Torngats
Credit: Torngat Mountains Base Camp

Let the traditional people of the land show you the way—from coast-to-coast in Canada, these 22 Aboriginal tourism operators merge exciting outdoor adventures with rich indigenous culture.

Let's start in the West:

British Columbia

Spirit Bear Spotting

Spirit BearCael Cook/Spirit Bear Lodge

When National Geographic and the BBC’s Planet Earth want to capture images of the Spirit Bear, they go to Spirit Bear Lodge on British Columbia’s Central Coast. Run by the Kitasoo First Nation, the lodge is in the town of Klemtu, a short boat ride from the largest concentrations of white-coated black bears anywhere on Earth. Each day the guests and guides hop in a boat in search of the bears. Depending on the season and the conditions the bears could be fishing for salmon in the rainforest or prowling the tidal flats. spiritbear.com

Float the Fraser

Douglas Green knows the Fraser River like few others. A member of the Tsilhqot’in Nation of BC’s Chilcotin region, his ancestors relied on the river for at least 10,000 years. He accompanies Chilcotin Jet Boat Adventures’ five-day Ultimate Fraser River Journey, a camping safari down BC’s Fraser River from Williams Lake. Beyond watching for wildlife like California bighorn sheep, golden eagles, coyote and more, the trip focuses on Indigenous culture. The near-desert climate has preserved remnant village sites, petroglyphs and pictographs. And Green and the guides share the river’s cultural significance to the local First Nation, demonstrating dip-net fishing for salmon, smudge ceremonies and other traditional hunting and gathering techniques. jetboatadventures.com

The Last Coastal Village

Kiixin is one of the few traditional First Nation village sites on the West Coast with the remains of long houses and other village artefacts still visible in the coastal rainforest. The National Historic Site is on the west coast of Vancouver Island near the town of Bamfield. It used to be hard to access, but this year the Huu-ay-aht First Nation opened an overland trail to the site and began touring groups through the area they’ve inhabited for 5,000 years. While the village is the ultimate destination, along the way hikers take in the 1,000 shades of green of a West Coast rainforest and secluded beaches. huuayaht.org

Alberta

Medicine Walk

Mahikan TrailsMahikan Trails

Indigenous people knew uses for just about every plant in the forest of the Canadian Rockies. Next time you’re in Banff, join the Mahikan Trails Plant Medicine Walk to learn about a few of them. An Indigenous guide leads the two-hour walk on a trail just outside of town. Wandering through the mountain forest, they’ll point out different plants and explain how and why they used them. mahikan.ca 

Survival Summer Camp

Wildhorse Mountain RanchWildhorse Mountain Ranch

Bear Baker says sending boys and girls, ages 10 to 17, to one of his summer camps ensures they won’t end up living in your basement when they’re 40. The camps take place on Baker’s Wildhorse Mountain Ranch, in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies northwest of Calgary, and vary from survival camps to horse camps. All tap into the Indigenous tradition of passing practical knowledge from Elder to grandchild. The Scout Summer Camp focuses on the skills Baker honed during a life living on the land as a hunter, trapper, cowboy and horse guide: survival, bushcraft and camp cooking. The girls-only Horsemanship and Adventure Camp combines all those skills with horseback riding. wildhorsecamp.com 

Trail Ride the Rockies

Trail Ride RockiesVinson's Horseback Adventures

The Vinson family traces its horseback guiding history in the Rocky Mountains around Jasper to 1939. The Metis descendants first worked for the legendary Brewster company and then bought-out and ran trips in and out of the park. These days, they focus on the remote and rarely travelled front ranges near Brule, Alberta. A good example of the Vinson’s Horseback Adventures are their six- and eight-day Wilderness Adventures. With a series of cabins and semi-permanent tent camps at their disposal, they guide pack trips into the mountains, following old trails along rivers, up and over passes and right to the northern border of Jasper National Park. horseback-adventures.com

Saskatchewan

Sleep in a Tipi

WanuskewinWanuskewin

Once the Ice Age glaciers retreated from the area around Saskatoon, wildlife started moving through the area and Indigenous people started following it. A focal point of activity for that entire 6,000-year history is the confluence of Opimihaw Creek and the South Saskatchewan River. Archeological evidence suggests every First Nation group that lived in the Great Plains visited this site following bison and other animals, gathering plants and using the site for ceremonial purposes. The rich history and archeological importance made it the obvious site for the Wanuskewin Heritage Park, a cultural centre sitting above the river valley. Inside are exhibits that delve into the lives of the nomadic plains people, peeling back their many uses of the area. Outside, trails descend to the valley bottom, passing some of the more important sites where tipi rings, pottery fragments, projectile points and animal bones all testify to the historic use. wanuskewin.com

Manitoba

Dogsled in the Polar Bear Capital

Dogsled ChurchillWapusk Adventures

Most people who come to Churchill in October and November ride in the confines of a tundra buggy, scouring the scrubby brush for polar bears.Wapusk Adventures offers a four-footed adventure break. Longtime Churchill residents David and Valerie Daley run Wapusk Adventures, a 28-dog kennel, just out of town. Throughout the early winter season they run dogsled tours along a mile-long path through the woods—they call it the “Ididamile.” Guests can be as involved as they like, driving the sled or just a passenger, all the while getting a glimpse into traditional and modern Metis life. wapuskadventures.com

