer –2016 from Edmonton. Where is a good place to stop 1/2 way from Edmonton to Yellowknife

    • A lot of people will stop in High Level, Ab. They have a good selection of hotels there. Super 8 and Best Western is two we’d recommend. If you’re camping there is a small camp ground there as well but you may want to continue on to the 60th Parallel Campground or Louise Falls campground. Let me know if you have any other questions.

      • What is the problem with the High Level Campground?
        Are reservations necessary for it and other campgrounds in July and August?
        Campgrounds in Yellowknife?
        We don’t need hook-ups, travelling in tent trailer…summer of 2018.
        Thanks

        • There isn’t a problem with the High Level Campground, it is smaller right on the edge of town. It is treed but close to industry. Continue on to the 60th Parallel Campground at the border and you’re right in the wilderness.

          Campground around Yellowknife are often busy in the summer month so reservations are recommended to make sure you get a site. Here is more information about what is in and just outside of Yellowknife – https://ykonline.ca/where-to-camp-in-yellowknife/

  • Hi, me and my friends are planning to drive from Jasper to Yellowknife early in October this year.
    As this is our first driving trip to go there we are not sure the road is safe for driving in October whether the the road is covered with snow or ice, and also other things might happen to us.
    Could you give us some advice for us?

    • You shouldn’t have a problem and I image the roads will still be dry in early October again this year. Snow is arriving later and later each year and we’re not seeing it until right around October 31. I’ve also done the drive the weekend of or after Thanksgiving and while sometimes it might be snowing or raining, I take it slow and never have any problems. The basic advice is always useful: make sure you have some survival gear in case you have to wait around for help, make sure someone knows where you are, don’t push yourself/take it slow if conditions aren’t great, know where you can stop, etc.

    • From Alberta or from Yellowknife? – Usual precautions should be in place. Survival gear, extra food, blankets, shovel, straps, etc incase of emergencies. At least all season tires. There are no gas stations between Enterprise and Fort Simpson so depending on your vehicle may be extra gas just to be safe. Even then I believe Enterprise only has limited hours of operation.

  • Hey Kyle. I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about the Fort Vermillion -> Slave Lake route (Highway 88) and that it actually shaves off about 2 hours each way from Yellowknife to Edmonton. Supposedly there are reliable gas stations along that route (fill up half way between FV and SL), proper surfacing on the roads and less traffic. Not to mention, once again, saving 2 hours off each way! I had a co-worker do this route last weekend and said it was decent and did save the reported time.

  • Hi Kyle
    We are planning a motor bike trip this summer to Yellowknife. Planing to leave central Alberta mid June and want to be in YK around the 20th to experience sun shine at Midnight. Any tips on road conditions I’m assuming road is paved all the way.

    Thanks

    • Hi Leonard,

      You shouldn’t have a problem getting up to Yellowknife this time of year.

      There are several places to camp if that is how you are traveling. And I would suggest maybe take a couple days, stay at Twin Falls Gorge park. The waterfalls there are very nice and it is right near Enterprise, where you can get fuel before traveling to Fort Providence (another 140 km). There is also the Louise Fall Campground and McNally Day Use Park between Enterprise and Fort Providence that are nice stops. There is also another campground at Fort Providence. Providence is the last – on the highway – place to get fuel before the last 300km stretch to Yellowknife, so being on a motorbike it might be wise to be carrying extra fuel with you.

      All the roads are technically paved on your way through the NWT to Yellowknife but the last 90km between Behchoko and Yellowknife is interesting, to say the least. The frost heave is constantly moving the road making it rather bumpy and scattered with pots hole and gravel areas. Drive with caution on this part.

      Let me know when you make it to town.

      Kyle

      • Thanks for this info Kyle. It’s very helpful we will stay in touch and keep you posted on our adventure when the time comes.

        Leonard.

