For most visitors to the North, it’s love at first sight. The scenery, the culture, the people, and the way of life up here are easy to fall head-over-heels for. But really getting to know what makes this part of the world unique takes commitment. Learning the secret spots and hidden treasures dotting the landscape means developing more of a long-term relationship. Just ask the experienced tour operators who love to show off the North they know and appreciate so well. Some have been guiding for over 50 years. Others are new to the game but have lived here their whole lives. All of them share a deep, fierce attachment to these unforgettable lands.
Plummer’s Arctic Lodges
Tour guide for: 65 years
Offering: Fishing trips on both Great Bear and Great Slave Lakes, and Tree River in Nunavut, along with hosting muskox hunts and paddlers.
Chummy Plummer has been guiding visitors around the North since he was 13 years old, at the same lodges on Great Slave Lake that his father and grandfather fished at as far back as 1938. He’s played host to prime ministers and presidents, including former US commander-in-chief George H. W. Bush, whose correspondence Plummer still displays on his office walls. “He’s a heck of a fly fisherman,” says Plummer. Some guests are first-timers, and some have been coming back annually for 40 years. But each of them is treated to Chummy Plummer’s North. “It’s just a matter of making sure they get to appreciate and see what I’m seeing,” he says. “It’s still such a pristine part of the world. No matter where you are up here, it’s a beautiful country… It’s hard to say what makes it so special other than it is special.”
“Tree River is a very unique place. It’s kind of like an oasis in the Arctic, in a little valley. But Great Slave is very unique. It’s got the Macdonald Fault there… They’re all different. It’d be hard to pick a spot.”
“I really like taking people out and showing them the fishing up here, the country, and making sure people have a good time.”
Blachford Lake Lodge
Tour guide for: 39 years
Offering: Everything from snowshoeing and snowmobile tours to kayaking, hiking and, of course, fishing.
It’s the silence of the North that Mike Freeland loves most. Even Yellowknife, with its urban amenities, sits on the edge of a wilderness with world-class outdoor experiences only a few short steps outside the door. The tranquility of the outdoors can be experienced every day here in the North. “We are blessed to experience ‘nothing,’” says Freeland. “Silence is a commodity we here in the North take for granted. But how many living in big cities or towns anywhere else in the world can say they have heard silence?” That peace and quiet is something visitors to the North from around the world pay a lot of money to experience. And it’s something Northerners can experience whenever they’d like.
“I am biased, as I have spent a lot of time in and around our lodge on Blachford Lake. In all seasons, we’ve come to love all that the area has to offer. Two other areas of special meaning to me are the Barrenlands—including Courageous Lake and Lac de Gras—north of Yellowknife and the Mackenzie Mountains, with the North and South Nahanni Rivers being very special.”
“Cross-country skiing at night under the aurora. The crisp swish of skis in the otherwise silence—except for my heartbeat—under a full moon and glimmering aurora.”
Tour guide for: 20 years
Offering: Small Arctic group tours of six or fewer, specializing in hot-air balloon flights.
These lands are “beautiful, different, but not easy,” says John Davidson. “A life few southerners understand.” And that’s what he loves the most about the North. Davidson started off doing tours in Nunavik back in the ’90s, travelling to villages like Kuujjuarapik and Chisasibi. After heading overseas for a few years—and becoming one of the world’s leading hot-air balloon pilots—he came back to Canada to discover the High Arctic. His company, Baffin Safari, has been floating tourists over Baffin Island since 2015. “It’s a marvellous way to view the land,” says Davidson. “Unlike climbing, or kayaking, or scuba diving, floating in a balloon does not require a high level of fitness or skill (except for the pilot). This allows ballooning to be easily enjoyed by almost all our clients.”
“There are two special places for me: the Richmond Gulf in Nunavik, and Sam Ford Fiord (on Baffin Island). Both because the landscape is remarkable. They’re the Grand Canyons of the North.”
“Travelling by snowmobile. The land is remote and always offers surprises, the ice is ever changing, and the wildlife is always just around the corner.”
Shakat Tun Wilderness Camp
Tour guide for: 5 years
Offering: Fishing and wilderness hikes, along with trapline demonstrations, drum-making demonstrations, and other Indigenous cultural experiences.
It’s only been a few years since James Allen opened his wilderness camp at Kluane Lake, but the dream goes back decades. He started building cabins on this land, near his trapline, in the ’90s, but had to put his tourism operator plans on hold while he served as Chief of the Champagne & Aishihik First Nations. “In 2015, when I was no longer Chief, I thought maybe I could continue that dream,” he says. “I thought it’s an ideal place to have to give people a cultural experience on the land, but also to show the beauty of the area.” The country here and his spiritual connection to it are what Allen loves most. “I was born up here, for one thing,” he says. “My whole family is still in our traditional territory. We may go out and work in different parts of the country, but we always come back.”
