The Waterfalls Route
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Canada's Northwest Territories are popularly associated with polar bears, caribou, and tundra, yet a stretch of the Mackenzie Highway north from the Alberta border is characterized by something very different: spectacular gorges and waterfalls. While the polished granite of the Canadian Shield accounts for the central and northern expanses of the Northwest Territories, the southern part is mostly limestone susceptible to fluvial weathering. And three inviting territorial parks here, each with wonderful waterfalls, rivers, trails, and camping grounds, await travellers along the Waterfalls Route.
Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park is right on the Mackenzie Highway, 77 kilometers north of the 60th parallel. Here the Hay River plunges over two breathtaking falls before reaching Great Slave Lake. At Louise Falls the river goes over a wide T-shaped cliff and enters a magnificent canyon. A high viewing platform is near the campground, and nearby a dramatic spiral metal stairway winds down to the falls itself. For the best view of Louise Falls, walk 300 meters north on the Escarpment Creek Trail from the day use area.
Another walking trail along the bluffs leads 30 minutes upriver from Louise Falls to equally impressive Alexandra Falls, a thundering 33-meter-high sight reminiscent of Niagara in Ontario. The indigenous people of the area, the Dene, called Alexandra Falls Hatto deh Naili and considered it a source of spiritual power. Interpretive panels along the trail between the falls provide insights into Dene life.
To visit Lady Evelyn Falls Territorial Park you turn off the Mackenzie Highway 93 kilometers north of Twin Falls Gorge and drive seven kilometers west toward Kakisa village. Here the Kakisa River plunges 15 meters over curtain-like Lady Evelyn Falls, visible from a lookout just below the parking lot.
Perhaps the most stunning pair of falls on the Waterfalls Route are in Sambaa Deh Falls Territorial Park, on an unpaved stretch of the Mackenzie Highway, 137 kilometers west of the turnoff to Yellowknife. Here the fast-moving Trout River (or Sambaa Deh in the Slavey language), a tributary of the Mackenzie River, drops twice. Coral Falls, a 20-minute walk upstream through the spruce forest from the campground, is named for the coral fossils washed continuously downstream. From viewpoints high on the hillside, it resembles a miniature of the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara.
At Sambaa Deh Falls, just below the highway bridge, the powerful Trout River roars into a narrow gorge. To get right next to the dark brown water, follow the west side of the gorge downstream to a crevice with ropes to the riverbank. Unlike the more famous Virginia Falls in Nahanni National Park Reserve, which costs thousands of dollars to access by air, Sambaa Deh Falls can be seen for free from the Mackenzie Highway bridge anytime.
From the series Unknown Sights of Canada by David Stanley