The spirit of Nunavut is found in the region’s unique wilderness, wildlife, and the powerful relationship between the Inuit people and their Thule ancestors.
Nunavut’s Capital, Iqaluit, is at the centre of the action. Located on Baffin Island, this is where most trips to the territory begin and end. Traditional Inuit culture is found everywhere, from the city’s fantastic arts and crafts, to the festivals, artists, musicians, and filmmakers that live there. Iqaluit is also located close to three territorial parks, each one home to unbelievable scenery and archeological artifacts dating back to the ancient Thule people. Outdoor activities like skiing, snowmobiling, and dogsledding are popular parts of daily life, as are hunting, fishing, and berry picking. Stay in town to dine and explore, or head out into the wild. Everything starts here.
Naujaat (Repulse Bay)
For the ultimate bird-watching experience, make your way to Naujaat. Translated to “nesting place for seagulls” from the local Inuktitut language, this hamlet sits near a cliff where seagulls are born each June. It’s also located directly on the Arctic Circle, a fact marked by an impressive stone cairn found in the little town.
Only about 1050 people live in Naujaat, meaning they’re greatly outnumbered by the birds and local wildlife. Rolling hills, beautiful inlets, and Arctic tundra form a landscape that tends to experience some pretty cold weather. Visit during the warmer months for great fishing, ATV riding, hiking, kayaking, and, of course, birdwatching. From the seagulls that gave Naujaat its name, to tundra swans, peregrine falcons, and snow geese, endless feathered beauties fill the sky.
Auyuittuq National Park
Glaciers, rugged mountains, and rivers dominate the countryside of Auyuittuq National Park. The prospect of some challenging terrain attracts leagues of hikers and skiers, most of who follow the 95-kilometre Akshayuk Pass (known locally as Pang Pass), a traditional Inuit travel corridor that crosses the park. Embark on a day hike to the Arctic Circle, or tackle the terrain via dogsled or snowmobile. If you only see one thing in the park, make it Mount Thor. The aptly-named mountain has the world’s highest vertical drop, at 1250 metres. It’s a sight to behold.
Sirmilik National Park
Sirmilik National Park, on the northwest side of Baffin Island, has one of the most diverse sets of wildlife in the Arctic. Narwhals, caribou, polar bears, ringed seals, and killer whales all travel the shore or the water beyond it. The park also houses an important bird sanctuary, Bylot Island, with over 70 species and hundreds of thousands of birds either nesting there, or passing through. At over 13,600 square kilometres, it stands to reason that wildlife would inhabit the park. But all that space also means lots of rooms for activities (beyond the obvious wildlife viewing). This includes mountain climbing, ski touring, sea kayaking, touring the floe edge, where the sea ice meets the open water, and visiting archeological sites.
West Baffin Eskimo Co-Operative Limited
Carvings, etchings, and stone-cut prints are the bread and butter of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-Operative Limited, a collection of Inuit artists based in Cape Dorset. The co-operative has existed for more than 50 years, and has since become arguably the Inuit art capital of the world. On the shores of the Hudson Strait, these artists ply their trade to the delight of the many art lovers that make the trip to the island year-after-year.
Cunningham Inlet (Somerset Island)
To put it simply, Cunningham Inlet on Somerset Island is the best place in the world to watch beluga whales. Thousands of these beautiful mammals visit the inlet every year to play, nurse their young, and molt their skin. The consistency with which they visit and the remoteness of the site — 800 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle — make this a truly wild experience. Guests can shack up at the beautiful Arctic Watch Lodge, and walk less than a mile for unrivaled views of these beluga pods, and enjoy all the other wildlife, natural beauty, and archeological sites that fill Somerset Island.
Nunavut is home to more than one big island. Ellesmere Island is second in size only to Baffin Island, and sits about as far north as Canada gets. It was from Ellesmere Island in 1909 that an explorer set out to walk to the North Pole, just 720 kilometres away. Ellesmere Island is perfect place to observe muskox, caribou, wolves, and lemmings. It’s also a great place to take canoe and snowmobile tours, and test your gumption with mountain climbing, backpacking and, for the ultimate bucket-list experience, a North Pole excursion of your own. Did I mention the 24-hour daylight?
The scenic hamlet of Pond Inlet is home to the mystical narwhals. These unicorns of the sea famously pass through the inlet in large pods, creating an incomparable wildlife viewing experience. Immerse yourself in the local culture and history, from a local theatre group to a variety of archeological digs. The icebergs, glaciers, mountains, and fjords that characterise the entire territory of Nunavut serve up unforgettable outdoor escapades. Explore some ice caves, or check out the tall, thin rock formations, known as hoodoos.
Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga Territorial Park
It might not be easy to say Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga Territorial Park, but it is easy to love it. Eight kilometres from Rankin Inlet, this beautiful park features a chain of lakes, tundra, wetlands, and all the varieties of animals that inhabit these ecosystems. Thanks to the varied terrain, many trails, and ancient Thule archeological sites it contains, the park is a popular destination for hiking. While you can visit the park in the winter, by ski or snowmobile, most choose to explore during summer when the birds are chirping and the purple mountain flowers are in bloom. Bring your binoculars and spot a peregrine falcon, or wade into the waters, cast a line, and catch yourself an Arctic char.
The Northwest Passage
The Northwest Passage is a sea route that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Arctic Ocean above Canada. The famous route passes around and above Baffin Island, with lots to see along the way. Cruise the passage, skirting icebergs as you trace the steps of arctic explorers. Hop a zodiac ashore to abandoned whaling stations, Hudson’s Bay Company outposts, and ancient Thule campsites littered with artifacts. Grab your binoculars to hone in on walrus, narwhal, polar bears, and sea birds. If you prefer to stay on dry land, hike the Northwest Passage Trail and walk among the relics of the first Europeans who explored this remote landscape.