“Right exactly where the camp is. When I was building the cabins, my granddaughter was throwing rocks off the edge of the ridge and came running up to me saying, ‘Grandpa, grandpa, look at the beautiful rock I found.’ Here it was an old traditional tool, a cutter… So you can see how long our people had been on that land. My father trapped before me on this land, and our ancestors have always been here.”
“A lot of activities are special to me, especially the hunting and the fishing. But I really enjoy going out on a boat and fishing for lake trout. Then cooking it for supper. That’s what I really enjoy.”
Weber Arctic Lodges
Tour guide for: 15 years
Offering: The world’s northernmost lodge and heliski operation, along with wildlife viewing and photography excursions in the Arctic.
The Arctic is one of the last truly wild places left on Earth, says Tessum Weber—home to stunning wildlife, landscapes, and adventures that can’t be found anywhere else on the globe. It’s what he loves most about being a part of his family’s business, which has been guiding and operating tours since 1991. But you really have to get out of the plane or boat and onto the land to experience it. “For too long, it’s been thought that you need to stay on a ship to visit the Arctic,” says Weber. “It’s actually one of the best ways to miss large parts of the North… You get a way better (and authentic) northern experience by staying at a remote fly-in wilderness lodge and visiting some of the smaller communities such as Clyde River or [Kinngait].”
“Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge. It’s home to one of the last beluga nurseries on Earth. Situated in Cunningham Inlet on the Northwest Passage, these whales will congregate in just a few feet of water to nurse, cleanse themselves, socialize, and rest during the months of July and August. It is truly one of the last wildlife migrations in Canada’s North.”
“There are so many—I couldn’t just keep to one. I love spending time observing the amazing animals we’re fortunate to see on our adventures (beluga whales, narwhals, polar bears, wolves, muskox, caribou, walrus, foxes), kayaking on the Northwest Passage, skiing the fiords of Baffin Island and hiking the caribou migration routes at Arctic Haven [Lodge]. The list is endless!”
Tour guide for: 5 years
Offering: Fully guided canoea and kayak expeditions to lakes and rivers in the NWT, including Coppermine, Thelon, the East Arm, and Thaidene Nene National Park.
The vastness of the central Barrenlands stretches east of Great Slave Lake all the way to Hudson Bay and north to the Arctic Ocean. The size of that territory is hard to fathom, says Dan Wong, who grew up in the NWT and now escorts visitors through its wild terrain. “On many of our Thelon River canoe expeditions, we are 400 kilometres in all directions from the nearest road, town, or mine,” he says. How could you not love being a part of that spectacular landscape? “Think about the feeling we experience as the float plane roars away in the distance. It’s one of solitude and a connection to the natural world, and ourselves.”
“In 2019, we took over operations from the late Alex Hall of Canoe Arctic Inc. Alex loved many places in the Barrenlands and knew them very well. One in particular was a little pocket of tundra paradise east of Great Slave Lake. Rolling tundra hills and a complex of ancient sand eskers and aquamarine lakes play backdrop to an Arctic wilderness safari. This area is now included in Thaidene Nene National Park. We ran a guided canoe trip there in 2019 and saw 50 muskox over 12 days!”
“Obviously, my answer is going to be paddling! Canada has more freshwater than any other country in the world. Most of it is up here. It is a paddler’s paradise in the North. In the NWT, paddling is not just about recreation or getting from A to B. It’s a way to share adventures you’ll never forget, with the people you care about the most.”
North Star Adventures
Tour guide for: 13 years
Offering: Canoe and camping expeditions across the NWT, aurora hunting tours, and snowmobile wilderness tours, among other packages.
There are treasures here in the North the world needs to see and experience, says Joe Bailey, and he should know. Bailey says he’s been fortunate enough to work, reside, and play in almost all parts of the Northwest Territories. “I have seen firsthand the incredible, pristine, natural beauty here and [got to] experience the resilient Indigenous cultures all across the NWT,” he tells Up Here. “We are lucky to have all these treasures in our backyard.”
“The Dehcho! I grew up in the Dehcho
and was lucky enough to have my work take me to all parts of the Dehcho, the Mackenzie River, Nahanni National Park, the Mackenzie Mountain Range, and all nine Dehcho communities.”
“Boating, canoeing, and camping on the Mackenzie River is the thing I love the most. The Mackenzie River is amazing. It’s one of the longest rivers in the world and longest in Canada! It is a very special place in our Dene culture. Each community along the river is beautiful and the people in these communities are always happy to welcome and host visitors to their community.”
Arctic Range Adventures
Tour guide for: 10 years
Offering: Guided sightseeing, adventure, and expedition tours in the Yukon and NWT, specializing in aurora watching.
Most people visiting Kluane National Park only see its outer edges, says Felix Geithner. A few make it a couple kilometres in on trails, but to truly experience the breathtaking landscape of the world’s second-largest inland ice field, you need to see it from above. It’s what the Arctic Range Adventures guide loves most about the North: discovering the untouched landscape and last frontiers all around us. “Roaming the wide space of the North gives you a true sense of insignificance. It lets you clear your mind of the noise that keeps you occupied and allows you to see the world for what it is.”
