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. Learn all about the Western Arctic's history to better appreciate everything you're going to see.
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.
Do some local hiking. There are great trails looping around Boot Lake. It’s also worth the trek to Jak Territorial Park to climb the viewing tower – a stunning place to survey the Mackenzie Delta.
Tee off for the northernmost round of golf you’ll ever play. The Road’s End Golf Course will rent you clubs and balls, and offers surprisingly lush fairways.
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.
Stroll back to your campsite at Happy Valley Territorial Park, just minutes from downtown. Zip up your tent, get snug in your sleeping bag and rest up for another day of adventure.
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.
It’s time to explore the most intriguing town on the Arctic Ocean. Join a airline tour or hit the road on the new Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway.
Opened officially in November 2017, the highway's construction took four years - local crews set out from each community to build the road and eventually met in the middle. A clever feat of modern engineering, the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway was strategically built up on an embankment to minimize permafrost disturbances. In total, the roadway winds 138 kilometres over rolling tundra, with opportunities for unrivaled berry-picking and wildlife-watching along the way. It's the only highway in all of Canada to connect to the Arctic Ocean.
Tuk is an Inuvialuit town of 900 souls on the shores of Kugmallit Bay.
On your Tuk town tour, you’ll experience the bizarre frozen domes of Canadian Pingo National Landmark, home to 15-storey-high Ibyuk Pingo, the largest pingo in Canada.
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!