Inuvik may be the end of the road, but tour operators continue out from here to truly remote destinations. Two of the best companies are Up North Tours and Arctic Adventure Tours (tel. 867/777-3535; www.whitehuskies.com), both of which offer tours by air and boat. Be warned, however, that schedules may not be what you're used to: Because minimum numbers are necessary for all tours, sometimes trips may be delayed a couple of hours, or even a couple of days, until the minimum number of passengers is reached. Make sure you inquire about refund policies because each company is different.
On the shores of the Arctic Ocean's Beaufort Sea, the little Inuvialuktun town known as "Tuk" is a 1-hour flight from Inuvik over the Beaufort Delta and Arctic coastline. The two tour operators in Inuvik -- Up North Tours and Arctic Adventure Tours -- offer half-day tours of Tuk (including the flight) starting at C$400. The ideal trip is a full-day tour that involves a 1-hour flight to Tuk and a 6-hour (weather depending) return trip by boat. The tours focus on the curious "pingos" (volcano-like formations made of buckled ice that occur only here and in one location in Siberia) and the Inuvialuit culture. Stops are made at fish shacks and the workshops of stone carvers and other artisans, and you'll get the chance to stick your toe in the Arctic Ocean. A highlight of any Tuk tour is the 13m (43-ft.) descent by ladder into an underground community freezer -- where whale, caribou, and other wild meat is kept frozen.
The community also has two replicas of sod houses, one of which was built for Queen Elizabeth II's royal visit in 1970. Sod houses were dome-shaped traditional Inuvialuit summer homes framed with driftwood and whale bone. Most people visit Tuk only for a day. But if you decide to stay overnight, there are a number of locally owned and operated bed and breakfasts. For more information, click on "Accommodations" at http://tuk.ca/welcome. Unfortunately, the town's one hotel, quaintly named the "Tuk Inn," is closed.
Origins of Tuktoyaktuk -- Many Tuktoyaktuk residents are descendents of the Kitigaaryumiut people who gathered seasonally along Kittigazuit Bay to hunt beluga whales. In 1850, the population was estimated to be 2,500. That number plummeted to less than 300 in 1905 after American whaling ships introduced diphtheria, measles, and flu epidemics that killed off most of the nomadic community. The area is now a designated National Historic Site, located 30km (19 miles) west of Tuk and consisting of graves and ruins of traditional Inuvialuit houses, as well as a Hudson's Bay Company log house.
Mackenzie Delta Trips
When the Mackenzie River meets the Arctic Ocean, it forms an enormous basin filled with a multitude of lakes, river channels, and marshlands that are summer nesting grounds for waterfowl, shorebirds, muskrats, and aquatic insects. It is the second largest delta in North America (after the Mississippi Delta). Year after year, the Mackenzie brings sediments toward the ocean, where it creates islands and extends the delta into the Beaufort Sea. Although the delta extends across the tree line, most of it is covered with spruce trees that give way to willow bushes. Four-hour wildlife-viewing trips on the mazelike delta begin at C$185.
This former whaling camp, 240km (149 miles) northwest of Inuvik, sits just off the northern shores of the Yukon in the Beaufort Sea. The island is a 90-minute flight in a single engine plane, or a 1- to 2-day boat trip, depending on weather. July is breathtaking, when the island is carpeted with purple saxifrage and icebergs float by. A thousand years ago, the Thule and Inuvialuit used the island as a base for whale hunting, trapping, fishing, and social gatherings. Then, in the late 1800s, Herschel Island became a camp for American and Hudson's Bay Company whalers, and then became a community of 2,000 people. The Inuvialuktun word for Herschel Island is Qikiqtaruk, which simply means "island." Today, it's a territorial park, preserving both the historic whaling camp and abundant tundra plants and wildlife (including musk ox, arctic fox, caribou, grizzly bear, and many shorebirds).
Flight tours with Up North Tours and Arctic Adventure Tours to Herschel island generally begin in July, when the Arctic ice floes move away from the island sufficiently to allow floatplanes to land in Pauline Cove, near the old whaling settlement. Trips continue as late as mid-September, but the park guides usually pack up by Labour Day. A day trip to the island starts at C$800 and includes a brief tour of the whaling station, as well as a chance to explore the tundra landscape and Arctic shoreline. On the flight to the island, there's a good chance of seeing musk ox, nesting arctic swans, caribou, and grizzly bears in the Mackenzie River Delta.
