Careening over a dry creek bed, you push hard into your pedals, winding around jagged rocks protruding from the color tundra, careful not to plow over the tenacious patch of purple saxifrage in your path. There’s an incline ahead, where your guide has ground her thick-tired bike to a halt. One by one, your fellow cyclists crest the hill, come to a stop and fall silent.
Propping their bikes up on one leg, they’re a vibrant line up of yellow-jacketed flamingos against the cerulean sky. As you summit and hit the brakes, heart pumping double-time, you suddenly understand the awestruck stillness.
This was so worth it.
The planning, the anticipation, the seemingly interminable wait as you counted down the days to departure. It’s all come to this. And as you try your best to take in this vast primitive space, the myriad colors and pristine land and waters stretching as far as the eye can see from your perch high above the wild tundra, you know it’s only the beginning.
Each day at Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge on Somerset Island brings new adventures, and no two days are ever the same. In this post, you’ll learn all about each adventure activity on Quark’s first land-based expedition in the High Arctic, including:
- What equipment or gear is provided at Arctic Watch
- When to sign up for Arctic Watch adventure options
- Who can participate in the adventure options at Arctic Watch
- Where all of the action takes place
- Which adventure options are available and what training or experience you should have before participating
Ready? Let’s take a deep dive into the incredible adventure options available to you at Arctic Watch. Then, you’ll find answers to questions that travelers like you ask us most frequently as they prepare for their expedition.
There’s nothing like the adrenaline felt while rafting through the gorgeous Arctic waters!
Explore the swift-flowing, pristine waters of the Cunningham River, no experience required! River rafting excursions typically last three hours. You’ll receive hands-on training and don’t worry, there are no rapids on this route. Quality rafts, paddles and lifejackets are provided.
They may look a bit strange, but fat-tire bikes are great for traveling over shallow creeks, ice and snow, and rough arctic terrain.
Photo: Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge
On fat biking excursions, you’ll explore the frozen Northwest Passage (early in the season, while conditions permit) or vibrant Arctic summer tundra on specialized mountain bikes with stable, fat tires. This special design ensures a smooth ride over the primitive, rocky terrain. All biking excursions are accompanied by an all-terrain vehicle, and helmets are provided for your safety.
Paddle amidst spectacular icebergs, on the lookout for whales and seals, on guided group kayaking or standup paddleboarding excursions.
One very cute baby ringed seal! Photo credit: Alexandre Deschenes-Philion
Beluga whales are plentiful in the Cunningham Inlet; in fact, it’s one of the best beluga whale watching sites on the planet. You may want to take a kayaking or standup paddleboarding lesson in warmer waters at home to help increase your enjoyment at Arctic Watch, but no experience is required and beginners are welcome. Kayaks and standup paddleboards, paddles, and lifejackets are provided.
Marked trails and guided excursions around Arctic Watch Wilderness offer ample opportunity to stretch your legs and give your camera a workout.
Photo credit: Dave Merron
The tundra comes alive with mosses, vibrant flowers (some edible!) and wispy grasses in the arctic summer. You’ll have opportunities to hike marked trails, stunning beaches and craggy, untouched canyons on guided excursions throughout your visit. Bring moisture-wicking underclothes and warm mid-layers to layer up under your 3-in-1 Quark Parka; you’ll find a more complete packing list here.
“There above the northern tree line, where the conditions are too harsh for shrubs to grow far from the ground, not a tree or a bush speckled the greyscale that stretched impossibly far into the distance – from the wide, clear river that carved its way towards the sea, to the darker, foreboding undulations on the horizon and above, to the broad, three-dimensional sky. There was so much sky. Not only up, but left and right too – it stretched around us, unencumbered in all directions: a dizzying panorama impossible to capture in one frame.” - Katie Palmer, Remember to Look Down: My Arctic Awakening on Somerset Island
An Arctic Watch guest explores the coastline of the Northwest Passage by ATV. Photo: Arctic Watch Instagram
Arctic Watch’s all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are a great way to cover more ground and explore more of Somerset Island throughout your stay. These rugged four-wheelers are an important means of transportation around the lodge, helping you reach unique animal habitats and even ancient Thule artifacts too far to walk to, but are also an adventure in themselves! The largest ATVs are four-seaters called Gators, while the smaller four-wheelers are perfect for singles or one passenger and a driver. You’ll participate in a mandatory safe operation course, and helmets are provided.
