This blog post was written before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when physical distancing and other COVID health and safety protocols were not in effect. The businesses and communities featured in this article may be once again welcoming visitors but please double check as some are only open with limited operations and others have not yet reopened.
The wilderness areas across Canada are rich with Indigenous heritage, teeming with stories that define Canada’s culture today. Yet to experience them fully, you need to head out into the wild. Here are some of the outdoor experiences you can have with Indigenous tourism businesses across Canada, from whitewater rapids and hiking to snowshoeing and mountain biking.
The Canadian Rockies are known to some Indigenous people living in Alberta as the “Shining Mountains” or the “Backbone of the World.” To Joe Urie, a Métis guide and owner of the Jasper Tour Company, these mountains are simply “home.” Urie comes from a long line of proud Métis who have been living and guiding along the Athabasca River since 1860. The first of his people arrived on these shores from the Métis Settlements at Red River, in what is now Manitoba. Urie considers the Athabasca River to be “the blood in my veins,” invites you to experience this region of Canada through his eyes, whether it’s viewing the grandeur of the Rockies, hearing stories of the region’s First Peoples or learning about the wildlife that roams here. When out exploring with Urie, expect to encounter animals such as deer, moose, black bears, wolves, marmots, pikas, eagles, grizzlies and elk. What people see depends on everything, he explains, from the season to the time of day.
Set out to experience the stark beauty of the Arctic tundra with a reindeer signature package offered by Tundra North Tours, owned by Kylik Kisoun Taylor (Inuvialuit Gwich’in) and based in Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Travel in your own snowmobile alongside local reindeer herders who have crossed this terrain generation after generation, venturing into the icy-blue horizon lines while herding thousands of reindeer.
With Takaya Tours in North Vancouver, British Columbia, do an interpretive paddle in replica ocean-going canoes, similar to those used by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation since time immemorial. Onboard, listen to ancient knowledge and learn the wisdom of traditional methods for identifying and harvesting Indigenous flora and fauna, as guides from the Coast Salish Nation sing songs, tell legends and point out ancient village sites.
In Churchill, Manitoba, go dog sledding with Wapusk Adventures. This kennel is owned and operated by local musher Dave Daley, who’s Métis heritage is threaded throughout the stories you hear as you meet the dogs, learn about dog sledding and set out for an adventurous ride. Ask Dave for some tales from the trail as he is also the founder of the Hudson Bay Quest, a self-sustaining dog sled race that takes place each winter and attracts races from around the world.
Dive deep into Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve in British Columbia to celebrate the heritage of the Haida Nation with Haida Style Expeditions. Head out for a jaunt around these islands on a 28-foot Titan zodiac, visiting ancient Haida villages en route, marveling at the beauty of weathered totems and sea lion rookeries, while looking out for whales and black bear. Storytelling and songs are weaved into every tour.
Why travel all the way to Africa to witness a large-scale animal migration when the same spectacle can be seen right here in Northern Quebec? “Epic, thousand-strong caribou herds come our way every summer,” says Sean McDonagh, manager of Inuit Adventures. Inuit Adventures is a collective of 14 businesses based in a little-known corner of the Western Arctic, known as Nunavik. Local Inuit guides collaborate to take intrepid travellers to the very heart of the ancient, thriving arctic landscape. Only accessible by plane, Nunavik is home to a small community that balances modern living with ancestral traditions. Tourism in the region offers a means to share Inuit culture and raise awareness about this unique natural environment.
Kluane National Park, a dazzling land of extremes in the Yukon, is the perfect spot to hike towering mountains, giant ice fields and lush valleys. Do so on guided treks with Shakat Tun Adventures, who also offer summertime hiking and mountain biking on the extensive network of trails that crisscross Montana Mountain (great for skiing and snowshoeing in winter) and grizzly bear spotting in the remote Ni’iinlii Njik Park (from mid-Sept through mid-Nov).
With Narwal Northern Adventure in Northwest Territories, go on guided lakeside walks to ice caves; canoe or kayak on one of Yellowknife’s many scenic paddle routes (from day jaunts to six-day adventures); or admire Aurora from a 29-foot voyageur canoe, with a traditional meal of soup and bannock.
In Nunavut, Arctic Bay Adventures takes visitors to Arctic Bay in the northwest corner of Baffin Island, a traditional hamlet that ranks among the world’s top ten most northerly communities. Head to the floe edge of Admiralty Inlet, at the north end of Baffin Island where the fleeting spring and summer brings 24-hour sun. Travel by traditional qamutiq sleds to the edge of the sea ice in search of narwhal, the unicorn of the sea, as you keep a watch out for nanook, the great white polar bear.
Find more outdoor adventures across Indigenous Canada on the Things to Do section of this website.