Sailing the Northwest Passage: An Adventure of a Lifetime
Majestic, beautiful, and freezing cold – these are just some of the words used to describe the waters of the Northwest Passage. This legendary journey has been on adventurers’ radars since the 15th century, but it wasn’t until 1906 that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen made history by sailing his ship through the Passage, first by boat and then by sled over land. Now that you’ve decided to take on this adventure, here’s how to plan your trip from beginning to end.
The Northwest Passage, sometimes referred to as the Arctic Route, connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans along the northern coast of North America, north of Canada and Alaska. The route, which was discovered in 1906 by Roald Amundsen, has become an increasingly popular destination for those who wish to experience one of the great maritime journeys of our time.
A trip down the Northwest Passage in Canada is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, taking a cruise ship with numerous activities and excursions available to keep you busy along the way. If you’re interested in sailing the Northwest Passage but aren’t sure which kind of trip will be right for you, learn more about your options below.
Canadian Arctic Archipelago
A Canadian Arctic Archipelago Northwest passage cruise vacation is an amazing way to experience breathtaking sights, knowledgeable guides, and Arctic hospitality. Be prepared for a luxury Northwest passage tour with ship-wide lectures, excellent excursions ashore at remote communities, comfortable living conditions on board, and dining that features wild game and local ingredients prepared by professional chefs. In these days of uncertainty and political change in the Arctic region, there’s no better time than now to explore one of the last great frontiers on earth. Canada has set aside two million square kilometers of land as a protected area in order to preserve its natural beauty for future generations. Come aboard today!
Fewer than 200 people have had the opportunity to visit Alaska’s most northern point, Little Diomede Island. This is due in part to stringent limitations that restrict vessel size and destinations in order to limit human intrusion on nature. The prospect of crossing to this isolated site is what makes this trip truly unique. If you are interested in embarking on this voyage, your first stop should be Canada Customs at Pine Point, Northwest Territories, who have jurisdiction over vessels in Nunavut waters north of 60°N latitude. Northwest passage tours typically originate from Vancouver or Seattle, with departure dates throughout the summer.
Yukon territory at Herschel Island
Yukon territory is located in Canada and sits where the Northwest passage ends. Herschel Island is nestled within this region and offers guests a one-of-a-kind vacation destination to experience what the area has to offer. It’s an untamed landscape with wild bears, wolves, foxes, snow geese, musk oxen, sea lions, and whales so be sure to pack accordingly! We’ll take you on a Northwest passage cruise through some beautiful waterways including Revillagigedo Channel, Foxe Basin, Peel Sound, Prince William Sound and Chirikof Strait.
The Northwest Passage tour will take you into some of the most remote wilderness areas on earth while also highlighting majestic glaciers and spectacular views that can only be seen by boat or plane. You’ll even see Inuit people still living off the land today while living in traditional qamutiqs (tepees).
You don’t have to be sailing around Greenland for weeks on end to feel like you’re exploring this incredible world. Take a break from what you know and head out into an open space and embark on an expedition of your own. We took the NorthWest Passage Cruise, which brings adventure seekers around Point Barrow with all sorts of amazing stops in between–from tracking caribou by snowmobile, to horseback riding across rugged mountains. And that’s just to name a few!
The small town of Herschel Island is where I met with Heidi, our tour guide for the NWP passage. Herschel Island has a population less than 100, though when I was there it was closer to 100-200 people because many had arrived to start their homes and businesses in anticipation of the ice breaking up and ships being able to sail. The residents are mostly Inuit who originally migrated from northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland. They live a subsistence lifestyle on this island as well as hunting seals or fishing for food. Heidi invited me to go fishing with her one morning before our cruise started later that day and we caught two fish! We enjoyed fried fish that night at the community center as we awaited departure time.
The voyage between Prince Rupert and Tuktoyaktuk, Canada, is about 2,200 nautical miles (3,600 km). The hardest part is negotiating Franklin Bay which is over 250 nautical miles (463 km) long. At some points there are only ten feet (three meters) of water under your keel and it can be quite difficult to find an opening in the ice that won’t close behind you. We encountered several smaller leads in our time at this bay, but only two were large enough for us to pass through with our draft. After what seemed like an eternity, we saw open water on the other side. Just as we came out from under the last piece of ice and sailed into the open sea again, I could not help but yell We did it!
You’ll fly from Ottawa to Inuvik, NWT where you will board the ship and prepare for a five-week journey through northern Canada. You’ll learn about indigenous life in communities along the route, as well as about wildlife in their natural habitat. Plus, each day’s excursion includes an in-depth lecture or presentation by a local expert on geography or history. The last stop is Ulukhaktok (oo-loo-kaxt’-ok), which is called ‘Place That Never Thaws’ because it is located above the Arctic Circle. There are no trees here but glaciers, icefields and tundra cover the ground.
Johansen Bay is an Inuit word meaning the bay that never ices up. It’s the perfect name for this natural harbor. Situated on the east coast of Cornwallis Island, near to Canada’s Ellesmere Island and accessible by air or boat only, it hosts as many as 30 tour groups annually. The amenities include shelters, running water, a small store and kayaks. As part of our adventure, we took a 10-mile trek across Devon Island, with enough provisions to last three days. We hiked into Hoarfrost Valley and set up camp where we were serenaded by wolves howling in the distance. If you’re looking for something adventurous but not too extreme – this may be just what you’re looking for!
