This article is over 5 years old and may contain outdated information.


Northwest Territories promotes last chance to drive historic ice road

Next winter, the ice road connecting Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk will be replaced by an all-season overland highway

A sign advertising the status of the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk ice road Expand Image

For most Canadians, driving on ice is a nightmare, but under the right circumstances, it can be an adventure — at least according to Northwest Territories tourism officials. 

The territory is inviting visitors to take advantage of their last chance to drive the 187-kilometre ice road built annually on the Mackenzie River between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk. Next winter, the historic highway will be closed as construction begins on a long-awaited permanent route on land.

In a post on their website, the NWT tourism authority describes the experience of driving on ice and snow through the unique geography of the Mackenzie delta as “dreamlike.” The surface is wider and smoother than that of a conventional road, there’s a good chance of seeing the aurora borealis in the clear, dark winter sky. Speed and vehicle weight limits are also strictly enforced to prevent holes from opening in the ice.

Photographer Richard Hartmier drove the famous ice road and documented his experience in the January/February 2016 issue of Canadian Geographic; his photos offer a glimpse at this unique aspect of life in Canada’s Arctic. 

A truck drives on the ice road between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk, NWT Expand Image
A truck drives on the ice road between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk. Between December and April, people from Tuktoyaktuk drive — by car or snowmobile — to Inuvik to shop or see a doctor. Trucks travel in the opposite direction, hauling freight that during the summer months has to be flown in to Tuktoyaktuk or brought by ship. (Photo: Richard Hartmier/Canadian Geographic)
For most people in the north, the snowmobile is the most reliable mode of transportation Expand Image
For most northerners, the snowmobile is the most reliable mode of transportation in the winter months. It’s not unusual for people to travel hundreds of kilometres over the tundra to buy groceries and other supplies. (Photo: Richard Hartmier/Canadian Geographic) 
A snowplow clears the ice road between Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik Expand Image
A snowplow clears the ice road on a featureless stretch of tundra between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk. (Photo: Richard Hartmier/Canadian Geographic)
St. John's Anglican Church in Tuktoyaktuk Expand Image
St. John’s Anglican Church in Tuktoyaktuk. (Photo: Richard Hartmier/Canadian Geographic) 
Closer to Tuktoyaktuk, the sea ice is clearer than in Inuvik Expand Image
Close to Tuktoyaktuk, the sea ice is clearer than near Inuvik — a constant reminder that one is driving on the frozen Arctic Ocean. (Photo: Richard Hartmier/Canadian Geographic) 
A red fox watches travellers from the side of the ice road Expand Image
A red fox surveys travellers from the side of the ice road. (Photo: Richard Hartmier/Canadian Geographic) 

Related: What it’s like to be an ice road trucker 


Are you passionate about Canadian geography?

You can support Canadian Geographic in 3 ways:

Related Content

A fox walking on the newly constructed Mackenzie Valley Highway


Driving to the land of the pingos

The long-awaited permanent highway between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. opens next month. How will it impact the communities?

  • 908 words
  • 4 minutes


Tuktoyaktuk community ice house

Carved deep into the permafrost, the 19-room underground freezer preserves food and tradition in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region

  • 654 words
  • 3 minutes


Rafting the Firth River with Nahanni River Adventures

Brian and Dee Keating share their incredible rafting journey in the remote Arctic tundra on a once-in-a-lifetime Canadian Geographic Adventure

  • 4617 words
  • 19 minutes

Science & Tech

20 Canadian innovations you should know about

Celebrating Canadian Innovation Week 2023 by spotlighting the people and organizations designing a better future 

  • 3327 words
  • 14 minutes