The fascination for Canada’s far North keeps visitors coming back for new and unusual experiences in all three of our very different territories. Where else in Canada do you have the biggest island, the highest mountain, the largest lake, the longest river, free roaming pre-historic animals, 24 hours of daylight, 24 hours of darkness, more than a dozen indigenous languages and of course spectacular Aurora Borealis displays.
Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut offer hundreds of uniquely northern experiences for intrepid travellers who prefer vacations that challenge them, offer learning opportunities and provide memorable adventures. Here’s our list of some things to see and do that you can really only find in the North. We’ve developed this list from our 40 years of exploring the North from east to west ad north to south. Welcome to our natural playground.
1 The greatest show on earth
Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights are a captivating sight best seen at locations near the Arctic Circle. They are visible on clear nights in all three territories, although the possibility of seeing a breathtaking display is often best in the southern Northwest Territories, under the aurora oval. Try viewing the lights from an enclosed heated seat at Aurora Village near Yellowknife, or visit a cozy cabin where you can enjoy a bowl of tasty whitefish chowder with bannock while you’re waiting for the lights to appear. Aurora viewing is offered by wilderness lodges, or on nightly hunts by vehicle, looking for the best viewing locations. In Yukon visit the Northern Lights Centre in Watson Lake, the Yukon’s only visitor facility dedicated to the science and folklore of the Aurora Borealis
2 Hot springs at -30C or +30C
Yes, we have hot springs in the territories with the most accessible springs in Yukon just outside of Whitehorse. This spa facility is open year-round and hosts the annual hair freezing contest. Not into frozen artistry? Then we suggest endurance with a roll in the snow after lolling in a comfortable hot spring. If you prefer your hot spring experience in the wilderness, then try steamy Kraus Hotprings on a summer trip to Nahanni National Park Reserve. These hotsprings are difficult to reach and a word of caution…they have a strong sulphur smell from the high concentration of several minerals. Also visitors are encouraged to avoid them in August and September when local bears hang out near the springs. Nunavut also has hotsprings, but they are on remote islands. Axel Heiberg Island is the location of some hotsprings that bubble through the ice and produce dome creations…but the only people who’ll likely see these hot springs and the domes they produce are the scientists who study this phenomenon, up there near the North Pole.
3 Be here for the return of the sun
Venture above the Arctic Circle from early December until early February and you’ll find out what it’s like to live in the dark….which lasts longer the further North you travel. But then the sun comes back and if you travel to Inuvik, NT at the end of the first week in January, you can help the local townspeople celebrate the return of the sun as it peaks over the horizon around noon. Over three days visitors can enjoy local food, music, traditional dance, markets, snow and ice sculptures and a few rays.
4 Sample northern foods
Fish, red meat and bannock are northern staples, but what’s so northern about that? Lots if you want to try something a little different. Meat could mean muskox steaks or stew, available in a number of restaurants and the fish can range from Yukon salmon, Nunavut char, NWT Dolly Varden or Inconnu… or just great whitefish, trout or northern pike. Other regulars on northern menus include bannock (made dozens of different ways) and berries, especially cranberries. The North is starting to produce some of its own food, and visitors are welcomed at a number of commercial farms and facilities that produce everything from leafy lettuce, to fresh eggs, to tasty goat’s milk cheese.
5 Go climb a mountain
Each northern territory has at least one very famous mountain that attracts experienced climbers. In Nunavut, there’s Mount Thor located in Auyuittuq National Park. It boasts the earth’s greatest vertical drop at 1250 metres. The first successful ascent of this mountain was in 1985 and there have been more since then. Mount Thor is only one of many challenging mountains along the east coast of Baffin Island. In the NWT the Cirque of the Unclimbables in Nahanni National Park Reserve features several popular peaks including Lotus Flower Tower at 2,570 metres. And the highest mountain in Canada and second highest in North America is located in Kluane National Park in the Yukon. Mount Logan soars to 5959 metres and includes numerous lower peaks, with at least 11 of them over 5,000 feet. Only an average of 25 people in about seven expeditions attempt this mountain each year, and few reach the summit.
