In the Inuktitut language, Auyuittuq means "the land that never melts" and Sirmilik translates as the "place of glaciers." These remote national parks in the high Arctic of Nunavut's Baffin Island feature jagged, frosted mountain ranges, traditional Inuit villages, glacier-carved fjords, and vast, uninhabited tundra.
"It's like going back to the dawn of creation," says artist and Arctic filmmaker Cory Trépanier. Adds tour director Thomas Lennartz: "People who come here are looking for something different. Once someone comes once, they usually end up returning two or three times."
When to Go: Early season is March to May, when snow machines, dogsleds, and skis can cross the frozen fjords. When the ice breaks up, typically June to July, both parks are inaccessible. By mid-July, the midnight sun is beaming and the ocean is ice-free. Outfitters will bring visitors as late as September. The October/November freeze-up once again makes the park inaccessible. Due to extreme weather, Parks Canada advises against visiting over the dark winter months.
How to Get Around: Unless you have extensive Arctic wilderness experience, the services of a local outfitter, tour company, or expedition cruise are essential. "We camp on the floe edge on the outskirts of the park," says Lennartz, expedition director of Arctic Kingdom. "Imagine an African safari camp put on the ice." Among Arctic Kingdom's offerings is a weeklong, ice-camping narwhal and polar bear safari to Sirmilik in May and June, with opportunities to hike, snowmobile, and snorkel. Black Feather's hiking trips into Auyuittuq explore tundra, lakes, waterfalls, and glaciers. Adventure Canada Cruise North and Polar Cruises get you into the high Arctic with Baffin Island expedition cruises. For local dogsledding, boating, or kayaking outfitters, contact Parks Canada's offices in Sirmilik or Auyuittuq.
Where to Stay: Camping is the widespread option, although Arctic Kingdom's seasonal heated camps can add a touch of comfort. Soften the wilderness edge with an expedition cruise with hot meals and comfortable cabins. Visitors to Sirmilik can stay in Pond Inlet's two hotels, Inns North Sauniq Hotel or Black Point Lodge Hotel. The Angmarlik Interpretive Center located in Pangnirtung can assist with Auyuittuq outfitters and local homestays.
What to Eat or Drink: Tundra campers typically bring homemade or purchased dehydrated meal packs. Only local Inuit are allowed to hunt, but not while guiding. A treat for visitors is the abundance of Arctic char, a particularly tasty fish closely related to salmon and trout.
What to Buy: For local Inuit art, Pond Inlet's Tununiq Sauniq Co-op has a range of soapstone, whalebone, and marble sculptures, along with drawings.
What to Watch: Trépanier's Into the Arctic films are outstanding documentaries about his adventures in these and other Canadian Arctic parks.
Fun Fact: Nunavut's 34,000 people live in a land area bigger than Mexico (population 116 million). Formerly part of the Northwest Territories, Nunavut was only formalized as a distinct Canadian territory in 1999.
Vancouver-based Robin Esrock is author of The Great Canadian Bucket List and was the host of the Nat Geo Adventure TV series Word Travels.