Things to do in Tuktoyaktuk Northwest Territories

May 11, 2024   9 Comments »

Things to do in Tuktoyaktuk Northwest Territories

July 25, 2017 9 Comments »

Things to do in Tuktoyaktuk Canada

If you just come, put your foot in the Arctic Ocean, or walk on it in winter and turn around – then you are missing out. To really experience Tuktoyaktuk (Tuk as the locals call it), you need to stay a night, walk around, get stuck in the snow, rely on the kindness of the community, go to the one grocery store, and meet locals. And that’s exactly what we did.

Tuk, population 860, teeters on the Arctic Ocean, which means that it’s not your typical beach town. Visited by beluga whales in the summer and darkness in the winter, the small community somehow survives the harshest of elements. Formerly known as Port Brabant, the community was renamed Tuktoyaktuk (sometimes spelled Tuktoyatuk or Tuktuyuktuk) in 1950.

It was the first place in Canada to revert to the traditional Native name. It means “resembling a caribou”. According to legend, a woman looked on as some caribou waded into the water and turned into stone. Today, reefs resembling these petrified caribou are said to be visible at low tide along the shore of the town

Road to Tuktoyaktuk: Putting Tuk on the Map

Tuktoyaktuk map
Where is Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, located?

Tuktoyatuk, Canada, has a varied history of aboriginal, military, and pop culture in this tiny community that was previously cut off from the rest of the world. In the late 1800s, it was home to the whale-hunting Kittegaryumiut Inuit, who were wiped out due to a series of epidemics in the early 1900s. The Inuit who settled at the site after it was established by the Hudson’s Bay Company in the mid-1930s were from the immediate area and from other parts of the North.

In the 1950s, radar domes were installed as part of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line to monitor air traffic and detect possible Soviet intrusions during the Cold War.

Pop culture comes to Tuk

On September 3, 1995, Metallica and other popular bands flew into Tuk and put the little village into the international news.  The bands played a concert in Tuk as a publicity event for Molson Brewing Company promoting their new ice-brewed beer. It put Tuk on the map in the world of pop culture. As I walked around the town bundled up in April, I had a hard time imagining a giant heavy metal concert in this little, quiet community.

An all-season road

However, the most recent historical change in Tuk is the addition of an all-season road that now connects them to the rest of the world. It is now possible for the first time in history to drive to the top of Canada’s mainland year-round.

Before this, the only way to cross the Arctic Circle by car in Canada was to head north on the Dempster Highway, starting near Dawson City, and driving to Inuvik, a frontier town of 3,000 people in the Mackenzie River Delta. Now, after four years of construction in harsh conditions, the last 85 miles connecting Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk was completed. This new connection to the world could bring a lot of changes to this small, remote community.

An Arctic Town Made of Wood

Things to do in Tuktoyaktuk Arctic Canada
April snowpack in Tuk Tuk, Canada

The Inuit culture here is one of the most unique because they are one of the only Inuit cultures that had a steady source of wood. The Mackenzie River runs north, and so does the driftwood, all flowing into the Arctic Ocean at Tuk. Most Inuit cultures living above the tree line had no source of wood and built igloos to be nomadic and move around to follow the animals. However, in Tuk, they built sod houses as permanent places and stayed put.

Discover what it’s like to live in the Canadian Arctic

As we drove the Ice Road to Tuk, our guide, Kylik, told us stories of his family living in the region. “My grandfather came from Alaska. When he married my grandmother, he thought she was amazing because she cooked all of these different types of food (fish stew and roast) that my grandfather didn’t normally eat because he had no access to wood and fire.

The Inuit culture in Tuk is a little different, and the wood was a big part of it. In Tuk, there was enough food, and they didn’t have to go anywhere. They could build permanent structures out of wood and there was enough food and wood to not have to move.”

Don’t Miss These Things to do in Tuktoyaktuk in the Winter

Ride a Snowmobile Around the Town

You hear the whir of snowmobiles (or Skidoos) instead of cars in the winter. After all, a snowmobile is the vehicle of choice in the Canadian Arctic. If you can, get on a snowmobile and ride around the town, over the Arctic Ocean, and visit the DEW Line and Pingos. This was part of our itinerary with Tundra North.

