Ivvavik National Park: The Complete Guide

Ivvavik National Park

Ivvavik National Park / Getty Images

Map card placeholder graphic

Ivvavik National Park

Ivvavik National Park, Unorganized, YT Y0B 1G0, Canada
Phone +1 867-777-8800

Ivvavik means "a place for giving birth" in the language of the Inuvialuit people (the Western Canadian Inuit). This name is quite fitting for Canada's Ivvavik National Park, which contains protected calving grounds used by the Porcupine Caribou Herd. The park was originally named "Northern Yukon National Park" and was created as a result of an aboriginal land claim agreement in 1984 between the indigenous people and the federal government. Within the park, the British Mountains and Brooks Range merge, and the Firth River's rapids drain into the Arctic Ocean. No roads lead to this remote destination, so visitors must obtain a permit and hop a charter flight to one of the park's air access locations. Once there, you'll be welcomed into base camp to embark on activities that include pristine wilderness hikes, as well as world-class fishing and whitewater rafting.

Things to Do

If you love the wilderness, Ivvavik National Park is for you. Take a rafting trip down the Firth River for an exciting whitewater experience that lends stunning views of wide mountain valleys and narrow canyons. If water isn't your thing, a similar experience can be achieved by foot, hiking within the park's mountain ranges or tundra-rich coastal lowlands.

If you are looking for a short day trip, check out Babbage Falls. The falls are located on the eastern boundary of Ivvavik National Park, and the route provides opportunities to view caribou, hundreds of species of birds, wild plants, and flowers. You can also track wildlife, including polar bears, grizzly bears, black bears, gyrfalcon, and muskox. Look for the "bear stomp," a trail well used by bears, containing countless paw prints.

Fish for arctic grayling or Dolly Varden char in the park's river, numerous streams, and lakes. Fly fisherman will appreciate the challenge of replicating the region's insects eaten by frolicking grayling.

Then, after your day is done, hunker down under the stars in Ivvavik Base Camp—the only lodging option in the park, complete with cabins with beds, a dining area, and the only flush toilets and hot showers in the region.

Best Hikes & Trails

Technically speaking, there are no marked trails in Ivvavik. Still, the hiking opportunities are endless. Most hikes start from Ivvavik Base Camp and follow recognizable landmarks, taking you into a pristine wilderness. Visitors venturing into the backcountry are required to supply a detailed description of their planned route to the park office before venturing out.

  • Sheep Slot: The Sheep Slot trail takes you on a 3-kilometer (1.8-mile) round trip hike on game trails to a rocky outcropping along the Firth River. If you time this easy hike correctly, you may even catch a boat full of rafters, as they make their way through the turbulent rapids. Along the hike, you'll find geologic formations, like synclines and anticlines, and you may even encounter a flock of Dall sheep (hence the trail's name).
  • Inspiration Point and Wolf Tors: The hike to Inspiration Point takes you across Sheep River and through the bush on a technical trail that ends with an overlook from where to spot wildlife. Look for (and be aware of) bears on this route, as well as caribou. From there, the trail gets easier until you reach the rocky pinnacles called Wolf Tors. The hike is 14.8 kilometers (9 miles) one way.
  • Gordon’s Food Cache: This 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) trail takes you through a marshy riparian area and involves bushwhacking, yet it rewards you with exceptional views of the river, a look at the remnants of a historical food cache, and a bend in the river that offers exceptional fishing.
  • Half Way to Heaven: Right out of camp, this 11.4-kilometer (7-mile) hike gains approximately 594 meters (1,949 feet) in elevation, leading to an unforgettable mountain vista. Thankfully, the elevation gain on this strenuous hike usually offers a breeze that keeps the bugs away.