    • Hi Matt, given you are on the Bell/Telus/Affiliates network you will have full cell service until about an hour north of High Level, the last Alberta town before the NWT/Alberta Border. An hour or so after the border you will go through a town called Enterprise. It has cell service again and for about 10 minutes on either side of it. 140km later, after you cross the Mackenzie River bridge you will once again get cell service in Fort Providence, although there is bad reception at Big River Gas Station (they also have wifi…). 200km after that Behchoko will have cell receptions for a stretch of 30 kms. At this point your at the home stretch to Yellowknife (about 90km). Cell reception will show up again shortly outside of Yellowknife. Cheers.

  • Hi Kyle – this article is informative, thank you. I cannot believe traveling to YK is so daunting! My family and I will be traveling to YK hopefully in mid-September. Due to spotty cell service and infrequent gas stops, what do you recommend is best practice if we encounter problems/breakdown, etc?

    • The reality is it is not daunting. I do the drive multiple times a year and have done so for the last 10 years without ever encountering a problem. If you did, there is more than enough traffic on the road that flagging someone doesn’t wouldn’t be a problem. Just make sure you have the basics. Extra food, water, working jack and spare tire, blanket, first air. Cheers. Safe travels.

  • Hi Kyle, we are planning a trip from a Calgary to Yellowknife December 7-8, we have a Tundra 4×4; Winter Nokia tires w studs, I have 10 yrs experience in Winter driving, would you give us some advise on driving on that highway? Is it a good time of the year to watch the Aurora borealis?

    • You shouldn’t have a problem, Alejandro. The roads will be regularly cleared at that point. During the day the roads are pretty active with transport trucks and other drivers so they will be well traveled. My only other advice would be to have the basic survival gear with you: blanks, matches, shovel, tow strap, bit of food. If something did happen, you want to be prepared as services station/communities are often 200-300km apart between High Level, Alberta and Yellowknife, NT.

      The “Winter Aurora” season for Yellowknife should be slowing picking up again at that time. The cloud cover that we normally get October/November should be dissipating but one can never be certain. We suggest at least a three-night stay to have the best chances to see the aurora.

  • What’s the traffic like during the summer? I’m driving from Louisville Kentucky sometime in June/July 2018, hopefully with my own teardrop trailer, I might even get a Smart car to save on gas.

    • The traffic is really not a lot. The most you might come across is semi-trucks going either way and a few other private vehicles. It can be very peaceful most of the time. Keep in mind we really only focus on the highway between High Level and Yellowknife. We can’t speak to what Alberta is like.

  • Hi Kyle – I and my wife are considering driving from Edmonton to Yellowknife next February. How would the road condition be like during that time of year? If we encounter problem on the road and cellphone not working, are there some traffic during daytime usually to ask for help?

    Thanks!

  • Hi Kyle.

    I have friends who are elderly (80ish) who want to drive from Edmonton to Yellowknife sometime in June 2018. I’m a bit concerned as they will be staying in motels. Are there numerous motels along this route . Is there a list that I can show them as I assume they should prebook. Any guidance would be appreciated.

    With thanks……..Bob

    • Hi Bob, it depends on how much distance they want to travel each day as they drive up. Generally if coming from Edmonton you might stay in either Peace Rive or High Level, Ab, which both have ample hotels. About 300km after High Level, you can take an extra 40km and go off Highway 1 into Hay River, which has a couple hotel options. No big chains but good hotels nonetheless. Between Hay River and Yellowknife, which is about 500km, most people don’t stop, but if you did, there is a small motel in the community of Fort Providence called the Snow Shoe Inn. It would be your last option for a hotel before Yellowknife.

  • I’m doing the trip from southern Alberta to Yellowknife in mid-June this year and am overnighting in Whitecourt and High Level before I get to Yellowknife. The territorial transportation website shows gravel roads between the AB/NT border and the turnoff at Hwy 3 but the map shows paved. Any comment? I guess I’m a bit leery about HL to YK because 8 hours (716km per Google Maps) is a very long drive for me – a senior driving alone). I guess I’m committed to doing it but would like some place to get reliable information on the NT segment of my trip. I’ve already abandoned the idea of YK to Fort Liard on the return.

