Located just two hours from Montreal by plane, Quebec’s northernmost region is more accessible than you might imagine. But upon arrival, the all-encompassing tundra and Arctic wildlife will have you convinced you’ve traveled much further. Nunavik, which means “great land” in the area’s Inuit language, covers almost 110 million acres in Quebec’s Arctic north but has little more than 13,000 inhabitants. Roads terminate hundreds of miles south of the region, isolating it from the rest of the province. And when you head north for the first time, that sense of disconnection and unfamiliarity is unmistakable.
While planning a trip north requires more flexibility than more accessible destinations, the payoff is worth it. Polar bears roam along the coastline — and further inland, as well, due to the warming climate — while icebergs float in the Hudson Strait to the north and Hudson Bay to the west. Adventurers head east into the Torngat Mountains, skiing seldomly schussed lines or hiking through the mountainous landscape. Others choose to soak in the unique Inuit culture, savoring a way of life more in touch with the land.
Solitude is easy to find.
When thinking of remote adventurous destinations, Alaska is frequently at the top of the list. But Nunavik, which is about a quarter of the size of Alaska, has only a sixtieth of the population. Of course, a lot of Nunavik’s Arctic tundra is inaccessible, but you don’t have to venture far from any of its villages to be alone.
Often, arranged itineraries afford visitors the opportunity to venture far away from the villages, deep into the Arctic wilderness. But even arriving in Kuujjuaq, the main town offering air service between Montreal and the region, is like stepping into a different world. Nine out of 10 inhabitants in the region are Inuit, and Inuktitut is the locally spoken language. A mere stroll to the outskirts of town brings you solitude and spectacular views of the tundra.
You can learn about an ancient way of life.
The ancestors of the ethnic Inuit who make up most of Nunavik’s population lived solely off the land until the 1950s and ‘60s. Today, although nomadism is no longer the primary way of life, Inuit do their best to keep their culture and traditions alive. Children, who are now raised with snowmobiles as their source of transportation rather than sled dog teams, are still taught to hunt, fish, sew, and live off the land.
Some continue to raise qimmiq, or sled dogs, recreationally, paying homage to the elders who relied on the animals just 70 years ago. Cultural centers throughout Nunavik are also dedicated to educating visitors about these 4,000-year-old traditions. Elders enjoy telling stories about their ancestors and personal past, which give visitors a glimpse into the Inuit ways of living.
The landscape is vast and pristine.
Throughout the US, southern Canada, and much of the developed world, wild areas are often interrupted by roads and hotels, scarring what was once a pristine landscape. Tourists drive loop roads through national parks, stopping at paved viewpoints to snap selfies before heading back to a town that now occupies a space once inhabited by wildlife.
You won’t find such a scene up north. With the exception of a few miles of roadway here and there, roads remain in the confines of each of Nunavik’s 14 villages. Outside, the land exists as it always has: unspoiled by mankind. Arctic char swim in the region’s lakes and rivers, and caribou and musk-ox continue to roam among the tundra.
It’s paradise for adventurers.
Nunavik is home to four of Canada’s national parks, some of which see fewer than a hundred visitors per year. And these parks, which offer diverse landscapes, also provide a wide range of opportunities to recreate outdoors.
In Kuururjuaq National Park, visitors hike along the Koroc River Valley, following in the footsteps of the Inuit who called the valley home for thousands of years, while others hike alpine trails, ski steep lines, or snowshoe in the boreal forests in the Torngat Mountains. Visitors to Tursujuq National Park, Quebec’s largest national park, cross-country ski along the Hudson coast or watch for belugas beyond the bow of their sea kayaks.
Geology is the highlight of Pingualuit National Park, which is home to a perfectly round, clear and blue lake formed by a meteor 1.4 million years ago. At over 1,200 feet deep, it is also one of the deepest lakes in North America. While exploring the park, visitors also often hike to the picturesque Puvirnituq River Canyon, which is accessible from basecamp.
Ulittaniujalik National Park is the newest in Nunavik and, as a result, currently has limited access and opportunity for exploration. But Nunavik Parks does have plans to offer paddling trips down the George River.
If visiting any of Nunavik’s parks during the winter months, the chances of seeing the Northern Lights dance overhead are high. While exploring the parks, keep your eyes peeled for abundant Arctic wildlife, including seals, beluga whales, caribou, musk ox, polar bears, and ptarmigan, to name a few.
Planning a trip is easy.
Arranging travel to Nunavik on your own can be a challenge. Many of the parks are difficult to access without the use of a chartered plane or snowmobile, and flights and food can be expensive. It can also be dangerous to explore these wild areas without knowledge of the land and wildlife.
Luckily, Nunavik Parks offers a number of packages to each park, inclusive of flights to Montreal, guides, food, a few nights in one of the villages, and all logistical hurdles. Packages typically start around $4,000 for nine days, which isn’t bad considering a flight from Montreal to Kuujjuaq alone often costs around half of that. It’s also possible to work with Nunavik Parks to create a self-guided or custom itinerary, giving you the freedom to choose your own adventure.