6 Hobnob with royalty
Yellowknife’s Snowking welcomes visitors to his castle each year in March with a series of events and exhibits. The exotic structure (whose design changes somewhat from year to year) is built on the shores of Great Slave Lake using Great Slave Lake ice, and packed snow blocks cut from the thick white covering above the ice. The castle is built from scratch each winter….and returns to the lake with spring melt. If you’re not here for the Snowking’s festival in March, no problem. You can head down to the location as soon as the ice freezes (early December) and watch the crew of volunteers cutting and stockpiling the pieces for the construction, including thin pieces of ice for windows. Or they could be erecting walls or building interior slides. Both the inside and outside of the castle feature exquisite ice and snow sculptures.
7 Ride the rails
The only narrow gauge railway still operating in Canada is White Pass and Yukon Rail which offers excursions from Skagway Alaska through Northern BC to Carcross Yukon. The round trip through the White Mountains takes about eight hours, and chugs through magnificent landscape and colourful gold rush history. There is only one other railway in the Canadian north. It is for freight only and runs from northern Alberta to Hay River, Northwest Territories.
8 Drive to the Arctic Ocean
There’s only one public road in North America that ends at the Arctic Ocean, and that’s the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway. The route from the south to the ocean is long, but the memories from this trip will last even longer. The real starting point for this drive is Dawson City Yukon near the Dempster Highway, a 740 km gravel route built in 1979 to connect Yukon highways to Inuvik. From Inuvik a 138 km gravel highway stretches over tundra and around small lakes to Tuktoyaktuk a community of nearly 1,000 people on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Services are limited on these routes so make sure you are well prepared before you set out.
9 Look a bison in the eye
Bison were first protected in the North when Wood Buffalo National park opened in 1922. Since then the population has fluctuated and the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary which straddles Highway 3 north of the Mackenzie River was established to preserve the wood bison. Other bison herds live in the Hook Lake area southeast of Great Slave Lake and around Fort Liard. Most visitors who drive the highways in the southern NWT will see one or many bison. They hang out at the sides of the road to get away from bugs in summer, and from time to time they venture onto the road, stopping traffic, and casually staring down anyone who tries to make them move along. An average wood bison (and we have the largest population of wood bison in Canada), is six feet at the shoulder and average weight is about 1,200 pounds. These large animals also hang out near highways in the Yukon. Back in the 1980s some 170 of the animals were introduced into the Yukon and today there are over 1200 in the southern Yukon.
10 Overnight on ice
Fly into the largest non-polar ice field in the world and prepare for adventure. Explore the icefields in the St. Elias Mountains on skis or snowshoes in June and July. Or try a flightseeing tour over the glaciers with a tour company out of Haines Junction Yukon. Some of the ice in these fields is up to a kilometre deep. Another option is to spend a night in a traditional igloo with an Inuit family. Snuggle under a with warm caribou blanket and enjoy the heat from a burning qulliq, all part of a traditional experience that could also include fishing and aurora viewing.
11 Listen to the roar of massive waterfalls
Where there are fast-flowing rivers there are often dramatic waterfalls. The biggest and most dramatic waterfall in the North is Virginia Falls on the South Nahanni River in Nahanni National Park Reserve. Sightseeing flights are offered from Fort Simpson into the falls. A collection of smaller falls on the Hay River, which runs parallel to NWT highway 1, are easy to see from viewing decks overlooking the falls. The two main falls, Alexandra and Louise are joined by a 4km hiking trail. Lady Evelyn Falls on the Kakisa River is also easy to see. In Nunavut the Highest waterfall north of the Arctic circle is Wilberforce Falls which cascades some 30 km into a deep gorge on the Hood River. The falls are known for their amazing beauty but are seen mainly by ardent canoeists who choose to paddle the Hood and portage around these falls.
