The Deh Cho region gets its name from the Dehcho First Nations term for “big river.” Riding the 1,800-plus-kilometre Deh Cho Travel Connection takes you from High Level, Alberta, along long stretches of straight, paved highway through vast expanses of boreal forest in northern Alberta, while gravelled portions of the route meander through the Northwest Territories’ vistas of mountains and rivers, notably the 1,738-kilometre Mackenzie River (the Dehcho), and then back through B.C. on the Liard Highway to your starting point in High Level. There’s lots to do and see along the way.
High Level, Alberta
With a variety of hotels, High Level is also home to several campgrounds.
Jeff Lee has done a lot of riding and camping up north. Whether solo or with a group, one thing remains constant: the stuffed Homer Simpson strapped to his FZ6. “I’m guessing he’s logged 75,000 kilometres,” said Lee. A favourite trip of Lee’s was on a toy run to Hay River. His group spent a night in a High Level campground, letting the owner know which day they’d return. When they rolled back in, their site looked occupied. “It was funny,” Lee said, “we were a little slow on the uptake.” Soon they realized the thoughtful owner had set out chairs and a cooler full of pop—for them. Hospitality is part of the culture of northern Alberta.
Janna Graham (left) and Robin Weber ride across the Deh Cho Bridge. — Photo courtesy Michael Rutter
Golfing at Fox Haven Golf and Country Club is one of many outdoor activities around High Level. Beth Kappelar, chair of the Mackenzie Frontier Tourist Association and a past president of Fox Haven, said, “This course is the farthest-north golf course in Canada with grass greens.” Northern Alberta’s long summer days let golfers play here until midnight.
Springtime at Alexandra Falls in Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park. — Photo courtesy Michael Rutter
Enterprise, Northwest Territories
On the Hay River 10 kilometres southwest of Enterprise, you’ll find Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park. According to Dene lore, the stunning Alexandra Falls and Louise Falls are the area’s guardian spirits. There’s a day use area at Alexandra Falls and a campsite at Louise Falls, a short three-kilometre hike away.
Enterprise, with a population near 100, is an important junction of the Mackenzie Highway. All traffic is heading to either Yellowknife or Hay River, so Enterprise offers an informative visitors’ centre.
A cow bison and her calf in the Mackenzie Herd. — Photo courtesy Michael Rutter
Fort Providence, Northwest Territories
The Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary is home to between 2,000 and 3,000 bison. It’s bordered by Great Slave Lake and the Frontier Highway (Highway 3), covering over 10,000 square kilometres between the Mackenzie River Ferry and Yellowknife. The bison of the Mackenzie herd regularly cross or even rest on the road; they’re most active at dusk and during the night, so stay alert when travelling this section of the highway. Since adult bison can weigh over 1,000 kilograms and can run 55 kilometres an hour, you may want to stay back and let them move off the road in their own time.
Ride across a piece of history: The Deh Cho Bridge is a 1.1-kilometre bridge across the Mackenzie River on Highway 3. From the 1950s when the road was built until 2012, drivers crossed the river on a ferry in summertime and on an ice bridge in the winter.
Remember to fill up your gas tank and your jerry can at every opportunity. The next gas station may be farther away than most motorcycles can go on a tank of gas.
Riding solo but not alone
Mike Rutter rode solo on his KLR over the Deh Cho Travel Connection. Riding solo isn’t for everyone, but with experience on his own in the backcountry, Rutter was comfortable riding and camping alone on his tour of two provinces and a territory. He sought advice from fellow riders who’d done solo touring and learned which items would be indispensable. Stopping at a weigh station, Rutter discovered he was wearing and carrying about 100 kilograms of necessary gear, equipment, tools and extra fuel. Yet he noted that even in such a sparsely populated area, “If a person needs help, there will always be a car coming along soon.”
Mike Rutter and his fully loaded KLR in Blackstone Territorial Park during his solo ride of the Deh Cho Travel Connection. — Photo courtesy Michael Rutter