Tour the towns that define Arctic Canada, from polar bears and gold rushes to northern lights and incredible wilderness.
If you want to truly experience the wilderness of North America, then you can’t miss northern Canada, which consists of the Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
The Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories occupy nearly 40% of Canada’s total land mass, and boast thousands of miles of subarctic forest.
However, this area is so much more than just cold, desolate tundra—it offers breathtaking sights, natural beauty and unique experiences that you won’t get anywhere else. While four-legged creatures (like bears and caribou) still outnumber people in these parts, getting there no longer requires an expedition. Read on to find out why a trip to northern Canada should be next on your travel bucket list, and what you can’t miss in each territory.
The Yukon shares a border with Alaska and is as big as Spain(!), measuring 186,272 square miles. The Yukon is home to one of the most notable fortune hunts of all times: the Klondike Gold Rush. From 1898 to 1920, Dawson City was the destination of thousands of prospectors looking to strike it rich. Nowadays, it’s not the prospect of gold that brings people to the Yukon, but the memory of it.
Today, Dawson City and territorial capital Whitehorse are still very lively and filled with history, beautiful forest and mountain views, and tons of outdoor activities and adventures.
Chill in the Takhini Hot Pools
Just 28 km from downtown Whitehorse, the Takhini Hot Pools offer not only luxurious outdoor hot springs, but also more than 80 private and secluded campsites, and endless trails through the wilderness. It’s also a wonderful spot to try to catch the Northern Lights.
Make flightseeing a mandatory part of your Yukon itinerary. A flight tour is a wonderful way to get a feel for the vastness of the territory and its spectacular natural wonders from up above. Notable landmarks to see on your flight are the Kaskawulsh Glacier and Kluane Icefields, both within Kluane National Park and Reserve; the beautiful waterways of Southern Lakes; and Tombstone Territorial Park, known as Canada’s Patagonia. Make sure to book flights ahead with a local operator, such as Icefield Discovery or Kluane Air.
Recharge at the Edgewater Hotel
Located in the heart of downtown Whitehorse, the origins of the historic Edgewater Hotel date back to the Klondike Gold Rush. Thirty-three modern guest bedrooms overlook the iconic Yukon River. Complimentary Wi-Fi and concierge services are available, as well as onsite dining in its gastro pub, Belly of the Bison—a favourite foodie spot for Yukoners.
The Northwest Territories
Most visits to the Northwest Territories (NWT) will center around Yellowknife, the capital city, and with a population of 20,000, home to more than half of the territory’s residents.
Yellowknife sits on the banks of Great Slave Lake, an incomprehensibly large mass of water that measures as the 10th largest lake in the world. The territory’s array of attractions is anything but ordinary; Aurora-watching, dog sledding or fishing are all on offer.
See the Northern Lights
The aurora borealis, or northern lights, occurs when charged particles from the sun collide with atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere, a phenomenon that happens frequently over the Arctic Circle (an average of 240 days a year in northern Canada).
Between fall and spring are the best times to catch Northern Lights (known simply as ‘The Lights’ to locals), with ideal conditions being clear night skies away from the city lights.
Aurora Village is an Indigenous-owned operation that’s a 20-minute bus ride north of Yellowknife where you can take in the light show with an experienced guide and stay in heated teepees. Check out their instagram feed to get a sense of the najestic views you’re in for.
Another great option is Blachford Lake Lodge, a fly-in wilderness resort situated on Blachford Lake (60 miles south-east of Yellowknife). The 25-minute bush plane flight from Yellowknife is often considered as one of the highlights of a trip to Blachford. Featuring great food, plentiful opportunities for outdoor activities, and a welcoming staff, the Blachford Lake Lodge even played host to Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to the Northwest Territories in 2011.
Take in the Great Northern Arts Festival
During 56 summer days, the Northwest Territories experience 24 hours of daylight. To make the most of this REM-altering phenomenon, NWT residents celebrate the Great Northern Arts Festival, which showcases the works of painters, sculptors, musicians and Indigenous artists from across the country, all under the Midnight Sun.
Representing more than a fifth of the entire area of Canada, the massive territory of Nunavut is home to fewer than 40,000 people spread among over two million square kilometres of land mass, making Nunavut one of the least densely populated areas on earth.
Nunavut is not a travel destination for the meek. Besides the bone-chilling cold and harsh weather conditions in the winter, there are practically no roads here. The only way to get around Nunavut is by ice roads, snowmobiles, planes, or dog sleds. Those adventurous souls who make the trek can discover uninhabited lands, an Arctic mountain range, clear lakes and beautiful scenery.
Iqaluit is the capital of Nunavut, and the center of its action. Here you can experience Inuit culture, and engage in outdoor activities like skiing, dogsledding, snowmobiling, fishing and hunting. Remember, all winter outdoor activities are best experienced with a local guide, as Iqaluit’s terrain is incredibly demanding, and not something to be taken lightly.
The capital is also home to the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum, the only museum in the territory, which aims to preserve and promote local culture and art. Located in a former Hudson’s Bay Company storage building, the museum offers a permanent gallery of Inuit artifacts and art along with a temporary gallery of exhibitions. You can find a unique museum shop with latest work of local artists here as well.
Visit Whale Cove
Whale Cove is a popular place for visitors to view polar bears, as it is on the annual migratory route for the bears. Along with the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the bears, there are also numerous archeological sites dating from 1000 BC to 500 BC, plus sites from 1200 AD at the nearby Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga Territorial Park. The spring months here offer fantastic fishing, and in the fall, you can find pods of beluga whales congregating near the shores of the cove. To get the most out of the area, book with a local guide or operator.
Dine at The Granite Room
Tucked inside Nunavut’s only boutique hotel (The Discovery), the beautiful and tastefully decorated Granite Room offers an outstanding dining experience. Featuring locally sourced proteins like arctic char and caribou, The Granite Room is known as the place to go for fine dining in one of the most remote locations on earth.
For Andrew, travel is so much more than just learning history or taking photos. Rather, the value of travel is witnessing a lifestyle, bonding with locals, and gaining rich cultural experiences. That’s why he founded the Luxury Wanderer; a place to share itineraries, offer advice, swap stories, and foster a like-minded community of curious travellers.