Canoeing & Kayaking

Ancient vessels are still the best!


The kayak was developed over 4,000 years ago by Inuit forefathers who constructed it with animal skins stretched over frames of bone or driftwood. The canoe is an even older technology. Made from dugout tree trunks originally, then birch bark and other lightweight watertight materials, one recovered example of a canoe has been carbon dated to 8000 BC. Paddling oneself around has been popular for some time! Canoes and kayaks may be constructed with carbon fibres and polymers nowadays, but they work just the same as always — brilliantly! Nunavut's many rivers and lakes thaw in the late springtime and most of its 45,000 kilometres (28,000 miles) of arctic coastline, with spectacular bays, fiords and inlets, become navigable and vessel-friendly when the sea ice breaks up by July.


canoe-kayakRanging from easy to strenuous, from beginner to expert level, Nunavut has some of the most beautiful waters for canoeing in the entire world — including the Coppermine River in Kitikmeot, the Dubawnt River, the Kazan and Thelon Heritage Rivers in Kivalliq, the Back River, which courses through both of those regions, plus the Soper Heritage River that flows along with the countless waterfalls of Katannilik Territorial Park in the Qikiqtaaluk region.

Guided by local experts, with added safety in groups, unforgettable paddling adventures of up to 200 kilometres (120 miles) without a single portage can lead you through pristine arctic lands which are home to some magnificent herds of muskoxen and caribou. The Back, Dubawnt and Thelon flow through parts of the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary. Canoeing is an ideal way to experience its majestic landscape and wildlife.

Canoeing outfitters for Nunavut's many tundra and coastal waterways, with thrilling rapids and beautiful waterfalls, are found in the communities of Baker Lake, Cambridge Bay, Igloolik, Iqaluit, Kimmirut, Kugluktuk, Rankin Inlet, Repulse Bay and Resolute.

Nunavut waters are cold and there may be patches of whitewater, so spray decks for canoes are recommended. Before heading out, be sure to leave your travel itinerary with a responsible body, such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the park wardens, or the local search and rescue group in the nearest community.


Nunavut is a world-class destination for expert sea kayaking. The venues are endless. With an experienced guide, from communities such as Igloolik, Kimmirut, Kugaaruk, Pond Inlet, Resolute and Sanikiluaq, you can explore rocky shorelines and fiords, view walrus and other marine mammals, touch an iceberg and take fantastic photographs while traversing arctic waters as the Inuit have done for thousands of years. Outfitters will safely guide you to the floe edge in the late spring and early summer.

During the spring runoff, whitewater kayaking takes place on rapid Nunavut waterways such as the Sylvia Grinnell River located near Iqaluit and the Soper Heritage River located near Kimmirut.

Always exercise caution in your kayak and be properly dressed with protective neoprene clothing. The summer sea is still dangerously cold water, the tides are large, the currents are strong, the weather can be unpredictable, ice floes can drift quickly in the wind and bowhead whales and narwhals sometimes appear unexpectedly.

The Inuktitut word for whitecaps is ‘qagaaqtuq’ and ‘uqsuaqtuq’ means smooth, calm seas.

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