Inuvik – the metropolis of the Mackenzie Delta. Tuktoyaktuk – the most famous town on the Arctic Ocean. Together, they promise a wealth of exotic experiences for visitors to the Western Arctic. You could wander the Dempster Highway for a week, or spend days trekking Tuk's intriguing, pingo-pocked landscape. But if you've just got a long weekend in this northernmost bit of the Northwest Territories, here's how to make the most of it.
Begin your polar adventure at Inuvik’s Western Arctic Regional Visitor Centre, with museum-quality exhibits on local culture, flora and fauna, plus plenty of friendly travel advice, maps and brochures.
Next, hit the highlights on the town’s main drag, Mackenzie Road. There’s the famous Igloo Church, possibly the most photographed building in the North, which has been a beloved local landmark since 1960 and is decorated with paintings by Inuvialuit artist Mona Thrasher.
You’ll also find a number of gift shops, offering Gwich’in and Inuvialuit artworks, clothing and crafts from across the Western Arctic. Treat yourself to a handy crescent-shaped ulu knife, a pair of plush beaded mittens, or even a stunning Mother Hubbard-style parka with a sunburst hood.
If you’re here in mid-to-late July, revel in the displays and activities at the remarkable Great Northern Arts Festival. The event draws hundreds of artists and performers from around the polar world, making Inuvik a vibrant creative mecca. The Globe and Mail newspaper has deemed the festival one of Canada’s Top 50 Summertime Events.
Finally, be sure to watch the sun not set. Situated well above the Arctic Circle, Inuvik enjoys 57 straight nightless days, from late May to late July.
Today, take a tour of the surrounding region. Options abound.
You could join a boat cruise through the Mackenzie Delta, weaving through the maze of creeks and channels to glimpse local wildlife and birds, check out traditional hunting-and-fishing camps, and hear legends and tales about the old days when locals were nomadic and roamed the delta year-round.
Or, join a driving tour of the Dempster Highway to the Arctic Circle and back. This frontier road leads through quaint Gwich’in communities, across the broad Peel and Mackenzie Rivers, and up into the Richardson Mountains, where eagles, wolves, moose and grizzly bears abound.
Or, take a airplane tour to historic Herschel Island on the coast of the Arctic Sea. Here, you’ll have a chance to spot seals, whales and rare birds; see the historic structures and hear the wild tales about this former whaling port; learn about Inuvialuit culture; and possibly witness ongoing archeological digs.
Finally, no trip to the Western Arctic would be complete until you've dipped your toe (or your whole body, if you dare!) in the Arctic Ocean. Make sure that your bold deed is documented. Pictures or it didn't happen!