Ontario

Retrace a Sagamok Canoe Route

Spirit Island AdventuresGreat Circle Spirit Trail

The Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi people all relied on the land and water around Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world at the northern end of Ontario’s Georgian Bay. The best way to learn about this history and culture is on a guided trip with Great Spirit Circle Trail. The company only uses Aboriginal guides on their tours, which range from medicine plant walks to forest hikes and a canoe trip along an ancient travel route. All include local legends, island history and information on how the various groups that make up the Sagamok used the land. Extend the experience by staying on Manitoulin with Spirit Island Adventures. On the M’Chigeeng First Nation, the company’s glamping tipis are perfectly positioned for exploring the island and are a unique and cozy place to spend a night. circletrail.com; spiritislandadventures.com 

Temagami Glamping

Lake Obabika defines Temagami wilderness. The 35-kilometre-long lake sits between Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park and Lake Temagami. In other words, deep in the bush of central Ontario. The water is crystal clear and potable without filtering. It’s protected by the Friends of Temagami and the Misabi family, descendants of Indigenous people who have lived here for hundreds of years. Luckily, they like to share their little piece of paradise. The Misabi Adventure Company is a family-run luxurious tent-camp on the lake. Guests can hang out and unwind or get adventurous. The hosts provide guiding from the base to several spiritual sites nearby, including petroglyphs and pictographs, on day-trips or short overnights. And they offer the chance to experience the sweat lodge, a sauna-like spiritual journey used by Aboriginal people across the world. m.misabiadventurecompany.ca

New Hike in Killarney

The newest hiking trail in the Killarney area leads to a beautiful view over the white and pink granite hills that make this central Ontario region justifiably famous. The Mervs Landing trail is in Point Grondine Park, just inland from the town of Killarney on Lake Huron. Built on the traditional land of the Anishnaabek people, the 6.9-kilometre loop-trail climbs through hardwood and pine forest to Recollets Summit, a high point overlooking the rest of the park and north along the Killarney Mountain Range extending into Killarney Provincial Park. Interpretive signs share how Indigenous people used the area. grondinepark.com

Quebec

Intro to Cree Living

The small town of Wemindji sits on the edge of the Quebec side of James Bay. It’s in the heart of the traditional Cree territory and Shammy Adventures is setup to share their ancient way of living in this harsh land. The company has a cabin base 40 minutes by boat or 20 by snowmobile up the Opinaca River. From here they guide multi-day snowshoe and snowmobile adventures into the boreal forest and during the summer it’s the prep-point for five- to eight-day canoe trips. It’s also the centre for a seven-night cultural immersion into Cree living. On this trip, participants stay at the base camp while experiencing everything from gathering and preparing wild edibles to making moccasins from scratch. creeadventures.ca

Koroc Multi-Sport Adventure

KorocAnnie Claude Roberge

From the highest point in Quebec, this adventure wanders the tundra before descending the Koroc River to Ungava Bay. A combination of hiking, whitewater canoeing and Inuit culture. Inuit Adventures’ 10-day Koroc River trip starts with two flights deep to the border of Labrador and Quebec. For the first three days, participants hike in the remote Torngat Mountains, watching for caribou, wolves and bear, to the put-in on the Koroc River. In canoes, they bump and splash downriver towards Ungava Bay, stopping at Korluktok Falls. From there it’s on to the village of Kangiqsualujjuaq to experience Inuit culture with local families. inuitadventures.ca

Track Caribou in Winter

It’s one thing to see caribou migrating in summer, but far fewer have witnessed the spectacle in winter. Les Camps Kiskimaastakin’s isolated camps are one of the few operations set up to make it easy and comfortable to watch herds of woodland caribou in the short days and chilly temperatures of winter. Leaving from the company’s base in Radisson, near the shore of James Bay, the group travels inland along a series of manmade dams, part of the James Bay hydro project, staying in work camps along the way. With a guide helping track down the caribou, the group travels by snowmobile and on foot for eight to 10 days. lescampskiskimaastakin.com

Mingan & Innu

MinganParcs Canada/E. Lajeunesse

Every summer, the Innu would come to the Mingan Archipelago to fish and hunt, trade and meet. The 1,000-island chain along the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence is now a national park. While the Innu used many of the islands within the park, the easiest way to get a sense of their presence is on a guided hike of Île Nue de Mingan. Accessible via one of the boats that ferry visitors around the archipelago, a park interpreter leads a hike around Île Nue de Mingan past weird rock formations, unusual plants and flocks of shorebirds to signs of Innu and early European fishermen. pc.gc.ca/mingan

