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Home Story What to Do in the Western Arctic Region

What to Do in the Western Arctic Region

Under the Midnight Sun, vivid Northern Lights in winter, or crystal-clear blue spring skies, the Western Arctic offers glorious adventures above the Arctic Circle — no matter what the season. If you’re looking for a true Northern adventure, then the Western Arctic is the right place. Here’s all the must-see sights of the Northwest Territories’ Western Arctic Region.

Drive The Dempster Highway

The most popular route through the Western Arctic is the fabled Dempster Highway, a 737.5 kilometre-long (456 miles) journey winding through stunning landscapes and true Northern vistas. The Dempster Highway starts in Dawson City and takes you over the Richardson mountains and up the northernmost drive in all Canada. Although following the Dempster Highway isn’t the only way to experience the wonder of the Western Arctic, this legendary road trip is undoubtedly a draw for adventure-seekers worldwide.

This Canadian road trip is an epic adventure as it’s the only year-round public highway that crosses the Arctic Circle and brings you to the end of the continent. It’s a rewarding journey and a spectacular experience.

Find Spectacular History in Fort McPherson

The first stop on your way to the Arctic Ocean along the highway is Fort McPherson, which you can access year-round, except during spring break-up and fall freeze-up. Fort McPherson has a rich and storied history. This Gwich’in hamlet of about 800 served as the principal Hudson’s Bay Company trading post in the Mackenzie Delta for over 50 years.

Here you’ll find an important part of the Dempster Highway’s history – the Graves of the Lost Patrol. In 1911, a four-man team set off from Fort McPherson on their way to Dawson City by dogsled but never arrived. Corporal Jack Dempster, the namesake of the Dempster Highway, led the search for the missing men. Their bodies were eventually recovered and buried beside St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Fort McPherson. The grave site was turned into a memorial that’s still visited by many travellers.

Fort McPherson today is rich in culture and skilled artistry, which you can see and even purchase at the Fort McPherson Tent and Canvas Shop and Chii Tsal Dik Gwizheh Tourism and Heritage Centre, which hosts a range of cultural activities and demonstrations.

Stop In Tsiigehtchic

Exit to Tsiigehtchic, where the Mackenzie River meets the Arctic Red River, via the Dempster Highway. In winter, vehicles travel directly over the ice, but the rest of the year visitors take the Louis Cardinal Ferry, which crosses the Arctic Red and Mackenzie rivers.

In summer, you can visit the Tsiigehtchic Tourist Centre. Be sure to hike up to Tsiigehtchic’s huge community sign reminiscent of the iconic Hollywood sign and located on the hills overlooking the Mackenzie River.

If you’re making the drive in August, check out Tsiigehtchic’s Canoe Days celebration filled with canoe races, fiddling, jigging, and drum dancing. Also, If you’ve brought your own fishing gear, this would be an excellent place to look for feisty little Arctic Grayling.

Know The Way Around Inuvik

Before long you’re in Inuvik! With about 3,400 residents, it’s the largest NWT town north of the Arctic Circle and it packs every season with festivals, activities, and attractions.

In summer, make your first stop at the Western Arctic Regional Visitor Centre for information related to this incredible Region and pick up your coveted, “I crossed the Arctic Circle” certificate. The centre, located on Mackenzie Rd. just as you enter town from the Dempster Highway, features exhibits on local art, flora, fauna, and neighbouring communities.

When strolling around town, keep your camera handy. You will want to take selfies at popular spots such as the polar bear at the airport, the Inukshuk stone monument near the Mackenzie Hotel, and the domed Igloo Church – one of the most popular tourist attractions in Inuvik.

In addition to other “most northerly” sights, Inuvik is also home to the world’s northernmost mosque. The Midnight Sun Mosque, affectionately called the Little Mosque on the Tundra, was built in Winnipeg before setting off on its 4,000 km (2,485 miles) journey to Inuvik in August 2010.

Window shop down Mackenzie Rd., and take a peek inside the various stores. In summer, you can enjoy the outdoor Arctic market on Saturday mornings on the covered wooden boardwalk at the Inuvik Welcome Centre in Chief Jim Koe Park.

You may even play some golf. Built in 2009, Inuvik’s Road’s End Golf Club boasts a grassy, 228-metre (250-yard) driving range and a six-hole course. Don’t worry if you didn’t bring your clubs along as rentals are available.

Make sure to hike, run, walk, or snowshoe around Boot Lake Trail, Inuvik’s portion of the Trans Canada Trail. You can also strap your skates on and go for a skate, either outdoors or inside, where the Midnight Sun Complex offers free public skating in the winter months.

Inuvik is also the perfect springboard for wilderness experiences at the Aulavik, Ivvavik, and Tuktut Nogait National Parks.

