Driving The Dempster Highway Yukon

driving the dempster highway yukon

When one thinks of road trips images of country roads and autumn colours enter our minds.  Few have ever imagined a road trip through the Canadian arctic.  And for those that have, without the actual experience there is nothing that can prepare you for the glimpses of heaven this remote region of Canada can offer.

There are few places I have visited in my life that have left me completely speechless.  I’m a blabber mouth with verbal diarrhea so speechless for me is like a bird that can’t fly.  But recent good fortune allowed Q and I to witness this ethereal location via the Dempster Highway.  This gravel road snakes its way up through the Yukon tundra and to the shores of the Arctic ocean in the North West Territories.

driving the dempster highway yukon

driving the dempster highway yukon

driving the dempster highway yukon

Unfortunately for us, the rain had washed the highway out and the repair was going to take days preventing us from reaching our destination.  But as luck would have it, we were able to travel the Dempster to the northern edge of Tombstone Territory park, which offered us views second to none in this world.

This highway requires the patience of a Saint and an iron clad stomach.  Kilometre after kilometre we bounced around from the numerous potholes that plague the highways in the North.  A casualty of the 400 Ft deep permafrost, driving the Dempster is slow and calculated.

driving the dempster highway yukon

driving the dempster highway yukon

driving the dempster highway yukon

driving the dempster highway yukon

Along the southern portions of the Dempster is home to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation.  They have lived off this land for centuries and their presence is dotted throughout the landscape.  Off the Dempster there are several hiking trails, camping and lookouts.  This area is home to caribou, Dahl sheep, bears, wolf and Gyrfalcon to name a few and none of which we saw.  What we did see was a lone Golden Eagle flying high among the mountain peaks, so large its wing span had to be at least 6 Ft across.

If going off-road to hike or remote camp it is imperative you are an expert in navigational skills with maps and a GPS.  And driving the Dempster is also not without risk.  Extra gasoline, a spare tire, proper clothing and extra food are all recommended.  Without extra gas once you pass a certain point on the Dempster there is no turning back – you must make it to the town of Eagle Plains for services including gas and food.

driving the dempster highway yukon

driving the dempster highway yukon

driving the dempster highway yukon

For those looking for an incredible adventure you will find the Dempster approximately 40 km east from Dawson City on the Klondike highway.

~True North Nomad

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58 responses to “Driving The Dempster Highway Yukon

  1. I must tell you that in Chicago is a road called Dempster, and it is also pothole ridden. There the similarity ends! I doubt very much that it was named for the same man, which makes me wonder then what its history is. I am so thankful that there are still places like this on earth. Thank you for sharing it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We toured the Great Northwestern Canada and Alaska regions last Summer. It was indeed a trip of a lifetime. We were on our own time table and considered heading up the Dempster Highway but because we had only one spare tire we decided to pass. We have a truck camper. She’s heavy weighing in at 15500 lbs. The truck & camper when loaded gets about 10mpg. It’s a diesel dually. Can you please speak to us about your experience in finding fuel stops along the way? Did you folks boondock all the way up and back or did you find campgrounds? How about the availability of propane? Thanx for the information. Your photos are brilliant! Best to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Hank! I wouldn’t attempt the Dempster with a big truck camper. In fact, other than our Class B RV, we never saw anything larger. Most people with larger campers leave them at a campground in Dawson or the Gas cardlock at the mouth of the Dempster. Dawson is about 20 – 30 minutes from the mouth of the Dempster where you can get gas, food etc before you attempt the road. You can also gas up right at the Dempster at the aforementioned Gas cardlock. There is a campground at around 100 km marker on the Dempster in Tombstone Territory park. It is beautiful and costs $12 a night. There are no emergency services on the Dempster in the Yukon at all and from the entrance of the Dempster to the next stop is only around 500km but the road is so bad it can take you upwards of a day to reach it – it is called Eagle Plains. This tiny town has gas, food and lodging. Once you pass Eagle plains and head north the next stop is in the North West Territories at a town called fort McPherson – they too have services for food, gas and lodging. It is a few hours between the two. Next town is Inuvik and is the last town you can reach by car in the summer. It is advised to bring extra fuel with you and extra tire. You’re tires should also be 10 ply to handle the pot holes and rocks. Stock up on propane in Dawson and again at each of your stops. And yes, you can boondock not only on the side of the road on the Dempster, but some people setup up directly on it in the night if you can believe it! I hope you get a chance to drive it – it is spectacular! Take care and thanks for dropping by!

