Located on eastern Baffin Island between the communities of Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuaq, Auyuittuq (pronounced ‘ow-you-we-took’) National Park is the most accessible national park in Nunavut and the most popular for both short visits and extended ones.
Visitors discover a landscape that is 85 percent rock and ice, dominated by steep and rugged mountains, with vast glaciers and powerful rivers.
Most hikers and skiers follow Akshayuk Pass, a 97 kilometre (60 mile) traditional Inuit travel corridor that traverses the park. It starts at sea level and rises to 420 metres (1,378 ft.) at Summit Lake, a picturesque area framed by towering granite peaks. Skiers and backpackers can do the entire traverse starting at the Qikiqtarjuaq end, or do a return trip from Pangnirtung to Summit Lake and back.
For those with less time, day or overnight hikes to the Arctic Circle are possible from Pangnirtung. Alternatively, visitors can also experience the thrill of dogsledding or snowmobiling from Overlord, the main entry into the park, on sledding excursions to where they will see some of the park’s most spectacular scenery.
Climbers have been tackling the summits of Thor Peak, Mount Asgard and other seemingly indomitable peaks near Akshayuk Pass for decades now.
Despite the short summer season, expeditions arrive from around the world to challenge these formidable peaks.
The Inuit living in the Cumberland Sound area had relatively little contact with Europeans until the 1820s, when the whaling industry developed. Local Inuit began settling into the community of Pangnirtung (‘place of the bull caribou’) in the 1950s and ’60s.
The community of Broughton Island (now called Qikiqtarjuaq) was established in 1955 as a DEW (Distant Early Warning) line station during the Cold War.
Most Inuit families from the surrounding areas eventually settled into this community, although they continue to live off the land and harvest ‘country food.’ A visit to Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuaq offers great opportunities to experience the rich Inuit culture. They are worthwhile places to spend a few extra days on either end of an excursion through Auyuittuq.
Hiking & Backpacking
Although there are no preset trails in Auyuittuq National Park, there are numerous hiking and backpacking options along unmarked and unmaintained routes for the adventurous explorer.
The main hiking route follows the Weasel River Valley through Akshayuk Pass, an unmistakable corridor bordered by sky-scraping mountains.
Many groups do the six-day return trip from Overlord on the Pangnirtung side of the park to Summit Lake and back. Summit Lake is also a great place to set up a base camp for day hikes.
Akshayuk Pass is a 97 kilometre (60 mile) hike. It traverses the park from the head of the North Pangnirtung Fiord near Qikiqtarjuaq to Overlord on the Pangnirtung side.
Due to the higher frequency of polar bears in the North Pangnirtung Fiord area, it is strongly recommended that hikers start in Qikiqtarjuaq and hike at least three hours inland rather than camping near the transport drop off area.
There are higher concentrations of polar bears in the coastal area, so it is recommended that visitors do not linger there.
For a shorter park sojourn, a licensed outfitter can transport visitors into the park and from there it is possible to complete the 8-12 hour return hike to the Arctic Circle. This can be done in one long day for those who are fit enough, or two shorter days. Visitors should not forget to snap a group photo by the marker!
Most skiers follow Akshayuk Pass along a route similar to the hiking route.
It is popular to ski the entire traverse from the Qikiqtarjuaq end or to set up a base camp at Summit Lake.
From there, the 6,000 square kilometre (2,317 sq. mi.) Penny Ice Cap beckons.
For those visitors who are experienced in glacier travel and crevasse rescue, there are numerous glaciers and mountains to explore.
In addition to Mount Thor and Mount Asgard, there are many other peaks to challenge experienced climbers. Climbers should contact the park office well in advance to discuss their expedition plans and to arrange permits for base camps and caches.
Visitors should drop by Pangnirtung’s Angmarlik Interpretive Centre and the Uqqurmiut Centre of the Arts to view their famous tapestries.
Before & After Visiting the Park: Important Safety Information
All visitors MUST register and attend a mandatory orientation session before entering the park, and de-register after leaving.
All visitors to Auyuittuq National Park MUST register and attend a mandatory orientation session in either Qikiqtarjuaq or Pangnirtung prior to entering the park. It is also necessary to de-register with the park office upon exiting the park. Otherwise a very costly search will be initiated.
Auyuittuq is a backcountry park with little in the way of maintained facilities, apart from emergency shelters and outhouses.
Visitors must be self-sufficient, as help is far away.
Any park activity more demanding than a simple guided day trip should only be attempted by those visitors who are experienced with wilderness travel, who have highly practiced skills for their chosen activity.
Visitors must also be aware of the risks associated with polar bear encounters and know how to avoid them.
For spring skiers and climbers, hypothermia and frostbite can be serious dangers that can end a trip. Drowning, hypothermia and rock falls have injured and killed a few summer visitors. Parks Canada implores visitors to be properly prepared and prudent, in order to avoid becoming someone else who might remember their visit because of an unhappy evacuation.
Contact the park office in Pangnirtung (listed below) in advance to book a mandatory orientation session with park staff. It is also necessary to read and familiarize oneself with our visitor information package before visiting the park.
Seasons & Climate
Sea ice and river conditions vary from year to year, affecting when the park is accessible and when certain activities are possible.
Visitors should contact the park office early in their planning process to decide on the best timing for their trip.
Generally, the skiing season begins around mid-March. It is usually possible to ski in Akshayuk Pass until early May when the Weasel River melts. Access during the ski season is by snow machine, dog team or on skis from Pangnirtung. Skiing into the park from Qikiqtarjuaq is not recommended — due to the high concentration of polar bears along the coast.
Auyuittuq becomes inaccessible when the sea ice becomes unsafe for travel during break-up, usually in May or early June on the Pangnirtung side and a month later near Qikiqtarjuaq. Depending on the year, the park usually becomes accessible again by boat in late June or early July, which marks the start of the hiking season.
Parks Canada advises visitors to call a week or two in advance to gauge whether they can arrive from the Qikiqtarjuaq side.
Due to summer flooding events each year since 2008, there may be closures between mid-July and early August if warm temperatures or rain cause glacial melt runoff that can make river crossings extremely hazardous.
Despite its melting glaciers, Auyuittuq has a polar marine climate, which means winters are long and cold, while summers are short and cool. Even in summertime, snowfall is possible.
Auyuittuq is also very windy, occasionally reaching gusts of 175 kph (109 mph)! Visitors must be prepared for all types of weather during their trip!
Understanding the changing seasons is vital to the Inuit. The five seasons correspond with the ebb and flow of plants and wildlife that helps the people of Nunavut prepare for the year ahead.
Auyuittuq is located 30 kilometres (19 miles) from Pangnirtung and 85 kilometres (53 miles) from Qikiqtarjuaq.
Access to the park from these communities is with a licensed tour operator by snowmobile, dog team, or boat, depending on the season.
There is regular flight service to both of these communities from Iqaluit, which connects to Ottawa, Montreal and Yellowknife (via Rankin Inlet) on First Air and Canadian North airlines.
Hiking poles: Helpful for steep terrain and river crossings.
River shoes/boots: There are numerous river crossings in Akshayuk Pass and the water is frigid. Visitors' feet will need protection from unseen rocks and shifting boulders beneath the surface of the water.
All-season tent: Regardless of the season, camping visitors will require a tent securely anchored to rocks that can stand up to the polar marine climate and fierce winds of Auyuittuq.