    • High Level to Yellowknife is fully paved. And you need not worry, while there are stretches of 200-300km without service, there are a few stops along the way. In terms of gas stations there is Indian Cabins around the border, Enterprise (Lise’s Place I believe – a gas station/convenient store), Hay River if you want to go off the route about 30km at Enterprise (maybe get a hotel there for a night?), and Fort Providence where you’ll find the Big River Service Centre.

      It seems like a long haul by oneself but there are frequent trucks and general traffic on the highway so you’re never more than a few minutes from the next vehicle, especially in the middle of June.

      Best of luck.

        • Took your comment to heart about the long haul and rebooked my enroute accomms for one day earlier and added in Hay River on the route north. Lets me actually see and enjoy some of the territory I’m trying to see along the way. Thanks again.

    • Yes, there are two or three. Ptarmigan Inn, North Country Motel, and Cambridge Inn. There is also a few B&Bs.

  • My friends would like to drive from Edmonton to Rae-Edzo for Northern Light in late March.
    Any thing need to be aware off?
    Any hotel on HWY 3?
    What will be the temp. like during that season?

    • Best to just come into Yellowknife. Hotels are in Yellowknife and you will have quick access to Highway 4/Ingraham Trail, which has all the pull outs.

  • Kyle,
    Planning a trip to Yellowknife from Jasper the end of September. Will be in Yellowknife for 3 nights. What are the chances of seeing the northern lights at that time?

    • Fairly good, Joy. September is a pretty good month to see the Aurora. You might have a night or two of cloud but if you are here for three nights you have a good opportunity. Be sure to book your accommodations soon as September is a very busy month. Campgrounds also close around September 15.

  • I haven’t been impressed with the NT highway conditions info. There’s a map but not a lot of detail; for example, the stretch from Enterprise to Hay River was marked yellow a couple of days ago but other than weight restrictions it only said “Incident”. Is there any other source of current information available on a day to day basis?

  • Hi! We live in High Level and are planning on going to Yellowknife this weekend. I have been told the last hour of driving is a bit rough (the toad is in bad shape). We are deciding wether to take our truck or our car. Can you give me some info on that? Thanks!

    • Yes, the last 100km is a little rough. The permafrost heave is especially bad in that area. A truck isn’t necessary, a car will drive the road perfectly fine you just may want to go slower and be increasingly aware of what is ahead of you.

  • Thanks for the tips on Gas stations. I am coming from Edmonton on Oct 5th and stopping off at High level for the night and then Yellowknife for 5 nights. I hope the chances to see the northern lights is good for this period? Coming all the way from Europe and 1st time Canada.

  • We drove to Yellowknife July 2018 ,, wonderful trip,, information booth at NWT border the best we have seen , very helpful..

  • Hi Kyle! I am planning to drive from Fort Saint John to Yellowknife in this January. I got Toyota Camry with winter tires. Can you tell me about current road conditions?

    • Hi Aman,

      As long as you go through Alberta you will be fine. The route up Highway 97 in Alberta is well taken care of, as is Highway 1 and Highway 3 in the NWT from the border to Yellowknife. You would want to avoid the route from Fort Nelson through the Liard area back to Highway 1 because that is just a gravel road and while it might be maintained there is less traffic and cell service should something go wrong. Service options are also limited on that road. Hope this helps.

  • You have shared some wonderful information on your blog, so first of all cheers for that buddy. We are driving from Edmonton to Yellowknife in end March into first week of April for a few days trip and looking to see if you can give can help me out here in outlining some points based on the following query…

    – We are renting a car from the Edmonton airport for the drive, what would you recommend, Van or SUV for our round trip?
    – Anything in particular we need to watch out for the road trip, any tips you might say to follow/adhere?
    – how is road/hwy conditions like in your experience during end march into first week of April?
    – For the Aurora light sighting, do we have to get a tour or can we do it on our own too, any particular spots can you recommend?

