skip to Main Content
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in posts
Search in pages
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in posts
Search in pages
Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

Herschel Island – Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park is not a place many people ever visit. With a location in the Bering Sea, five kilometres off the coast of the Yukon, and a 90 minute Twin Otter flight from Inuvik – the closest city of any size, it’s not what you would call an easy place to get to. Also Lady Luck needs to be on your side as both the island and Inuvik can be shrouded in fog for days at a time.

Herschel Island

Our group of eight (who were off to Ivvavik National Park for five days) got very lucky. After waiting for three hours at the airport hangar in Inuvik we finally got the go-ahead. The flight itself is worth the trip alone, at least if you love to fill in the blanks on a map. Inuvik is located on the Mackenzie River, the longest river in Canada so for me it was a thrill to fly up the river and see it finally discharge into the Arctic Ocean. From the air, the river looks like a highway. On the way to Herschel Island we were also treated to the sight of beluga whales and pack ice. The only thing missing was a polar bear and reportedly there was one on Herschel Island.

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

Flying over the Mackenzie River Delta

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

Lucky to have a sunny day – though we waited three hours in Inuvik to wait for clear skies

The plane landing on Herschel Island is a thrill

Landing on Herschel Island in a Twin Otter was also a thrill. The 260 metre (850 feet) runway is lined by large pieces of driftwood so the pilot must do a fly-by to make sure it’s clear. Although the landing was a tad bumpy I swear we came to a complete stop in roughly 300 feet.

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

A look at the buildings on Herschel Island from the air

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

Coming in for landing in a Twin Otter

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

One of the most incredible landings I’ve experienced

We were met at the plane by Ricky Joe, the chief ranger who’s been stationed on and off at Herschel Island – Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park for somewhere between 10 and 11 years. A couple of summer researchers come to meet us too – mostly because it’s a treat to speak with someone new when there are only a handful of full time residents for the summer. (The researchers hail from all over the world.)

Scampering over pieces of driftwood, trying to avoid getting our feet wet, we follow Ricky around to the Northern Whaling & Trading building where our informal tour begins. In the 19th century this island was a whaling station. Between 1893-1894, at the height of the Beaufort Sea whaling period, there were 1,500 seasonal residents, more than any other town in the Yukon. They were there for the bowhead whale which according to one of the pamphlets says “the baleen from the bowhead whale had flexibility and strength and was used to make buggy whips, parasol ribs and corset stays.” The market for whale oil was also excellent.

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

Walk off the plane, over some boards & past the outhouse

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

Taking a tour with a park interpreter on the island

We visited all the other buildings open to the public – including the sauna which is one of the few luxuries for the summer residents. There are display cases full of interesting things like the skulls of animals found on the island, whale bones and old implements. Boards with descriptions and photos of all the wildflowers that call the area home are on the wall, along with loads of historical photos. You can read about the people that have lived on the island – from the Thule people living here about 1,000 years ago to the whalers, the missionaries and the North-West Mounted Police. There’s information on how people dressed along with examples. And interesting explanations about the monitoring of the black guillemot population nesting on Herschel Island are there if you have the time for a read. The reality is three hours goes fast when there’s so much to see and take in.

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

Look for information about the historic buildings inside and out

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

A sauna keeps the researchers and park people happy

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

There’s a tremendous amount of wildlife on the island including muskoxen

You’ll want to spend at least an hour just wandering around taking pictures, looking for birds and wildflowers, admiring the seals off in the distance and of course sitting around and drinking tea, in an old building brimming with history.

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

Loads of wildflowers with 24 hour daylight

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

In the back bays the people staying on the island fish for Arctic Char & Arctic Cisco

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

This deserted house has become a nesting site for black guillemots

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

Black guillemot

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

Guillemots can be entertaining to watch

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

A well camouflaged eider duck (one of our group scared the duck and himself)

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

The old broken wing routine when we inadvertently got too close to a nest

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

Our group signed the piece of driftwood and left it on a wall of one of the buildings like many before us

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

They look like yellow poppies to me but ??

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

A pack of seals can be seen on the ice several hundred yards offshore

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

Pilots must do a fly-by of the runway to make sure there isn’t any driftwood on it

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik

Me hanging out by the outhouse – Photo credit: Jennifer Bain

If you are visiting Inuvik, I would highly recommend allowing a day to visit Herschel Island. It’s like nowhere else you’ve been. Dress warmly though as the winds off the ice are cold. And if you’re visiting the base camp in Ivvavik National Park, there are options on some of the trips to include the stop on Herschel Island. Do it.

From Herschel Island we flew 20 minutes south to Imniarvik Fly-in Base Camp and you can read about it here.

Herschel Island: A Must Do Day Trip From Inuvik, NWT

A huge thank you to Travel Yukon and Parks Canada for making this trip possible. It was an awesome, bug free experience!

Leigh McAdam

 

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. Delighted to see a post about Herschel Island! I took a magical day trip there in July, 1999. No runway in those days, so you had to wait for clear skies and calm seas so the float plane could land. The park staff was surprised but happy to welcome us at 10:00 pm and share their stories (and warn us not to step on the eider duck).

    1. @Jennifer That sounds like an exciting trip as well – and maybe the eider duck we saw is the offspring of the one you almost stepped on. I thought the island was quite magical.

      1. Hi
        My wife and I flew to Herschel Island abut 25 years ago and I see that the flowers are still colouful, and it was said there was a bear then as well. We saw Belugas and Tundra Swan nests.
        I did not remember that many buildings.
        We landed on water and I am still a little in awe that the pilot could change the pitch on the propellers and backed into the dock. No air strip then I think- but planes did land on the beaches with “Tundra “tires.

        1. @Harry Thank you for sharing your wonderful story. I know they have added the sauna and perhaps they moved some of the other buildings to save them. I have great respect for the pilots that can land in such difficult conditions. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Close search

Cart