The Dempster Highway Road Trip Guide
Tucked away in northwest Canada is a remote highway you may have never heard of – the Dempster Highway. But it’s a trip you might want to consider taking.
Traveling the Dempster Highway in Canada will certainly provide you with the perfect mix of history, fun adventures, and stunning views.
Today, we’ll look at the Dempster Highway and find out what you can expect on this unique road trip.
Where is the Dempster Highway?
The Dempster Highway is in northwest Canada, crossing two territories. In fact, the Dempster Highway connects the Klondike Highway in Yukon to Inuvik, Northwest Territories, on the Mackenzie River delta.
The route will also take you over the gorgeous Peel and Mackenzie Rivers. The start of Dempster Highway begins 25 miles east of Dawson City, Yukon.
History of the Dempster Highway
The Dempster Highway’s name honors Corporal William Dempster from the North-West Mounted Police. In December 1910, an inspector named Francis Joseph Fitzgerald and three other men went on an annual winter patrol from Fort McPherson to Dawson City. Sadly, the men became lost on the trail, and as a result, died of exposure and starvation.
In March 1911, Corporal William Dempster and two others went on a rescue mission to look for Fitzgerald and the three others. Dempster and the men later found the bodies of the patrol on March 22, 1911.
Completed in 1978, the Dempster Highway was a 19-year project that began in 1959. The discovery of oil in the area led to the construction of the Dempster Highway to allow for further exploration. In 1978 the highway was completed, but it officially opened in August of 1979. The route follows the old dog sled route that takes you from Dawson City to Fort McPherson. The highway helps connect this northern region to southern Canada and also supports the transporting of supplies.
How Long is the Dempster Highway?
The Dempster Highway covers 456 miles taking travelers from Dawson City to Inuvik, NWT. While this route covers less than 500 miles, be ready for a long trip. The road can be slow going at times and has limited services. Those preparing to tackle this journey should expect to spend at least two days driving in each direction.
Is the Dempster Highway Dangerous?
While the Dempster Highway is a remote road, it is in good condition. Drivers should always be alert, watching out for changes in the road, potholes, oncoming traffic, and wildlife. The route can be tight in some locations and might require drivers to pull over when facing oncoming traffic.
Even if your vehicle can cover 500 miles without many fuel stops, you will want to bring along extra fuel as there are only two places to stop for services. Running out of fuel could lead to a long day.
Due to the limited services provided on this highway, drivers should have a full-size spare tire with them at all times. Those with unusually sized tires or RVs may want to consider having multiple spares so you can ensure a smooth experience if you have a blowout or two.
Dempster Highway in Dawson City
Dawson City is the launching point onto the Dempster Highway, but don’t bypass it in your eagerness to begin the drive. This walkable city transports you into the exciting world of the gold rush. There are tours to help you get a complete picture of both the historical components and modern advances of Dawson City.
If you’d like to try your hand at gold panning, you’re in luck! Drive out to Free Claim #6 and spend your day having fun trying to strike it rich. This free location provides no guides or supplies, so you’ll need to come prepared.
Dempster Highway at the Arctic Circle
If crossing into the Arctic Circle is on your bucket list, you’ll be able to check off that box while driving the Dempster Highway. Just past the highway point of your drive, you’ll find yourself at latitude 66° 33’, otherwise known as the Arctic Circle.
Crossing into the Arctic Circle will reward you with great photo opportunities, including a sign to mark the accomplishment. If you plan it right and can be there to experience the summer solstice, you’ll be able to watch the sun circle around you, never setting.
Dempster Highway in the Northwest Territories
Now that you’ve made your way to the northern portion of the Dempster Highway, you’ll get to experience the Northwest Territories. Beautiful views of the Richardson Mountains will give way to the Peel River. Here you’ll cross the river via a free ferry or ice bridge, depending on the time of year.
Between Peel River and Mackenzie River, you’ll find the Lost Patrol Gravesite. This is where the men from the Northwest Mounted Police patrol lay at rest. From there, you can cross the Mackenzie River, again, by either a free ferry or ice bridge.
Hiking on the Dempster Highway
The experience of being on the Dempster Highway doesn’t limit you to staying in your car. Part of the experience is getting out and exploring. Thankfully there are a few great hikes to enjoy along the way.
The Tombstone Goldensides hike will take you on an out-and-back journey that’s a bit over two miles in length. There’s an elevation gain of 718 feet, and it’s rated as easy. So, all skill levels should enjoy this hike.
Those who choose to trek Tombstone Goldensides will experience views of the valleys of Tombstone. Wildlife viewing is another excellent opportunity for hikers. At the turnaround point, the more adventurous can scramble up the rocks for a spectacular 360-degree view.
Tombstone Grizzly Ridge
Tombstone Grizzly Ridge is a three-mile hike not far off Dempster Highway. This trail is a moderate hike with an elevation gain of 1387 feet. While you’ll climb a considerable amount, the effort is worth it. This hike will present you with views of Mount Monolith, which is at the end of Grizzly Valley.
The trail is well-defined and easy to follow. It’s certainly one of the most popular hikes in Tombstone Territorial Park, and it’s easy to see why. The views combined with a trail in excellent condition make it the perfect escape for hikers. Those who’d like to extend their hike can continue to follow the ridge towards Grizzly Lake.
Camping on the Dempster Highway
Once you get on the Dempster Highway, you’ll have the urge to slow down and enjoy the experience a bit longer. Camping along the Dempster Highway is a great way to prolong the drive and allow you to take it all in. We’ve gathered a few options for you to stop and enjoy an evening on the Dempster Highway.
Tombstone Mountain Campground
Tombstone Mountain Campground provides a great place to rest while on your Dempster Highway journey. These are basic no-frills sites but are adequate for a simple stay. The views, hiking available, and wildlife viewing make this a great place to spend the night or even a few days.
At the campground, you will find vault toilets for those who would like to make use of them. Water is available, but you should boil or filter it before use as it is straight from the nearby river. Some campers report that firewood is provided for free, setting you up for a great evening around the fire.
Pro Tip: This campground can fill up quickly in the busy season, so be sure to arrive early to snag a spot.
Eagle Plains Hotel and RV Campground
If you’re tired of roughing it and need a place to refuel both yourself and your rig, Eagle Plains Hotel and RV Campground is exactly what you need. Located about halfway through the Dempster Highway, this is the perfect midway pitstop. There’s even a lovely dining room for those tired of cooking and dishes.
Eagle Plains Hotel and RV Campground has electric and nonelectric sites and has potable water available. Other amenities include a laundry room, showers, gas, diesel, and propane fill-ups. They can even help you if you’ve been having tire problems or other minor repairs. While the sites themselves are not large, it does the job of providing much-needed rest and refueling.
Explore the Dempster Highway
With so many great places in Canada to explore, it can be difficult to know where to go. But, we think a road trip on the Dempster Highway is well worth your time! The wildlife, amazing views, and history are waiting for you! Will you be adding Dempster Highway to your Canada bucket list?
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