12 Hike up a breathtaking mountainous fjords
Nunavut has its share of the scenic fjords of the world, especially along the east coast of Baffin Island. More visitors are exploring these fjords in the northern spring, when the ice is still thick, the sun is shining and the temperatures are nearing 0 C in the daytime. Check out the massive mountains -some named and some unnamed -that line the sides of the fjords.
13 Traverse the Northwest Passage
In 1984 the commercial passenger vessel MV Explorer became the first cruise ship to navigate the Northwest Passage. Today there are several dozen tours offered both through the Northwest Passage and along the coasts of major Arctic Islands. Most offer visits to some Nunavut communities, historic sites or wilife or bird habitat. These tours include local interpretive guides to explain the area. Combine an up-close view of the Arctic, with luxury living on an ice-strengthened small cruise ship.
14 Crawl up the coast of Marble Island
This storied island is a pure white chunk of rock (quartzite) rising out of Hudson Bay about an hour’s boat ride from the community of Rankin Inlet on the west coast of the bay. It is the largest of a group of four islands (approx.. 11 km long by seven km wide) and is known for both its legends and history. One of these legends ends with the warning that visitors to the island have to crawl up onto the island to keep the rock from turning back to ice. And if you don’t crawl, you’ll have the curse of bad luck throughout your life. The island also has a history of 18th century traders (who apparently died there but no remains were found) and whalers including a few shipwrecked whale boats whose remains can still be seen in the shallow water at the island’s edge. Many years before the traders and whalers arrived, the islands attracted Inuit hunters seeking whale, walrus and seal. The island is littered with signs of these early occupants: kayak rests, stone tent rings and graves.
15 Buy “polar bear” diamonds
These diamonds are mined, cut and polished in the Northwest Territories and have the distinctive polar bear engraved on them. These diamonds can be purchased at the Diamond Centre in downtown Yellowknife. The centre also features a display of the history of diamond mining in the territory.
16 See prehistoric wildlife
Over 100 centuries ago the great ice age obliterated animals like the wooly mammoth and cave lions, but the muskoxen somehow survived, and continues to live on Arctic Islands, although more and more are crossing the ice to the mainland and heading south along tundra river valleys, some reaching the east arm of Great Slave Lake and even the Saskatchewan border. Short, shaggy, smelly and weighing in at over 400 lbs, their populations were dangerously low in the 60s but have recovered with a current Canadian population of near 100,000. Some places you can see these prehistoric animals are at Ivvavik National Park and Herschel Island in Yukon. and Banks Island in NWT. In Nunavut the animals are on most Arctic islands and the mainland, except for Baffin Island and Southhampton Island. The frozen remains of some ice age animals have been discovered in the Yukon. The Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre in Whitehorse features a display of Ice age animals.
17 Whale watch. For very big whales
The only places you can see the world’s largest whale is in the icy waters of the eastern and western Arctic. These bowhead whales are the longest living mammals on earth, reaching over 200 years, and at full size they are up to 20 metres long and weigh nearly 100 tons. The largest known concentration of bowhead whales is located at the Ninginganiq National Wildlife Area off the east coast of Baffin Island near the community of Clyde River. Every summer up to 200 of these whales will feed and rest in this area. Access to this wildlife area is restricted except for land claim beneficiaries. A permit is required to either access or conduct any type of activity in the wildlife area. There are also bowhead whales in other parts of the Arctic Ocean and north Hudson Bay, but chances of seeing them are slimmer. Narwhal with their distinctive tusk and Beluga whales can also be spotted in Arctic waters.
18 Whitewater at its very best
The four sets of rapids on the Slave River are among the very best in all of Canada or maybe even the world, if you are into kayaking. These rapids cover a 25 km length of the river near Fort Smith. The Cassette, Pelican, Rapids of the Drowned and Mountain Rapids are rated at Class 1 to 4. Each year paddlers are attracted to the annual Slave River Paddlefest at Fort Smith for a long weekend of paddling, games, food and fun. And while you’re there visit the local pelican colony. One set of rapids, the Pelican Rapids, honours Canada’s northernmost colony of pelicans, a protected species, who return each year to live and mate on the Slave River.
