What will I do?

While no two days are alike, typically each day onboard involves two key parts; an off-ship excursion lasting approx. 2-3 hours and ship-based activities while the vessel is under sail. 

  • By zodiac, on foot or from the bows of the ship, spotting Arctic wildlife is a core focus at all times of day
  • Go ashore to explore places of historic interest - including former trading outposts, deserted Royal Canadian Mounted Police stations, or Franklin expedition sites
  • Explore the tundra on foot with field classes in local geology and flora led by Arctic experts 
  • Community visits are fascinating - life is tough in the far north, but a warm welcome is always guaranteed. This is your opportunity to talk directly to the people who live here, enthusiastic to share their stories
  • Between fascinating lectures, scanning for wildlife and socialising with guests from around the world, each moment on ship is inspiring

Historic places of the Northwest Passage

Franklin sites

The history of Franklin’s fateful expedition is a massive draw for many travellers to the Northwest Passage. 

Standing sentinel on a windswept beach of Beechey Island are the three graves of John Torrington, John Harnell and William Braine, the earliest casualties in what became the infamous, tragic opera. 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.

Northwest Passage Landing Sites

Graves of Franklin's men on Beechey Island

In 1859 the first evidence of what had happened to the Franklin expedition was found in a cairn at Victory Point on King William Island. This broke the news that Sir John himself had died and that the ships were abandoned.

In 2016 HMS Erebus was found in Queen Maud Gulf and HMS Terror in 2018 close to King William Island, with the Academic Vavilov involved in the search. For anyone with an interest in the Franklin story these are prime sites. Some voyages will land at Victory Point but very few are granted permission to visit the wreck sites.

Northwest Passage Landing Sites

Historical sites

Besides from the Franklin story, the Northwest Passage is a treasure trove of history dating back millennia and includes the Dorset and Thule cultures that transited through this region following the fauna at the ice edge.

The remains of Sod Houses at sites such as Crocker Bay and the whale bone dwellings of Cornwallis Island tell a story of life lived at extremes, and of an oral culture that is being lost to history as once transient communities move into stationary settlements and face new challenges brought with the change.


There is also modern Canadian history in the region; you’ll see evidence of trade with the Hudson Bay Company who established a trading post at Fort Ross, close to the eastern entrance to the Bellot Strait. Today the buildings stand abandoned, untouched from the moment the last inhabitant left, with the coffee pot on the stove as if ready to be poured.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) patrolled the region for years and at Dundas Harbour you will see the deserted dwellings they left behind along with a small cemetery, the resetting place of two of the last men to be posted to these remotest of locations.

Northwest Passage Landing Sites

Trading post, Northwest Passage

Swoop Says background image

Swoop says

Exploring the vast range of sites in the Northwest Passage not only puts into perspective the achievements of adventurers and explorers who have gone before, but really helps to paint a picture of what it might be like to live at the edge of the world.

Community visits

Scattered through this wild and remote region there are a handful of communities that you may visit along the way. Some, like Pond Inlet, are fairly used to visitors through the summer months and others, such as Kugaaruk, very rarely see a ship at all.

These visits are greatly welcomed by the communities who will often put together a show of traditional dance and music, perhaps with traditional Arctic games as well. Local artists will also take an opportunity to show and sell their work, it’s one of the few times when you can pick up a memento of your journey.

Northwest Passage Landing Sites

Be mesmerised by blue ice

Many of these settlements carry more significance for some travelers. At Gjoa Haven in Prince William Island, a 1,200 strong community, you can visit the monument of Roald Amunsden. This is where the great man over-wintered for two years from 1903 whilst completing the first successful transit of the passage.

It’s really worth stressing how much the visits mean to these remote populations, not just economically but also for contact with the outside world. Take time to talk to the inhabitants and you will soon discover how friendly they are, don’t be surprised if you find yourself having tea in someone's home! These towns may be small but they are home to fascinating people who have very different stories to tell.


