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Travel guide to the Northwest Passage & Arctic Canada

The Northwest Passage is a series of waterways that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via the Arctic Ocean, along the northern coast of North America.

5 mins read

Why travel to the Northwest Passage

For centuries, attempts were made to cross the passage in order to find a shorter route between Europe and Asia. None were successful and many lives were lost until Norwegian Roald Amundsen finally succeeded in 1906. The Passage is still inaccessible for most parts of the year and only a few exploration companies offer a full Northwest Passage crossing attempt in the summer. Travelling through the Northwest Passage is a unique experience only for the most adventurous explorers, and a unique experience.

Here, across the roof of North America, you can experience the raw beauty of nature. The Northwest Passage is known for its largely untouched landscape, which forms pristine habitats for a wide array of wildlife both on land and below the water.

Best time to visit

The Northwest Passage is only accessible by ship between July and September. This is the only time of the year the ice has reduced enough to allow a crossing attempt. July and August are also the peak months to spot wildlife. For example, polar bears are particularly active, hunting whales and seals along the floating sea ice. The summer days are long, which help to maximize our chances of wildlife sightings.

What to see

Some possible highlights of our exploration:

1. Cambridge Bay

The Nunavut community in Cambridge Bay has 1,477 inhabitants. This charming hamlet is located close to the Ekalluk River, which is famous for giant char. The surrounding terrain is dotted with innumerable lakes and ponds.

2. Gjøa Haven

Gjøa Haven lies at the heart of the Northwest Passage. The locals of this port are known for their historic acts of kindness to intrepid explorers. The hamlet is situated on flat coastal terrain, and in summer the tundra is dappled with colorful wildflowers.

3. James Ross Strait

This 180-km long channel is named after British polar explorer Sir James Clark Ross (1800-1862). We usually sail through James Ross Strait to avoid the ice of Victoria Strait, but you will still see plenty of ice in the sea.

4. Fort Ross

This uninhabited and former trading post was founded in 1937. It was operational for only eleven years before the severe ice conditions rendered it uneconomical and difficult to reach. The two store buildings are still used as a shelter by Inuit hunters.

5. Beechey Island

Beechey Island is perhaps best known for being the burial site for three members of the Franklin expedition. There are memorials to Franklin and other polar explorers on the island, including French explorer Joseph René Bellot. In 1903, paying his respects to Franklin, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen stopped at the island at the beginning of his successful expedition in search of the Northwest Passage.  

6. Dundas Harbour

Dundas Harbour is an abandoned settlement that contains the ruins of a few buildings as well as the northernmost cemetery in the world. It is a tranquil place, with a stone beach and meadows reaching all the way to the mountains in the back. 

7. Pond Inlet

Situated on the northern tip of Baffin Island near scenic fjords, glaciers and icebergs, this traditional Inuit community of 1,300 inhabitants is also a great place to see large pods of narwhal.

Baffin Island is the fifth largest island in the world, but the population is no more than 13 000. Inuit ancestors have lived on the island for more than 3000 years. Baffin Island also connects to Viking history and expeditions from the settlements in southern Greenland established by Erik the Red are believed to have landed here. On one of the voyages we will also attempt to circumnavigate the wild and vast Baffin Island.

What to Expect

If you decide to go, you’ll find a magical unspoiled world in the High Arctic, beautiful scenery, glaciers and ice landscape. You might see majestic polar bears out hunting, different species of whale breaching, walruses relaxing by the shore, and a variety of birds. Remember that these are natural Arctic habitats, so we can’t guarantee that certain animals will appear during your expedition. You will experience both the modern life of the Inuit population and their communities, culture and life and learn more about the history of the region.

Both on board and on land, there’s a lot going on to make the most out of your journey. Here are some of the most popular activities:

  • Small boat cruising in one of the most remote parts of the world. The ship will not be able to dock everywhere and anywhere. That's why each ship has explorer boats to take you ashore or on ice cruising excursions.

  • Nature landings are landings on beaches and shore areas. They happen wherever possible.

  • Hiking is another popular activity. This could be at places of historical, biological or geological interest, small settlements, or places that offer stunning natural beauty.

  • Lectures and science program. When the ship is at sea, there’s plenty happening on board as well. Join in-depth lectures on a variety of topics from history and culture to wildlife and science. The Science Program enhances the experience and understanding of the regions we explore and invites you into the fascinating world of science.

  • Photo program. There is a professional photographer on board you can access for hints and tips, camera set-up and simply how to take great pictures.

Penguins perched on the ice of Cuverville Island, Antarctica. Credit: Espen Mills / HX Hurtigruten Expeditions

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