Travelling the Dempster

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Simply put, the Dempster Highway is one of the best road trips in the world. The wilderness here is rich, barren, lush and desolate all at the same time.

This is the Arctic that you never imagined. The km-long Dempster Highway was built in and roughly follows the traditional First Nation transportation route between the Yukon and Peel river systems. We spent an incredible three weeks on and around the Dempster Highway — read on for tales from the road plus a practical guide to completing this epic trip yourself. Driving the Dempster Highway is a one-of-a-kind experience. The start of the highway is about an hour from Dawson City, itself an interesting gold rush outpost.

Well, nothing in terms of human life aside from a random RV or car maybe every couple of hours.

DEMPSTER HIGHWAY - Canada Road Trip Travel Documentary

The Dempster Highway has a reputation for being rough and a real-tire eater, but we were actually pleasantly surprised even with it claiming one of our own all-terrain tires. There are affiliate links in this post. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Apparently sunrise would now be at 6 pm and sunset at 10 am. Arriving at the official line of latitude km in a little while later, it just gave up. We would later toast our drinks at midnight to celebrate my 25th birthday, also the summer solstice.

For the next 50 or so days there would be 24 hours of daylight. It was a bit intense. For other purposes, hour daylight is awesome. The fishing on the Dempster, by the way, is productive. For once, we actually caught plenty of fish. One of the most unexpected parts of the trip was how much we learned about local First Nation culture. These lands have fed and sheltered generations of First Nation people.

Hunting, fishing and trapping still remain an integral part of the life of many people living in the area. We met such generous and kind folks over the two weeks we travelled the Dempster and gained a much better appreciation and respect for the area and its people. Learning how to make Labrador tea, bannock and jam, JR also made sure to eat plenty of the traditionally smoked whitefish.

Being so far north not only offered us the experience of hour daylight but also that of hoards of mosquitoes and black flies trying to drink our blood. And by hoards, I mean millions and millions of them. Being outside of our vehicle was a huge challenge at times.


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Even being inside the vehicle could be difficult — we do love our Astro Van , but a huge number of mosquitoes found their way in through the old vents and tormented us in our sleep, despite using a net. I still have flashbacks of the buzzing. Needless to say, bringing bug repellent is a necessity.

Cross into the Arctic Circle on an unforgettable road trip on the Dempster Highway

The windy days were by far our favourite days on the Dempster. For such an isolated and supposedly desolate road, there is a surprising amount to see and experience on the Dempster Highway.

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Dempster Highway Road Trip Itinerary

Here are our highlights:. Arctic Chalet — Highly rated on Booking. Nova Inn Inuvik — Great location. The truth of it is that the best time of year to drive on the Dempster Highway depends on what you want to see. Our trip was focused around the summer solstice because 1 it was my birthday on 21st June longest birthday EVER! Travelling on the Dempster in mid-June, however, meant that the blackflies and mosquitoes were in full force, which is less of a problem later on in the season.

The early season timeframe also limited the hiking opportunities in Tombstone Territorial Park — the Grizzly Lake trail , for example, did not open until early July that year. Another popular reason to visit later in the summer is the fiery fall colours that start appearing around August. The Dempster Highway is a long road and rough in certain areas. While it is reasonably well maintained, your vehicle should be in decent enough shape to drive a couple thousand kilometres in the dirt.

Take your time and drive safe. Get on Dempster-time and just enjoy one of the best road trips in the world! Up to date road conditions can be found on Yukon. There are lots of great wild camping spots along the Dempster Highway, alongside a handful of maintained rustic campgrounds pit toilets, picnic benches etc.

The rustic campgrounds on the Dempster Highway have the bonus of covered shelters with screens on the windows, which are very useful for avoiding rain and bugs.


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The disadvantage is that these campgrounds are all located next to water sources with very little wind. Consequently, they can be very buggy. If you need to get clean, there are showers at the halfway point at Eagle Plains. We did not stay at this Dempster Highway campground next to the hotel but asked if we could use the showers and were told to just go ahead.

Freedom of the road: the Dempster Highway

Here are a few must-have items for any summer Dempster Highway road trip, tried and tested by us! If you liked this post, PIN or save this post for future reference with one of the above images! Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. Stunning scenery! We washed it at the half way point too! Was there any kind of twilight type period, or was it like the middle of the day for the whole time? Great article; it gave me another thing to think about for when I finally make it to Canada. It is certainly a one-of-a-kind experience!

When we were in Inuvik 2 degrees further above the Arctic Circle while we saw the sun in different areas of the sky, we never saw it dip below the horizon. It was pretty awesome! I enjoyed this story and your photos a lot. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for your comment Ruth! So many people only see a tiny bit of the Dempster Highway as far as Tombstone typically , rush through I add 1 day to the 4 you suggest as the minimum or go with some preconceived notions that stunts their perception.

I hope to get back this year for a week or so with my motorhome, but may wait until next year when the road to Tuk opens. Wow, 30 times! I think five is a great idea though — two up, two down and one in Inuvik and around — my interpretation anyway!

Local couple shares travel tips from Arctic road trip

We have not ventured enough into Canada, let alone up to the Arctic Circle, but that would be a dream trip…even with the dirt and bugs. Haha we are definitely like-minded, it is possible I had it in my head while I was writing it! Just remember lots of bug spray and a net to put over your hat…or two.

Incredibly beautiful photos and what an adventure of a lifetime. I agree with not driving too fast along the roads, just for the sake of savouring the journey combined with safety! The scenery is just stunning and 24 hours of sunshine could be a little weird. We experienced it in Iceland. This is so worth enduring the bugs.

The Dempster Highway | Canada Travel Guide | Rough Guides

What a great experience for you guys. The bugs were a pain, but are not what I will remember in years to come! My advice for others is not to go during the mid weeks of June though, when they are at their worst. Thanks for your comment Mary! Great tips. Thanks for your comment Leigh! Loved your posts on Tombstone Park.

This drive would certainly look quite different in late August; the colours seen in your photos inspires me to do it all over again! Driven the Dempster 6 times now and it always impresses. It really depends on the year. July — some years it is hot and lovely, others it rains the whole month like our last trip in — there were washouts on the highway and it had to be closed. Our preference is August — generally nice and warm, hardly any bugs and late August-September the colors change although you run the risk of snow.

The locals told us that June is generally more buggy, which was definitely true in our experience. Very inspiring post!! I plan to take my bike on my roof rack on a Nissan Altima sedan.