5 reasons to explore the Northwest Passage
- Sail in the wake of Franklin, James Clark Ross and Amundsen and explore one of the world’s most remote, challenging and least populated regions
- Admire an ever-changing icescape as you pass myriad islands, channels and bays
- This is home to the Arctic Big 5 - keep a keen eye out for polar bears, belugas, walrus, musk ox and narwhal
- Discover deserted outposts and ancient dwellings in an otherwise virtually deserted corner of the world
- Meet some of the few residents who do call this region home and learn about life in the freezer
Choosing your cruise to the Northwest Passage
Most Northwest Passage cruises depart in August and September when late summer ice allows safe passage through the narrow channels. Time of year and the direction of travel are important variables worth considering, as are the planned landings, however, there’s no definitive route and ice conditions may cause changes along the way. Look for a ship with a high ice-class rating allowing it to manoeuvre through the channels.
The majority of cruises start or finish in West Greenland, and range from 10 to 17 days to cover the vast distance. The speed of your ship will make a big difference to your experience, and how much you can see. As the demands on vessels are high, cruises are limited, so we recommend booking 12 to 18 months ahead.
Our favourite Northwest Passage trips
About the Northwest Passage
Northwest Passage history
The Northwest Passage is a sea route connecting the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via waterways through the islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. For centuries explorers sought the existence of a navigable passage. However, it wasn’t until the period of 1903–1906 when the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, proved it with the first successful transit.
For many people, the history of this region is enough to entice them here. That might be to follow in the footsteps of Franklin by visiting Beechey Island or to explore the remains of sod houses left by Inuit families. This is a world shaped by ice, a dynamic seascape framed by islands, glaciers and ice caps bathed in an almost ever-changing light. Somewhere unique on earth that humans have barely touched.
Northwest Passage wildlife
This part of the Canadian Arctic has a thriving wildlife population and is home to all of the 'Arctic Big 5': polar bears, beluga, musk ox, walrus and narwhal. Wildlife spotting will be an integral part of your trip through the Northwest Passage and a good sighting can change the plan for the day.
As the ice recedes in summer and the channels open up, whales, seals and walrus follow rich lines of food. That migration brings followers with it, most notably the bears who are likely to be anywhere there is something to hunt. Add the wealth of birdlife throughout the region, and there is always something to spot from the bridge or deck of the ship.
Northwest Passage ships
As your floating hotel and basecamp for the duration of the voyage, it’s crucial that you choose the right ship for you. The number of ships plying the Northwest Passage for the few short weeks it's accessible each summer is quite small in comparison to other parts of the Arctic, but there is a good variety in terms of both size and style.
Key things to consider include not only the number of people on board, but also the ice-class and speed of the vessel as well as the style of expedition.
Northwest Passage landing sites
Many argue that the best part of any Northwest Passage cruise is the daily landings off the ship, accompanied by your knowledgeable expedition staff: walking the tundra, observing wildlife from a zodiac, learning about life on the edge of the habitable world during community visits. This is your opportunity to really get under the skin of the region and experience it firsthand.
You may be fascinated by the exploration history of the region and Beechey Island or Victory Point may be top of your list. You may also be interested to know that some trips visit Queen Maud Gulf, the final resting place of HMS Erebus.
It's not all about the Franklin history though with plenty of archaeology throughout the region. Sites such as Crocker Bay and Cornwallis Island tell fascinating stories of a nomadic people who made this inhospitable place home for centuries. You'll find more recent history too, such as the Hudson Bay Company trading post at Fort Ross or the derelict remains of an RCMP outpost at Dundas Harbour.
You will also have the chance to explore some of the settlements along the way. Pond Inlet often features on the route as does Gjoa Haven, where Amundsen over-wintered. These landings are a fantastic opportunity to meet the famously welcoming locals and learn about their culture both ancient and modern.
The search for the Northwest Passage is one of the greatest stories in the annals of exploration, capturing the imagination for generations. This watery labyrinth is incredibly rich in wildlife and Inuit culture.
What are the main places of interest in the Northwest Passage?
What our customers think
This trip was simply marvellous. The hour-long up-close viewing of a female polar bear from the bow of the ship as she crossed the sea ice and put on a show for us was certainly a highlight. The 1,500 pictures I took over the course of this viewing is a testament to this.
Elaine Green United States Of America September 2018
The trip was good, the light gorgeous, the icebergs fantastical, and the wildlife wonderful with more polar bears than expected. The traditional villages made us think about their future, and we met new friends.
Carol & Gerard Yorke United States Of America August 2018
Some of the best days for me in the Northwest Passage were the less obvious ones. Time in the ice shrouded in fog with no idea of where the nearest land is was a huge insight as to what it must have been like for early explorers.
Jon Goldsmith Head of Arctic
Discover more about the Northwest Passage
When to visit the Northwest Passage
There’s very good reason why the Northwest Passage is only open to visitors from July to September: it's the only time average temperatures are above freezing, and the ice has …
Northwest Passage Ships
Sailing on an expedition ship gives you unparalleled access to the remote coastlines, icy channels and colourful, scattered communities of the Northwest Passage. Whether …
Northwest Passage Wildlife
The Northwest Passage may well be known by it's dramatic history; but it's waterways and islands are also home to all of the 'Arctic Big Five'. You'll have the chance to see polar …
Northwest Passage Landing Sites
Exploring the Arctic on board an expedition vessel is a fully immersive and educational experience of which the daily landings are a key component. From the thrill of encountering …