Can’t decide where to go and what to do for a holiday North of 60? We can help. We’ve culled the contenders to bring you this list.
It’s early in the new year — the perfect time to plan the big annual vacation. Where in the North are you going to explore this time?
The number and diversity of choices is mind-boggling. You could go on a fishing or dogsledding expedition. Sail through the Northwest Passage or stand in the middle of a migrating caribou herd. Raft through spectacular mountain country or immerse yourself in aboriginal culture. And that’s just for starters.
Let us help you decide. In honour of Up Here’s 20th anniversary, which kicks off with this issue, we sought the top 20 places across the North. We recalled our own favourite trips and quizzed seasoned Northern travellers about their top spots. Almost everywhere seemed worthy, but we made the tough calls. For more information about these places, see And Furthermore on Page 60.
Walk on the wild side
The southwestern Yukon is home to some of the most spectacular landscapes in Canada. Among other attributes, it boasts the nation’s tallest mountain — Mount Logan — and the world’s largest non-polar icefield. Kluane National Park and Reserve encompasses almost 22,000 square kilometres of this wonderland, and is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is accessible, too, with opportunities for people of all fitness levels to enjoy, be it a flightseeing tour, a guided horseback trip or a mountaineering trek. Exploring the icefields near Mount Logan, as shown here, is only offered by the company Icefield Discovery Photo by Fritz Mueller.
FT. GOOD HOPE, NT
If these walls could talk
With its gothic steeple, glowing frescoes and lush murals, Our Lady of Good Hope Church is one of the most visited churches in the Arctic. In 1865, a crew of three young priests began building this house of worship in Fort Good Hope, a community of about 550 on the Mackenzie River. Using rudimentary tools, Father Jean Séguin and Brother Kearney did much of the sawing and nailing, while Father Emile Petitot designed murals using paints made from fish oil and other local materials. (The walls were repainted in 1950 using sythetic paints.)
The project was an exercise in extreme patience and dedication. All the work was completed by hand, and a box of nails could take two years to arrive if the shipment missed the annual freight boat. By the summer of 1877, the last nails were in and the building was ready for churchgoers.
It stands as the territory’s oldest Roman Catholic church still in use. Like Inuvik’s igloo-shaped church, Our Lady of Good Hope reflects an ingenuity and adventurous design unique to the North and it remains a link to the community’s history.
NORTHWEST PASSAGE, NU
Holy grail of mariners
Ah, the Northwest Passage — the elusive goal explorers sought for centuries. The obsession with finding a western route from Europe to the Orient and its riches took the lives of some, including, most famously, Sir John Franklin and his crew.
The quest for a polar route to the exotic goods of the Far East began in the late 16th century, when Queen Elizabeth I sent Martin Frobisher off to find it. He made it no farther than Baffin Island. Henry Hudson arrived a few decades later, in 1609, charged with a similar venture by the Dutch East India Company; on the next journey, his crew mutinied and left him to die in the bay that now bears his name. Other explorers didn’t make it either, but they provided an important service by mapping the Arctic coastline.
For more than 300 years, myriad brave souls tried to find their way through the frozen maze of Arctic islands. The magnetic north pole didn’t help, wreaking havoc on navigational equipment. The route was finally “conquered” in the 20th century, yielding first to Norwegian Roald Amundsen in 1903-6 and then, twice, by the RCMP boat St. Roch in mid-century.
Today the Northwest Passage can be easily experienced by cruise ship, such as the one here whose path is being eased by a pair of icebreakers.
ACROSS THE NORTH
Touch the Circle
The Arctic Circle — the latitude marking the southernmost point at which the midnight sun is visible at summer solstice — is a must-see on many travellers’ agendas. One of the few places where it’s reasonably accessible is on the main hiking route through Auyuittuq National Park, southern Baffin Island. A one-hour boat ride along a fiord from the community of Pangnirtung gets you to the park’s more popular entry point.