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    • Hi Mr. TrueNomad! Appreciate your comments. Question for you please. I see that you made the Dempster Highway trek with your Class B Van, which from the pictures looks like a Rear Wheel Drive vehicle. If so, then can you please elaborate on why you think making the journey up the Dempster Highway with a 4×4 dually diesel would not be a good idea? We took our truck camper rig over the Top of World Highway with no issues and I’m sure the Dempster trek is more daunting task, but I am really interested in your comments about why you think anything larger than a Class B 2WD Van would be the limit. Best to you and thanx again for sharing your pictures and data. And if there’s anyone out there reading this blog that has journeyed the Dempster Highway in a larger RV, I would really appreciate hearing about your experience.

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      • Hi Hank,

        We also drove the Top of the World highway and it was in pristine condition compared to the Dempster – at least when we did it. Had the Class B RV been our own, we may not have taken it on the Dempster, maybe. The Dempster is remote, hilly and riddled with potholes, cracked shoulders threatening to give way and at times wash outs all along the highway. You are forced to drive very slow – which is why it takes so long to go so few kilometres on it. If you drive too fast, you can literally bounce right off the road and in fact people do it all the time. While we were there two cars had bounced off of it and were stuck 20ft down into some brush. If you are towing a trailer it becomes very difficult to navigate the potholes while keeping your trailer from bouncing one way while your truck bounces another. Plus you’re trying to outpace a snail. Everyone we know and everyone we met who owned a large truck trailer setup would not bring the trailer up on the Dempster (think 5th wheel, travel trailer etc.). I have only seen one larger Class C that had driven up to the Tombstone campground but I never saw anything beyond Tombstone other than trucks… and of course us. If you have a 4×4 dually it will traverse the Dempster no problem. If you have a truck camper that sits in the bed of your truck – that is the best solution. You have the power of the truck, camping in your sleeper and space to bring extra gear. Hope this helps!

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        • Ah! Right! Agreed! I would not drag a trailer of any type up the Dempster. We do in fact have a truck camper. I appreciate your info. We are thinking about returning to that area next Summer. This time we will definitely cruise the Dempster Highway. Just got to find a place in our rig for a couple extra tires and spare fuel!! Now that will be most challenging! Best to you. Happy Trails!

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      • Oh one other thing I should mention, the road is not paved and when it is wet or damp the dirt is like grease on ice – you just slide every where. Another reason you have to drive so slow! Take care.

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  4. We drove the Dempster as far as the Arctic Circle in the summer of 2015. It was a highlight of our 3 1/2 month trip to Alaska. We loved Yukon and especially enjoyed the Dempster. It is hard to describe to someone who has never been there. Mother Nature at her finest.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I said the exact same thing. How do you describe something where there are no words to define it. It definitely is nature at her finest. We heard on our trip most people don’t do the circuit on less than 30 days (Alaska/Yukon). We did it in 10 but would I ever love to spend 3 1/2 months out there!!! Thanks for dropping by!

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  5. Wow! That is stunning! Even the roads appear to be harmonious with nature…I’ve been to the Canadian Rockies which are beautiful and in many ways the Yukon seems even more spectacular as it looks so unspoilt.

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  6. Hey! I had no idea Canadas Yukon looked so beautiful. I’m sure its because civilization has not had the wherewithal to develop it … hopefully that time will never come. I want to put a trip to the Acrtic in my plans. Why do they call it the Dempster? I’ve been to Crows Nest pass and it so far is my favorite part of Canada.

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