See the Pingos

tuktoyaktuk, canada pingo winter - tuktoyuktuk
Pingos covered in snow

A pingo is a dome-shaped mound consisting of a layer of soil over a large core of ice, occurring in permafrost areas. This natural phenomenon is a site to see and the main attraction in the region.

Tuk has one of the highest concentrations of pingos in the world (approx 1,350). They can reach up to 230 feet in height and 2,000 feet in diameter! They are pretty impressive to see in the winter or the summer! In the winter, it’s as easy as driving a snowmobile out to the pingos!

Check out my winter clothing packing list for extreme temperatures

Meet with Elders

As a part of our stay, we had the chance to have dinner at an elder’s house, and anytime you can meet an elder, it’s pretty special. They are a wealth of knowledge and stories. Eileen made us a traditional dinner of reindeer soup, Eskimo donuts, muktuk (beluga whale skin), smoked beluga, and muskoxen. While we ate dinner, she talked about the history of how and why they prepare these foods.

It only takes 2 people to catch a whale about 12 feet long, and it will feed 4 families for the whole year. Eileen helps the family work on it to get her share. She also dries and smokes white fish. The Muskox have come from the West and were introduced into their diet. She told us that in May the geese come and everyone is excited to start harvesting them. They keep their own and also make their coats out of them.

She also explained all of the different trapping and equipment they use today and how they make their traditional clothes. She even let us try them on to see what it was like to wear polar bear pants. They were heavy…but warm!

Call upon the Kindness of Strangers

As soon as we pulled over, we knew we had made a big mistake. The van sank immediately as if we had just entered quicksand. But it wasn’t quicksand; it was snowpack. A snowpack is a mass of snow on the ground that is compressed and hardened by its own weight. The snowpack in this part of the world is really deceiving. You can walk on it, you can ski on it, you can drive a snowmobile on it once it’s hard enough, but you can’t drive a heavy van on it.

It took about 3 minutes with our van stuck in the ‘main square’ in Tuk for a passing car to slow down, roll down the window, and tell us, “The loader is on the way!” So, without even asking, we had help on the way. The big front loader showed up in no more than three more minutes.

The driver was a man of few words; he assessed the situation, backed the loader up to the van, and hooked it up. He barely cracked a smile as he pulled us out and went on his way. But I’m pretty sure he was going to crack a smile later that day while he told the story of how he pulled out tourists today to his friends and family.

things to do in Tuktoyaktuk Canada
Getting towed out by the locals

Sure, I supposed it was a little embarrassing that we got stuck, but in an environment like this, it happens a lot. However, the real lesson of this story to me was how fast and helpful people were to strangers. The whole ordeal, from getting stuck to getting out, only took 10 minutes, and we didn’t even make a single phone call. I love small towns!

Note: I’m not suggesting that you get stuck as a ‘thing to do’ in Tuk, but if you do, realize that it can actually be a fun learning experience.

One is the Only Number, so Plan Carefully

If you come, realize there’s really only one hotel in town and one grocery store in town. We stayed at the Smitty’s B&B (known for giving out free hugs!). They were more like big condos rather than a hotel or a room – but it was perfect for our group!

There is also only one gas station and grocery store in town – and it’s worth it to stop in and see what they sell there and what the prices are!

So don’t speed through Tuktoyaktuk on your road trip to the Arctic Ocean else you’ll be missing the best part of the Northwest Territories – the culture. Slow down, watch the sunset in the Arctic, stay overnight, meet locals, and really explore this little gem at the top of the world.

Drive the Road to Tuktoyaktuk and Stay for a Night!

Tundra North offers winter and summer tours to stay overnight, plus snowmobiling, pingos, and dinner with an elder.
Tundra North Website

Or book your own hotel at Smitty’s B&B at 867-977-2777

Tuktoyaktuk Website

Winter Gear for Your Arctic Travels

  1. Seirus Magnemask Combo Clava
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  2. Marmot Refuge Winter Pants
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  3. Marmot Avant Featherless Hoody
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  4. Arcadia Women’s Heated Jacket
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  5. Jack Wolfskin Womens 365 Flash Overhead Jacket
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  6. Oboz Bridger 7" Insulated B-Dry Hiking Boot
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    Sooo - comfortable and warm! These are my go-to winter insultated boot. I use them for snowshoeing and everyday around town stuff when it's really cold. O Fit Thermal insoles provide stability and support while reducing heat loss to keep your feet happy!

