Canoeing & Dog Sledding
If you want to see the land as early explorers and Dene did, try exploring the North via these two traditional methods. The following outfitters usually offer recreation in more than one part of the North or different recreational pursuits, depending on the season.
Canoeing -- The early French-Canadian trappers, or voyageurs, explored the North -- particularly the Yukon -- by canoe, and outfitters now offer multiday expeditions down the region's wide powerful rivers. A good place to go for some advice on guided tours on Yukon and Northwest Territories rivers is Paddle Canada (tel. 888/252-6292 or 613/269-2910; www.paddlingcanada.com). Kanoe People (tel. 867/668-4899; www.kanoepeople.com) offers both custom and guided canoe trips on Yukon rivers and lakes. River trips pass historic mining ghost towns and First Nation villages. A guided trip on the Yukon goes for 8 days and costs C$1,596, and one on the Telsin lasts 10 days at C$1,649. Bring your own sleeping bag, pad, and small personal gear (including fishing tackle) of choice; everything else -- including camping equipment, food, and transportation from Whitehorse -- is included.
Dog Sledding -- An even more indigenous mode of transport in the North is travel by dog sled. While few people run dogs as their sole means of getting around any longer, the sport of dog sledding is hugely popular, and dog-sledding trips to otherwise-snowbound backcountry destinations make a great early-spring adventure. In the Northwest Territories, world champion musher Grant Beck of Yellowknife owns and operates Beck's Kennels and Aurora Watching (124 Curry Drive, Yellowknife; tel. 867/873-5603; www.beckskennels.com). Take a spin around Grace Lake by dog team for C$60. Or spend a couple of hours ice fishing on Great Slave Lake for C$90. Some packages range from C$170 to C$320 and include aurora watching on the tundra. In Inuvik, Arctic Adventures (25 Carn St.; tel. 800/685-9417; www.arcticchalet.com) offers tour packages that include accommodations, meals, and guided trips. They will also customize trips. Rates range from C$125 to C$500.
In the Yukon, Uncommon Journeys (tel. 867/668-2255; www.uncommonyukon.com) offers 7- and 10-day guided backcountry dog-sledding trips out into the northern wilderness. Seven-day trips start at C$3,290. The company was listed as one of Canada's "top 25 coolest adventures" in the popular Canadian outdoors magazine Explore.
It's easy to confuse caribou with European reindeer, as the two look very much alike and, in fact, are generally classified as the same species. But while reindeer are mostly domesticated animals, caribou are wild and still travel in huge migrating herds that stretch to the horizon, sometimes numbering 100,000 or more. Caribou form the major food and clothing supply for many Inuit, Inuvialuit, and Dene, whose lives cycle around the movements of the herds.
The mighty musk ox is indigenous to the Arctic. About 12,000 of them live on the northern islands. Immense and prehistoric-looking, the bulls weigh up to 590kg (1,301 lb.). They appear even larger because they carry a mountain of shaggy hair. Underneath the coarse outer coat, musk oxen have a silky-soft layer of under-wool, called qiviut in Inuit. One pound of qiviut can be spun into a 40-strand thread 40km (25 miles) long! As light as it is soft, a sweater made from the stuff will keep its wearer warm in subzero weather. And it doesn't shrink when wet. Qiviut is extremely expensive. Once spun, it can sell for as much as C$90 for 28g (1 oz.).
The monarch of the Arctic, the polar bear roams the coast and the shores of Hudson Bay and the High Arctic; you'll have to travel quite a way over mighty tough country to see one in its habitat. Weighing up to 658kg (1,450 lb.), they're the largest land predators in North America. Grizzly bears are found in the boreal forests and river basins. Both animals are very dangerous; if you encounter them, give them a wide berth. The North is full of other animals much easier to observe than the bears. In the wooded regions, you'll come across wolves and wolverines (harmless to humans, despite the legends about them), mink, lynx, otter, ptarmigan, and beaver. The sleek and beautiful white or brown arctic foxes live in ice regions, as well as beneath the tree line and near settlements.
Mid-July to late August, seals, walruses, narwhals, and bowhead and beluga whales are in their breeding grounds off the coast of Baffin Island and in Hudson Bay. And in the endless skies above there are eagles, hawks, owls, razor-billed auks, and ivory gulls.