Ivvavik National Park in Yukon, Canada receives fewer visitors than Mount Everest each year. Located on the northern tip of Canada, Ivvavik has opened its doors to visitors with a unique base camp experience run by Parks Canada. It allows “regular Joes” like us a chance to experience the true Canadian wilderness with a bit of comfort and ease.
Fall in Love with Ivvavik National Park
If you’ve never been backcountry camping before and think that you are not qualified to survive on your own in the wilderness (like most people out there) this is the trip for you. You will experience the most remote wilderness in a safe environment with expert guides. All while staying in comfortable and spacious tents with a private cook and common area.
Your guided trip to the far reaches of Canada will offer you safety and comfort as a Parks Canada Guide takes you on hikes and grizzly spotting in Ivvavik National Park.
Yukon Canada: The Rugged And Remote
To get to Ivvavik National Park, we flew into Whitehorse. The capital city of the Yukon Territories in Canada. First we flew to Vancouver from Toronto and spent the night before catching another direct flight from Vancouver to Whitehorse where we spent another night before catching several planes taking us even farther north to Inuvik, Northwest Territories. It was a long journey north to the Canadian Arctic.
Getting To The Canadian Arctic
It took three flights, three different meals, three speedy bathroom breaks at three remote airports from Whitehorse before we finally made it to the Canadian Arctic town of Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Inuvik is the meeting point for tours going to Ivavik National Park.
We were allowed off the plane to stretch our legs and the flights took the better part of the day. It’s difficult to say how long it takes to fly from Whitehorse to Inuvik, it depends on how many people are getting on and off the plane at each remote settlement. The plan almost acts like a bus stop for locals heading to the market to do some shopping.
This once flourishing petroleum town is now a quiet destination that is used as the jumping off point to explore the surrounding wilderness or to drive the Dempster Highway.
Don’t let the brochures or the Inuvik Tourism website fool you, Inuvik’s colourful painted houses are long gone (I don’t know why they stopped painting them with bright colours). It’s now lined with generic timber homes with a few overpriced hotels and even pricier meals. But for a town north of the Arctic Circle, it is worth visiting to talk to the locals and see why people choose to live in such a remote region of Yukon, Canada.
Parks Canada Tours to Ivvavik National Park
Parks Canada offers base camp tours to Ivvavik leaving from Inuvik during the summer months. It’s a new program they are offering giving visitors the chance to explore these secluded destinations with relatively little outdoor skills or experience.
If you want the ultimate bragging rights, but haven’t spent a lot of time backcountry camping, this is the way to go. To book your Yukon Canada Base Camp experience visit the Parks Canada Website.
Flying to Ivvavik National Park from Inuvik, NWT
We boarded a Twin Otter from Inuvik early in the morning to our destination, Base Camp in Ivvavik National Park. This was now our sixth flight in two days! If you think getting to Australia from Toronto is difficult, try heading to the Canadian Arctic from Toronto, Canada’s Largest City. It takes more time to fly north than to the bottom of the world.
We had nearly three days of transit to get to the far edge of the Yukon Territories and we hadn’t even left the country! We felt like true adventurers for this trip. Seeing the massive Mackenzie Delta from the sky was worth every bit of discomfort.
Herschel Island: The Perfect Stopover En Route To Ivvavik, NP
We had the privilege of stopping at Herschel Island before our flight to Ivavik National Park. Herschel Island is located above the coast of Yukon, Canada in the Beaufort Sea (a part of the Arctic Ocean).
This island was once a whaling station and there are still relics and monuments from the old whaling days. There are whale bones, old boilers, a bunkhouse, and the Yukon’s oldest building, the RCMP headquarters.
The RCMP was stationed here at the turn of the 20th century and the office is now used by Park’s Canada as their base.
We went for a hike with our Inuvialuit guide who took us through the buildings, but also along the coast and over the ridge. We saw muskoxen in the distance and even looked at an old icehouse used to store fish and ice through the summer.
Fresh fish was hanging on a line to dry and we all had a taste of the rich and salty flavour. We spent about three hours on the island. I loved this experience and would have loved to be able to spend the night.
There’s plenty of wildlife to see and our guide Freddy told us that there is even a polar bear that was inhabiting the island for the summer.
Ivavik National Park with Inuvialuit cultural guide
We said our goodbyes and then it was back on the plane to our final destination Ivvavik National Park. What makes this park unique besides its remote location is that it is the first national park in Canada to be created as a result of an Aboriginal Land Claim Agreement.
