For many Canadians, and many people in general, the north is not their first choice when considering a vacation destination. The cold, dark, long winters cause us to dream of far away, exotic places that are warm, and probably within walking distance of a sandy beach, right? I get that.
However, at least in the summer months, the Canadian North’s natural beauty, combined with the almost endless daylight, makes for an unforgettable experience that you will talk about for years.
From national parks to wildlife encounters, to cruises through the Northwest Passage, there’s an abundance of adventure to be had. And the bonus — it’s much more accessible these days than it was for those first intrepid explorers.
While accessibility has greatly improved, it can still be expensive to get around, and it is important to be flexible with your plans as weather conditions can change quickly, even in the warmer months.
But, if and when you decide to go, here are a few suggestions that I believe should be at the top of any list of places to visit in the Canadian North. Some are easily accessible by automobile, some by boat, and some by special charter.
1. Iqaluit, Nunavut
Formerly called Frobisher Bay, Iqaluit (place of many fish) is Canada’s northernmost capital and the largest city in the Territory of Nunavut. Home to a little over 6699 people (2011 census), it is the seat of the territorial government and launching point for many adventures further north. However, before heading out on expedition, be sure to take in the rich Inuit culture on offer by Inuit artists, filmmakers, and musicians. Plus, if your timing is right, the city holds arts and culture festivals in the spring and summer bringing artists from across the territory.
2. Auyuittuq National Park, Nunavut
Auyuittuq (pronounced ‘ow-you-we-took’) National Park is accessible from the communities of Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuaq on eastern Baffin Island. It is a popular destination for short and longer visits. Travelers discover a land consisting mostly of rock and ice, dominated by steep, rugged mountains, and vast glaciers and fast flowing rivers. Hiking, backpacking, skiing, climbing, dogsledding in snowmobile tours are among the activities enjoyed by travelers who venture here.
3. Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
Capital and largest community in the Northwest Territories, Yellowknife is located on the northern shore of Slave Lake, about 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle. It is the hub for mining, industry, transportation, communications, education, health, tourism, commerce, and government activity in the Territory. The long summer days lend themselves to plenty of outdoor activities. Depending on when you’re there, you can enjoy festivals featuring music, art, and food. Play golf under the midnight sun. Try to catch some fish on Slave Lake or take it easy on a sightseeing tour.
4. Nahanni National Park, Northwest Territories
Located approximately 300 miles west of Yellowknife, the park, a portion of the Mackenzie Mountains Natural Region lies within the park’s boundary. A key attraction is the South Nahanni River. Canyons reaching 3,300 ft in depth line this spectacular whitewater river. Sulfur hotsprings, alpine tundra, mountain ranges, and forests of spruce and aspen are home to many species of birds, fish and mammals. Camping, canoeing and rafting, hiking, and climbing are among the activities to be enjoyed here.
5. Whitehorse, Yukon Territory
The capital and largest city in the Yukon Territory, Whitehorse is located along the Alaskan Highway nestled on the banks of the Yukon River surrounded by rugged mountains and pristine lakes. It is the center for mining, tourism, transportation, and government services in the region. From gold panning to canoeing and other outdoor activities including fishing, rafting, dogsledding, golfing, sightseeing tours, to museums, restaurants, and more — there’s plenty to see and do in the Wilderness City.
6. Dawson City, Yukon Territory
Located further north along the Yukon River, Dawson City was the center of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896, transforming it from a First Nations fishing camp to a thriving city of 40,000. By 1899, the gold rush ended and only 8,000 people remained. Today, Dawson invites visitors to go back in time and experience the rich living history, meander the wooden boardwalks and visit national historic treasures. From panning for gold to First Nations tours and wilderness adventures, to Canada’s first legalized casino, there’s something for everyone.
7. Kluane National Park, Yukon Territory
Located high in the mountains of southwest Yukon, Kluane is home to Canada’s highest mountain — Mt. Logan at 19,551 feet, its largest ice field, and a diverse wildlife population of grizzly bears, Dall sheep, moose, wolves, and mountain goats. Declared a World Heritage Site in 1979, the park is considered among the world’s top wilderness adventure destinations. Activities include canoeing, nature walks, rafting, fishing, visits with Elders, flightseeing, horseback riding, mountain biking, and hiking.
8. Quttinirpaaq National Park, Nunavut
The second most northerly park in the world, Quttinirpaaq (pronounced koo-tin-ir-pa-ak) is located on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island in the High Arctic. It is a vast landscape offering thrills to those tough enough to explore it. Ward Hunt Island along the park’s northern coast at only 447 miles from the North Pole, is the jumping off point for adventures to the pole. The park’s mountains, ice caps, glaciers, and valleys offer unlimited opportunities for backpacking, skiing, or climbing under 24 hour daylight. Wildlife viewing is a rewarding experience with Peary caribou, muskoxen, arctic wolves, among the species to be encountered. And having little contact with humans, they are often curious and unafraid.
9. Grise Fiord, Nunavut
The northernmost community in Nunavut, Grise Fiord, is located within a spectacular landscape of tall cliffs at the entrance to a fiord on the southern shore of Ellesmere Island. Given its isolated location with a population of 141, it is a tight community that does not receive many visitors. But when they do come, guests can expect to receive a warm welcome and be expect to see spectacular mountain landscapes and fiords, along with an abundance of unique wildlife including muskoxen herds, ringed seals, bearded seals, harp seals, narwhal, beluga whales, walruses, a variety of bird species, and polar bears.
10. CFS Alert, Nunavut
A Canadian Forces Station used by the Army, Environment Canada, and as a Global Atmosphere Watch atmosphere monitoring laboratory, Alert is the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world. It is located on the northeastern tip of Ellesmere Island a mere 508 miles from the North Pole. Its permanent population was reported as zero in the 2011 census, but military and scientific personnel are on a constant rotation. The base is surrounded by rugged hills and valleys and socked in by sea ice for most of the year with the exception of the summer months when open water appears. Average monthly temperatures rise above freezing in July and August only. Given it’s latitude there is an astonishing variety of wildlife in the area with Arctic hare and fox, white seals, arctic wolves, muskox, caribou, lemmings, weasels, and many types of birds nesting in the summer.
11. Aulavik National Park, North West Territories
Aulavik, meaning “place where people travel” in Inuvialuktun, is located on the north end of Banks Island in the North West Territories. The park showcases varied landscapes including fertile river valleys, polar deserts, badlands, and rolling hills. A central feature of the park is the Thomsen River, which is accessible by canoe and kayak. Other activities enjoyed here are camping, hiking, and fishing. Wildlife to be found include the Peary caribou, a large population of muskoxen, the arctic fox, hares, wolves, lemmings, and polar bears.
12. Resolute, Nunavut
Known as Qausuittuq in Inuktitut, which means the “place with no dawn,” Resolute can seem like a place with no dawn because of the long winter nights, as well as the place with no sunset in the summertime. Resolute is the second most northerly community in Nunavut. It is located on Cornwallis Island, in the middle of the Northwest Passage. The islands and waterways in the area serve as habitats for nesting birds and migrating pods of beluga whales. The settlement’s airport serves as a starting point for scientific research groups and adventure travel. The area is excellent for snowmobiling offering wilderness excursions of great distance.