It is possible to ride a mountain bike on roughly 100 miles of the Canol Heritage Trail, from Macmillan Pass to the Twitya River. Many cyclists ride the section from Godlin Lakes to Macmillan Pass, about 60 miles. Since this section still requires some river crossings and the trail is still not easy to follow, it is not recommended for those who are not comfortable with extreme wilderness cycling. For strong cyclists, it is possible to cover up to 30 miles a day. The section of the Canol Heritage Trail from the Twitya River to Norman Wells is too strewn with boulders to be attempted by bicycle.
For most of the year, the Canol Heritage Trail is covered with snow. This begins to change in late June, when the days lengthen and the snow melts. It is not recommended that you attempt the trail until mid-July, as snow runoff in late June and early July makes the rivers extremely difficult to cross. Even in July, you may experience temperatures below freezing, particularly at night. The window for hiking and biking the Canol Heritage Trail closes in early September, as new snow falls more frequently by the middle of that month.
Link to current forecast for Norman Wells.
Link to current forecast for Ross River.
Link to current forecast for Whitehorse.
Link to current forecast for Yellowknife.
The Canol Heritage Trail is certainly not for anyone who is not prepared to survive in remote wilderness conditions. Three difficult river crossings (and many others of lower difficulty), including one which must crossed by raft, await anyone who attempts the trail. Bears populate the area in and around the trail, so hikers and bikers must use bear-proof containers and/or bear bag their provisions. (Although it should be noted that there are few places along the trail with trees that can be used for bear bagging.) Carrying pepper-spray or other bear repellant devices is also recommended. While some hikers do carry guns protect themselves against bears, most do not. Mosquitos are thick on the lower portions of the trail within 100 miles of Norman Wells, so bring bug spray. While the trail is generally considered to be not difficult to follow, using a compass requires a large amount of correction because of the proximity of magnetic north. Above all, you must be self-sufficient. You are miles from nowhere, and attracting the attention of potential rescuers is a dubious proposition.It should also be noted that if you are rescued, you will have to pick up the tab, which will likely run into the thousands of dollars.
All persons traveling the trail should register with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The RCMP in Norman Wells may be reached at:
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
PO Box 100
Norman Wells, NT XOE 0V0
tel: (867) 587-2444
fax: (867) 587-2665
In Ross River, the RCMP may be reached at:
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Ross River, YT Y0B 1S0
tel: (867) 969-5555
The two ends of the Canol Heritage Trail are Macmillan Pass (often referred to as "Mac Pass") on the border of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon Territory northeast of Whitehorse, and Norman Wells, Northwest Territories. The trail runs NE/SW between these two points.It is possible to fly to one end of the trail (Norman Wells) and drive to the other end (Macmillan Pass). Major airlines fly into both Norman Wells and Whitehorse (closest city in Yukon Territory to Macmillan Pass.) Getting from Whitehorse to Macmillan Pass either requires driving via Ross River or a charter flight. Getting to Macmillan Pass from Norman Wells also requires a charter flight. Charter flights, however, generally cost on the order of CAN$5 per mile, and you will have to pay for round trip. Check around with the various charter agencies for the best deals- the Yukon and NWT tourism associations can tell you about which charter companies specialize in the trail, although three such companies which fly from Norman Wells are listed below.
Most hikers and bikers start from Norman Wells since it is the only major airport on an end of the trail. In Norman Wells, you can also arrange for a charter flight to Macmillan Pass or other places along the trail and then tackle the remainder of the trail. The charter airline company most used by hikers and bikers who have submitted reports is North-Wright Air, Bag Service 2200, Norman Wells, NT, X0E 0V0, Canada, tel: (867) 587-2288 or (800) 661-0702, fax: (867) 587-2962, WWW: http://www.north-wrightairways.com. Another such company is Ursus Aviation, PO Box 172, Tulita, NT, X0E 0K0, tel: (867) 588-4141, fax: (867) 588-4131, WWW: http://www.ursusaviation.com, which is based in Tulita but also flies from Norman Wells. Other charter airline companies also operate in Norman Wells.
Stan Simpson's Ram Head Outfitters, while primarily geared for hunters, does provide transportation and support services for hikers. Stan will fly to and from Ross River, Macmillan Pass and Norman Wells. He also has a network of private airstrips along the trail. His contact information is Box 89, Warburg, AB, Canada, T0C 2C0, tel: (780) 848-7578 fax: (780) 848-7550.