Whitewater Rafting

A rafting trip down the remote Firth River provides avid paddlers a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Begin your trip by flying into Margaret Lake where the river valley gradually narrows to funneling canyons, producing world-class whitewater rapids. Along the mellower stretches of the river, during early summer, you can see migrating caribou herds and nesting raptors. In late summer, fish from your boat or the banks, or pull over for a quick hike up Engigstciak Peak. For an unforgettable trip, book a 12-day river expedition that includes whitewater rafting, wildlife and wildflower viewing, and hiking through the sub-arctic wilderness.

Where to Camp

There are no modern accommodations or primitive campgrounds located in Ivvavik National Park. Instead, Ivvavik Fly-in Base Camp offers a stay in one of their furnished prospector tents. The Base Camp's grounds include amenities like a cookhouse and screened-in deck, a flush toilet, and a hot shower. You can choose from packages including all-inclusive catered stays, complete with homecooked meals, snacks, and guided hikes, or an independent stay, where you do all the cooking yourself and explore the area on your own. If you choose the latter route, keep in mind that campfires are illegal in the park, so you will need to bring a camp stove to cook your meals.

Where to Stay Nearby

The local town of Inuvik in Canada's Northwest Territories is the starting point for any trip to Ivvavik National Park. It is from here that you'll charter a plane into one of the park's air access locations. Before you venture onwards, however, it's nice to have a cozy place to hunker down before your flight. While Inuvik is small and remote, it contains a few hotels for a good night's sleep.

  • Mackenzie Hotel: The centrally-located Mackenzie Hotel provides a full-service experience, offering standard rooms, with one or two queen beds, or executive suites with king-size beds and jacuzzi tubs. Enjoy first-class dining at the Mackenzie River Grill and premium scotches on Scotch Night in Shiver's Lounge.
  • Nova Inn: Located 2 degrees north of the Arctic Circle, Nova Inn at Inuvik offers queen rooms, junior queen suites, and executive queen suites. Amenities include free Wi-Fi, complimentary parking, business services, pet-friendly rooms, and a guest laundry.
  • Inuvik Capital Suites: Chose from a standard room, a one-or two-bedroom suite, or a one-bedroom executive suite at the Inuvik Capital Suites. This hotel receives a Green Key Eco 4 rating due to its commitment to sustainability. Capital Suites provides a free airport shuttle, meeting facilities with free Wi-Fi, a fitness center, and a laundry room.

How to Get There

Chartering an aircraft is currently the most common and practical way of getting to Ivvavik National Park. Air services are available from the town of Inuvik, about 120 miles east of the park. Inuvik is the largest community within the region and is accessible via the Dempster Highway.

Visitors can choose a flight into Margaret Lake, Sheep Creek, Stokes Point, Nunaluk Spit, and Komakuk Beach, depending on their desired excursion. After being dropped off in the park, however, you're are on your own until the plane returns for pickup (unless you booked an expedition through a local outfitter). This is important to remember, as weather can be unpredictable in the Northern Territories and may cause delays. Be sure to pack at least two extra days' worth of both supplies and clothing in case of a delayed flight.

Tips for Your Visit

  • While Ivvavik is open-year round, visitors are strongly encouraged to avoid visiting during winter. The best time for a trip is during March and April when the days are longer and the temperatures are warmer. Keep in mind that extremely cold temperatures can occur from mid-September to mid-May.
  • Be sure to pack your sunglasses for a summer trip to Ivvavik National Park. With twenty-four hours of daylight throughout almost the summer, visitors have the rare opportunity of hiking and exploring this park round-the-clock.
  • Keep in mind that there are no facilities, services, established trails, or campgrounds within the park. Visitors should feel confident to handle emergencies on their own, and are advised to bring extra clothing, gear, food, and supplies.
  • Be sure to carry bear spray when venturing into the backcountry. Both grizzly and polar bears can act aggressively when startled, especially if they are with their young.
  • Annual and daily fishing permits are available from the Parks Canada Inuvik office. The annual fishing permit is valid for one year in the park for which it is sold.
  • Park fees include a daily, per-person backcountry fee, or you can buy an annual fee, if you plan to visit frequently.
Back to Article

Ivvavik National Park: The Complete Guide