When you visit Ivvavik, you will not only have park rangers with you from Parks Canada, but you will also have a local Inuvialuit cultural guide and Inuvialuit cook so that you can try traditional food of the region.
Our guides told us of their childhoods and how they used to hunt and fish on this land that is now a Canadian National Park. Having a First Nation’s guide and staff on hand really made for a richer experience. We listened to first hand accounts of how they live on the land and how their ancestors passed down outdoor skills through generations.
We are on Aboriginal land and this is a great step to finally giving back the lands that were stolen by our ancestors. We are visitors on this land, but they made us feel welcomes with warmth and kindness.
Yukon, Canada – Ivvavik National Park – We’ve arrived
The airstrip at base camp is located on high ground above camp. Our gear was unloaded onto an ATV and we all walked down to Base Camp located on the river.
We were now in the heart of grizzly bear country but were completely safe as the camp is surrounded by an electric fence. All precautions are taken to keep bears from being attracted to the accommodations.
Grizzly Bear Safety
We kept all “smellies” (things like toothpaste, shampoo, food) outside our tents in metal bear-proof containers away from where we sleep. Cooking is done in the main cabin kitchen and the park rangers are well trained in bear safety.
When inside the compound we were free to walk around where we kept a close eye on the river and ridge in search of grizzlies. We wanted to see them bad. We were safe at base camp with an electric fence used as a deterrent for the bears. Albeit if they really wanted to come in, they could easily walk right through it. However, they are not interested in base camp. The bears are busy roaming the land and enjoying the water in the river below.
We settled in and within about an hour, the first grizzly walked right by the camp on a high ledge. We nearly missed it but looked out of our tent just in time. It moved fast, but it was effortless.
Hiking In The Mountains Of Ivavik National Park
The days at camp consisted of going for hikes to take in the views and see if we could spot some wildlife. We trekked with two rangers carrying bear bangers and noisemakers should we happen across a grizzly or two and they had a shotgun for any rare or extreme circumstances. We’re happy to report, we didn’t need to resort to either measure. However, we were on high alert as the blonde grizzly (Bertha) had been roaming the area quite a bit with her two cubs.
Hikes Change Depending on Grizzly Activity in the Area
Parks Canada decided that it was too much of a risk, so all lowland hikes across the river were canceled to give Bertha a wide berth. You don’t want to come between a mum and her cubs on the trail.
Instead we hiked up on the ridge to keep a lookout for bears. We ended up seeing four bears in total. Love reading about Yukon, Canada? Check out our other Arctic Adventure through the Arctic Watershed
Grizzly Bear Sightings
As we mentioned above, one grizzly walked across the river the evening we arrived while we lay in bed after our long journey. We had no idea what time it was as it is always daylight this far north in the summer.
We managed to snap a couple of shots before it lumbered off. Grizzly bears look like they saunter and move slowly, but they cover a lot of ground quickly. Before we knew it, he had walked completely out of sight.
Our next grizzly encounter happened while sitting on a high ridge. While sitting down to enjoy the view, our guide saw movement far off. It took me forever to see what she was looking at, but after several tedious minutes of listening to her directions, I finally saw a bear walking through the bush.
I seem to always be the last to spot wildlife. When we were in Yala National Park in Sri Lanka, I never did see the leopard before it climbed the tree. We hoped that the bear would come closer, but it was definitely settled in for the day and didn’t move far from where we originally saw it. No snapshot this time, but we did take turns watching it through the binoculars.
Base Camp at Ivvavik NP
We spent four nights at base camp. I felt that it was one too many. The camp isn’t set up like other expedition camps. There isn’t a common room where you can relax and watch the scenery outside.
You either have to be standing by the fence fending off mosquitoes or you are inside a small cramped kitchen with no windows for viewing. The rest of our time was spent in our prospector’s tent relaxing or sleeping.
Parks Canada has done a few upgrades to the facilities. Apparently, past trips were spent in regular dome tents. These prospector’s tents had screen doors, wooden floors, and Ikea beds. It was definitely posh for the middle of the wilderness.
They have excellent bathrooms with flushing toilets, running water, and even hot water for showers. You never get running water and toilet facilities in the middle of the wilderness. But his toilet facility is state of the art. It’s run by solar power and leaves no footprint on the environment.
It was exciting to be able to go to the bathroom without having to sit in a wooden outhouse like our usual backcountry experiences.
The Dining Hall
We hear that they are upgrading the main lodge with a larger kitchen, open seating area, and screened-in porch. I think this will help the experience greatly.
