Encompassing one-third of Canada's land area, the Northwest Territories is full of geographical disparity, but nearly empty of people. First populated by the Dene and then the Inuit people, the territory's first non-native settlers were Vikings. They landed in about A.D. 1000, long before Europeans were drawn to the area for fur in the 18th and 19th centuries. Before it became a Canadian territory, the area was run by the Hudson's Bay Company. Today, the territory retains a strong First Nations presence, and six of its eight official languages are native languages.
The land here is as diverse as its languages. The western Mackenzie Mountains shield the province from the Yukon; boreal forest cloaks the south; a great stretch of tundra makes up the north; and the mountainous northeastern islands form another dramatic territorial border.
Contrast applies to the Northwest Territory's climate as well. For most of the year, the land is held in check by winter, but even the tundra blooms in the Land of the Midnight Sun. During summertime, the nearly round-the-clock sun allows plants to complete a normal growth cycle in two months.
While the territory's capital, Yellowknife, has only 18,000 residents, it offers a good selection of restaurants, hotels, and shops. It also offers native crafts and access to outstanding outdoor activities. Yellowknife is small enough that urban lights don't interfere with the aurora borealis, but the capital is also a transportation hub for those who prefer a more natural setting.
Three districts make up the territories: Mackenzie, Franklin, and Keewatin, but more significant, perhaps, is the division of arctic and sub-arctic regions. The latter can offer temperatures in the mid-30s C (80s F) in summer. Visitors can enjoy more than 30 provincial parks and four national parks, with the northern coast offering beluga whale-watching, while inland parks feature bears (grizzly and polar), caribou, Dall sheep, white foxes, and moose. Bird-watching here, especially for raptors, can be superb. Three major flyways bring more than 280 species through the territory.