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10 things to explore in the Yukon's wildly remote Vuntut National Park

Fewer than 25 visitors per year venture to this untouched Arctic landscape in Canada’s Far North

02 May 2016
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In Canada’s Far North, near the Arctic Circle, awaits a unique national park with no paths to follow or paved roads to drive. Accessible only by plane and visited by just a few dozen travellers each year, Vuntut National Park in the Yukon’s remote northwest corner stretches across 4,345 square kilometers (2,700 square miles) of the Canadian Arctic. For adventurers who truly want to get away from it all, here are 10 things to see and explore in this landscape virtually untouched by modern civilization.

  • 1. Enjoy the landing: Soak up the view as you sweep over a panorama of pristine tundra and sparkling lakes before landing in the remote northern community of Old Crow, near the park’s southern edge. At the tiny airport, a new cultural art exhibit offers your first introduction to the town’s rich aboriginal history and traditions through photo murals and artifacts.
  • 2. Experience ageless traditions: The Yukon’s northernmost town, Old Crow (population 300), preserves a timeless way of life, where aboriginal traditions stretching back millennia remain an integral part of the culture. Seize this opportunity to meet the locals who live near the Arctic Circle, in a community with traditional smokehouses and antler-adorned log cabins.
  • 3. Learn about the past: While in Old Crow, visit the John Tizya Centre where exhibits, artifacts and audio recordings from community elders take you on a journey into the storied past of the region’s Vuntut Gwitchin, or “people of the lakes.”
  • 4. See a mass migration across the tundra: Witness well over 150,000 Porcupine Caribou thunder through Vuntut National Park - one of the largest mass migrations on earth. Spring and fall near the village of Old Crow offer the best chance to view these majestic animals so central to the local First Nations people.
  • 5. Party at a local caribou festival: Every May, the community of Old Crow puts on Caribou Days to celebrate the Vuntut Gwitchin people’s connection with the caribou. This is a festive occasion for locals and visitors alike—expect authentic local food and cultural competitions for best bannock, tent making, muskrat skinning and trap dismantling.
  • 6. Blaze a brand new trail: Under Vuntut’s 24-hour summer sun, trod a new path through untamed tundra valleys and rolling hills awash with wildflowers. Here, there are no services, facilities or developed trails, and fewer than 25 travellers visit per year. (Adventurers should plan accordingly and be properly equipped for off-the-grid exploring.)
  • 7. Paddle under the midnight sun: In the summer, snow melts and intrepid travelers can explore the prehistoric landscape along Old Crow River by canoe. Commute as the Vuntut Gwitchin people traditionally did, with the British Mountains and expansive wetlands as your backdrop. Don’t forget the bug jacket—insects also come out in the summer.
  • 8. Discover historic caribou fences: Back when the northern First Nations peoples hunted caribou with spears, mile-long wooden corrals, or caribou fences, were created to facilitate the process. Today you can still see seven of these heritage sites clearly preserved in Vuntut National Park (mapped outhere).
  • 9. Gaze at the world’s best light show: Between late August and mid-April, Vuntut’s 24-hour-long sunny days give way to long winter nights. Though temperatures can plunge to chilly depths, it’s the best time of year to glimpse the dancing green Aurora Borealis for which the Great White North is famous.
  • 10. Experience a wetland paradise for bird lovers: Vuntut is actually a First Nations’ word for “among the lakes.” Don’t leave without glimpsing the patchwork of 2,000-plus pools that stretch across the southern third of the park, known as the Old Crow Flats. Half-a-million birds nest here, including tundra swans, greater white-fronted geese and surf scoters.

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