I had a bit of cabin fever. With half the hikes being closed, we ran out of things to do quickly. We joked that our trip to Ivavik became more about eating and sleeping than exploring the great outdoors. I think if a screened in tent were added so that we could sit outside and keep an eye out for Grizzly bears it would be a much better experience.
There was no shortage of food at the site. Our cook, Bonnie spent all her days cooking up feasts for us and we bonded at nights playing cards. It was a pleasant experience, but we felt stuck either in the kitchen or in our tents. Make sure to bring plenty of reading material and some games.
For more information on Travel to Yukon Canada visit the Yukon Tourism Website
Grizzly Bear Time!
When the final day came, we were a little disappointed that we didn’t see a grizzly bear up close during our time in Yukon, Canada. But, as if Bertha could feel our regret, she showed up on cue with her two cubs.
As we waited for our flight to come in, we spotted Bertha walking along the river with her cubs. At first we thought she would walk right on by, like the first bear that came our way, but she doubled back and jumped into the water following after her babies.
They knew we were there. They were too close not to see us. With our cameras poised, we snapped photos and videos giddy with excitement.
So as to show off even more, Bertha decided to cross the river and pass right in front of our camp.
She was so close, our guide started to worry and stood poised with bangers in his hand and rifle slung behind his back. He wasn’t taking any chances.
Watch our Video for the full Grizzly Bear Experience
I could feel the calm of everyone though and knew that Bertha didn’t feel any threat. Instead, she lumbered up the slope leisurely looking back at her two cubs as if to say “hurry up you silly little boys, we’ve got some food to find.”
The Rangers told us that they have never had such a great grizzly encounter at that camp. It was the perfect way to end the trip and that one sighting made up for the closed trails, the lack of luck with other wildlife spottings and the cabin fever of being stuck inside.
Tips for the Base Camp Lodge at Ivvavik National Park
Bring a zoom lens for your camera
Wildlife is usually spotted far away. It’s not like Antarctica or the Galapagos where wildlife walks right up to say hello. (Bertha was the exception and a once in a lifetime experience.) Most of the time, grizzlies are seen in the distance. A good pair of binoculars are a great idea as well.
Pack a bug jacket
Mosquitoes here are unlike anything you will ever encounter. If you want to spend any time outside, have a mesh cover for your head, face, and hands.
Wear long zip off pants
This helps for mosquitoes but weather can also change quickly in the Canadian Arctic. What may start out as a cool morning, can turn into a blistering hot day. You need to have the option to cool off or warm up.
- Pack layers – waterproof outer layer, warm mid layer and base layer for hanging out at camp or sleeping in.
- Think of Cold Nights – It can get quite chilly at night – So bring layers including a hat and buff for your neck.
- But, pack light for everything else. This isn’t a fashion show, you don’t need a change of clothes for each day. One change will do in case your clothes get wet or dirty. The twin otter plane can only hold so much. There is a weight limit, but hotels in Inuvik will let you store your luggage or you can store luggage at the Parks Canada office.
- Carry a lot of socks – One for each day. This is your time to overpack. Your feet will thank you for having a change of socks after a long hik.
- Bring sturdy hiking boots that are waterproof. A lot of the tundra is boggy and mossy. You will get wet and there are river crossings.
Pack for Nighttime activities – Midnight Sun in Summer
You don’t really need a flashlight when visiting Ivvavik National Park. The summer days are long and the season takes place during the midnight sun. For the most part, you’ll only have to deal with twilight. That said, it never hurts to have a headlamp packed in your backpack at all times.
- We suggest packing a good book, cards and portable charger for your cameras and electronics. There is a charging station inside the lodge as well, but no electricity in the tents.
- Pack insect repellent, sunscreen, and chapstick.
- You’ll want a watch or a phone to check the time. With constant daylight you’ll never know what time of day it is.
Bring an eye mask for sleeping. There is constant sunshine.
If you want some beer or wine, bring it in. There is no alcohol in the base camp. It’s not recommended, but we could have done with some wine at dinner.
Visit Yukon Tourism for more information on Travel to the Yukon and Ivavik NP.
Seeing the mama and cubs grizzly bears at the end of our trip made for the perfect ending. All the waiting and sitting around was worth every penny to be able to witness this magical moment. A trip to Ivvavik National Park in Yukon Canada is a once in a lifetime experience. From the remote flight to Hershel Island to hiking in the British Mountains, it is one of the most unique things to do in Canada. If you are looking to get away from it all, consider heading up North to spend a day or two at base camp in Ivvavik National Park.