Nunavut makes up nearly a quarter of Canada’s landmass but is home to only 1% of the country’s entire population, so if you’re looking to reconnect with the land in a remote wilderness, this is the place to be.
As the largest (and newest) of Canada’s northern territories, Nunavut—with 808,185 square miles of arctic plateaus, 70,836 miles of fjord-indented coastline, and more than 2,030 islands—covers a lot of ground. This is the home of the Northwest Passage, a sea corridor that European explorers struggled to find for centuries, as well as nearly half of Canada’s 16,000 polar bears, which you can spy casually fishing, swimming, or lounging along the coast. In Nunavut, the caribou outnumber the 36,000 residents (most of whom are Indigenous) by a factor of 25 and dog sledding is as common as city cycling is down south. This northern land is raw, ravishingly beautiful, and will give you a whole new perspective on the world.
Splitting off from Canada’s Northwest Territories in 1999 with a landmass nearly the size of Mexico, Nunavut is one of the world’s most remote and sparsely populated areas. It’s surrounded by water, including Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay, and the Arctic Ocean, stretches right up to the North Pole and includes most of Canada’s Arctic islands. There are very few roads, and none of them connect to other communities or Canadian cities to the south—air travel is the most common way to get around, with boats, snowmobiles, dog sleds, and quad bikes used for shorter distances. This territory stands on the edge of the world… and the view is breathtaking.
Inuit Arts and Culture
With more than 30,000 Nunavut residents identifying as Inuit, an Indigenous group of people who live in the Arctic regions of Canada, Alaska, and Greenland, the culture of this Canadian territory is rich and dynamic. Inuktut is one of three official languages (alongside English and French), with nearly 65% of the population speaking it as their mother tongue. There is a rich history of innovation in these northern communities, which have produced world-class painters, performers, carvers, and artists of every genre. Check local listings for a performance of throat singing, an ancient Inuit art form that started out as a lighthearted competition between two women to see who could catch the other one-off guard with their unique vocal intonations.
Experience the Midnight Sun
Thanks to its northern latitude, the summer solstice gives 21 hours of sunlight in the capital of Iqaluit (in the southern part of Nunavut) and 24 hours of sunlight if you go even further up north. In a land where the warm weather is a reprieve from the 24-hour snow and ice cycle, summertime is a season to celebrate. The continuous sunshine means hiking adventures can happen at 9 p.m. just as easily as 9 a.m., barbeques can go late into the night without turning on any lights, and quick midnight dips off Baffin Island aren’t such an intimidating prospect (well, the 39-41 degrees Fahrenheit water temperatures are still pretty scary).
Get a Close up of the Glaciers
There are 25 glaciers in Nunavut—many of which are situated inside protected parkland or are slowly flowing down to the shoreline, making them easy to access onboard a small cruise ship or smaller exploratory vessels. These dense rivers of compressed ice have shaped Nunavut’s landscape over thousands of years, eroding land and carrying soil and rocks far from their original position. To see these massive flows of ice—and the stunning floating ice floes they create—up close is a privilege not many people get to witness since the vast majority of glaciers are found in the polar regions.
Unique Wildlife and Arctic Birds
Nunavut territory is teeming with wildlife that you can’t see anywhere else—you could spy a breaching narwhal, spot your first arctic plover, or even glimpse a loping polar bear. The excitement of witnessing any of these magnificent creatures in the wild is extraordinary. And if you weren’t a birder before, soon you will be. The prime arctic-bird watching season is between May to August. You’ll have the chance to identify dozens of migrating birds nested along the cliffs and shoreline, causing a cacophony of squawks and a frenzy of thousands of birds in flight.
Although food staples such as canned tomato soup, potato chips, frozen corn, and fresh Gala apples can get flown in, nearly 70% of adults in Nunavut partake in hunting and gathering to make up most of their meals. Anything gathered from the land or sea is considered “country food”: Arctic char, salmon, musk ox, caribou, seal, walrus, whale, porpoise, shellfish, Arctic hare, ground squirrel, and ptarmigan are all on the menu. These Nunavut staples are eaten frozen or raw, dipped in sauces, and shared in groups. If offered a piece of maktaaq (frozen, uncooked sea mammal skin and blubber), ask for some soy sauce—it’s an Inuit favorite.
Cruising Among Icebergs
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of sliding through a field of floating icebergs, and the only way to truly experience it is out on the water. There are a number of respected small-boat Canadian cruising companies, such as Adventure Canada and One Ocean, that allow you to get to places that are practically inaccessible by foot, 4×4 vehicle or plane. Onboard naturalists are available to answer questions about the biology and geology you’ll see along the way, while experienced guides and nautical experts navigate you safely through an unpredictable land- and waterscape.
Learn to Kayak From the Experts
Originating in Canada, learn to kayak from the people who first built these sleek boats primarily for hunting tens of thousands of years ago. With a vast stretch remote coastline to explore, from sandy shores to rocky escarpments, no day out on the water is the same. One of the major draws of slipping into a kayak (versus another seagoing vessel) is that their sleek design allows you to slide right alongside wildlife and agilely maneuver through the hunks of glowing blue ice of Nunavut’s many ice floes. Inukpak Outfitting offers excursions ranging from half a day to three days of kayaking and camping.
Cast Your Reel for Trophy Fish
With nearly 24 hours of daylight, there’s always a good time to cast your reel during a Nunavut summer. The water is so pure you can drink directly from rivers that grow trophy-sized fish, which have never even seen a fly or a lure. Fly into a series of fishing lodges, such as High Arctic Lodge or Plummer’s Arctic Lodge Outpost, or team up with local tour companies, such as Arctic Wilderness Guiding & Outfitting, to fish for record-breaking arctic char, trout, and pike in some of the freshest waterways in the world.
Hike Along Ancient Caribou Tracks
Experience the true wilderness during the summer months, when the temperature can rise to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and follow the same paths that the migrating caribou have taken for many millennia. With some of the shortest summer seasons in the world, Nunavut’s vegetation needs to grow quickly, producing 200 vibrant, tenacious flower species (and even more lichens and mosses) whose bright, tiny petals stand out against the harsh Arctic landscape. If you plan to venture out past town limits, definitely hook up with a knowledge guide to keep you safe (bears live here, too) and on track.