Reasons to Go

  • The Northwest Passage is one of the world’s great historical voyages
  • Few places on the planet remain as remote and little travelled
  • Spot the Arctic’s Big 5: polar bears, belugas, walrus, musk ox & narwhal
  • Inuit community visits provide fascinating insights into High Arctic life
  • With thousands of islands and bays to explore, this is real expeditionary cruising

Top Landing Sites in the Northwest Passage

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Lancaster Sound

The eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage, Lancaster Sound’s is renowned for both its bountiful wildlife and importance as a sanctuary. Described as an Arctic wildlife ‘superhighway’, the areas statistics speak for themselves:

  • Canadian Arctic’s largest density of polar bears
  • 75% of the world’s population of narwhal
  • 20% of Canada’s beluga population, along walrus & bowheads
  • 35% of Canada’s colonial seabirds breed here

The recent establishment of Tallurutiup Imanga - Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area - as Canada’s largest marine protected area at 109,000 square kilometers underlines its importance, while safeguarding its future.

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Bellot Strait

Named after Frenchman Joseph Bellot, one of the many adventurers who set out in search of the missing Franklin Party in the 1850’s, this narrow channel divides Somerset Island from the northernmost point of continental North America.

Only half a mile wide, Bellot Strait is notorious for its strong tides which can prove challenging even today, let alone for the early explorers. These currents throw up plankton attracting fish, and as a result it’s a good place for wildlife: seals, polar bears, arctic fox and musk ox.

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Beechey Island & The Franklin Graves

Standing sentinel on a windswept beach are the three graves of John Torrington, John Harnell and William Braine, the earliest casualties in what turned into that infamous, tragic opera. As the most tangible clues to what happened, their exhumation played a pivotal role in the unmasking of lead poisoning as a key contributor to the demise of Franklin's party.

Standing next to the lonely graves of these lost Englishman, more famous in death than when alive, is certainly sobering. All Northwest Passage cruises make a stop at this site.

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Gjoa Haven

The only settlement on Prince William Island, any ships putting into Gjoa Haven are guaranteed a very warm welcome. A leisurely stroll through the friendly nearly 1,200 strong community will lead you to the monument of Roald Amundsen. Finding ice blocking his path in his ship Gjøa in October 1903, he made this natural harbour his base for two years.

The town really knows how to turn up a square dance giving visitors the opportunity to engage with community members, while the income from locally made handicrafts can really help to make a difference.

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Franklin’s Ships - HMS Erebus & Terror

The discovery of HMS Erebus in 2016 and the solving of a 168 year old mystery has cast the whole saga of the Franklin Expedition back into the limelight, bringing with it renewed interest in The Northwest Passage. The subsequent discovery of HMS Terror, the sister ship, just two years later was nothing short of extraordinary.

The wrecks have been designated National Historic Sites of Canada with their precise locations near to Prince William Island closely guarded. While the first commercial expedition ship was granted permission by Parks Canada to visit the site of HMS Terror in 2016, access is likely to remain tightly controlled.

Tips on planning your trip

Given the overall time and cost factors involved with a once-in-a-lifetime trip like this choosing exactly the right trip for you is crucial. To help you get started, here are a few tips on key areas you should be considering:

  • The limited number of cruises and strong demand means booking 12 -18 months ahead is recommended
  • Most depart in August/ September when late summer ice allows safe passage through the narrow channels
  • There’s no definitive route to traversing the Northwest Passage, so focus on the planned landings
  • The distances are significant - trips range from 13 -17 days - which means ship speed is significant
  • Northwest Passage cruises typically start or finish in West Greenland, providing interesting contrast
  • When to go & the direction of travel are important variables worth considering as they both carry influence

Alex says

Trips to The Northwest Passage

When to Go

It’s only possible to explore the Northwest Passage by ship in late summer when the ice has receded to its farthest point allowing safe passage through the narrow, labyrinthine channels.

Most departures are in August or September, when dropping temperatures in early autumn combine with improved Northern Lights sightings.

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Getting to the Northwest Passage

The Canadian territory of Nunavut, which encompasses the Northwest Passage, is vast and sparsely populated, with limited scheduled flights.

To simplify the logistics, all boat operators arrange special charter flights from Canadian gateway cities (Ottawa, Edmonton or Toronto) to and from the start and end points for each individual cruise, which makes life easy.

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How much will it cost?

These trips aren’t low cost due to the logistical challenges of travelling in such a remote area, the distances covered and the overall duration of each trip. Prices start from around USD$9,600 per person.

Plus, on top of the actual voyage cost, there’s an additional mandatory charter flight package which can add on USD$1,500 - $2,500 per person, depending on the routing.

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Swoop Says

FAQs about the Northwest Passage

  • What is the Northwest Passage?

    The Northwest Passage is a sea route connecting the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via waterways through the islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Explorers for centuries sought the existence of a navigable passage, however it wasn’t until 1903–1906 when the Norwegian Roald Amundsen proved it with the first successful transit.

  • How do I get there?

    Edmonton and Ottawa are the main international gateways for onward scheduled and charter flights to the start and end points further north, which are typically Cambridge Bay, Resolute, Kugluktuk (Coppermine) or Kangerlussuaq in West Greenland.

  • What’s so interesting about the Northwest Passage?

    The search for the fabled Northwest Passage stretched across four centuries and is a fascinating story of failure, disaster and tragedy, but also of great heroism and endurance which continues to resonate and be of great interest. Recent changes in Arctic climate and the viability of an ice free Northwest Passage for commercial shipping has further peaked interest in this incredibly rich historical region.

  • Will I see Arctic wildlife?

    The wildlife in The Arctic isn’t as plentiful and guaranteed as it is in Antarctica, however it is there and can be seen with patience and tenacity.

Ready to Book Your Arctic Adventure?

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