Newfoundland & Labrador

Hike the Torngats

TorngatsTorngats Mountains Base Camp

The Torngat Mountains are the highest peaks east of the Rockies on mainland Canada, rising to 1,600 metres above the coast of Labrador. The combination of mountain, Arctic and ocean environments creates a unique climate and ecosystem that attracts researchers from around the world. But why should scientists have all the fun? The Torngat Mountains Base Camp & Research Station is open to the rest of us, too. And one of the best ways to experience the Torngats is on foot, day-hiking into the surrounding mountains and high onto ridges overlooking the area’s fiords. Or for the more adventurous, there are several multi-day backpacking routes that follow ancient pathways in the tundra and mountains. Either way, an Inuit bear guard comes along for safety and cultural interpretation. thetorngats.com

New Brunswick

Home for 30 Generations

MetepenagiagMetepenagiag

The Miramichi is best known for its Atlantic salmon fishing, but for 3,000 years the confluence of the southeast and northwest branches was known as Metepenagiag, a Mi’kmaq village site. The Red Bank First Nation has built a lodge and cultural centre above the old village site, where guests can come to learn about the peoples’ heritage, hike in the woods, look for abundant wildlife and fish for the Atlantic salmon. Nearby are the Oxbow and Augustine Mound, internationally recognized archaeological sites. redbanklodge.com

Nova Scotia

Learn Mi’kmaq Culture

Learn Miqmak CultureEskasoni Cultural Adventures

It’s rare that a hike will teach you so much, especially in less than 2.5 kilometres. Part of Eskasoni Cultural Journeys, a connection to a time before Europeans arrived on Cape Breton Island, this trail follows the shore of Bras d’Or Lake past several recreated Mi’kmaq village sites. At each, a Mi’kmaq interpreter teaches different parts of the culture, everything from dances to hunting and fishing to sampling luskinigan, a classic Mi’kmaq snack. eskasoniculturaljourneys.ca

Build a Birchbark Canoe

Birchbark CanoeTodd Labrador

Even though it was the only easy way to travel around eastern Canada for thousands of years, Mi’kmaw craftsman Todd Labrador is one of the few who still know how to make a birchbark canoe. Throughout the summer, he gives hands-on demonstrations at Kejimkujik Lake, in Nova Scotia’s Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site. In the 1.5-hour experience he teaches how to boil, strip and split spruce roots to use as lashing or how to shape the wooden gunwales, sharing notes on culture and history of the Mi’kmaw at the same time. It’s one of several Indigenous experiences at the site. pc.gc.ca/keji

Nunavut

To the Edge of the World

Arctic BayArctic Bay Adventures

During the brief Arctic summer, the interface between ice and water becomes a hive of activity. The floe edge and 24-hour sunlight create upwellings of nutrient-rich water, attracting the marine food chain, as species like walrus and beluga whales migrate past. It’s into this dynamic zone that Arctic Bay Adventures brings its guests for Life on the Floe Edge, a week of wildlife viewing. A snowmobile shuttles guests from the tiny town of Arctic Bay to a cozy camp on the edge of the ice. For six days, guests and a local guide travel along the pack ice looking for wildlife: polar bears, seals, bowhead whales, narwhals, sea birds and more. At the end of the day they return to heated tents and a mix of western and Inuit cuisine, including seal and Arctic char. arcticbayadventures.com

Northwest Territories

Camp like a Whaler

Camp Like a WhalerTundra North Adventures

A connection to the land and ocean is the way of life in the north, especially for the Inuvialuit people of the Mackenzie River Delta. Getting a taste for this lifestyle is the goal of the four-day Herschel Island campout with Tundra North Tours. The trip starts in Inuvik, where guests board a motorboat and head into the delta’s maze of channels. The first camp is
at Sandy Hills, where guests can hike on the tundra to a hilltop overlooking the delta. The next day the boat continues onto the Arctic Ocean and across to Herschel Island. From this base camp, a guide leads day trips hiking, fishing and exploring the surrounding area, once used every spring by Inuvialuit whaling teams.
tundranorthtours.com

Yukon

Mountain Bike with Sam McGee

Montana MountainCarcross-Tagish Management Group

Before Carcross became synonymous with Yukon’s growing mountain biking scene it was the millennia-old home of the Tagish and Tlingit First Nation, a stop on the way to the Klondike Gold Rush and the site of several long-abandoned mines. Sam McGee, the subject of Robert Service’s most famous poem, worked one of the mines on Montana Mountain, right above town. It was these old mine trails and roads that Single Track to Success, a program for Tagish and Tlingit youth, used as the architecture for the mountain bike trail network they’ve built. Since 2011 more than 15 youth have built 40 kilometres of world class single-track on Montana Mountain. destinationcarcross.ca

Frosty Fishing Bears

Every September, thousands of chum salmon return to the Yukon’s Fishing Branch River, just shy of the Arctic Circle. Dozens of grizzlies come to eat them. As winter approaches, the temperatures tumble and the wet bruins turn to Ice Bears. Ideally positioned to take in the unique spectacle are Bear Cave Mountain Eco-Adventures’ cabins, a partnership between the local Vuntut Gwitchin and Phil Timpany, a Yukon wildlife specialist. The fly-in only operation sits close enough to the river to watch the bears fish before breakfast. bearcavemountain.com  

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