Autumn in the Yukon is the season of salmon. For generations, the first nations of the area have congregated at Klukshu to harvest fish from the Klukshu River using traditional wooden fish traps. These days, visitors travelling the Haines Highway can stop in to watch them fish and listen to stories.
BAKER LAKE, NU
Baker Lake lures with both cultural and physical charm. At Canada’s geographic centre, it is Nunavut’s only inland community and a gateway to the Barrenlands. It’s situated near two Canadian heritage rivers, the Thelon and the Kazan, which lie along the migration route of the Kaminuriak caribou herd. Inuit culture is best observed in spring when Inuit families demonstrate and invite participation in the activities of a caribou camp, shown above. Visitors get a “life on the land” lesson when they learn to build an igloo, don a traditional hand-sewn caribou skin and do some hunting. Visit the heritage centre for displays about Inuit culture and history. The Jesse Oonark Centre, named after the artist who put Baker Lake on the map, offers tours and merchandise. The hamlet is accessible via regular daily air service from Rankin Inlet.
KENO CITY, YT
At the end of the Silver Trail highway lies a small town with big history. Keno City, in the central Yukon, pays homage to a century of gold and silver mining with its Keno Mining Museum. Located in a 1920s dance hall, the museum is full of photographs, equipment and mining memorabilia. Visit the other mining towns along the Silver Trail, camping, fishing and hiking along the way.
NORTH BAFFIN, NU
Kayaking is a great — traditional, even — way to enjoy the beauty of Eclipse Sound, just north of Pond Inlet at the northern tip of Baffin Island. This is the domain of Sirmilik National Park, a land of glaciers and fjords, mountains and lowlands. Its geography makes it one of the richest wildlife areas in Nunavut. Polar bears den on the northeastern coast of Bylot Island. A polynya — water that doesn’t freeze — attracts marine life such as seals, walrus, narwhal, beluga, bowhead and killer whales. The lush lowlands and cliffs of Bylot offer sanctuary to 30 species of breeding birds. This area has attracted humans for millennia, and archeological sites abound in the park for anthropological buffs. Sirmilik National Park can be accessed through Pond Inlet; four flights a week connect the community to Iqaluit.
MACKENZIE RIVER, NT
The end of the river
About 1705 kilometres northwest of its beginning at Great Slave Lake, the Mackenzie River — known to the Dene as Deh Cho — spills out near Inuvik in the 12th largest delta in the world. Named for Alexander Mackenzie, who started his historic canoe voyage in 1789, the river flows past old communities and interesting sites. The Ramparts just upstream from Fort Good Hope, for example, is home to a spectacular 12-metre limestone cliff, and Bear Rock at Tulita is a cultural symbol of the Dene Nation.
ACROSS THE NORTH
Go by dogpower
Travelling by dogsled is one method of transportation everyone should try at least once. It’s close to the land, in every sense. All you can hear once the dogs settle into pulling is the creak of the sled and the jingle of the harness. The ride is quiet and calm, surreal even, especially in an Arctic landscape.
Sled dogs are attached to the sled differently across the North. Above the treeline, such as in Pond Inlet where this photograph was taken, a fan hitch is often used. The animals travel in an arc, each attached directly to the sled. In the trees, of course, the sleds must pass between trees. Here the dogs are hitched two abreast, to a gangline.
NAHANNI NATIONAL PARK, NT
Jewel on the Nahanni
We couldn’t trumpet top destinations without giving a nod to Nahanni National Park, even if we did devote an entire recent issue to this famous parcel of land. Virginia Falls, pictured above, is its best-known feature, a symbol of its fierce and untamed character. Watching the falls release about 1200 cubic metres of water over 90-metre-high cliffs every second is indeed spine tingling. But it’s just one of the attractions this park offers outdoor and nature enthusiasts in its 47,655 square kilometres of unspoiled land with loads to see and do.
The Nahanni, located in the southwestern NWT, brims with intriguing features: deep canyon networks, rare geological formations, hotsprings, woodland caribou, about 120 species of birds and tufa mounds, which are piles of soft calcium carbonate deposited by deep spring water.
