If you’re planning a trip to Canada, you might consider visiting Toronto, Niagara Falls, Montreal, or Vancouver. But don’t overlook Northern Canada, which offers visitors the opportunity to get a more unusual, off-the-beaten path glimpse of the country. Comprising Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon, Northern Canada is often cold and secluded, but you can find a trove of incredible things there. We compiled a list of nine such things you can only see in the North, from an igloo cathedral to the world’s tallest vertical cliff.
1. SIGN POST FOREST // WATSON LAKE, YUKON
Since 1942, visitors have brought signposts from their towns to a forest in Watson Lake. The resulting collection of signposts from around the world, dubbed Sign Post Forest, is an unusual, colorful sight to behold in an otherwise rural area along the Alaska Highway. With more than 77,000 signposts, the forest is always growing as more visitors add signs from their towns each day. And if you don’t have a sign on hand, don’t fret. You can make your own sign at the forest’s Visitor Information Center.
2. ST. JUDE’S CATHEDRAL // IQALUIT, NUNAVUT
Located in Iqaluit, a capital city with a large Inuit population, St. Jude’s Cathedral is an Anglican church that serves as the seat of the Diocese of The Arctic. Nicknamed the Igloo Cathedral, the church offers regular worship services in English and Inuktitut, the Inuit language. After a fire destroyed the original igloo-shaped building in 2005, another igloo was built and, after years of fundraising, opened to the public in 2012.
3. A COCKTAIL CONTAINING A HUMAN TOE // DAWSON CITY, YUKON
Even if you consider yourself a beverage connoisseur, you might be surprised by this drink. The bar at Downtown Hotel in Dawson City serves The Sourtoe Cocktail, a bourbon drink containing a real amputated human toe, dehydrated and pickled in salt. A miner with frostbite donated the first toe to the bar, and over 100,000 people have ordered the cocktail since 1973. The bar has since received other toes, amputated due to corns, frostbite, or diabetes. People who successfully drink the cocktail (their lips must touch the toe, but they’re not allowed to swallow it) get to join the exclusive Sourtoe Cocktail Club.
4. LONG JOHN JAMBOREE // YELLOWKNIFE, NORTHWEST TERRITORIES
Each March, residents of the Northwest Territories gather at Yellowknife Bay to celebrate the end of winter and arrival of spring. The weekend festival, called Long John Jamboree, features food tents, a mini golf course, ice-carving demonstrations, a dog derby, pond hockey, igloo building, and carnival games. The mood is jubilant, as thousands of people arrive in helicopters, trucks, and snowmobiles and rejoice in the light after many long, cold days of darkness.
5. HAUGHTON IMPACT CRATER // DEVON ISLAND, NUNAVUT
Created tens of millions of years ago when a rock hit the Earth, the Haughton Crater on Devon Island spans a diameter of 14 miles. With its polar desert climate and slow-growing vegetation, the environment around the crater is similar to that on Mars. Since 1997, researchers for The Mars Society and SETI Institute have conducted emergency simulations and investigated laser light therapy at the Haughton Crater each summer, hoping to gain insights for a (potential) future trip to the Red Planet.
6. AN AIRPLANE WEATHERVANE // WHITEHORSE, YUKON
You’ve probably seen weathervanes on top of houses, but have you ever witnessed an airplane weathervane moving in the wind? In front of the Yukon Transportation Museum, a decommissioned Douglas DC-3 airplane, mounted on a pedestal, pivots with the direction of the wind. After flying with the U.S. Army Air Force and in Canadian Pacific Airlines' fleet, the DC-3 was donated to the Yukon Flying Club in 1977. The airplane is now one of the world’s largest weathervanes, and it’s not just for show: Pilots at the nearby Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport look to the airplane to gauge the wind’s direction.
7. HOUSEBOAT BAY // GREAT SLAVE LAKE, NORTHWEST TERRITORIES
Animal Planet’s show Ice Lake Rebels follows a group of survivalists who live in houseboats on Great Slave Lake. Although the houseboat residents don’t have to pay municipal taxes on their floating homes, they must struggle with difficult weather, food shortages, and be self-sufficient in terms of electricity, heat, and garbage disposal. In spring and summer, when the lake isn’t frozen, visitors can kayak or canoe around the dozens of colorful houseboats. If you want to get the houseboat experience while also enjoying the luxury of running water, you can even stay at a houseboat bed-and-breakfast.
8. MIDNIGHT GOLF TOURNAMENT // DAWSON CITY, YUKON
Because the sun shines all day and night in Yukon in mid-June, you can fit a lot more activity into each 24-hour period. Each summer, Dawson City hosts midnight golf tournaments in which competitors begin playing at—you guessed it—midnight. When the game is over in the morning, players eat eggs and drink beer for breakfast. Not a bad way to pass the time in a place where the sun doesn’t set.
9. MOUNT THOR // BAFFIN ISLAND, NUNAVUT
People visit Auyuittuq National Park to rock climb, camp, and see Mount Thor, the world’s tallest vertical cliff. Also called Thor Peak, the granite mountain has an elevation of more than 5000 feet and a vertical drop of more than 4000 feet. Although it’s illegal to parachute or paraglide off the cliff, which has a slope of 105 degrees, some daredevils have attempted to jump off the cliff. While people have successfully climbed Mount Thor and rappelled off it, others have died trying. So unless you’re a professional climber, the cliff is probably best viewed from a safe distance.