    Cheers

    • Hi Mandy,

      1. Either type of vehicle will be fine. A van will be easier on gas and cost you less. An SUV will be more on gas but will have the option of 4×4. Do you need 4×4? Probably not, but it is sometimes nice to have, although not necessary.

      2. When driving up from Alberta, there will be periods with no cell service so it is best to be as prepared as possible. Extra blanket, food, shovel, candles, emergency items for worst cases. In the NWT, you will also want to watch out for Bison on the road. If it is dark and you are between Fort Providence and Behchoko there can appear on the road right around bends. But they want randomly jump out on the road like a deer or moose might.

      3. At the end of March and April, nothing should be melting too too much, the sun will be out a lot more but the roads should be dry and well graveled for traction. There will be enough traffic on them to keep them clear and safe.

      4. For Aurora Viewing you don’t need a tour. Sometimes it is recommended if you want a cabin/tent experience with a warm place to wait for them. However, I have a guide here of Aurora Viewing Location you can get to on your own: https://ykonline.ca/where-and-how-to-view-the-aurora-borealis/

      Best of luck to you.

  • High Kyle

    I am looking to drive to Yellowknife from Calgary leaving on the 22nd. Thank you for the consistent replies. Browsing through the previous comments alleviates my concerns a little bit, as I will definitely take the advice on a survival kit.

    Would the roads be cleared by pole between high level and Yellowknife ? Also I’m driving a 2018 VW Tijuana, just wondering if it is necessary that I have an engine block heater for my vehicle ?

    • The roads should be plowed. If it is snowing while you are driving, maybe not. It is quite cold in Yellowknife at this very moment so being able to plug your vehicle might be required depending on the vehicle.

  • I noticed there is two routes to do from Edmonton to Yellowknife. We were thinking going on the #2 to Highlevel on the way up and coming back we would do the #49 then turns into #43 and go through the Peace river area. Are both highways paved? We will be going up the beginning of May 2019. Can you tell me what the weather would be like at this time of year?

    • The weather will be nice. And the road clear. Highway 1 and 3 are paved on the parts you will be driving on coming from Alberta to Yellowknife.

  • Hi Kyle, planning a bucket list trip to Yellowknife and came upon your blog. Lots of great information but I think I still need to be talked down from the ledge. We will be prepared…extra gas, first aid, food, blankets, tools and fluids for the vehicle. Our itinerary will be provided to people. But still hesitant about that stretch from High Level to Yellowknife. We will be hauling a 26′ trailer which will add to our fuel consumption. Any additional tips or advise? Thank you!

    • Hello Catherine. If you are towing such a large trailer and gas consumption is a concern, I would take the 40-minute detour into Hay River, NWT. It is a nice little community with several service options. It adds an hour to your trip, but it worth the reassurance.

  • Bonjour Kyle,

    My wife and I will be driving over 5000 km to Yellowknife from Laval Québec at the end on June. I have read most comments / questions and I think all bases are covered. I will be towing a small camper so I will be taking a 20 litre gas container, just in case.

    You never mention bears… no bears in Laval, never seen one in 60 years, other than in the zoo. I thought there might be some up there, any advise?

    Merci for your web site and your one on one personnalized service!

    • Bonjour!

      Earlier in the Spring so May or early June it is quite common to see black bears on the highway between the NWT Border and Yellowknife. They are normally right on the edge of the forest line and as you drive past they might walk back into the forest. If you are camping along the way in Territorial Parks, they can have black bears come through, but the park managers keep a close eye out for them and alert everyone if there are any issues. That said it is always a good idea to keep a clean campsite of any trash and food.

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