The park is a United Nations World Heritage Site, designated “an exceptional natural site forming part of the heritage of mankind.” The government allows only 3500 visitors each year. You’ll share the land with caribou, moose, black bears and falcons, some of the area’s main dwellers. The waters swarm with Arctic grayling, northern pike and lake trout. The flora is as diverse as the fauna, with wild orchids and mint plants growing amidst spruce and poplar trees. To get there, charter a plane from Fort Simpson.
Caribou antler architecture
This site along the Burnside River in the Central Arctic is believed to have been occupied from about 1450 to 1750 AD. Called Nadlok, which means “crossing place of deer,” it is on an island that lies in the main migration path of the Bathurst caribou herd. The animals cross the river at two places, one upstream and one downstream. The island was obviously a great place to catch a meal, make clothing, fashion tools — and use antlers to make walls for their summer huts. This hut was recreated to show what the dwellings at Nadlok looked like. The walls were built atop flagstone floors and were presumably covered with skins. Bathurst Inlet Lodge provides tours to Nadlok, and paddlers on the Burnside will pass it.
Wild rivers in a wild land
The Alsek and Tatshenshini have been called some of the last wild rivers on earth. Trips on them take voyagers through some of the Yukon’s most spectacular mountain and glacial scenery, passing through British Columbia before spilling out in the Pacific at Dry Bay, Alaska. Both begin in the Yukon, and they join shortly before crossing into the U.S., both taking on the name Alsek.
Witness icebergs calve off glaciers that have taken millennia to slide down from Canada’s highest peaks. Watch for bears and other animals foraging on the banks. Guided raft trips are readily available from various outfitters, and people of most skill levels can participate in at least one expedition. This image was taken near the confluence of the two rivers.
ACROSS THE NORTH
A cosmic collision
Every winter, droves of Japanese tourists fly thousands of kilometres to the Arctic to watch the auroras dance. The colourful curtains, officially called the aurora borealis, are best seen in northern skies on a clear night.
Inuit mythology suggests auroras are spirits of dead souls, but astronomers say they’re caused by the collision of solar particles with the magnetic field of the Earth’s atmosphere. Auroras can be red, green, blue or violet.
ACROSS THE NORTH
Celebrate the summer
Northerners across the territories embrace making festivals while the sun shines; that means non-stop in some towns. Yellowknife celebrates the summer solstice with a giant street party, for instance, and the Yukon hosts the popular Dawson City Music Festival, among many others.
In Inuvik, the main attraction is the Great Northern Arts Festival, the North’s premier arts festival. Every summer, it brings together about 100 artists from across the North to showcase and sell their wares. There’s also food and games, such as the traditional blanket toss.
Ivvavik National Park, YT
Peak with a view
Ivvavik National Park in northwestern Yukon is about as isolated as it gets, but it seems to capture the hearts of those who have made the effort to visit. The Firth, which flows through the park, is thought to be the oldest river in Canada; the mountains that surround it must be as ancient.
LOUISE FALLS, NT
Witness sheer water power
The landscape North of 60 is composed mainly of mountains, tundra, trees, no trees, and water. Lots of water. You can scarcely fly from one place to another without seeing lakes and rivers of varying sizes beneath you. Rivers, of course, often cascade over sudden drops in elevation. The North boasts some spectacular waterfalls, including Virginia Falls in Nahanni National Park and Wilberforce Falls on Nunavut’s Hood River.
There are more accessible falls than these two remote examples. Just off Highway 1 south of Hay River, NWT, for example, road travellers can visit Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park to see Alexandra and Louise Falls, places of spiritual significance to the Dene.
GREAT SLAVE, NT
Escape to heaven
The East Arm of Great Slave Lake, Canada’s fifth largest lake, has it all: red granite cliffs, spectacular sunsets, circling bald eagles and other roaming wildlife. It’s a campers and paddlers paradise on the northern edge of the boreal forest, where waters teem with lake trout and northern pike. The area inspires a loyal following of visitors, mostly Northerners looking for their own personal piece of heaven.