Katannilik Territorial Park is a surprisingly fertile arctic oasis tucked in the middle of the ancient Meta Incognita Peninsula on southern Baffin Island. The Park stretches north from the top of Pleasant Inlet near the village of Kimmirut toward the south shore of Frobisher Bay, across from the City of Iqaluit, and follows the Soper Valley and the Itijjagiaq Trail – a 120 kilometre traditional overland trail from Iqaluit to Kimmirut. The park’s boundaries follow a series of rivers, lakes and hills on the plateau above the river valley.
The Soper River and its 1,200 square-kilometres meandering wilderness is central to the park. Known locally as Kuujjuaq (“big river”) the Soper River was designated a Canadian Heritage River in 1992 for its cultural significance in the lives of Inuit, its natural beauty and its countless opportunities for recreation. Along the river itself, on its many tributaries, in the streams and rivulets flowing down the sides of the valley, countless cascades echo the recurring theme of the park, and the reason it is named Katannilik – “the place of waterfalls”.
Landscapes of Katannilik
Katannilik’s three distinct landscapes were created from a complex series of folds, plunges and shears dating from the formation of the Earth, leaving a rich variety of rock formations and exposed geological domains.
The first starts at the south shore of Frobisher Bay, where the Itijjagiaq Trail begins. Rising 670 metres from sea level to the plateau of the Meta Incognita Peninsula, the landscape is a playground of deep gorges and sloping valleys. Increasing elevation means shelter becomes scarce as the topography flattens out. It also means a corresponding decrease in vegetation, as temperatures drop.
The second, the plateau of the Meta Incognita Peninsula, has changed little since the last glaciers receded. Glacial scars are readily discernible, and the shallow, rolling topography is testament to the force of these frozen behemoths. Rocks and boulders scattered across the smooth surface of the plateau look like they’ve fallen from the sky in a rock shower.
The third region of the park is the Soper River Valley, a product of receding glaciers, water erosion and the existing thermal oasis. Over the millennia, the water level of the river has fluctuated, leaving terraces throughout the valley floor. These terraces range from three to 30 metres above the current height of the river. The river valley is most impressive at its northern end. To the south, the valley walls start to diminish as the topography rolls gently toward Hudson Strait.
Plant life in Katannilik varies from virtually none on the top of the Meta Incognita, to astoundingly abundant and varied in the valley. However, even where conditions are inhospitable, such as the plateau, plant life can still be found within millimetres of the ground. On the other hand, the Soper Valley, where summer temperatures average some 5°C higher than nearby Kimmirut – itself the warmest community on Baffin Island, plant life is astoundingly abundant. It is this variety that fascinated naturalist Joseph Dewey Soper in the 1930s, after whom the river was named, and whose house is the Katannilik Park Visitor Centre in Kimmirut. Soper explored the area while working for the Canadian government and catalogued much of the valley’s plant life, including willow trees as tall as 3.6 metres, the tallest in the region. These uncommonly large willows still grow in well-protected areas of the valley.
Four communities of vegetation have been identified in the valley, each composed of plants with common nutritive needs:
- The dwarf shrub/heath tundra community is primarily made up of willow, dwarf birch, Lapland rosebay, Labrador tea, and arctic heather. This community, which needs more warmth than others, is found in moist areas below 210 metres in elevation.
- The grassland tundra group, with its characteristic tussocks of moss surrounded by shallow water, is the one you want to avoid hiking across. The group includes sedges, arctic cotton, sphagnum moss, bistorts and willows, and is usually found along bodies of water in the river valley.
- The bedrock/hill summit community is in exposed areas that are neither wet nor warm. Generally lacking good soil, this community is characterized by large amounts of lichen, but also comprises purple saxifrage, arctic poppy, mountain avens, broad-leafed willow herb, and chickweed, all of which tend to grow close to the ground and form a mat of color as they bloom.
- The snowpatch community is aptly named for its penchant for late-thawing areas where drifting has slowed the seasonal development of plants. As the snow melts, it permits arctic heather to grow first, followed by dwarf willows, mountain sorrel and finally, mosses. This regimented pattern results in rings of vegetation that distinguish the community.
Mid-July to late August is the best time to see Katannilik’s vivid arctic bloom, starting with purple saxifrage, and followed by bluebells and dwarf fireweed. In late summer and early autumn, berries carpet the park. Inuit from Kimmirut flock to the valley to harvest blueberries, crowberries, mountain cranberries and bearberries as they have done for millennia.