“Kluane National Park is a truly special place. The park is still hardly developed and captures the spirit of the Canadian North so well with its raw and untamed mountain ranges. The seemingly endless glaciers filling the valleys provide the park a natural flow of what Earth must have looked like before humans even came to be.”
“I came to the Yukon to learn to mush a dog team into the backcountry; to live with dogs so that you can explore the remote corners of the North. Only a dog team can bring you safely and reliably to remote places in the winter. Knowing this gives you a deep sense of appreciation for the team of huskies and bonds them to you forever.”
Tour guide for: 1 year
Offering: Land and ice tours, wildlife photography, bird watching, boating, camping, hiking, kayaking, dog sled tours, hunting, floe edge tours, and more.
“A lot of people believe the North is a cold, barren land,” says Terry Noah, who operates the Inuit-owned Ausuittuq Adventures based out of Grise Fiord. But the truth is, if you have the opportunity to visit his home, you’ll see it’s a very beautiful land and full of life in its own special ways. It’s why Noah loves showing it to tourists. The experiences, the opportunities he’s been able to have living on these lands since he was a youth, that’s what he loves most about the North. “I fell in love with this beautiful land and ice up here at a young age, and I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.”
“There is this area outside of Grise Fiord we call ‘ittivia’ that I find very rewarding to go hunting. Not only for the wildlife, but also it is difficult to get to. So I feel a sense of pride when we reach it safely.”
“I love wandering the land and exploring new places, which is why I enjoy hunting, camping, and guiding so much.”
Tour guide for: 10 years
Offering: Custom remote lodge packages and aurora viewing experiences, along with dog-sled tours, ice fishing, hiking, and scenic boat rides on Great Slave Lake.
Picture yourself surrounded by the boreal forest, birds singing in the wilderness while the sky reflects off mirror-like still lakes. At night the mysterious aurora appears and thousands of stars shine down upon you. It’s that incredible scenery that Verda Law, who operates Yellowknife Tours with her parents, loves the most about this part of the world. “All of these powerful nature scenes attract me so much, and the friendliness of the people here keeps my heart calling the North my home.”
“All the powerful lakes in the NWT, surrounded by the boreal forest.”
“Alaskan dog-sledding with a traditional dog musher. They are the most reliable transport, and without any mechanical problem. Smart, trustworthy, and hardworking Alaskan huskies are great companions.”
Kivalliq Wildlife Adventures
Tour guide for: 20 years
Offering: Wildlife tours in the Kivalliq Region such as polar bear tours, caribou migration viewing, and more.
Jonathan Pameolik was born and raised in the North. He’s been showing off his home here to visitors for decades, but it was only recently that he opened up his own tourism outfit, Kivalliq Wildlife Adventures. An avid hunter and provider for his family and community, what Pameolik says he loves most about the North is the wide open land here and the abundance of wildlife. “The open, vast land, water, and ice is something extraordinary and really amazing to see, even for myself who’s been out on the land for most of my life of 40-plus years,” he says. “Whether for work or for play, every time I can get out, something always amazes me out there. Nunavut is a beautiful place.”
“It depends on the season, I must say. We live in a vast open country with no trees, so in the springtime, it’s always awesome to head to the treeline and drive around in there and look for critters. In the summer, it’s enjoying the open ocean on the Hudson Bay and enjoying the many resources the big water has to offer. Fall time brings unique opportunities in ATV travel over fresh lake ice and in the dead of winter, it’s always nice to be home with the family and kids and the community.”
“A very exciting activity that I enjoy the most up north is cooking! No matter if it’s a quick burger and spicy hot wings, or a slow-roasted caribou brisket, or some fancy Italian shrimp pasta, to plain old frozen chunks of caribou meat, maktaaq, and char on the floor. Cooking with what is available in wild game and meat and combining it with other delicacies that are flown in is an activity that I love because it brings people together.”
Tour guide for: 38 years
Offering: Guided fishing trips on Great Slave Lake in both summer and winter. Also, boat tours.
Bluefish has been in business for over three decades, making Robertson and his team some of the most experienced tour operators in the Northwest Territories. On their expeditions, visitors get to fish for Arctic grayling and northern pike in Great Slave Lake, and venture out among the islands of Yellowknife Bay to see nesting ospreys and bald eagles. And it’s that vast, unspoiled wilderness that Robertson says he loves most about the North. “Few people, great fishing,” he says, along with some other highlights of northern living like the hunting, long summer days, and—oddly enough—winters extending into March and April.
“I would say the Barrenlands in early September. The colours are breathtaking. I was very lucky to experience the vast herds of caribou in their fall migration.”
“I enjoy taking people fishing. Especially those with little experience. Very rewarding. When I was younger I was passionate about kite-skiing.”