Tuktoyaktuk aka Tuk is a small Inuvialuit hamlet located on the Arctic Ocean in remote Canada’s Northwest Territories, in Inuvik Region. It has been accessible to the world since 2017 when the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway was opened. So if you plan to cross Arctic Circle and drive Dempster Highway, visit this settlement nearly at the end of the world and check the best things to do in Tuktuyaktuk.This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.
Thins to do in Tuktoyaktuk – Introduction
Tuktoyaktuk – sounds strange? The place itself it’s even stranger than the name as it’s the completely remote place at the end of the Dempster Highway, at the Arctic Ocean. Visiting this extraordinary settlement almost at the end of the world is a great adventure, for which you should prepare. To do this, read two of our previous articles:
This post will only focus on exploring Tuktoyaktuk and the best things to do in Tuktoyaktuk. We visited Tuktoyaktuk at the beginning of September.
How to get to Tuktoyaktuk?
Tuktoyaktuk, formerly (until 1950) Port Brabant is located on the Beaufort Sea. It is the first place in Canada to revert to the traditional Indigenous name. It is situated 20 miles (32 km) east of the Mackenzie River delta and 100 miles (160 km) northeast of Inuvik town.
You can reach Tuktoyaktuk with a short 30-minute flight from Inuvik, but it is best to take the highway. Tuktoyaktuk is Canada’s only Arctic Ocean community that is connected by public road to the rest of the country. It is the farthest north you can travel in Canada. From Inuvik, you can also join organized guided tours to Tuk, as it is an ideal destination for a day trip.
The year-round highway “Road to Tuk” winds through the tundra, past ice hills, beautiful lakes, and unparalleled scenery. The Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway (ITH), officially Northwest Territories Highway 10, is an all-weather road between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories, Canada. It is the first all-weather road on Canada’s Arctic coast. The idea for the highway had been considered for decades, but construction did not begin until 2014. The road was officially opened on November 15, 2017. Before this date, Tuktoyaktuk was only accessed via ice roads in the winter or via a small plane.
The road begins at the end of the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, and continues for 138 km (86 mi) north towards Tuktoyaktuk, a coastal community on the Arctic Ocean. It takes you about 2,5 hours one way by car to get from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk.
The History of Tuktoyaktuk
The name of Tuktoyaktuk
According to Wikipedia, Tuktoyaktuk means “resembling a caribou” in the Inuvialuit language. Legend has it that a woman watched as some herd of caribou waded into the water and turned to stone or petrified. Today, reefs resembling these petrified caribou are said to be visible along the town’s shoreline at low tide.
The history and culture of Tuktoyaktuk
The Inuvialuit have used the settlement for centuries as a place to catch caribou and beluga whales.
Tuktoyaktuk has a chequered history of indigenous, military, and cultural. In the late 1800s, the whale-hunting Kittegaryumiut Inuit lived here but were wiped out by epidemics in the early 1900s. The Inuit who settled at this site after the Hudson’s Bay Company settled in the mid-1930s came from the immediate area and from other parts of the Great White North.
Tuktoyaktuk was of critical military importance because of its location. In the 1950s, radar domes were installed at Tuk as part of the Distant Early Warning Line to monitor air traffic and detect possible Soviet attacks during the Cold War. Because of the settlement location (and port), Tuk was important for supplying civilian contractors and Air Force personnel along the DEW line. In 1947, one of the first government day schools was established in Tuktoyaktuk to assimilate Inuit youth into “mainstream” Canadian culture forcibly.
It is also worth mentioning a pop culture event in the remote Tuktoyaktuk on September 3, 1995. The world-famous band Metallica performed at Molson Ice Polar Beach Party, Tuktoyaktuk. They played a concert for Molson Brewing Company to promote their new ice-brewed beer.
The community of Tuktoyaktuk eventually became a base for oil and natural gas exploration in the Beaufort Sea. The Tuktoyaktuk community of just 900 people opened up to the world in 2017. When visiting this place, it is worth getting to know their history and culture and, above all, approaching residents respectfully.
What’s important is its economic base is trapping, whaling, sealing, reindeer herding, and handicrafts (especially bone and antler carving). It is also a center for offshore oil exploration. What’s more, during the summer months, it is a busy transshipment point where cargoes are transferred from riverboats (that navigate the Mackenzie) to seagoing vessels.
Things To Do in Tuktoyaktuk
Tuktoyaktuk is a small settlement. It has been developing gradually and has only been open to tourists for a few years. Below is a list of things to do in Tuktoyaktuk when you reach almost the end of the world, and certainly at the end of Canada.
Visit the Tuktoyaktuk Welcome Sign
It is worth starting your trip around this isolated town in the suburbs. Start by taking a picture of the “Welcome to Tuktoyaktuk” sign.
Visit the Arctic Ocean Welcome Sign
Another sign that is worth stopping at is the “Arctic Ocean.” You have traveled such a long way that taking a photo at this point is a must. You can reach one more place in North America by car to see the Arctic Ocean. Deadhorse in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to which the famous Dalton Highway leads. But the road ends 8 miles (13 km) before the Ocean, and you can only get there with an organized tour.
Dip into the frigid Arctic Ocean
This task is for the brave and those who like the cold sea. If you want freezing water, plunge into the Arctic Ocean. It was enough for us to dip our fingers in this water. You can try to dip your toes in the Arctic Ocean as well. For us, it was too much.
Meet the Locals and Eat Dry Fish
One of the best things to do in Tuktoyaktuk is meet the locals. Above all, maintain due respect, and do not violate Tuk residents’ private property and private space. We had a chance to talk to the family dealing with fish drying. Of course, we bought and tasted their local produce.
Unfortunately, the town’s souvenir shop and RV camping were closed due to the coming winter, during our visit. But maybe you will be during the summer and support the local community by purchasing handicrafts or some souvenirs? What’s more, you can also buy and taste local food muktuk (Beluga whale skin and fat), smoked beluga, and muskox. It’s also worth trying the Eskimo donuts.
Stroll around the Tuktoyaktuk
Walk around Tuktoyaktuk. There is not much to see there. A small church, a beautiful cemetery on a hill overlooking the Arctic Ocean, several dozen houses, and industrial buildings. After a long ride, a walk will do you good, you will stretch your bones, and maybe you will be able to talk to other locals.
See Our Lady of Lourdes Ship
The Our Lady of Lourdes Ship is a restored schooner located on Main Street near the Catholic Mission. This schooner delivered supplies to far-flung Catholic missions in the Arctic in the 1930s and 40s, braving storms and swaying ice floes.
See the monument where the Trans Canada Trail ends
The Northern arm of the Trans Canada Trail (now known as the Great Trail) winds along the Mackenzie River, crosses the delta and ends at the community of Tuktoyaktuk. Hikers interested in this northerly section of the trail can follow the new Inuvik-Tuk highway, roughly 138 km (86 miles). What’s important a monument marks the northern end of the trail.
Visit the Pingo Canadian Landmark
The Pingo Canadian Landmark is one of the most fantastic natural attractions in the area. And for sure the best thing to do in Tuktoyaktuk is to visit this place. The Pingo Canadian Landmark protects a unique Arctic landform: ice-covered hills called pingos.
They rise from the flat tundra. Pingos are a very unique geological formation. A pingo is a dome-shaped mound consisting of a layer of earth over a large ice core that occurs in permafrost regions. This natural phenomenon is a sight to see and one of the main attractions of the Tuktoyaktuk region.
The Pingo Canadian Landmark features 8 of the 1350 pingos found in the region, including Ibyuk Pingo. Ibyuk is the tallest pingo in Canada and the second tallest in the world. It reaches a height of 49 meters (161 feet) and extends 300 meters (984 feet) above its base.
Finally, Pingos have served as a navigational aid for the Inuvialuit on land and water for centuries. They are a convenient land height for spotting caribou in the tundra or whales off the coast.
Take a Tour in Tuktoyaktuk
You can experience the Pingos like a local by taking a tour of Tuktoyaktuk and the landmark. Above all, you have lots of attractions and opportunities. You can rent a kayak or canoe. Take Community and cultural tours, Hunting and camping trips, Northern Light tours, or Fishing tours. It’s also possible to book a floatplane tour over the Pingos and the MacKenzie River.
What’s more, there is a lot of wildlife in the Tuktoyakyuk area, so you have a chance for wildlife watching. The Western Arctic Regional Visitor Centre in Inuvik and Dawson City has current Information on available tours.
Tuktoyaktuk in winter
What’s more, Tuktoyaktuk is accessible in winter. However, prepare yourself for freezing weather and deep snow. During winter, you can ride a snowmobile around town, and you have an excellent opportunity to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) in Tuktoyaktuk. Finally, the caribou migration is one of the best wildlife-watching opportunities in Tuktoyaktuk.