From Watson Lake south of Whitehorse, the Canol Road (Yukon Highway 6) runs to Macmillan Pass, but no roads connect to Norman Wells. On the Canol Road, it is approximately 150 miles from Ross River to the pass. Over this entire distance, there are no services, so it is necessary to ensure that one has enough fuel before leaving Ross River. Road conditions may be found at the Yukon Transportation Maintenance Daily Road Report. While the Canol Road is not maintained beyond Macmillan Pass, people do drive it, particularly with four wheel drive vehicles, to Oldsquaw Lodge.
Getting between Norman Wells and Whitehorse requires a charter flight, unless you fly via Inuvik or Yellowknife. Flying through Inuvik usually results in better connections, as flying through Whitehorse frequently requires an overnight stay. You may also charter a flight to Fort Simpson (particularly if you wish to see Nahanni National Park), and from there catch a scheduled flight to Whitehorse. (There is no scheduled air service between Norman Wells and Fort Simpson.) If you are lucky, you may be able to hook up with others wanting to travel between Norman Wells and Whitehorse, which may cut the cost of a charter down to a reasonable level.
Hiking is the most common way to see the Canol Heritage Trail. For experienced wilderness hikers, the trail is fairly easy to follow, particularly where the telephone poles are still intact, as they are on some parts of the trail. In the Summer, with the long hours of daylight, hikers can stay on the trail will have light good enough to follow the trail for fourteen hours a day or more. Strong hikers can cover up to fifteen miles a day on the section of the trail between Macmillan Pass and the Twitya River. From the Twitya River to Norman Wells, however, twelve miles day is about the maximum that can be accomplished. Hikers planning to cover the entire trail should budget at least twenty days for the trip.
Maps are an absolute requirement for any planning to hike or bike the Canol Heritage Trail. The map on this website is not to be used for trail navigation.
The maps needed are 1:250,000 scale, 96D "Carcajou Canyon", 96E "Norman Wells", 106A "Mount Eduni", and 105P "Sekwi Mountain".
Some publications state that map 105O is needed, but this map only shows the very beginning of the Canol Heritage Trail at Macmillan Pass.
These maps are available from local Canada Map Office outlets or from various mail-order companies, such as World of Maps at (800) 214-8524, website:
The maps cost in the range of CAN$10 each.
Free maps of the Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territories are available from the respective tourist organization of these two territories. Contact information is listed below under Tourist Information.
As is referenced in a few trip reports, the first 20 miles or so beyond Macmillan Pass can be full of people on "quads" or motorcycles. This form of travel is not encouraged, because of the impact it has on the environment, and may eventually be banned. For those interested in travel by motorized vehicle, please see My Canadian Adventures by Craig Hightower or Beyond the Pavement by John Campbell.
Tourist information on the Canol Heritage Trail area may be obtained from a variety of sources, including:
Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development
Government of the NWT
Norman Wells, NT X0E 0V0
tel: (867) 587-3500
fax: (867) 587-2204
Publishes the Hiker's Guide to the Canol Heritage Trail.
Norman Wells Historical Center
Norman Wells, NT X0E 0V0
tel: (867) 587-2415
fax: (867) 587-2469
Northern Frontier Visitor Center
tel: (867) 873-4262
Northwest Territories Arctic Tourism
PO Box 610
Yellowknife, NT X1A 2L9
tel:(867) 873-7200 or (800) 661-0788
fax: (867) 873-4059
Produces a free Northwest Territories Explorers' Guide and Map.
PO Box 2703
Whitehorse, YT Y1A 2C6
tel: (867) 667-5340
fax: (867) 667-3546
Produces a free Yukon Vacation Guide and Map.
Winter travel on the Canol Heritage Trail, either by snowmobile or dogsled, is not recommended. Since 1975, only two
groups have succesfully traveled the trail in Winter. Winter travel should not be attempted by anyone not used to extreme winter conditions, and then only with
extremely detailed planning and preparation. Those thinking of traveling the trail in winter are strongly urged to reconsider. See the two Trip Reports on Mushing and Snowmobiling the trail
to get some idea of the extraordinary difficulties facing those who wish to travel the trail in winter.