Come to the edge of the world where folks rap poetic about “The land of the midnight sun” and where the vast horizon stretches forever and between all this it’s wildlife viewing as you’ve never seen before. Canada’s north comes alive when you visit one of these Northwest Territories national parks. That’s no surprise. The territory extends from the sixtieth parallel to the North Pole and spans some 1.17 million square kilometres, the majority are isolated pockets of wilderness.
The Northwest Territories is also big park country: picture five national parks and 34 territorial parks. The jump point for most of the parks is from Inuvik, NWT, a full service town at the end of the iconic Dempster Highway. Visitors can also arrive by plane. Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Edmonton have daily flights to Inuvik.
Here are three national parks to put on the radar:
1-Tuktut Nogait National Park
One of Canada’s undiscovered gems, Tuktut Nogait meaning ‘young caribou’ is a sanctuary for the rare Bluenose West caribou and a Mecca for archeological sites. You have arrived to the land of caribou, canyons and culture.
Located north of the Arctic Circle, the park was established in 1998 to protect the calving grounds of the young tuktut nogait. The park is also home to wolves, grizzly bears, muskox and bird species like raptors. Archaeologists have discovered over 400 ancient sites dating back some 1,500 years of Inuit civilization.
Activities: Parks Canada offers five-day guided base camp trips with an Inuvialuit guide. Learn tracking skills enroute a caribou trail and experience the spirit of the place through traditional oral story telling. No trails, no campgrounds, it is the ultimate backpackers dream turned reality.
2-Aulavik National Park
Wanna paddle the most northern navigable river in the world? Then head to the high Arctic to remote Banks Island for the ultimate wilderness getaway.
Ironically Aulavik, meaning “place where people travel” in Inuvialuktun is absolute no man’s land with only about a dozen visitors a year who arrive to tread this seemingly uncharted terrain.
With the exception of one small settlement, the park is located on a vast virtually uninhabited island (12,200 square kilometres) steeped in low lying tundra but has a lush river valley as its main draw. Expect to see major wildlife viewing along the Thomsen River.
Don’t be surprised by all the muskoxen either. Home to the world’s highest density of muskoxen, the park also protects the seasonal moulting habits of Brant geese and lesser snow geese. Paddlers will see federal bird sanctuaries established along the lower Thomsen River and by Castel Bay.
Void of facilities, and trails the park is only reachable by air charter for a limited time during the summer.
Activities: Advanced trekkers enjoy taking a two or three week paddling trip. Start at the southern end of the park by the rolling tundra landscape of the Thomsen River which quickly changes to rocky banks and eventually spills into the frigid Castel Bay in the north. Expect plenty of sightseeing along this secluded river that also makes for great pit stops for hikers to explore the valley.
Guided excursions are available from licensed outfitter Black Feather.
3-Ivvavik National Park
Another park named for its young wild animals, Ivvavik meaning ‘nursery’ in Inuvialuit epitomizes the spiritual calving grounds during spring of the majestic porcupine caribou.
Canada’s first national park to be established under a land claim settlement also straddles the border of neighboring Yukon. The best way to reach this secluded slice of heaven is via Inuvik in the NWT by a charter plane.
Exploring the 9,775-square-kilometre unglaciated expanse of national park is not for everyone. Only about 100 outdoor adventure lovers dare to immerse themselves for this bucket list trip which only occurs during a short spell in the summer months. You will quickly discover why the Northwest Territories has been pegged the land of the midnight sun as summertime is when folks there experience 24 hours of daylight.
One of the best places for wilderness encounters is to raft along the Firth River, thought by some to be Canada’s oldest river. A popular past-time for rugged backpackers, rafters will get the ultimate work-out in a two-week rafting adventure as they challenge themselves on the Firth’s Class IV rapids. The adrenalin-induced journey is well worth it however due to the excellent wildlife spotting. Imagine seeing grizzlies and king eider ducks from your raft.
If you don’t want to delve deep into the inner sanctum of the park by foot or by raft, twin otter plane tours available at the Inuvik airport are another option. Private air tours fly over the Mackenzie River Delta and soar between the peaks of the British Mountains.
Inquire about catered and self-catered fly-in camping options from Parks Canada. The catered camping trips are cultural exchanges led by an Inuvialuit cultural host who relays ancient and modern traditions.
Discover Northwest Territories
For more information see Parks Canada or find out more about the Northwest Territories.