This blog post was written before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when physical distancing and other COVID health and safety protocols were not in effect. The businesses and communities featured in this article may be once again welcoming visitors but please double check as some are only open with limited operations and others have not yet reopened.
Ice bears and the aurora. Tundra willows just inches tall, set in a mosaic of moss and bright flowers. The North captivates with its sheer staggering beauty and its diversity—a true reflection of Canada. Experience the glory of the wilderness with these seven expert outfitters.
As might be suspected from the name, Aurora Village also specializes in chasing light… and is Indigenous-owned by Don and Gladys Morin, formerly from Fort Resolution, the oldest trading settlement in the territories and home to mostly Dene and Métis people. Multi-lingual guides can welcome visitors in English, French, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin and Cantonese! And this property claims to be the world’s only place with custom-made, heated seats that swivel 360-degrees—a design echoing traditional sleighs to keep guests cozy. From November to April, the village also transforms into a winter wonderland where visitors can slip down a snow slide or drive a dog-sled-team across the frozen landscape.
The Northwest Territories Inuit also welcome guests to the Arctic. Tundra North Tours was founded by Kylik Kisoun Taylor, who grew up in southern Ontario but returned to his roots in the Beaufort Delta. Today he and his team lead trips ranging from a two-hour jaunt around Inuvik—including northern food like bannock and moose—to a three-day Ice Road Adventure. En route to the Arctic Ocean, travelers can sleep in igloos, often bathed in the shimmering Northern Lights. Feeling gonzo? Extend the trip and help herd thousands of reindeer by snowmobile! Tundra North also arranges flight-seeing tours and visits to a traditional whaling camp.
Few travellers ever get to see Baffin Island, home to the Inuit-owned and operated community of Arctic Bay in Nunavut and Arctic Bay Adventures who specialize in five to nine-day expeditions deep in the exhilarating landscape of one of the top ten most northerly communities in the world. Here you can learn the nomadic ways of the Inuit; build an igloo and meet Elders and locals; feast on traditional foods and see Baffin Island’s extraordinary wild nature from narwhals and polar bears to icebergs and shimmering Northern Lights. Experience the excitement of hiking and sightseeing under the midnight sun through the summer and the incredible warmth of the community as it comes together for games and dancing during the 24-hour darkness of the arctic winter.
Yellowknife remains a major epicentre for adventure-seekers in the Canadian North. One of the region’s biggest travel agencies is Touch the Arctic Tours, offering anything from a Midnight Sun golf tournament on the summer solstice to an eight-day photography safari. Capture barren-ground caribou as they thunder across a tundra ignited by autumn’s hues. Or explore two of the territory’s icons on a single trip: the continent’s second longest river, the Mackenzie, and the Nahanni National Park. This World Heritage site shelters a cascade almost twice as high as Niagara’s torrent. Also keep an eye out for the animals of the boreal forest, such as wolves, grizzly bears and mountain goats in this stunning park of deep canyons and limestone caves.
Northerners also lead Bucket List Tours to Nahanni, where travelers switch from luxury coaches to twin otter floatplanes. The pilot shares the legends of the cheerfully named Deadman Valley, Headless Range, Funeral Range and Death Lake, as Dall sheep scramble amid the alpine meadows, craggy ridges and granite pinnacles, the territory of the Dehcho First Nations. This route also visits Wood Buffalo, the country’s largest national park and the world’s most vast Dark Sky Preserve. Indigenous people have inhabited the Switzerland-sized region for over 8,000 years and some of their descendants still subsistence hunt, fish and trap there. The park’s most famous for its massive free-roaming herd of 5,000 bison, but also boasts salt plains, the planet’s biggest beaver dam and the last natural nesting area for the endangered whooping crane.
Support female-founded businesses by booking with Top of the World Travel, another Yellowknife mainstay. Cindy Romanow and Susan Mercredi started this agency in 1991 and still co-own it, partnering with Nunavut’s Kitikmeot Corporation. While it offers vacations from Rio to Rome, this northern company naturally excels at Arctic travel—right down to winter clothing rentals delivered to guests’ hotels! Excited to show visitors their backyard, the spectacular Northwest Territories, the company works directly with small communities like Ulukhaktok, one of the best places to source materials for an ulu, traditional Inuit knife. It also has the world’s northernmost golf course, a nine-hole public facility.
No spring or summer trip North would be complete without the Canadian Arctic’s show-stopping Aurora Borealis. Also known as ‘the Northern Lights,’ this phenomenon occurs when electrons collide with the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere. It can resemble rays, clouds or a folded cloth curtain blowing in the wind, often in rich hues of emerald, purple and yellow.
Indigenous-owned North Star Adventures focuses on the bewitching spectacle of the dancing Aurora Borealis—and makes the very salient point that it has 50,000 years of experience behind its tours! “Having lived, played and worked there, we know Yellowknife and we know the North,” its guides stress. “And all of our tours include photos of you!” It runs budget-friendly trips to fish, hunt, snowmobile, teepee-camp and view buffalo. But Aurora tours are its crowning glory and they run mid-August to mid-April. Stay two nights and you have a 50% chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Four nights boosts that to a 95% likelihood.