How To Visit Canada’s Massive, But Forgotten Arctic Island

Canada is home to some of the largest islands in the world – but they are extremely remote, and few ever get to visit. Ellesmere Island is Canada’s third-largest island and the tenth-largest island in the world. It is also part of Canada’s Nunavut Territory. Ellesmere Island is one of the world’s largest, most frozen, least populated, and most remote islands in the world.


The largest island to explore in Canada’s High Arctic is Baffin Island (which offers extraordinarily eye-watering views). It is possible, although difficult, to visit Canada’s Baffin Island. Explore the High Arctic with an expedition cruise – alternatively, have the ultimate cruise with a complete pole-to-pole Grand Expedition Cruise.

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The Remote, Rugged, & Frozen Beauty Of Ellesmere Island

At some 196,236 km2 (75,767 sq mi), it is only a little smaller than the island of Great Britain (although it has a population of only 144). Ellesmere Island is part of Canada’s Arctic Archipelago and has a northernmost point in Canada.

  • Northernmost Point: Camp Columbia 83°06′
  • Size: 196,236 km2 (75,767 sq mi)
  • Highest Point: Barbeau Peak 8,583 feet (2,616 meters)

It is the most mountainous of the Arctic Islands. Covering much of the island is the Arctic Cordillera mountain system. Around a fifth of the island is protected in the Quttinirpaaq National Park. The name “Quttinirpaaq National Park” in the native Inuktitut language means “top of the world.” Quttinirpaaq National Park is also home to ancient mummified forests (only discovered in 2010). Around a third of the park is covered with glaciers.

The island’s population of 144 residents lives in the three settlements of Alert, Eureka, and Grise Fiord.

  • Population: 144 Residents

Ellesmere Island is a polar desert with some 151 species of moss. The massive, rugged island is characterized by vast ice fields. Notable ice-covered highlights include the Manson Icefield, the Sydkap Glacier, the Prince of Wales Icefield, and the large Agassiz Icecap (covering 21,500 square kilometers).

Some vegetation does grow in some places, and this supports herds of caribou and musk oxen. Other wildlife include polar bears and, Arctic foxes, the Arctic Tern.

Along the coast, Ellesmere Island is famous for its seemingly endless fjords (one of the most famous of which is the 30-mile-long Tanquary Fiord).

The main way to explore Ellesmere Island is with an Arctic cruise expedition. Quark Expeditions is one of the polar cruise ship operators that offer a variety of High Arctic tours that visit Ellesmere Island.

Related: Cruise The Great Lakes On A Viking Expedition Vessel

Northwest Passage: High Arctic Voyage

Quark Expedition’s Northwest Passage: Epic High Arctic explores much of the High Arctic – including Grise Fjord. The expedition is almost exclusively north of the Arctic Circle. It explores the fabled sea route that was hoped to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Northwest Passage.

The epic 17-day adventure is aboard the new Arctic expedition ship, Ultramarine, which offers a range of onboard comforts. There are plenty of offer-ship adventures to be enjoyed on this voyage. The ship has 20 quick-launching Zodiacs and two twin-engined helicopters. Keep one’s eyes peeled for whales, muskoxen, polar bears, and walruses.

  • Duration: 17 Days
  • Departs: Toronto, Canada
  • Starting Price: $CAD 24,919 or $USD 18,300
  • Departure Date: August 28 to September 12, 2023

The tour begins in Toronto and then flies to Resolute in the High Canadian Arctic and is transferred to the ship. Spend the next few days exploring the High Canadian Arctic and the coastline of Greenland before flying from Greenland back to Canada.

Related: All Aboard The Seabourn Venture, The Luxury Liner Setting Sail In 2022

Northwest Passage To Ellesmere And Axel Heiberg Islands Expedition

Quark Expedition’s Northwest Passage to Ellesmere and Axel Heiberg Islands Expedition offers another chance to explore the High Arctic and Ellesmere Island.

Explore the top of the world on the expedition vessel Ultramarine. This tour explores the region’s cultural, historical, and geographic treasures penetrating the farthest stretches of this Arctic landscape. As well as Arctic wildlife like polar bears and walruses, see soaring cliffs, spectacular glacial formations, and mummified forests.

  • Duration: 12 Days
  • Departs: Toronto, Canada
  • Starting Price: $CAD 18,200 or $USD 13,300
  • Departure Date: August 19 to 30, 2023

Whereas the High Arctic Quark expedition mentioned above explores part of the High Canadian Arctic and much of Greenland, this tour only explores Canada’s High Arctic.

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