Visit The Northwest Passage

N 74°15' W 79°13'

A fabled passage sort by intrepid explorers connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through a labyrinth of icy waters and ancient Inuit wisdom.

Introduction

Dividing the Atlantic Ocean to the East and the Pacific Ocean to the West, the Northwest Passage runs several thousand miles through the remote wilderness of the Canadian Arctic. The area is home to vast expanses of untouched landscapes, splendid scenery, sparsely populated Inuit towns, and a diverse array of Arctic species. 

Polar bears hunt for seals along the sparse shores and on the ice floes. Beluga whales, walruses and elusive narwhals swim through the narrow passages. Lancaster Sound, Devon Island and countless other inlets are home to abundant wildlife seen nowhere else. 

The Northwest Passage has inspired daring explorers for centuries. From Franklin’s ill-fated attempt in 1845 to Roald Amundsen’s first successful traverse in 1905, The Northwest Passage is a place for history buffs and nature lovers alike. 

Northwest Passage Cruises

Prins Christian Sund Greenland Ponant
Explorers Club
Reykjavík, Iceland - Nome Alaska
12/08/2024 to the 05/09/2024
24 Nights

Price from per person

£37,130
Polar bear in the Northwest Passage
Resolute - Resolute
Aug 15 - Aug 26 2024
11 Nights

Price from per person

£8,670
Zodiac cruise in Northwest Passage
Kangerlussuaq, Greenland - Resolute, Canada
Aug 1 - Aug 17 2024
16 Nights

Price from per person

£11,540

Ways to Visit The Northwest Passage

Northwest Passage Cruises

The best way to explore the Northwest Passage is on an expedition cruise. Choose from itineraries traversing the entire length of the Northwest Passage or explore a section.

When to Visit The Northwest Passage

The best time to visit the Northwest Passage is during the brief Arctic summer from July to September. Ice conditions are more navigable, and temperatures are milder compared to the harsh winter months.

During the summer, the Northwest Passage’s sea ice recedes, allowing safe navigation for expedition cruise ships. Expedition cruises tend to depart later in the season, in August and September, when there is less ice. This window of opportunity is ideal for expedition cruises traversing the entire Northwest Passage and for exploration ashore. The warmer temperatures also make it more comfortable for travellers, and wildlife activity, such as bird migrations and marine mammal sightings, is at its peak.

Exploring-the-Northwest-Passage-on-a-glacier-at-devon-island

Where is the Northwest Passage?

where is the northwest passage?

The Northwest Passage is a famous sea route that connects the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean through the Canadian Arctic. The entire Northwest Passage is over 3,000 miles (4,828km) long, although the exact length varies depending on the ship’s course as it weaves through the labyrinth of channels and islands.  

The route comprises various straits, islands, channels, and bodies of water, making it a challenging and historically significant maritime pathway and an impressive place to explore. The Northwest Passage has been of great interest due to its potential as a shortcut for shipping between the Atlantic and Pacific, although ice conditions have historically made navigation difficult. Today, modern ice-strengthened expedition ships can traverse the entire length of the Northwest Passage.

Northwest Passage Wildlife

For wildlife lovers, The Northwest Passage offers an excellent opportunity to encounter the Arctic’s diverse wildlife in its natural habitat undisturbed by humans. Here, you will find all of the Arctic’s key species. On an expedition cruise to explore the Northwest Passage, it is possible to witness Polar Bears, Beluga Whales, Arctic Foxes, Walruses,  Musk Oxen, Arctic Hares and even Narwhals. 

The Northwest Passage also has a vast display of Arctic bird life, including puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes, Arctic terns and seabirds, including Gulls and fulmars, and other seabirds are commonly seen soaring over the icy waters or resting on ice floes.

To learn more about the Northwest Passage’s wildlife and the best cruises and times of year to see certain types of animals, please see our guide below.

Polar bear on ice flow in the Northwest Passage wildlife.

Northwest Passage Weather and Climate

Best time to go to the Northwest Passage

The weather and the climate of the Northwest Passage change drastically throughout the seasons. Exploring the Northwest Passage by ship happens during the summer months between July and September when temperatures are at their warmest, with an average of -2 °C to 10°C (28°F to 50°F). In the beautiful 24-hour sunlight, it can feel warmer, and the wind chill can make it feel colder than it is. 

The climate of the Northwest Passage is Arctic, with frigid temperatures during the winter months. Temperatures at the height of winter can plummet below -20 °C (- 4°F) and reach as low as -40 °C (- 40°F). The waterways freeze, and sea ice develops. Thick snow blankets the landscape.

The weather in the Northwest Passage can change rapidly, and during a Northwest Passage Cruise, it is essential to dress for every occasion. We supply a detailed packing list at the time of booking.

Northwest Passage History

he Northwest Passage holds countless tales of exploration and quests to navigate the icy channels connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Evidence of Viking presence dates back to the 11th century, but in the 15th century, European explorers sought a northwest route to Asia.

