Dempster Highway

Dempster Highway, one of the Top Canadian Drives

Dempster Highway is a very scenic gravel highway across miles of desolate Arctic landscape, in Canada. It’s the only all-weather road to cross the Arctic Circle. It's incredibly beautiful, somewhat dangerous and perhaps something you get to see only once (if that) in your life. If your ideal road trip involves getting way off the beaten track then this is the drive for you. 

Where does the Dempster Highway start and end?

The road links the Klondike Highway in Yukon (Canada) and Inuvik, in Northwest Territories on the Mackenzie River delta. It’s 736 km (457 mi) long. An enjoyable, safe journey up the Dempster Highway involves careful planning. Ensure you have good spare tires and do some basic vehicle maintenance. The highway crosses the Peel River and the Mackenzie Rivers using a combination of seasonal ferry service and ice bridges. Be prepared with jackets, water, and emergency kit in your car. Road conditions can also vary drastically. Check in Dawson City, or at the Klondike River Lodge (at junction of Klondike and Dempster Highways) for road conditions before beginning your trip. Signs at Eagle Plains remind you to check conditions again before venturing beyond that location. Construction of the Dempster Highway began in 1959 and was finally completed in 1978, although it did not officially open until Discovery Day weekend in 1979.

Is the Dempster Highway open?

Proper preparation is essential to having a safe, enjoyable trop on this road, also referred to as Yukon Highway 5 and Northwest Territories Highway 8. Services are limited on the Dempster. Gas, diesel fuel and repairs are available at Eagle Plains 365.7 km/227 miles, Ft. McPherson 555 km/345 miles, and at Inuvik. Be prepared to stop for approaching trucks, especially with dry, dusty conditions. The highway is gravel, so one has to drive according to the conditions of the road. Speed limit is 90 KM/Hour which can be done the majority of the time. The highway is open approximately June 10 to October 14 in the summer, and December 15 to April 30 in the winter. Its highest elevation is North Fork Pass Summit, at 1.328m (4,356ft) above the sea level. This unpaved road traverses some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet. It’s one of northern Canada's undiscovered, yet readily accessible wonders. .

How long does it take to drive the Dempster Highway?

Appropriate preparation is essential. Facilities are few and far between. It is strongly recommended to carry a full-sized spare tire as well as extra water and gas. This wilderness route spans remote regions of the Yukon cutting through two rugged mountain ranges, the Ogilvie and Richardson Mountains, miles of stunted spruce and alder "forests" (8'-12' tall) in the Eagle Plains region, and elevated reaches of tundra, before dropping to the Mackenzie River and its flat aspen covered delta. Traffic will be very light so you must come well prepared. In the winter, carry a shovel, sleeping bag, stove, matches, emergency snacks, and of course, dress for cold outdoor temperatures. It would be wise to rent a satellite phone as cell service is not available in some areas on the Dempster Highway. It was named for Inspector William John Duncan Dempster of the RCMP. The journey takes at least two days. Count on driving 12 to 16 hours in each direction. The time it takes depends on road conditions and how often you stop along the way.

Is the Dempster Highway paved?

Due its unique location and passing through remote areas, it is important when driving in these conditions to be prepared. Road conditions can also vary drastically. This hard packed, but well maintained, gravel road winds its way through two mountain ranges, the Oglivie and the Richardson; crosses the continental divide three times, traverses the Arctic Circle and loosely follows the old dog team routes on its way to Inuvik and the Mackenzie Delta. As of November 2017, