So, you decided to head up to Northern Canada, to the vast land of untouched wilderness. To an area of Canada known to be a wonderful playground for adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Choosing What To Do in Northern Canada
Outdoor activities in Northern Canada are plentiful. What kind of activities are offered depends on your destination. If you’re a wildlife enthusiast you most probably opt for the best animal viewing place, no matter how remote the location.
For those of you seeking adventure activities, you have to decide what’s more important. Is it visiting Northern Canada or the activity itself? For example, in winter you can dog-sled almost anywhere. But going to the North Pole for a dog-sledding adventure carries more of a buzz when you get home to tell the tales.
Especially if you are new to the wilderness, you might find some useful ideas here and see what options are available.
1. Whitewater Rafting
Who doesn’t get excited about a whitewater rafting adventure? In Northern Canada, you find some spectacular whitewater rafting rivers. There are many to choose from, but Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories is one of the best. To raft down the South Nahanni is on many traveller’s bucket lists.
The powerful Nahanni is known as the purest, wildest, and most spectacular whitewater river in the world. Magnificent mountain scenery, deep river canyons, and incredible wildlife viewing make a trip down the Nahanni superb.
Rafting trips are offered anything from three weeks out of Moose Ponds to 10 or 12 days from Virginia Falls. Most outfitters will spend four to five hours each day on the water, allowing plenty of time to view the wildlife and explore the area. Outfitters are located in Fort Simpson.
Not many maps are available for this part of Canada. I found the best Northwest Territories 1:3,000,000 Travel Map on Amazon.
This old way of transportation is one of the favourite outdoor activities for many travelling in Northern Canada. This, of course, is only the case if you like dogs. Maybe the best choice for that is to sled all the way to the North Pole. These trips start in Resolute, a small Inuit hamlet on Cornwallis Island in Nunavut, and take about 16 days. You have to fly in and out of Iqaluit, from there on to Resolute. From the North Pole, you return by Twin Otter.
Resolute is the second most northerly community in Nunavut and Canada. The sledding season begins in September and lasts until the middle of June.
3. Glacial Viewing
Catch a small plane out of Haines Junction, Yukon, and fly over the St. Elias Mountains. This area of Kluane National Park is the largest non-polar icefield in the world. It also includes the 65 km long Lowell Glacier, and the Steele Glacier which once advanced 11 km in only four months. And you also will fly over the Kaskawulsh Glacier, which drains into both the Yukon River and the Pacific Ocean.
You can charter a one-hour flight out of Haines Junction. Glacier flights are not cheap but worth every penny. The pilots are also very good tour guides and will tell you about the mountains and glaciers.
4. Aurora Borealis
The Aurora Borealis is Mother Nature’s light show. The Northern Lights shimmer and move over the horizon in a spectacular display, leaving you in awe. This amazing show can be seen anywhere north of the 60th parallel. It doesn’t happen every night but quite frequently. A clear night away from the bright city lights will give you an excellent view of the display.
Yellowknife is known as one of the best locations in the world for viewing the aurora borealis. As the nights grow longer, the green, red, and mauve lights of the northern lights are absolutely amazing to watch.
Outfitters in Yellowknife offer photo tours and various Aurora Borealis viewing packages. Flying into Yellowknife, make sure you have a window seat to maybe get a glimpse of the lights if the conditions are right.
5. Wilderness Hiking
Whatever level of hiking you want to do, you will find it in the North. One of the more popular hiking places is Kluane National Park in the Yukon. The park is easy to reach and has well-marked trails, excellent facilities, and informative park rangers. The spectacular mountain views are hard to beat. You will encounter plenty of wildlife along the way.
Although snowmobiling is offered all over Northern Canada, if you are looking for an adventure, try this out. Pond Inlet on Baffin Island, Nunavut, a small Inuit community is known for thrilling snowmobiling tours to the edge of the pack ice. You have the chance to see walruses, polar bears, seals, birds, narwhals, and orcas. Pond Inlet has limited facilities and it can only be reached by air.
7. Sea kayaking
Paddle at the top of the world on a sea kayaking trip around Ellesmere Island in Arctic Canada. Ellesmere Island in Nunavut is one of the most remote places in the world. The Alexandra Fiord is home to musk oxen, walruses, narwhals, and polar bears.
The Alexandra Fjord expedition is perfect for seasoned arctic adventurers. Participants should be adventurous and be looking for one of the most unique travel experiences on earth.
Ellesmere Island can only be reached by plane out of Resolute.
8. Gold Mining
Got the gold fever? Dawson City at the junction of the Yukon and the Klondike Rivers is the place to pan for gold. Dawson City was the site of the world’s greatest gold strike between 1896 and 1899. Of course, the prospectors didn’t get it all. There is plenty of gold left, it is just hard to get!
Facilities in town can set you up to do some panning.
9. Horse Trekking
You can find the ultimate horseback riding adventure which varies from day trips out of Whitehorse, Yukon to multi-day horse vacations and pack trips. Heading into the mountains on horseback, along lakes, and across rivers is the ultimate wilderness adventure ever. Riding above the treeline you will see further afield which will be great for spotting wildlife like mountain sheep, caribou, moose, and bears.
Catch fish for dinner and sleep above the treeline in the cool, crisp mountain air. What could be better than that?
Driving in Northern Canada is a wilderness activity in itself. Take for example the 740 km Dempster Highway out of Dawson City in the Yukon. The Dempster Highway may be over 34 years old, but it’s still one of the best-kept secrets of the Yukon.
Here you are travelling on the most northerly road in the world. The Dempster Highway, Canada’s first all-weather road to cross the Arctic Circle sits on top of gravel berm to insulate the permafrost in the soil underneath. The thickness of the gravel pad ranges from 1.2 m up to 2.4 m in some places. Without the pad, the permafrost would melt and the road would sink into the ground.
The landscape is amazing and there is plenty to see along the way. A four-wheel drive vehicle is advisable, and pack a second spare tire. Fuel is limited so be prepared.
And – there is the fishing, but this will be another blog!
Yrene lives in the Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada, and is the founder of BackcountryCanadaTravel.com. She was born in Switzerland, lived and worked on different continents and has travelled the world. Yes, that's me, an Entrepreneur, wilderness nut and animal lover who prefers off-the-beaten-track places. I write about things I love. Mostely.