In 1845, Franklin’s expedition to explore the Northwest Passage on two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, departed England. Tragically, the expedition was trapped in the ice, and the entire crew was lost. Roald Amundsen successfully transited the Northwest Passage on his ship Gjøa between 1903 and 1906, becoming the first person to do so.

Franklin Expedition 1845 HMS Terror Erebus

Frequently Asked Questions

A single individual did not discover the Northwest Passage but instead explored by various navigators over the centuries. The concept of the Northwest Passage, a navigable route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Arctic, was born out of the European quest for a more direct route to the lucrative markets of Asia.

One of the early explorers associated with searching for the Northwest Passage was John Cabot, an Italian explorer sailing under the English flag. In 1497, Cabot is believed to have explored parts of the North American coast, including regions near the entrance of the Northwest Passage. However, there is no conclusive evidence that he discovered the passage.

Roald Amundsen and his crew were the first confirmed navigators to transit the Northwest Passage. Between 1903 and 1906, Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer, successfully navigated the passage aboard the Gjøa. This marked the first complete journey through the Northwest Passage, establishing Amundsen’s place in history as the first person to achieve this feat.

While Amundsen was the first to complete the transit, it’s important to note that the concept of the Northwest Passage and the exploration of its potential routes spanned several centuries, involving multiple explorers and expeditions. The Northwest Passage holds countless tales of exploration and quests to navigate the icy channels connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Evidence of Viking presence dates back to the 11th century, but in the 15th century, European explorers sought a northwest route to Asia.

In 1845, Franklin’s expedition to explore the Northwest Passage on two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, departed England. Tragically, the expedition was trapped in the ice, and the entire crew was lost. Roald Amundsen successfully transited the Northwest Passage on his ship Gjøa between 1903 and 1906, becoming the first person to do so.

Yes, it is possible to visit the Northwest Passage, and there are different ways to experience this remote and historically significant Arctic region:

Expedition Cruises

At North Pole Cruises, we offer voyages through the Northwest Passage during the summer when the sea ice is at its minimum. These cruises provide a unique opportunity to explore the Arctic landscapes, witness wildlife, and learn about the history and culture of the region. Expedition cruises often use ice-strengthened vessels to navigate the icy waters safely.

Arctic Tours

Some tour operators offer land-based tours that include visits to communities along the Northwest Passage and opportunities for activities such as hiking, wildlife watching, and cultural experiences with indigenous communities.

Private Yacht or Sailboat

For those seeking a more adventurous and personalized experience, navigating the Northwest Passage by private yacht or sailboat is possible. However, this option requires careful planning, experience in polar navigation, and thorough preparation for the challenging conditions.

Fly-and-Cruise Packages: Some tour operators provide fly-and-cruise packages, where participants fly to a designated starting point and then join a cruise expedition exploring the Northwest Passage.

When planning a visit to the Northwest Passage, it’s essential to consider the limited window of opportunity during the summer months when ice conditions are more favourable. Travellers should also be prepared for the Arctic climate, which can be harsh and unpredictable, and should ensure that they follow responsible travel practices to minimize environmental impact. Additionally, check and comply with any regulations and restrictions to protect the delicate Arctic ecosystem.

The temperatures in the Northwest Passage can vary widely depending on the season. Here’s a general overview:

Summer (July to September)

   – Daytime temperatures during the summer months range from approximately -2 °C to 10°C (28°F to 50°F).

   – While this is the warmest period, temperatures can still feel chilly due to factors like wind chill.

Fall (September to November)

   – Temperatures start to drop rapidly as fall progresses.

   – By November, daytime temperatures can range from -10 °C to 20°C (14°F to 4°F).

Winter (December to February)

   – Winter in the Northwest Passage is harsh, with temperatures often plummeting below -20 °C (- 4°F) and reaching as low as -40 °C (- 40°F).

   – The region experiences the Polar Night in December, with 24-hour darkness.

Spring (March to June) 

   – Spring marks a gradual warming trend, with temperatures slowly rising from the depths of winter.

   – Daytime temperatures in spring can range from -20°C to -5°C (-4°F to 23°F).

It’s crucial to note that these temperature ranges are approximate, and conditions can vary based on specific locations within the Northwest Passage and year-to-year variations. Additionally, factors like wind, humidity, and sea ice can influence how temperatures are experienced in this Arctic region. Travellers should be prepared for cold and potentially harsh conditions, regardless of the specific season.

The Northwest Passage runs through the Arctic Archipelago of Canada, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The passage is located within the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, part of Canada’s territory. The archipelago comprises thousands of islands, including significant ones like Baffin Island, Victoria Island, and Ellesmere Island.

While the Northwest Passage is located within Canadian territory, its historical and potential future significance has led to international discussions and considerations regarding navigation rights, sovereignty, and environmental protection. The passage has gained attention due to its potential as a shorter shipping route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as Arctic ice diminishes, but it remains under Canadian jurisdiction.

Do you need help planning your expedition?

Our friendly and knowledgeable Travel Experience Team is ready to assist you.

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