Enjoy Your Time In Aklavik

A legendary ice road connects Aklavik to Inuvik during the long winter months. Visitors can rent a vehicle and drive the winding 117 km (73 miles) route across the Mackenzie Delta, taking in views of the Richardson Mountains.

Visitors to Aklavik can take part in its Trapper’s Rendezvous festivities over Easter weekend, or learn more about its history with a visit to the grave of the Mad Trapper himself.

As the story goes, in December 1931, Mad Trapper Albert Johnson shot and injured a policeman near the Rat River, not far from Aklavik. He then led police on a month-long chase, after fleeing his cabin. He travelled 240 km (150 miles) away from the first encounter, where Johnson was found and shot down by RCMP. As the sign beside Johnson’s grave says, “With howling huskies, dangerous trails, frozen nights, the posse finally caught up with him.”

Today, Aklavik is home to a variety of cultures including Inuvialuit, Metis, and Gwich’in, and is known for being a hub of the Western Arctic.

Take The Road To Tuktoyaktuk

You can also drive the final 140 km (90 miles) stretch from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Coast.  The Inuvik to Tuk highway (ITH) opened in 2017.

Coming into Tuktoyaktuk, you can’t miss the bulbous, ice-filled mound known as Ibyuk, the second-largest pingo in the world. Ibyuk, 305 metres (1,000 feet) wide at its base, rises to the height of a 15 storey building.

The Mackenzie Delta has the highest concentration of pingos anywhere — roughly 1,350 of them. Eight, including the famous Ibyuk and Split Pingo, are protected by Parks Canada in the 16-square-km Pingo Canadian Landmark, Canada’s only official National Landmark.

Because of the delicate vegetation and active permafrost layer, walking on the pingos is prohibited from April 15th to Oct. 31st. There is, however, a boardwalk that offers visitors a chance to experience pingos up close.

In town, get a sense for traditional ways of life along the Arctic coast by talking with locals, stepping into a sod house, or taking part in the timeless tradition of storytelling; get a tour around Tuk led by a local Indigenous guide and take the opportunity to speak to someone with a deep understanding of the history and culture of the area.

Places To See Around Paulatuk

Paulatuk, a fly-in community, whose name translates to “place of coal,” lies near the western mouth of the famed Northwest Passage and near the famous Smoking Hills, a constantly burning coal seam on Cape Bathurst whose oil shales have been burning continuously for centuries.  Making a trip to Paulatuk it’s best to ensure you are connected to someone in the community or a licensed NWT Tour operator.

Visitors to Paulatuk can take a charter plane to Tuktut Nogait. Being so remote, it’s one of Canada’s least visited national parks, which means the wilderness is yours to experience.

You’ll have the nearly 19,000 sq. km (7,340 sq. miles) of “Young Caribou Place” practically to yourself. Most visitors experience the park while paddling the Hornaday River. Bird life, including peregrine falcons and tundra swans, abound as do the signs of preserved archeological sites.

See The Sights Of Sachs Harbour

The northernmost community in the NWT, Sachs Harbour is located on Banks Island in the High Arctic. Home to about 130 people, the hamlet boasts one of the largest colonies of snow geese in North America and the world’s largest population of muskoxen.

Nearby lies Aulavik, the northernmost of the NWT’s National Parks. It’s a draw for paddlers looking to canoe the Thomsen River, Canada’s northernmost navigable river. Aulavik’s most famous residents by far are its muskoxen. Recent estimates peg the muskoxen population at about 14,000, and paddlers will seldom be out of sight of them.

The best time to visit this park is late June through late July.

Head Up To Uluhaktok

A visit to Ulukhaktok on Victoria Island also brings surprises. Its name translates to “where there is ulu material,” referring to the copper used to make the semicircular Inuit knife called an Ulu. The large bluff overlooking Ulukhaktok was the source of these materials.

With artificial greens atop the tundra, Ulukhaktok is now arguably the coolest place to play golf. The town’s nine-hole course, the world’s northernmost, holds the annual Billy Joss Open tournament, which has drawn visiting celebrity golfers. Word to the wise: Let the muskoxen play through.

The Ulukhaktok Arts Centre features local artisans from the community who produce prints, muskox carvings, qiviut (muskox fur) products, and other traditional arts and crafts items.

Ready for the road to adventure? Plan your route along the best scenic road trips through the NWT – you’re sure to find a spectacular horizon calling to you.

The Northwest Territories is home to some of the most pristine national parks in Canada. The humbling beauty and wild landscapes of the North are on full display. Read our guide to the 6 Canadian national parks in the NWT  for a taste of what awaits you there.

 

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