Located north of the Arctic Circle in Yukon, Ivvavik National Park is a place where expanses of northern wilderness meld with thousands of years of rich Inuvialuit culture. Stretching for more than 10,000 square kilometres—touching the Mackenzie River Delta and the British Mountains—it is a setting for alpine hikes, wildlife viewings and cultural experiences with an engaging Inuvialuit host. And it is remote—hundreds of kilometres from the nearest road, accessed only by chartered flight.
All of this might paint a picture of high adventure and an unlikely family vacation destination. But one adventurous family is demonstrating how a fly-in Arctic basecamp trip with Parks Canada is the ultimate way to forge lifelong memories.
The Family That Adventures Together…
Calgary, Alberta, resident David Keegan discovered Ivvavik National Park’s fly-in basecamp trips while reading the newspaper. He and his wife, Susan, had long yearned to visit the far north. Descriptions of the park’s 10,000-square-kilometres of unglaciated tundra beckoned him. Images of unique rock formations (known as tors) called to him. But it was the Indigenous cultural connection that really resonated.
“We feel, and felt then, that we should go to an Indigenous-endorsed experience as one way we could do our part to help reconciliation—that we would be exposing ourselves and our kids to an Indigenous culture in an experience so clearly connected to the land,” David explained.
Of course, chances to see the midnight sun over the British Mountains and wild caribou herds thunder across the tundra were enticing as well. But could a family of five, with three children between age eight and 12 at the time, really pull off a true Arctic adventure?
Into the Arctic
“All we had to do was get to Inuvik—Parks Canada took it from there,” David continued. Plus, while this journey would take them to one of Canada’s most remote locales, it’s still a comfortable place to hang your hat. Imniarvik base camp offers wall-tents with bunk or queen beds, a cookhouse with solar power, a workshop, two flush toilets, one hot shower, a screened-in patio and the security of an electric wildlife fence. On catered trips, all hikes are guided and a cultural host accompanies.
“It was cool that the kids had one prospector tent to themselves and that the compound was surrounded by an electric fence… It meant the kids could be full and independent members of the group when we were at the base camp,” said David.
Getting there is one thing. Getting comfortable is another. The real question was: could the Keegan couple keep their kids entertained in the middle of the Arctic wilderness?
“The guides were excellent and picked out ever-more-challenging routes, culminating in a 20-kilometre roundtrip hike that brought us along ridges with incredible views, and enabled us to see caribou and [other] wildlife,” David explained.
The children—Sarah, Nora and John—loved the Arctic flowers and playing traditional Inuvialuit games in the cozy cookhouse. And despite initial concerns with such a far-flung adventure, the Keegans always felt well cared for.
“Parks Canada had worked to make sure that key risks were identified and mitigated. This meant that we could bring [the kids] on this adventure with our minds at ease,” continued David.
For many people, a trip north of 66 is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. But the Keegans were too connected to this land. They returned to Ivvavik as a family two years later, then again the following year—this latest time tacking-on a trip up the new highway to Tuktoyaktuk. John Aldershot/Parks Canada
The family’s reasons for returning were many, David explained:
“It was humbling to experience the openness and generosity of the Inuvialuit people. It was simply incredible to be on their land, and to hear the stories of how they would hunt and camp. It was incredible to see the rusts and greens in the majestic mountains. To see the Porcupine caribou migrating was magical and helped me develop a better insight into my role and responsibility as a steward of the land. To hike and hike over ridges and scree, tussocks and berries and through the river was thrilling. To look at the golden sunshine at 2:00 a.m. was wondrous. The reality blew away our expectations.”
Making it Work
There were some logistical challenges. For one, flying to Inuvik can be costly—so the Keegans sourced seat sales and used airline points to make it happen (once even flying from Calgary two-by-three on different airlines!).
Hoping to beat peak mosquito season, they also needed to take the kids out of school in June to make the trips—to which the school principals gave their blessings, understanding the rich importance of such an adventure.
Of course, everyone required a pair of well-fitted hiking boots, lots of layers and sturdy trekking poles. (In short—gear up and prepare for variable weather.)
Ultimately, Ivvavik National Park has left a lasting impression on the Keegans, enrichening their lives and forging the family memories both parents hoped it would.
“We returned because it was such an epic experience, and we frankly felt and still feel a connection to the place,” said David. “To this day, we talk about Ivvavik and things that remind us of our experience.”
If You Go
Parks Canada offers a limited number of fully catered and guided five-day and nine-day basecamp trips into Ivvavik National Park in June and July, as well as a seven-day independent trips in July. All departures are from Inuvik. Learn more at pc.gc.ca/ivvavik.
This article was brought to you by Parks Canada. Discover more about Ivvavik National Park at: pc.gc.ca/ivvavik