There are no scheduled tours to this picturesque Gwich'in community, 116km (72 miles) west of Inuvik. Aklavik is accessible by ice road from December to late April and by plane the rest of the year. Its history of resilience and survival makes it an interesting place to visit. In the 1950s, the federal government attempted to relocate the town's 1,500 residents to Inuvik because of dangerous spring flooding. However, many families with traditional camps and trap lines steadfastly refused, giving rise to Aklavik's famous motto, "Never say die." A popular attraction is the grave of Albert Johnson, the Mad Trapper of Rat River. Johnson is the mysterious loner who fatally shot an RCMP officer in 1932. His life and death was the focus of the 2009 Discovery Channel documentary "The Hunt for the Mad Trapper." Another attraction is the town's spring carnival, the Mad Trapper Jamboree, named after Albert Johnson. Two airlines offer daily scheduled flights from Inuvik for about C$280 round trip: North-Wright Air (tel. 867/777-2220; www.north-wrightairways.com) and Aklak Air (tel. 866/707-4977 or 867/777-3555; www.aklakair.ca). There are no campgrounds; Aklavik Inn (tel. 867/978-2414) is the only hotel in town. It has two single rooms. Lunches and dinners are optional. You can prepare your own, or the owners will provide meals at an additional cost. The rate is C$250 and includes breakfast. The Inn does not have a website, but details can be found on the territory's tourism website (www.spectacularnwt.com) under "Where to Stay."
The town (180km/112 miles from Inuvik) is known as Tetlit Zheh in Gwich'in, which means "house above the river." It's worth a stop for several reasons. The Nitainlaii Visitor's Centre (tel. 867/777-3652, email@example.com) showcases Gwich'in traditions and tools, including a birch-bark water pail, caribou-legging sled, and moose-hide boat. Some summers, Gwich'in elders are hired to provide guided tours and explain the traditional uses of local plants and animals. It is open 9 am to 9 pm daily from June 1 to Sept 15. The Fort McPherson Tent and Canvas Company (Lots 17-19; tel. 867/952-2179) is one of the greatest aboriginal business success stories in the Northwest Territories. The modest but busy warehouse produces hundreds of canvas tents and toboggan covers each year that are sold across Canada and Europe. The gift shop features jackets, hats, and canvas bags. Another attraction is the Midway Lake Festival (tel. 867/952-2017) in the last week of July, which brings together fiddlers and musicians from across the North. For more information about the community, visit www.fortmcpherson.ca.
Formerly known as Arctic Red River, the town name means "at the mouth of the iron river" in Gwich'in. With just 130 residents, and 120km (75 miles) from Inuvik, it is one of the smallest communities in the Northwest Territories. It's an easy drive from Inuvik, or by ferry in the summer. The town is built on a hill overlooking the confluence of the Arctic Red and Mackenzie rivers, which is where the community's 144-year-old Catholic Church sits. The area has a long history as a summer fish camp for the Gwichya Gwich'in ("people of the flat lands") and was the site of many gatherings and trade with Slavey and Inuvialuit families. For more information, contact the Charter Community of Tsiigehtchic (tel. 867/953-3201; www.gwichin.ca).
Unlike Tsiigehtchic, the only way to reach Uluhaktok is to fly. Formerly known as Holman, this tiny town on Victoria Island is known for its Craft and Printmaking Co-Op (tel. 867/396-3531) and the most northerly 9-hole golf course in North America. The Uluhaktok Golf Course (tel. 867/396-8000) hosts the Billy Joss Open Celebrity Golf Tournament in mid-July. Participants tee off in the midnight sun while keeping a close eye out for nearby musk ox. Because the golf course is tundra, golfers carry specially woven mats for teeing off. Another worthwhile event is the Kingalik Jamboree, which takes place during Father's Day weekend in June. Come prepared to square dance, saw logs, and throw a harpoon. Because of its remoteness, it is an expensive place to visit, but it is certainly a unique Arctic adventure. Flights on Aklak Air cost approximately C$2,000 round-trip from Inuvik. The town's one hotel, the Arctic Char Inn (tel. 867/396-3501; www.arcticcharinn.com; C$219 per person) has a restaurant and Wi-Fi. Each of the nine rooms has two twin beds (no queen-size beds). Kuptana's Lodging (tel. 867/396-3561) is a bed and breakfast with two separate rooms that have double beds and a shared bathroom for C$170.
This is another expensive place to reach, but well worth the cost if you want to see, hear, and experience life in the Arctic. Sachs Harbour is on Banks Island and is known as the musk ox capital of the world; the Inuvialuit name for the island is Ikaahuk, meaning "a place where they cross." Archeological evidence suggests the Thule people migrated from Asia to Banks Island 3,400 years ago. Anyone with an interest in archeology or Arctic history will be blown away by the stamina and determination required to hunt and survive in this relentlessly cold climate. Information about guided tours and hunts is available through the Hamlet of Sachs Harbour (tel. 867/690-4351; www.maca.gov.nt.ca under "Local and Regional Governments"). The Aulavik National Park is part of the island, 200km (124 miles) north of Sachs Harbour. For flights to Sachs Harbour, call Akalak Air (tel. 866/707-4977 or 867-777-3555; www.aklakair.ca) they generally cost about C$1,449 round-trip from Inuvik. The one place to stay in Sachs Harbour's is Kuptana's Polar Grizzly Lodge (tel. 867/690-4151). The lodge has five rooms that each have 2 or 3 twin beds. C$245 per person buys you one night in one of those twin beds, with free but limited Internet access and a shared kitchen and bathroom.