Banks Island Canoe Supported Base Camp – Mills

Banks Island Canoe Supported Base Camp – Mills


June 25, 2024 - July 4, 2024


Canadian High Arctic





June 25, 2024 - July 4, 2024


Canadian High Arctic



The Thomsen River on Banks Island in Canada’s Northwest Territories is the northernmost navigable river in the world. Join us for an outrageous adventure in the high arctic. You will see muskoxen and wildflowers further north than you ever imagined you would go.


For a trip of epic proportions, travel to Canada’s Banks Island and base camp along the shores of the Thomsen River, where you will experience the wide open spaces and resilient wildlife that flourishes at the top of the world.

Located in Aulavik National Park, the Thomsen River Valley boasts the highest density of muskoxen in the world. With nearly 2/3 of the world’s muskox, Banks Island is also abundant in bird life along with Peary caribou, arctic fox, arctic hares and wolves. We will explore this high arctic river at the peak of summer. At 74° north latitude the midnight sun will burn brightly, melting the last of the snow drifts and our notions of time.

Summer is brief a mere thousand miles from the North Pole, and the otherwise austere landscape of Banks Island erupts into a frenzy of life and activity during July with carpets of wildflowers stretching to the horizon and animals busily breeding and feeding. We have timed our trip to the Thomsen River to take advantage of the seasonal richness and to paddle the snow melt high water. With an average of less than 6 inches of annual precipitation, the paddling season in the polar desert is brief.

Solitude on northern Banks Island is legendary. Aulavik National Park receives less than 20 visitors a year. Some years Parks Canada reports that not a single outsider comes to visit the 3 million acre park, not one! A canoe trip on the Thomsen River redefines wilderness travel.

The Thomsen is a wide and gentle river which meanders between sandbars and bluffs on its way to the ice choked M’Clure Strait in the Arctic Ocean. The low wind-cropped tundra presents few barriers to our perpetual search for wildlife and the relentless summer sunlight will transform the land from brown to green to a riot of colorful flowers during our two weeks in the high arctic.

This trip is a multi-location base camp trip with a focus on exploring the upper reaches of the Thomsen River. With just 25 miles between the landing area and the pick-up location, good conditions would allow us to travel from start to finish in 2 paddling days. This should allow for 3 nights in each of the 3 campsites we will enjoy. Negotiating the Thomsen’s sandy shoals and gentle curves is fairly straightforward, but we should expect periods of high winds which may slow our progress or cause us to stick to shore for a day or more. On a wilderness trip like this, our schedule is dictated by the weather, not by a pre-planned itinerary.

Hiking on Banks Island is excellent and we will have ample time to walk away from the river to admire flowers and birds and look for muskoxen and other wildlife. There are also numerous archeological sites along the way, providing clues about human history and life-ways. Stone tent rings, and worked bone and stone litter the tundra in areas where hunters camped. With perhaps as much as 4,000 years of human history and a rich cultural history of Thule, Inuvialut and Inuinnait cultures. Banks Island has been home to native traders, muskoxen hunters, and whalers.

This is dry, cold and windy country, perfect for muskoxen, impossible for trees and large shrubs and, though cold, actually fairly comfortable for canoeists. Rain is rare and light and Aulavik National Parks gets an almost unimaginable amount of sunshine during the summer. We will be bundled up and wearing wind layers much of the time but the dry tundra is perfect for lounging, hiking, and camping.

Wildlife is, of course, impossible to predict but Banks Island is home to muskoxen, Peary caribou, arctic hares (so exciting!) arctic fox, arctic wolves, but not grizzly bears. The birding on this trip promises to be excellent both in numbers of individuals and in species, many unique to high latitudes. Ecologically the Thomsen is a singularity and for those interested in natural history we are confident this trip will be memorable.


Last updated: January 10, 2024


What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.

June 24

Meet with your guides this evening in Inuvik for a gear check and pre-trip meeting at your hotel.