19 Picnic on a mountain top
The Tombstone Mountains in Yukon, often referred to as the Patagonia of the North, are home to the Tombstone Territorial Park, some 2200 square km of protected wilderness that includes rugged peaks, permafrost landforms and lots of wildlife. Outfitters offer both day trips and longer treks through the park. If you want a taste of the Tombstones try a six hour hike up Mount Adney (1567 metres) and better still enjoy a picnic with a view from the softly vegetated top of this mountain.
20 Roam with the reindeer
Canada’s only reindeer herd lives in the Northwest Territories. This storied herd was relocated there in the 1930s and the current herd of close to 3,000 animals is now owned by the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation. The herd migrates between Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik, and each spring, in early April, it is possible to see the reindeer being herded North near the Inuvik-Tuk highway. This opportunity to see a migrating reindeer herd usually coincides with Inuvik’s annual spring carnival, Muskrat Jamboree.
21 Enjoy one of our best cross country skiing months: April
When most people have packed away their ski equipment for the season, but you’re looking for a longer season, head north where the ski season can stretch to the end of April when the days are long and the sun is overhead. Some cross-country ski events up here are in March and April, with major competitions also occurring then. There are groomed and sometimes lit trails in a number of communities. In Whitehorse and Yellowknife you can rent skis and take to the trails operated by local ski clubs.
22 See the night sky as it was meant to be seen
The Wood Buffalo Dark Sky Preserve is the largest of 22 dark sky preserves in Canada. With over 40,000 km2 of space, most of it uninhabited, the twinkle of the stars and swirl of auroras are unaffected by artificial light pollution. The area was designated as a Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Dark Sky Preserve in 2013, in partnership with Parks Canada. In late August the park and the local astronomical society host a multi-day Dark Sky festival with events in Fort Smith and stargazing and sky viewing at several sites within the park.
23 Experience the outdoors at -40C
Every place in the northern territories gets at least a few days each winter when the temperature plummets to -40C or lower. And many visitors just want to see what -40 feels like. With proper boots, head gear, parka, mitts and even a few layers under all that it’s not bad.. When you venture outside you’ll notice a few things right away. First, it seems quieter than usual. Maybe it’s just fewer vehicles on the road….or maybe it does get quieter as it gets colder. Then there’s that special crunching sound that very cold dry snow makes when your boots press against it. And finally theres that tingle when cold air goes up your nose, frosting fine nose hairs, before it heads to your lungs. Being outside in very cold weather is hard to explain. You just have to try it.
24 Golf on gravel, greens or even ice. At midnight
Yup. We can golf at midnight in the North, in areas where the sun never sets. The Scots who staffed the Hudson Bay Company posts some 50 to 75 years ago were among the first to introduce golf to the far north. Today we have over a dozen courses across the territories, with the most northerly course at Ulukhaktok on Victoria Island started of course by a Scottish HBC trader who liked to practice on the open tundra. The 18-hole Yellowknife course has gravel fairways and artificial turf greens, with a club rule that specifies what to do if a raven flies away with your ball. In Yukon all golf clubs have grassy fairways and neat green. The smallest course at 4 holes is in Norman Wells, and the most scenic is in Hay River, where the course runs along the banks of that river. All the courses welcome visiting golfers who want to try something a little different.
25 Attend church in an igloo
There are two igloo-shaped cathedrals in the North, a Roman Catholic church in Inuvik and an Anglican cathedral in Iqaluit. Our Lady of Victory church in Inuvik was first built in the early 1960s then refurbished in 2005. St. Jude’s Anglican Cathedral was destroyed by fire in 2006, but was rebuilt and reopened six years later. The interior of both churches include the artwork and crafts of local people and are open to visitors by appointment.