The reason for such long voyage is largely due to a lack of resources to explore and/or extract at high latitudes. But global warming has helped to make it easier. In fact, it has opened up new territory in North America. Gjoa Haven, for example, was one place on our voyage where we saw how global warming was having an effect. We encountered less ice than had been seen there since records began. We were able to stop in places that no one had ever stopped before as they were inaccessible just a few years ago because they were iced over all year round. As more areas open up and become accessible, it will be important to protect them from over exploitation or potential climate change disaster.
In 1900, Roald Amundsen became the first person to sail overland to the North Pole. He also tried and failed three times to successfully navigate through what would become known as The Northwest Passage. A hundred years later, I finally set off on an expedition that would see me circumnavigate Vancouver Island. It was late summer when we decided to turn north towards Uummannaq Fjords. There was an amazing albedo on this morning in particular and I will never forget it. We had just come out of the fog, looking back at a world where everything is white. The landscape is completely uniform and it is still completely dark – no light pollution anywhere!
I am really excited about our upcoming voyage to Uummannaq Fjords because Greenland has been one of my favorite destinations so far. From all accounts they are one of the most beautiful fjords in all of Europe or America.
It’s hard to find the words to describe this place because it is such an indescribable feeling. It’s an impossible blue sky and you’re sitting on rock that holds what may be human remains from over one hundred years ago. It is hard not to think about Sir John Franklin, and his two ships, who arrived here in 1846 after trying to navigate these waters for three years. They were led astray by melting ice at Beechey Island. The terrible irony is that he was just days away from safety when he died of starvation, lead poisoning and pneumonia on May 11th, 1847. What must have been going through his mind as he saw a rescue ship sail past him? We will never know but we can only imagine how heart-breaking it would have been for those close to him when they realized that all hope was lost.
Located in northwest Greenland, Disko Bay is an ice-filled bay at the mouth of Disko Glacier and one of two Greenland glaciers that never completely melted during the recent ice age. This astonishing bay is roughly 28 miles long and 11 miles wide, with many towering icebergs breaking off from their glacier. From it’s water surface, travelers will be able to see whales and walruses just a few meters from the coastline. For most of the year, this bay remains covered by pack ice due to its location near the sea-ice edge.
The passage is located near the shoreline where people can get a good view of some icebergs up close. As you sail further out into the Arctic Ocean, you’ll see magnificent views that are different than any other place on Earth!
If you want to do something that’s never been done before, but also likes some creature comforts, then Kangerlussuaq is your port. The only way in and out is by plane, but there are shops and restaurants to get what you need while you wait for flights. So, if packing light isn’t your thing or not much is known about navigation routes at the time of booking (weather can alter your course), then there are plenty of things to see around town. One must-see spot is Inuit woman with fish which was made by an Inuit artist back in 1978.
There’s also the Ukkusiksalik National Park nearby where you can see the first European settlement north of Canada and Greenland called Narsaq which was established around 1754 by missionary Hans Egede who spent nearly 30 years here working on bible translations into Greenlandic
To get to Qaanaaq Greenland as an explorer or avid traveller means trekking your way through treacherous arctic sea ice in order to access one of the most remote places on earth. It is located 400 km north of the Arctic Circle and has only 2,000 inhabitants. With three months of uninterrupted daylight and 24 hours each day it is no wonder that this is where adventure seekers are looking for their next fix. A visit to this icy landscape will be met with both awe-inspiring landscapes and a bustling small town that is home to local hunters, sealers, seamstresses, chefs and craftsmen who live off their land’s bounty.
Greenland is home to some rare, fascinating and downright creepy mummies that date back as far as 2000 years. For example, in the 18th century, two children and a woman were found buried close together in sand dunes on present-day Disko Island. They were covered with reindeer skins with faces imprinted on them, and two woven birch bark hats on their heads. One of the children was wearing an ancient amulet from India around its neck. The other wore a belt decorated with seashells from Siberia, which suggests these people had traveled extensively across the globe before they died in Greenland. In addition to those mummies unearthed centuries ago, recent research has revealed dozens more that have been preserved by the permafrost. Their clothing and artifacts are astonishingly well preserved because of the cold climate where they were found. Archaeologists have discovered silver rings encrusted with stones that would have once sparkled brilliantly but now appear dull under layers of dirt; and intricate weaving adorning boots made for walking over snowfields and ice – not unlike what many visitors see today while visiting northern Greenland!
Greenland National Museum
I visited the Greenland National Museum which had many interesting displays about Greenland’s modern culture. They had rotating displays and I would recommend going here first before heading into town for any supplies. The museum also has maps on display, including maps from much earlier times that show how people navigated before GPS technology was available. There is a large stuffed polar bear in the entryway to greet visitors as well. It is definitely worth checking out if you have time!
One thing I liked is that they were able to convey so much information without overloading me with it all at once. For example, when walking through one exhibit there were little bits of text here and there but they were spaced enough apart where it didn’t feel like they were reading off of a long list to get through the exhibits.
A little bit farther down from this was another exhibit with lots of different sculptures made by children in different parts of Greenland.
The Sermeq Kujalleq World Heritage site is an open-air museum that shows off stunning landscapes, fossils, and artifacts found in this faraway region. Beyond cultural exploration, it’s also possible to find many different outdoor activities to engage in – including hiking on stone circles and kayaking around small islands. And if you’re looking for something more active, head over to the icefields where you can enjoy skiing or snowboarding (or even skating) under the midnight sun!
Traveling with your family? Don’t forget to visit Saqqaq, Greenland’s first archaeological settlement. It provides insight into the daily lives of people who used to live there from 3000 BC to AD 1500
What are your plans for this summer? Take advantage of our vacation package today and book a flight before we fill up!