N.W.T. residents experience 'another world' in Yukon's Ivvavik National Park
Pandemic restrictions open up a ritzy world of staycations for northerners
Seven-year-old Lindyn Fraser is the youngest visitor to Ivvavik National Park in Yukon this summer.
"I'm having a lot of fun here," she said. "I'm gonna probably remember all of it."
Her dad, Mark Fraser, wanted to take her on a vacation. But because she's too young for any coronavirus vaccines, she'd have to self-isolate for 10 days upon her return to the Northwest Territories.
There was, however, a breathtaking option not far from home — with no return self-isolation required.
Ivvavik, a remote national park at the northern tip of Yukon, saw no visitors in 2020. But this summer, it's welcoming people from N.W.T. looking for close-to-home vacation options.
Because the park has no direct access by road or air to Yukoners, people from N.W.T. are able to visit and return home without isolating.
The influx of northerners this summer is unique for the park, which normally welcomes visitors from around the world.
"Unfortunately, we probably wouldn't have come here [if not for the pandemic] ... but that's the fortunate part now," Mark Fraser said.
'To stand on some of these mountains... and see forever'
Fraser says they aren't the most outdoorsy. The park was not on their radar prior to the pandemic.
But he's been enjoying his stay.
"To stand on some of these mountains and just to see forever … I think we saw Alaska a couple days ago from one of the mountain tops."
He added, "to see my daughter's eyes light up when she's seeing sheep or a wolf, or some of the views has been pretty amazing."
Ivvavik is one of the most remote parks in North America. In the past decade, the park normally sees about 146 annual visitors.
Last year, Ivvavik was shut down completely due to COVID-19.
Travel restrictions due to the pandemic, including until recently a mandatory two-week isolation for anyone entering the territory, have reduced the number of visitors to the N.W.T. and Yukon to almost nil.
"Very few people get to experience this special place and when they do, it's quite an exciting adventure," said Jena Mailloux, the acting visitor experience product development officer for Parks Canada's Western Arctic Field Unit.
A trip to Ivvavik National Park typically starts with an hour-long Twin Otter plane ride from Inuvik, N.W.T. That leg of the flight is included in the cost of Parks Canada's package trips, which start at $5,150 per adult for a five-day catered excursion.
Visitors must first make their way to Inuvik, either flying in or driving up the Dempster Highway from Whitehorse.
Stepping off the plane, visitors and Parks Canada employees can see the scenic mountains and hear the rush of the Firth River.
"Look, there are sheep over there," said a Park's Canada employee earlier this summer to the first group of visitors entering the park in about two years.
"Last year we missed it. Nobody came," said Aklavik Inuvialuk Elder Barbara Archie, who comes on the Ivvavik base camp trips as a cultural host.
Archie enjoys sharing her stories and culture with visitors from all different backgrounds.
"It means a lot to me to come up here and meet the people," she said
"It's like a healing camp."
Created as part of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement signed in 1984, Ivvavik is the first national park to be formed as part of a land claim.
In addition to catered trips to the base camp, organized by Parks Canada, commercial and independent rafters and some youth camps normally visit the park each year.
Park staff also hope to welcome back visitors who cancelled trips due to the pandemic.
But for now, they'll focus on locals who've made a journey they otherwise might not have, like Yellowknife couple Amanda Blair and Bob Hermanutz, who recruited two other friends to join their adventure.
They booked the trip about a month prior and said before this summer, they hadn't heard about the park.
"Oddly it's been a great advantage of COVID … It's our own territory but it seems like another world actually even from Yellowknife," said Hermanutz.
"It's amazingly expansive. We won't be able to remember it, even from the pictures. It's just stunning."