26 Visit the seats of government
Only the Yukon, of the three territorial governments, is built around party politics. The other two operate under a system of consensus government, the only places in Canada where this system of government exists. When the government is in session, visitors can attend in the visitors gallery. Also, in the NWT guided tours of the building are offered weekdays. Tours are also available at the Nunavut and Yukon legislative assemblies by appointment. The interiors of each assembly reflect the history and culture of the territory.
27 Big art, in big territories
Parts of the North are like a walk through art gallery. Buildings are decorated with large murals done by local artists. Oversize sculptures stand on street corners, in front of buildings or at waterfronts, and even utilitarian items like dumpsters or power boxes are covered in folk art.
And then there are art installations. In Yellowknife one of the biggest is the light display on the outside of the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre. It replicates the Northern Lights.
28 Hidden art treasures
Few Canadian art aficiandos are aware that there are nine oil paintings by legendary Group of Seven artist A.Y. Jackson hanging in the NWT Legislative Assembly in Yellowknife. They’ve been hanging there for a decade and a half, but few knew that these paintings existed. The pieces – scenes from around Great Bear and Great Slave Lakes – were done when Jackson toured the territory in the 1940s and ‘50s. Jackson gave then to the territorial government back when it was based in Ottawa pre 1967. When the government moved from Ottawa to Yellowknife the paintings came North. The paintings can be viewed as part of the assembly’s public tours, held year round.
29 Choose a bike. Choose a trail.
The Yukon has become a top destination for mountain bikers looking for extraordinary trails with something special. Montana Mountain near Carcross has over 40 km of singletrack trails designed for hiking and biking. The International Mountain Bicycling Association recently inducted the Mountain Hero Trail on Montana Mountain into its Epic Trails category. Only five other Canadian trails have earned this designation which describes challenging backcountry excursions. Looking for something less challenging but still fun? Try a fat bike excursion around Yellowknife with a tour leader to explain all the sites.
30 Step into the Gold Rush era
Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall in Dawson City, Yukon was Canada’s first casino. It offers a night on the town with casino games, nostalgic tunes, cancan-inspired shows and food and drink. Named after one of Dawson’s most famous dance hall stars from the Gold Rush Era, Gertie Lovejoy, who had a diamond between her two front teeth. The building that houses Gerties was built back in 1901 by the Arctic Brotherhood at a cost of $16,000 and at the time was considered the largest and finest building in the Northwest. The building had different uses over the years but in 1971 was leased to the Klondike Visitors Association who had obtained a special gambling license from the Government of Canada.
31 Explore Thule sites at a territorial park near Rankin Inlet
The Thule were the immediate ancestors of the Caribou Inuit who occupy the area to the west of Hudson Bay today. They came into the area about 600-800 years ago, hunting bowhead whales during a warm period in the earth’s climate. As the climate cooled, they changed hunting techniques, taking smaller marine mammals and caribou, and living in semi-subterranean houses in fall and early winter.
You can visit fascinating late Thule sites about 9 km outside Rankin Inlet in Iqalugaarjuup Nunavut Territorial Park. A trail with marked stations winds through a Thule site where the ancestors of the Caribou Inuit fished and hunted geese and caribou in the fall. Stone tent rings, storage caches, drying racks, qayaq cradles, and stone fox traps are accessible and there is an interpretive booklet to provide background. Thousands of caribou migrate through the area in July (but be prepared for road closures to protect the herds).
32 Visit the only antler houses in the Arctic
In their migration, caribou cross rivers and lakes at traditional places, and in the past Inuit depended on these reliable hunting places. On a low green island in a curve in the Burnside River just downstream from Kathawachaga Lake, the “Nadlok” site contains about 15 structures, including 5 unusual Thule winter houses with stone bases and low walls, and antler barriers around each house. Three have been reconstructed by an archaeological team led by Byron Gordon. It’s estimated that there are 400,000 antlers on the island, used in these houses. Groups canoeing the Burnside River stop at this island to view these sites.