A resident of Gjoa Haven


Wildlife flows through the region with the ice, following its edge as it advances and retreats with the seasons. Lancaster Sound is often described as a wildlife ‘superhighway’; home to 75% of the world’s narwhal population and 20% of Canada’s beluga population, as well as walrus and bowheads. Additionally, 35% of Canadian seabirds breed here.

Of course, all these creatures are bait for the polar bear so keep your eyes peeled. Progress has been made to protect the wildlife in recent years, and the 109,000 kmsq Tallurutiup Imanga Marin Conservation area has recently been established.

Northwest Passage Landing Sites

Birders should look out for excursions to sites like Prince Leopold Island, home to hundreds of thousands of thick-billed murres. With steep cliffs often shrouded in mist and surrounded by ice this can be a hugely atmospheric site experienced by zodiac.

Polar bears are always nearby but they frequent some sites more than others. The Bellot Strait is popular: this narrow channel divides Somerset Island from the northernmost point of continental North America, and is known for strong tides which can prove challenging even today. 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.

Bird cliffs of Leopold Island, Northwest Passage, Arctic

The bird cliffs of Leopold Island

Best trips to the Northwest Passage

Northwest Passage, Ellesmere & West Greenland

Traversing west to east this voyage takes you to iconic sites such as Cambridge Bay, Lancaster and Smith Sounds and Ellesmere Island, before exploring the fjords and towns of West Greenland. Bears, narwhal, musk ox, beluga and northern lights are…

  • 17 Days
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Arctic Wildlife Safari: Northwest Passage

An all consuming introduction to the Arctic, with a strong focus on wildlife, this trip is hard to beat. Search for bears, narwhal, beluga, walrus and musk ox, marvel at Greenland's ‘big ice’ and learn about the early explorers as…

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​Ultima Thule: Northwest Passage & West Greenland

Spending time exploring Canada’s historic Northwest Passage and West Greenland, we like this voyage’s balance and variety as much as exploring little visited spots such as Thule, one of the northernmost towns in the world, and Smith Sound. Big ice,…

  • 20 Days
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Northwest Passage: In Franklin's Footsteps

The big ice and small towns of West Greenland provide a stunning start to this trip before you sail across the Davis Straight to Baffin Island and enter the Northwest Passage. Blend history, scenery and wildlife; pay your respects at…

  • 17 Days
  • $11,995

Northwest Passage Landing Sites: FAQs

  • How often are there off-ship excursions?

    You can typically expect one 5-6 hour off-ship excursion a day, which may take the form of either some land-based exploration, a zodiac cruise or a community visit.

  • Are trekking opportunities available?

    Yes, definitely. Some landing sites offer better opportunities than others. During all land-based excursions you’ll be accompanied by members of the expedition team, who will also act as ‘bear guards’ keeping a sharp eye out for polar bears, as this is bear country.

  • Will there be guides on board?

    Absolutely. At the heart of every expedition cruise is the team of Arctic specialists, each with their own chosen field of expertise.

    As well as collectively delivering a programme of set lectures and workshops during the voyage, they will also accompany you on all landings to help narrate and answer your questions.

  • Are landing sites guaranteed?

    Although every effort will be made to follow the original itinerary, the short answer is "no they're not". While every trip will depart with a planned itinerary there are many factors that can impact the decision or ability to land at specific sites.

    In the Northwest Passage ice is often the biggest factor and can, at times, cause an entire trip to be re-routed. Polar bears are another threat to landings, sighting one of these predators in the vicinity of a landing site will mean that no one is going ashore.

    The decision to land or not is in the hands of the captain and the expedition leader, the former being in responsible for the ship and the latter for your safety. Wherever possible,  if a landing site is missed, it will be replaced by an equivalent.

Swoop Says background image

Alex says

Whatever images spring to mind when you think of the Northwest Passage, little can prepare you for the majesty of the icescapes, the stories of explorers or the wildlife.

Alex Mudd Head of Swoop Antarctica

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