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  7. Gobi Heat - Heated Socks
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    Out of all of the heated products out there - I find the socks work the best.

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  8. Sahara Women’s Heated Jacket
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  9. The North Face Women's Down Parka
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  10. Krimson Klover Bridger Base Layer Top - Women's Blue, Small Top
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    This seamless top is a perfect high-performance base layer for your winter adventures from sunrise to sunset!

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  11. MARMOT Scree Pant Women's Black
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    These make great winter hiking pants. They're heavier, with fleece pockets, stretchy, and great for snowshoeing. I consider them midlayer pants offering extreme water repellent, stretchiness, softness, and packability - Yay! I have multiple pairs!

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  12. Ultra-Lightweight Liner Socks
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    A base layer for sock layering. WICK Dry technology quickly draws moisture away from your skin so your feet stay dry and comfortable. Removing the moisture build up reduces hot spots and friction that causes blisters

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  13. Gobi Heat Stealth Heated Glove Liners
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  14. Hand Knit Sherpa Hat with Micro Fleece Lining
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  15. Ignik 10-Hour Compostable Hand Warmers with Resealable AirBarrier Pouch
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  16. Smith  Winter Snow Goggle
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    I don't ski - but goggles are also great for snow shoeing or snow mobiling in cold weather! Airflow lens technology provides active ventilation to reduce fog in even the worst conditions, making the Drift the solid choice for a reliable medium-fit goggle.

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  17. The North Face Freedom Insulated Snow Pants
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    A great outer layer for extreme cold environments. Seam-sealed 2-layer DryVent™ fabric provides waterproof/breathable protection from the elements

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  18. Kahtoola EXOspikes Footwear Traction - Black - X-Small
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    These are a must for winter travel - they will provide you peace of mind as you get around in the winter on icy trails, lakes, and even parking lots.

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  19. Heated Hand Warmer
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    This is it...I finally found the best solution for keeping my hands warm in extreme cold environments...this muff is the best! I use it primarily for doing photography in the winter - it's better than any other gloves I've tried before. The inside is lined with warm fur and the heat settings are incredible. It also has a little zip pocket where you can keep your phone and camera batteries warm. The muff's battery life is good for staying out for hours waiting for aurora!

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  20. Woolx Duralite® Piper Pocket Leggings
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    The warmest merino leggings you can get! These are perfect for cold winter adventures. I use them as a base layer or wear them alone - they are thick - no see through! They have a little spandex in them so they hold their shape well AND...they have pockets!

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  21. Smartwool Women's Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Pattern Crew
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    I'm in love with the Mountainscape design. It's a really heavy base layer...so heavy that I wear it just alone as a crew/sweater with jeans in the winter. They have lots of great designs and it's really soft and warm. This is my go-to shirt for winter and for baselayers!

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  22. Smartwool Women's Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Pattern Bottom
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    A super bottom baselayer for snowshoeing, skiing, or spending a lot of time outdoors in the cold waiting for the northern lights! The material is soft but warm.

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  23. Jack Wolfskin Alpspitze Down Hoody
    $369.95

    This is a great warm jacket for summits. It's windproof, water repellent and breathable, but so warm. It also packs down into a little sack that is the size of a pint glass...making it perfect to stuff in your backpack.

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  24. Gordini Women's Forge Heated Glove
    $390.62

    These are one smart glove...hence the hefty price tag. They can measure the current heat of your hands in your glove like a thermostat and then deliver just the right amount of heat to keep you warm! Heat turns on when you’re cold and off when you’re not. Set your heated gloves to a comfortable setting using a paired smartphone app and automatically the heating system maintains a steady and comfortable balance point.

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  25. Heat Company Gloves - layering system

    The warmest glove system: No more freezing or sweating! Depending on the situation, you can flexibly choose the right LINER inner glove and combine it with the SHELL mitten and the HOOD pullover mittens.

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Disclosure:

I was a guest of Tundra North Tours during my trip, however all opinions expressed here are my own.


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