33 Kinngait (Cape Dorset) for artists
Kinngait, formerly known as Cape Dorset, located on the southwest edge of Baffin Island, has the highest per capita ratio of artists of any community in Canada. A local artists cooperative has been in operation for 60 years, and offers artists space to create. Carvings, original art and prints are all available through the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative or Dorset Fine Arts. Especially treasured are intriguing dancing bear carvings. Some of the artists are so skilled that they can carve bears that will balance on one foot, and can be changed to balance on another as well. Kinngait is a scenic community surrounded by high hills, can be reached from Iqaluit, and also offers interesting hiking on an adjacent small island rich in archaeological sites. In 2018 the Kinngait Studios relocated to the new Kenojuak Cultural Centre and Print shop, a multi use community facility. The building has a dedicated gallery space to present exhibitions of current and historical works of Inuit art in print, drawing and sculpture media.
34 Skiing Akshyuk Pass in Auyuittuq National Park
This one is not for the faint-hearted, a 97 km ski across part of Baffin Island in Auyuittuq National Park, in springtime, but before anything melts! You can fly from Iqaluit to Qikiqtarjuaq, starting your trip with local snowmobile assistance to the start of the pass, up to an elevation of 500 m. It’s about a week of skiing, pulling pulks with gear, over the Akshyuk Pass and down toward Pangnirtung. Days of bright sun, snow, high winds, sheer cliffs, spectacular views of Mt. Thor, maybe a glimpse of a snowy owl or circling gyrfalcon. Best way is to go with a guided group (it’s safer; you will learn the local stories, and a load of skills), and there’s help if you need it.
35 Naujaat – a traditional community right on the Arctic Circle, Rae house.
Naujaat is a small, traditional, and scenic community straddling the Arctic Circle in the north end of Hudson Bay. It’s the jumping off spot for Ukkusiksalik National Park which includes Wager Bay, and many summering polar bears. A few kilometers outside Naujaat, you can visit a stone house built by one of the most capable Arctic explorers, John Rae. He travelled through the area in 1847 and was the first to bring back concrete information on the fate of the Franklin expedition. Rae travelled with a small party and depended heavily on local Inuit to lend their knowledge and skills. To sit in this stone enclosure and reflect on the mighty efforts made during the 19th century to seek the Northwest Passage is riveting. Boat trips from the community on Roes Welcome Sound or into Frozen Strait provide opportunities to see polar bears, seals, walrus, and occasionally bowhead and beluga whales.
36 Birding Bonanza; Tundra Birds at Cambridge Bay
Several flyways converge on the arctic coast, and millions of birds nest on Victoria Island and along the mainland coast. Many arctic-nesting birds are not easily seen in breeding plumage, due to the inaccessibility of their nesting grounds. Birds like the yellow-billed loon, red phalarope, red-necked phalarope, long-tailed duck, and ruddy turnstone molt to breeding plumage on migration, far beyond the reach of most birders.
However, there is one place that stands out for accessibility to arctic nesting birds -- Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. This community is located on the south shore of Victoria Island and is easily reached from Yellowknife. A system of gravel roads links with ridges and dry tundra that border winding rivers, low marshes, and sedge meadows. This provides nesting habitat to many tundra birds, including Lapland longspurs, horned larks, snow buntings, king and common eiders, snow geese, white-fronted geese, cackling geese, and more. Peregrine falcons, snowy owls, short-eared owls and the occasional gyrfalcon hunt over the marshes and tundra. Birders can see many of these species with relative ease from the roads. Best time to go – early through mid-July.