June 25

Head to the Inuvik airport and begin our journey north of North America. We will charter a twin otter airplane, and weather permitting, after flying north of the Mackenzie River Delta and beyond the Tuktoyuktuk Peninsula we cross the partially frozen Amundsen Gulf before landing on the south end of Banks Island in Sachs Harbor (Population 120) to refuel. We can take a quick walk before flying the final 150 miles to the headwaters of the Thomsen. Once we unload and the plane departs the only sound will be the wind and bird song!

June 26 - 27

We won’t have lost track of time quite yet and the midnight sun won’t have altered our rhythms too much so we will keep a relatively normal schedule and hike during the day, assemble the Ally folding canoes in the evening and sleep during the sunlit “night”.

June 28

A day on the water. Your guides will steer the canoes and you’ll assist in propelling them down the meandering river. Typically we can cover 12 miles with 4 hours of effort which leaves plenty of time to stop to watch wildlife, explore cultural sites, and stretch our legs.

June 29 - 30

Camp #2. If conditions allow we will spend several days in the vicinity of Nasogaluak, a cultural site likely from the late 1800’s when people from Victoria Island frequented the upper Thomsen while traveling to the shipwrecked Mercy to salvage materials. The broad landscape, wildflowers, and (hopefully abundant) wildlife will make this camp a favorite.

July 1

Back on the water for a final day of canoeing. This promises to be a beautiful and relaxing day on the water with lots of colorful bluffs and outstanding wildflowers. Getting from the last camp to Green Cabin should be attainable while leaving plenty of time for exploration and relaxation.

July 2- 3

Two full days to explore from our third and final camp. Several interesting lakes are within hiking distance and broad sandy areas with unique plants. Green Cabin is a great place to spend several days enjoying the solitude and wildness of the high Arctic.

July 4

Our charter is supposed to arrive today and whisk us south back to the busy world of vehicles, internet, and trees. If the weather cooperates the plane will arrive mid-day and we will retrace our path back to Inuvik. It may be a day or more before the plane can come and get us if fog obscures the landing area, but eventually, like it or not, we will fly away from Aulavik National Park, no doubt changed by the experience.

I had a great time. This trip was amazing in every single way. Definitely one I will never forget. ….an amazing guide. As good as you can ask for: knowledgeable, cool, great cook, always positive… Kind of guy who can turn the worst scenario into the best. Definitely the best guide I’ve ever had, hands down!

- Mario, SD, Dominican Republic



Flights from Inuvik to Banks Island and back

Food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils

Boats, paddles, life jackets, safety & repair gear

Professional guide service (2 guides)

Select camping equipment is available through Arctic Wild


Non-camp lodging

Non-camp meals

Personal clothing and gear per our equipment list. Please note that space on the aircraft is limited and packing light is essential.

Fishing gear, and fishing license

Gratuity for guide(s)

Flights to and from Inuvik from your home-town. Inuvik is served by Canadian North Airlines and Air North Airlines


Cool and windy is the norm. Sunshine is nearly constant though low grey periods are possible. Expect temperatures to range from freezing to the upper 50’s. Precipitation is generally light but the wind is an ever present part of a trip in the High Arctic.

Bugs could be bothersome when the wind dies. DEET and a headnet are essential. Sachs Harbor Weather is the best comparison.


People of the Twilight by Diamond Jenness

Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez

Naturalists Guide to the Arctic by E.C. Pielou

Whales, Ice, and Men by John Bockstoce

The Muskoxen of Polar Bear Pass by David Gray

More Arctic reading is available at our bookstore

"The wilderness was spectacular, the leadership perfect."
"I am just finishing my tenth trip with you guys. As always, the trip was more than I expected and I had a great time. See you next year!"
"Of all outfitters with whom we have worked (and that is quite a number), you were by far the most organized and responsive."
"That feeling of wide open wonder, the possibilities for nearly limitless wandering, and the image of those proud caribou...that will stay with me a long time"
"Our guide was an encyclopedia on legs. He was always willing and ready to teach, to talk, to listen, to do another hike, or to lie low in camp if we were beat. He truly gave us the trip we wanted!"
client client client client client
Eileen - Canning River