Ellesmere Island: A Tourist guide

Ellesmere Island
The tenth largest island on earth, Ellesmere Island is the northernmost populated place in Canada. It's varied landscape and magical wildlife make it one of the most impressive places to visit in the Arctic.

Located in Nunavut, Ellesmere Island is separated from Devon Island to the south by Jones Sound, and Greenland to the west by Kane Basinand Kennedy Channel. Ice shelves, fjords and mountain ranges covered in ice dominate the landscape.Much of the island is part of the Arctic Cordillera mountain system, the highest point of which is Barbeau Peak (2,616 m) which juts out of the ice like a jagged knife.

Towards the southern end of the island is Hazen Plateau which is known for lake Hazen - the largest in the Polar regions. There is a small native village at the southern tip of the island called Grise Fjord. There is one church, one school, and one shop.

Because of its remote location, there is very little human history on the island. Researchers have discovered a few artefacts from the Dorset people around 2000 years ago and the remains of a norse shipwreck. The island was not discovered by Westerners until 1818 when John Ross discovered parts of the coastline.

Below we provide more information on this Ellesmere island and how to visit.  

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How To Get To Ellesmere Island

how to get to Ellesmere Island

Getting to Ellesmere is both long and costly. The island is one of the most remote places on earth and there are only a handful of ways to reach it. 

The first option is to fly. Although this option sounds easy enough, it's not somewhere that offers direct flights from New York or Miami! You have to book a special charter flight from Resolute Bay which is not an easy place to reach by itself. To reach Resolute Bay you'll need to take a flight from Ottawa, via Iqaluit. Once there you'll take a 9-seat charter plane to Tanquary Fiord located on the southern end of Ellesmere Island. 

Parks Canada offer this round trip for $7,499. This includes a dinner on your last night and a Safety orientation briefing when you arrive. If you would like to trek alone on Ellesmere and have enough money, this is your best option.

The second way to reach Ellesmere Island is by cruise ship. A handful of expedition cruise itineraries stop at Ellesmere during the summer months. Although you won't have high amounts of time on shore, your guides will show you the best spots for landscape photography and wildlife watching. Itineraries such as the Northwest Passage, Canadian High Arctic, and Greenland and Canada cruise sometimes stop on Ellesmere.  

Best Time To Visit Ellesmere Island

best time to visit Ellesmere Island

Ellesmere Island can only be reached during the summer period from May through to August. The ski season begins in May, whilst the main hiking season begins in July. 

As mentioned above, expedition cruises also only visit in summer. During winter the ice chokes the region, making it impossible for tourist to visit. Charter flights do not operate during this period. 

Be aware that there may be park closures between mid-July and early August if there is a lot of rain. This floods the island's rivers, making them extremely dangerous to cross. Always check with Parks Canada prior to booking. 

Remember, it will still be cold in summer. Make sure to bring appropriate clothing. Click here for a full Arctic packing list. 

Ellesmere Island Wildlife

ellesmere island wildlife

Ellesmere Island has the same precipitation levels to that of the Sahara desert, making it a truly Arctic landscape. Because of this, the eco-system is very fragile with barely enough flora and food to support the island's wildlife. 

The most famous residents of the island are the large musk ox that graze the tundra in small herds across the Hazen Plateau. Weighing up to 700 pounds, these stoic creatures can endure extreme cold temperatures and are surprisingly good climbers. 

You'll also find the super-rare Peary caribou and beautiful white Arctic wolves. Both species are monitored closely by  Canadian Wildlife Services. With so little food sources, the wolves are in a constant battle to survive. None the less, they are surprisingly tolerant of humans, often happy to stroll right by you. 

The rare and beautiful gyr-falcon can often be seen soaring above in the skies looking for Arctic hares in the tundra far below. There is also the chance to see the mighty polar bear. Although there are better spots to see these majestic bears, Ellesmere Island certainly gets frequent sightings. 

For marine lovers, the waters around Ellesmere are teeing with life. Walrus, grey whales, beluga and narwhal whales are all frequently spotted during summer from cruise ships. 

Get a Cruise Quote!

Expedition Cruise do not sell tours, we simply provide impartial advice. If you would like an exact quote with our recommended specialist click Get a Quote.


If you have any queries or questions regarding Ellesmere Island, please feel free to contact us or leave a comment below.

Thank you and happy travels!

Expedition Cruise Team

About the Author Burnham Arlidge

Burnham started his career as a professional tennis player before retiring due to injury. Since then Burnham has thrown himself into adventure travel. He has cruised to some of the most iconic and obscure parts of the planet.

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