For the first time in history, a public road now leads to the Arctic coast of North America. The Inuvik-to-Tuktoyaktuk Highway opened to adventuresome travellers in late 2017. The brand-new all-weather road winds 140 kilometres through the boreal forest of the Mackenzie Delta and over the surreal Barrenlands, passing through a wild realm of reindeer, belugas, bears and more. At the end you'll come to culturally rich Tuktoyaktuk and the legendary polar sea.

Keen to experience the continent’s northernmost roadtrip? Follow this three-day itinerary and you’ll end up on the top of the world.

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Start in Inuvik, the hub of the Western Arctic, with a vibrant population of 3,500 Inuvialuit, Gwich’in and non-Indigenous residents. You can get here either by driving north on the epic Dempster Highway, or via regularly scheduled jet-service from Yellowknife, Edmonton or Whitehorse.

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Check out Inuvik’s otherworldly attractions: the famous Igloo Church, the Ja’k Territorial Park viewing platform, the downtown art galleries that feature locally-crafted items, and more.

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Even better, come to Inuvik in July for the Great Northern Arts Festival – a 10-day extravaganza of circumpolar performances, paintings, carvings, crafts and food.

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The Mackenzie Delta in the NWT.

Now it’s time to leave Inuvik heading northbound. With your own car or in a local rental, point your engine toward the pole. You’ll roll out of town along the shores of the big Mackenzie, catching glimpses of the wild maze of islands and channels that comprise Canada’s greatest river delta.

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The tundra landscapes along the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway.

Then the highway ascends out of the valley, departing the boreal forest for the wide-open tundra. These are the fabled Barrenlands, the rugged, treeless plains of the Arctic coast.

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The reindeer along the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway.

Keep your eyes peeled for domesticated reindeer. Reindeer have been herded in the area since 1935. The herd of roughly 3,000 animals makes an annual journey between their wintering ground closer to Inuvik and their calving grounds near Tuktoyaktuk. This herd, moving in unison as if it was one giant beast, is an amazing sight to see.

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A bridge along the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway in the NWT's Western Arctic.

The road traverses a polar wetland, laced with streams, lakes, and estuaries. You'll likely see a wealth of waterfowl which flock here for the brief brilliant summer. Also, the brackish lakes are home to belugas, the mysterious white whales of the Western Arctic. And if you’re really lucky, there’s always the chance of spotting bears – either Arctic grizzlies or the King of the North, the regal polar bear.

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As you approach the end of the highway, you’ll notice the surreal “pingo” hills protruding from the marshlands of Pingo Canadian Landmark. These mounds are produced when underground ice expands, bursting upwards like a can of pop erupting in the freezer.

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Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, the northernmost community on Canada's highway system.

Welcome to Tuk, population 935, the northernmost outpost on Canada’s highway system and an Inuvialuit cultural hub hugging the Arctic coast.

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... and an Inuvialuit cultural hub hugging the Arctic coast.

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Here you can join a tour to learn about local history and lore, visit sights like this tradititional Inuvialuit sod hut and the historic Our Lady of Lourdes schooner. And of course take a brief, brisk dip in the Arctic Ocean.

For more on driving the wild highways on the Northwest Territories, visit our road trips page.

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... visit sights like this tradititional Inuvialuit sod hut ...

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... the historic Our Lady of Lourdes schooner ...

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... the vibrant hunting and fishing culture of the Arctic coast, including this muktuk curing on the seashore ...

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... meet friendly locals ...

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... and of course take a brief, brisk dip in the Arctic Ocean.

For more on driving the wild highways on the Northwest Territories, visit our road trips page.

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Itinerary: Drive to the Arctic Ocean (and celebrate with these lovely folks) 11 26a2bc63-85a3-4c46-b599-680a0f572280

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