The unacquainted passing through Hay River might not know we’re the Hub of the North, connecting the territory to the south via road, rail, and river. It’s easy to drive through this town and circle back with the fake impression that Hay River can be checked off your destination list. That’s a rookie mistake many past visitors have made. The old vehicles and barges dotting our town might not seem—to outsiders—as worth a second glance. But like so much of this place they’re beautiful, special, and proof of our rich transportation history. Just like the great swimming here, you need to go below the surface. Why visit if you’re not truly willing to dive in?
To ease you into those waters, here are my personal suggestions on how to spend a perfect weekend in my corner of the North.
Arriving in town
First stop is the Visitor Information Centre. Conveniently located along the highway, stop by and have a chat with Peter Magill, the Tourism & Economic Development Officer (but mostly a true Hay River aficionado).
Assuming that you’ll be arriving late on a Friday evening (Hay River is about a five- hour drive south from Yellowknife), my first suggestion is you do yourself a favour and hit up the Pump House beach. Drive past the signs for the public beach, past the NWT territorial campground, and find the empty parking lot. Pump House is located after the big curb where the speed limit goes from 40 to 60 kilometres per hour. If you find it, congratulations! You are officially ready to navigate via vague directions like a true Hay Riverite.
Since it’s probably summer, sunset will be between 9:30 and 11:20 pm. Enjoy some late-night sun and surf, and then pitch a tent. I highly recommend camping on the beach for your first night. Just don’t forget to only leave your footprints behind!
If the beach is a little too wild for you, check-in at the Hay River Territorial Campground nearby, park your RV at the public beach, or book a room at the Harbour Guest House. Are you a fan of spooky places? Try the Anchorage Bed & Breakfast. People say there are ghosts and flickering electricity within those walls.
Wake up Saturday morning and take a short five-minute drive to the Fishermen’s Wharf. Walk through the boats, check out the products, grab some breakfast and chat with the locals. Starting this summer the local hotspot will feature a brand-new pavilion. Don’t forget to buy some extra food for a late lunch. (You’ll want to anyway as it’ll be hard to choose between all the tasty options).
After the wharf, cross the street and take a stroll through the Hay River Museum’s outdoor exhibit. Make your way in and discover how Hay River came to be. First chosen as a seasonal fishing camp by Chief Chiatlo in 1892—though the area has been used by Indigenous people for thousands of years—it did not take long before an Anglican Mission appeared in 1893. The museum itself is located where the old trading post used to be. From its porch, you can look at the very cute, yet shuttered, church across the river in the Old Fishing village of the K’atl’odeeche First Nation Reserve.
Once you’re done at the museum, it’s time to pack up and drive to the nearby Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park. Start your journey through this lush outdoor space at Alexandra Falls, which has an impressive 32-metre drop. Every few years, extreme kayakers attempt the plunge—rarely without getting hurt. That being said, it’s totally safe to walk down the park staircase and get up close to the raging waters. While you’re there, keep your eyes open for prehistoric animal tracks. Ancient fish with muscular limbs for moving in shallow water, some up to five or six metres in length, roamed these waters nearly 400 million years ago. There are also plenty of fossils to be found in the surrounding limestone rock.
After soaking in the canyon view, start your easy three-kilometre hike to Louise Falls—the second of the nominal twin waterfalls. The hardest part of this journey? Going down the dizzying spiral staircase. The wild and curious among us will instead dare to reach the waters guided by a sketchy rope path. Either way it’s a beautiful way to spend a day out in nature. If you’ve got some energy left, contact 2 Seasons Adventures. The local company offers fishing tours, jet-boat tours and has both yurts and cabins for a comfortable stay with a great view of Great Slave Lake’s shores.
You can’t leave the South Slave without visiting one of the best kept secrets in the region—Winnie’s gift shop in Enterprise. Owner Winnie Cadieux is a warm, funny and welcoming lady, and an icon of the tiny hamlet. Get a story, a souvenir and leave with a hint of smoky hide stuck in your nose.
If everything goes according to plan and the NWT continues “emerging wisely” from COVID-19, you should be able to access the Hay River Golf Course; a prime event space and great location for weddings. Work up an appetite and then treat yourself to the famous Eddy Burger at the Back Eddy restaurant. Enjoy the beautiful scenery offered by Hay River one last time before hitting the road.