37 The cliff-nesting bird at Lancaster Sound
In the very isolated northern reaches of the Northwest Passage, a number of sheer cliffs attract fascinating colonies of cliff-nesting birds in summer. One of the most spectacular colonies is on dark sedimentary cliffs on Prince Leopold Island off the northeast corner of Somerset Island. Here some 200,000 pairs of thick-billed murres, black guillemots, northern fulmars and black-legged kittiwakes swirl overhead in cacophonous clouds. Their chicks are beginning to leave the nests in early September, and the water is filled with chicks who have made a leap of faith off the 300-450 m cliffs to land in the icy waters below. You may spot arctic foxes hunting at the base of the cliffs, or a few walrus hauled out on the narrow beaches. Some Northwest Passage cruises make a stop here.
38 Snorkel in the Tartan Rapids…
The Tartan Rapids is a picturesque low waterfall leading from Prosperous Lake into the Yellowknife River, a drop of about 4 m. Many people boat up the Yellowknife River from the Yellowknife River Bridge, a lovely day trip on a winding spruce-bordered river. Fewer know that you can snorkel below the rapids in about 3 m depth, and see dozens of whitefish and jackfish hanging in the highly oxygenated water. Wet suits are necessary, the water is usually quite cold. People do fish at the rapids here, so it is best to reserve snorkeling to a time when there are no people casting lures into the stream.
39 Inuit Drum Dancing lives on
The rhythms of the drum have long echoed over the Arctic land and filled the igluit of the past whenever people got together. It was a way of sharing stories and news, or even issuing challenges. There are many styles of drumming, but the Inuit drum dances done from Cambridge Bay east to Iqaluit utilize the largest drums up to a meter in diameter. In the past the drums were made of caribou skin stretched over a wooden hoop, but now they are often made of cloth, which does not react as much to changing humidity. Inuit drum dancing is done by holding the handle of the drum in one hand and rotating it, hitting the rim of the drum in an unforgettable rhythm. Skilled drum dancers accompany the beat of the drum with songs, often preserved through generations, or composed by the drummer. A major drum dance festival is scheduled to be held in Rankin Inlet in March of 2024.
40 Drive winter roads, ice roads
Winter driving in northern Canada is liberating and exciting, offering a sense of accomplishment. Speed, however, is not important. Our winter roads have an approved speed of 15 to 30 km per hour. There are roads across rivers - the Yukon River at Dawson, across the Peel, the Mackenzie and the Liard rivers in the NWT. And there is an ice road that crosses Yellowknife Bay to form a quick route to Dettah. Most ice roads open in mid to late December or sometimes early January. There are longer routes too. The famous NWT “Ice road” is a private 600 km route for heavy freight that follows lakes and land from Tibbett Lake north of Yellowknife to the diamond mines and beyond. For a real adventure, drive the long Mackenzie Valley winter road from Wrigley to communities downriver - Norman Wells, Tulita, Deline, Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake. For scenery, the ice road winding from Inuvik through the maze of the Mackenzie Delta to Aklavik is hard to beat.
41 Visit an Arctic phenomenon - a pingo
The ice-cored hills viewed from the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway are odd and somewhat intimidating. They resemble mini volcanos and If they seem alive, they are. They are actually growing or shrinking by centimetres each year, fed from below by trickles of freezing groundwater. The flat coast surrounding Tuktoyaktuk is home to over 1,400 pingos, including one of the largest in the world, and it is possible to visit and even climb a pingo. You will be in good company. Inuvialuit hunters have traditionally used 16-storey high pingo viewpoints to spot whales and seals on the ocean. For a close up view of Ibyuk, the second largest pingo in the world contact a local outfitter who can take you there by boat. The Pingo Canadian Landmark area includes eight pingos, massive natural features in a sea-washed coastal area. Fragile tundra plants cover the sloping walls of each pingo.