Where there is vegetation there is wildlife, and with a terrain as rich as any in the Baffin Region, the Soper Valley is no exception. The most common animal in the park is the caribou. These caribou do not undertake the long overland migrations of the mainland variety, but circulate throughout southern Baffin Island and the Meta Incognita Peninsula. In summer and autumn, caribou prefer the lush vegetation of the valley. Winter and spring sees them moving to the uplands, where wind blows the ground free of snow and exposes lichens.
Wolves and foxes are also abundant throughout the park. Observant summer visitors may find fox dens in well-drained, rolling terrain throughout the valley; evidence of these winsome creatures is easier to spot in winter, as their tracks zigzag across the valley. Katannilik is home to both arctic and red foxes. The number of wolves in the park fluctuates with the availability of prey, though they are not as numerous as foxes.
Lemmings and hares are a favourite food of many larger predators and tend to make themselves scarce when creatures of the two-legged sort are in the vicinity. With some careful observation, however, you may be rewarded with a glimpse of one or both. Hares favour the protection of rocky hillsides. Lemmings can sometimes be seen darting from one tunnel to another.
And, while polar bears generally hunt seals in the coastal areas at the north and south ends of the park, they could enter the valley at any time and have been seen throughout the park.
Peregrine falcons and gyrfalcons are both present in Katannilik. Peregrines are found closer inland while gyrfalcons favour the coast. They are joined in the valley by two other predatory birds: the snowy owl, easily recognizable by its white plumage and unmistakable eyes, and the rough-legged hawk, one of the most common birds of prey in the Arctic.
The most common birds in Katannilik are the rock ptarmigan and snow bunting. The ptarmigan, which resides here throughout the year, is never easy to spot. In summer their mottled brown plumage blends in perfectly with the surroundings; in winter they are pure white. The snow bunting, a member of the finch family, spends all but winter in the area. Black and white males are more easily spotted than brownish females.
Migratory birds such as Canada geese and red-breasted mergansers frequent marshy areas of the river valley, while snow geese can be seen as they migrate in the spring and fall. All three species of loons are often present closer to the coast at the southern end of the park, as are other shorebirds such as murres, terns and black guillemots.
Fish and Fishing in the Soper
Although there are generally no char in the Soper River, they can sometimes be found at either Soper Falls or at the reversing falls, where Soper Lake drains into the ocean. Landlocked char can be found in the lakes on either side of the Soper Valley, but are not usually eaten because they may contain tapeworm cysts.
Three varieties of cod can be found in Soper Lake: Arctic, Greenland and Atlantic. Inuit catch these in summer and throughout the winter. They are easy to catch, and though they are eaten, the activity is considered mostly a form of recreation.
Geology and Geography
Minerals in Katannilik are as plentiful as they are varied. Exposed bedrock reveals diopside, marble, low-quality garnet and various other semiprecious gems. Apatite can be found in blue, green and rose hues. Bands of crystalline limestone transect the valley and the river.
Mining has been attempted sporadically in the Soper Valley since 1900, when a Scottish company extracted mica from a number of locales in and around the river. Graphite was also mined in the early 20th century. Outcrops of both are still easy to find.
A deposit of lapis lazuli, a brilliant blue gemstone found in only a few locations in the world, is also located in the valley. Though the stones here are of poor quality, their colour and rarity make them worth seeking. It too was mined, but abandoned in the early 1970s. The mica and lapis lazuli deposits are located on parcels of Inuit-owned land within the park boundaries and require special permission to access. See the section on Accessing Inuit Owned Lands in the Visitor Centre for more information.
As its name suggests, Katannilik is full of waterfalls. The largest is Soper Falls, where the Soper River flows into Soper Lake through a white marble chasm. Farther upstream, just before the Livingstone River flows into the Soper River, is Livingstone Falls; slightly further north, an easy day-hike up the Cascade River brings you to Cascade Falls, the highest waterfall in the park.
No roads lead to Nunavut; our Territory is accessible only by air and sea.
First Air and Canadian North both fly regular daily schedules to Iqaluit from four main southern airline ‘hubs’: Ottawa, Montreal, and Edmonton (via Yellowknife and Rankin Inlet). Flights from Winnipeg (via Churchill and Rankin Inlet) are also available.
There are several ways to get to Katannilik Park from Iqaluit. The simplest is to take a scheduled flight with First Air or Kenn Borek Air to Kimmirut, which both fly regular schedules during the week throughout the year. It is always best to confirm these flight schedules before arrival. Those travelling in larger groups may want to consider chartering a plane to Kimmirut.
