Kugluk (Bloody Falls) Territorial Park is located 13 kilometres (six miles) southwest of Kugluktuk. The park features 25 acres of lush terrain alongside a narrow gorge on the Coppermine River where the water swiftly descends in a thundering cascade of churning rapids and twisting eddies. This special place, known as Kugluk in the local Inuinnaqtun dialect, has a rich and continuous history that is shared by the Dene and Inuit cultures and their ancestors dating back more than 7,000 years. The ancient travel corridor of the Coppermine River valley with its plentiful natural resources brought various cultures to Kugluk (Bloody Falls) for millennia. Fish heading upstream are forced into shallow channels at the falls, enabling people to easily catch them with traditional hooks and spears from the shore. The traditional campsite area located below the falls is called ‘Onoagahiovik,’ meaning ‘the place where you stay all night’ because the fishing is that good!
The search for copper deposits, inland trade routes and the quest to find the Northwest Passage also brought early European explorers, including Samuel Hearne, John Franklin and numerous others, to Kugluk over 200 years ago. Their detailed journals speak of a pristine landscape filled with dramatic geological features, abundant wildlife and stunning vistas that remain unchanged centuries later. It was Samuel Hearne’s written account of a grim event he witnessed in 1771 — the brutal attack on a group of unsuspecting Inuit by his own Chipewyan guides — that originated the location’s English name and etched the story of ‘Bloody Falls’ into European history books. Today, Kugluk (Bloody Falls) Territorial Park remains an important source of subsistence hunting and fishing, as well as recreation, for the community of Kugluktuk.
The park landscape is characterized by rolling tundra occasionally interrupted by escarpments and rocky outcrops. Along the Coppermine River, steep cliffs and sandy hills descend in plateaus to the valley below. From the park’s highest hill you can see the community of Kugluktuk and the Arctic Ocean in the distance. The focal point of the park is the gorge itself, where rocky cliffs narrow the river into a rushing, tumbling torrent. Above and below the falls, rugged tundra terrain rises from the riverbank to a chain of hills and plateaus.
When the winter ice breaks up in the spring, the land around the falls becomes flooded. In summer, this area is covered by lush tundra vegetation including an impressive diversity of wildflowers. They begin to bloom in late June, dappling the tundra with bright colours for three to four weeks. By late August, the green hues of summertime tundra turn to golden yellow.
One of the more interesting plants found at Bloody Falls is the black-tipped groundsel, a small yellow daisy-like flower first described in 1821 by the British naturalist John Richardson during the overland Franklin expedition along the Coppermine River. The plant’s black tips inspired Richardson to name it ‘senecio lugens’ — derived from the Latin word ‘lugeo’ (‘to mourn’) — to commemorate the lives lost in the 1771 massacre that occurred at the site.
Golden eagles, often seen soaring above the river throughout the summer, nest on the steep cliffs near the falls and at other locations along the waterway. Local raptor species also include rough-legged hawks, peregrine falcons and gyrfalcons. Other avian cliff dwellers include countless swallows that nest under rock ledges at the falls.
Visitors should watch for animal tracks in the muddy shores above and below the falls. Herds of barren-ground caribou migrate nearby in spring and autumn and have been known to occasionally appear within the park or along the trail from Kugluktuk in the summer.
The surrounding tundra is also home to barren-ground grizzly bears. Although the chances of encountering a bear are rare, they do frequent this area and caution must be taken. When camping inside the park, visitors must store their food well away from their tents, always keep fire pits clean and free of food residue, plus pack out all garbage. For more information on bears, contact the Department of Environment in Kugluktuk, or the Hamlet Office.
Department of Environment Kugluktuk Office
Ph: (867) 982-7450
Offices of the Hamlet of Kugluktuk
Ph: (867) 982-6500
Due its close proximity to the tree line, the ancestors of both Inuit and Dene First Nations people have fished and hunted near Bloody Falls for thousands of years. The archaeological record within Kugluk (Bloody Falls) Territorial Park shows evidence of several cultural groups drawn to the location for its life-sustaining resources. Taltheilei (ancestors of the Dene people), Pre-Dorset, Dorset, Thule and Copper Inuit cultures are all represented by archaeological sites found in the park. Various groups of people wintered here in camps for several months, some stayed for a few weeks of hunting and fishing, while others appear to have stopped briefly to have a meal and repair their equipment.
As in the past, Kugluk (Bloody Falls) continues to be an important source of life for Inuit today. The community of Kugluktuk has a strong interest in preserving this beautiful park landscape, which has remained relatively unchanged and pristine despite its continued use and occupation for thousands of years.
Getting to the community of Kugluktuk
First Air and Canadian North operate scheduled flights to Kugluktuk from Yellowknife.
Getting to Kugluk (Bloody Falls) Territorial Park
Licensed outfitters from Kugluktuk can take visitors on a half-hour trip to the park by motorboat. However, the Coppermine River is sometimes shallow, especially in August and September, so visitors may have to hike the last two kilometres (1.2 miles) to Bloody Falls. During the snow-free season the park can also be accessed overland via all-terrain vehicle from the community of Kugluktuk.
In winter, it is highly recommended that visitors travel to the park with an outfitter who is familiar with the area. Blowing snow can easily obliterate landmarks and although the falls and the river will be frozen over, water continues to flow below the ice creating treacherous ice conditions.
For more information, check the Nunavut Parks website.