Learn more in All About ATVs at Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge.
Few sport anglers can lay claim to fly fishing at the top of the world! Photo: Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge
Try your hand at catch-and-release fly fishing for arctic char. All equipment and gear is provided. If you’d like, you’re welcome to bring your favorite gear or tackle; just make sure you aren’t over your charter flight weight limit (contact a Polar Travel Adviser with any questions).
The remains of Northumberland House, a popular and historic Beechey Island attraction constructed of material salvaged from the McLellan whaling vessel by the crew of an 1852 expedition.
Walk in the footsteps of Sir John Franklin and his crew at Beechey Island, one of the most significant destinations in Canadian Arctic exploration. Soaring over the Northwest Passage on a de Havilland twin otter provides an excellent vantage point for spotting whales, polar bears, seals and narwhal below and on landing, you’ll first stop to pay your respects to Franklin and his men. Then you’re off to explore the island’s historic sites, incredible ice formations and untamed tundra.
“This playful beluga was a memorable encounter I shared with David Tanguay and Jacinthe Lalibertécoming back to Arctic Watch on a beautiful evening in Cunningham Inlet. He purposely put on a private show ten feet of the shore. It was fascinating to see the intelligence these creatures are capable of displaying.” - Nansen Weber, Nansen Weber Photography
The Arctic Watch experience offers myriad opportunities to hone your creative skills and improve your landscape and wildlife photography under the guidance of award-winning photographer Nansen Weber. And the subject matter? Priceless!
Still hoping to learn more? Check out these most frequently asked questions, and contact your travel agent or a Polar Travel Adviser for more help.
What are the adventures available to me and which ones are included vs. optional extras with a surcharge?
Each of the above adventure options are included in your Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge package with Quark Expeditions, with the exception of the fly-out Beechey Island add-on excursion.
Do I have to register for adventure activities in advance of my trip?
No. Over the course of your expedition, Arctic Watch staff monitor conditions, animal migration routes, customer requests and more to create the optimal arctic adventure. Each morning, they’ll post that day’s choice of activities.
How should I dress for the various adventure options, and what gear is provided for each one?
Arctic Watch is the most northerly fly-in lodge on earth, 3.5 hours north of Yellowknife by charter flight. We provide all of the requisite gear, safety equipment and instruction you’ll need for each adventure option, so you don’t have to haul your own gear back and forth. You’ll find a comprehensive Arctic Watch packing list to help you decide what to bring (and what to leave at home) here.
How intense is each activity? What’s the recommended level of fitness and are there any cautions to be aware of?
The Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge experience is completely family friendly and can be tailored to most guests. You’ll have the option of choosing more rigorous or gentler activities; for example, there may be a long sea kayak and a short walk happening at the same time. Equipment like Arctic Watch’s all-terrain 4-passenger John Deere Gator makes it possible for those who’d like a less strenuous adventure once in a while to head out with a driver-guide and just focus on taking in their spectacular surroundings.
Where is Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge and what’s it all about?
Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, Quark Expeditions’ first land-based adventure, accommodates 26 guests per week on Somerset Island, 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Private accommodations with warm duvets provide the ideal home base for exploring the raw, rugged Arctic wilderness. After each day’s activities, you can kick back, relax and share your experiences with like-minded guests over delicious, chef-prepared meals, or in the lounge or library.
Want to learn more?
- Read Traveler’s Guide to Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge: What You’ll See & Do in the Canadian High Arctic
- Download your free Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge Adventure Guide now
- Register for our upcoming Arctic Watch webinar, hosted by Tessum Weber, Arctic Watch host and one of the world’s foremost Arctic expeditions guides
About the Author
Paul has been helping Quark Expeditions passengers choose the polar expedition to best suit their needs since 2009. An adventure travel expert and avid traveler, he’s visited over 40 countries and explored the Antarctic Peninsula, Canadian High Arctic, Spitsbergen and the North Pole on expedition.More Content by Paul Schuster