42 Land on a desert island
The North is dotted with mini deserts - areas that receive less than 25 centimetres of precipitation annually. In the eastern Northwest Passage some cruises visit a polar desert on Devon Island, the largest desert island in the world. No one lives here and Devon is so bleak NASA has used it to test space-bound equipment. Smaller northern “deserts” include a 750 acre area of windblown sand dunes near Carcross, Yukon. This one, like others across the North, was formed when a glacial lake dried up, leaving a water-washed sandy beach. White Beach Point at the western end of Great Slave Lake is a favoured Tlicho site. Here repeating layers of sandy beach show how glacial Lake McConnell retreated in stages over millenia. Along the Thelon River too, on the barrenlands, sandy dunes are indicators of lake remains, now with desert-like low humidity and plenty of wind.
43 Go with the floe
The Floe edge, Sinaaq in Inuktitut, is where land fast ice meets the open water of the polar seas. It is a place where marine mammals come to co-mingle. Walruses, seals, polar bears, narwhals, bowhead and beluga whales, plus an amazing variety of birds. Floe edge tours are offered from many Nunavut communities from late April until June offering visitors the opportunity to see one of the most dramatic ecosystems on earth.
44 Welcome to paddlers’ paradise
The North has superb paddling for all abilities and several experienced companies that can guide you through some of the most scenic and wild terrain in North America. The South Nahanni rules as the river to do, but there is also the Mountain, the Keele in the NWT and the Alsek and Tatshenshini in Yukon. If you’re not up to paddling a canoe try a rafting expedition on one of these rivers. Looking for more flat water? See the scenic east arm of Great slave lake from a sea kayak. Or try whitewater kayaking on the Sylvia Grinnel river near Iqaluit. If Sea Kayaking is your thing, the venues are endless in Nunavut with an experienced outfitter to guide you through the firords and along the shoreline of Baffin Island.
45 Land a fighter
Northern fish are big, feisty and everywhere. Northern catches are scattered through the record books with a 73 pound (33.24 kg) lake trout caught at Great Bear Lake, NWT this past summer. Fifty pounders plus have also been caught (and released) from other lakes across the three territories. For smaller fish that put up a good fight, there are Arctic grayling, salmon and whitefish. Most northern lakes below the treeline have great northern pike and Arctic char is the prize in Nunavut. Looking for something a little unusual? Try landing a Dolly Varden or Inconnu, mainly in rivers in the Yukon and Northwest Territories.
46 Tiptoe through the salt plains
The salt plains in Wood Buffalo National Park are unique in Canada. They are formed by spring water dissolving vast 400 million year old salt beds beneath the ground and bringing the salt to the surface. In some places the salt can form mounds up to two metres high. The salt was harvested for many years by indigenous people, the Hudson’s Bay Company and the church at Fort Smith. For an unforgettable hike walk barefoot across the salt plains searching for the springs bringing the water to the surface.
47 Hand games
Hand games involve culture, gambling and a lot of sound and movement. CBC described the handgames as follows: To watch a game in action is to see opposing teams of men (and now women) kneel in lines across from each other, and challenge one another – according to a highly stylized, energetic, physical routine – to guess in which hand opposing team members are hiding an object. The idea is to trick the opponent into guessing the wrong hand in an animated battle of wits, guile and swagger, all driven by the relentless beat of drummers behind each team. Catch the action at a regional hand game tournament, or learn how to play the game as part of a Dene cultural tour.
48 And then there are the events
Music festivals, a Pond hockey tournament, dog team races, an outhouse race, winter carnivals, fishing derbies, sailing races, paddling races, and much, much more. Northerners know how to have fun and welcome visitors to join in.
49 A celebration of swans
Each April thousands of swans return to the M’clintock Bay area of Marsh Lake. The Swan Haven Interpretive Centre was designed to help humans get a good look at the spectacle without disturbing the migrating birds. Both trumpeter and tundra swans stop at Marsh Lake, as well as migrating ducks and geese. An event called “A celebration of swans” mstrks the return of the swans and a welcome to spring. It runs for the entire month of April at the interpretive centre.
For more information on any locations, activities or events, check out the tourism websites of each territory.
Northwest Territories: spectacularnwt.com