The park is only minutes from Kimmirut, although it is a good three hours hike into the Soper Valley around Soper Lake. Boats can also be hired in Kimmirut to cross Soper Lake to Soper Falls at the south end of the valley. Contact the Katannilik Park Visitor Centre in Kimmirut to co-ordinate these services.
The most popular method of getting into Katannilik is by air charter to one of two designated landing strips in the Soper Valley. Hikers should charter to the strip at Mount Joy. Water based charters can land at Mount Joy, or the strip at the Livingstone River, which is on the west side of the river. The cost varies from year to year but should be around $1,500. Contact the Katannilik Park Visitor Centre in Kimmirut or the Unikkaarvik Visitor Centre in Iqaluit to find out about charters to these strips. If you are planning on chartering, you should plan well ahead as you may not be able to arrange a charter in Iqaluit after you arrive.
Where To Stay
There is one hotel in Kimmirut, and the Kimmirut Hunters and Trappers Association can help you arrange accommodations at a local ‘home-stay’. A new campsite at the edge of the community comes equipped with picnic tables, firepit and washrooms.
Kimik Hotel – Inns North
Mayukalik Hunters and Trappers Association
Discovery Lodge Hotel
Email Discovery Lodge
Email Navigator Inn
Rannva’s Bed and Breakfast
Crazy Caribou Bed and Breakfast
Beaches Bed and Breakfast
Accommodations by the Sea Bed and Breakfast
Alt Tel: 867-979-6074=
Outfitted trips from Iqaluit offer package tours of Katannilik Park that fly visitors into the park, by boat across Frobisher Bay from Iqaluit to the Itijjagiaq trailhead for hiking southwest to the Soper River Valley and eventually Kimmirut. Local outfitters will also transport visitors to Kimmirut by dogsled in winter and spring. Outfitted trips should be booked well in advance – it’s often not possible to book outfitters by the day. Contact the Katannilik Park Visitor Centre in Kimmirut or the Unikkaarvik Visitor Centre in Iqaluit to find out what might be available.
Mayukalik Hunters and Trappers Association (Kimmirut)
NorthWinds Arctic Adventure (Iqaluit)
Email NorthWinds Arctic
Association des francophones du Nunavut (Iqaluit)
Email Association des francophones du Nunavut
Inuksuk Adventures Ltd. (Iqaluit)
Email Inuksuk Adventures
Inuksuk Adventures Ltd.
Outfitters offering Katannilik Park Trips
Black Feather Wilderness Adventure
Email Black Feather
Toll Free: 1-888-849-7688
Nahanni River Adventures
Email Nahanni River Adventures
Toll Free: 1-888-297-6972
Sunrise Expeditions International
Email Sunrise Expeditions
Toll Free: 1-800-RIVER-30
Tel: (860) 651-7052
Toll Free: 1-888-781-0411
Arts & Crafts
Visit the Soper House Gallery in Kimmirut to see vibrant arts and crafts from the community, or watch local carving and printmaking at the gallery or throughout the hamlet.
Soper House Gallery
The Katannilik Park Visitor’s Centre is located in the restored Dewey Soper House and provides interpretation for Katannilik Territorial Park, the Soper Heritage River, and the history of whaling in and around Kimmirut. Staff at the centre will also register you in and out of the park (mandatory), and set up home-stays.
Katannilik Park Visitors Centre
Email Katannilik Park Staff
Nunavut Parks publishes a wide range of documents and reports on the work it does for each park – ranging from master plans, management plans, maps, brochures and other reports and publications. Many of these resources are available here.
Katannilik Territorial Park Editorial – [.pdf – 876KB] This four page document offers some information on the park.
Trip Planner – Soper Heritage River/Katannilik Territorial Park – [.pdf – 1MB]
Safe and Sustainable Travel – [.pdf – 800KB]
Katannilik Territorial Park Registration Package – [.pdf – 3MB] The Registration Package is available for download for you to review in advance of your trip. You will be required to complete the registration process in person with Nunavut Parks Staff upon your arrival.
Nunavut Territorial Park Firearms Permit Application – [.pdf – 1MB]
Polar Bear Safety in Nunavut Territorial Parks – [.pdf – 900KB]
Visitor information is available from the Visitor Information section of the website, and at relevant visitor and information centres throughout Nunavut. Contact Nunavut Parks for any additional information you may be looking for.
Header photo © Curtis Jones, 2015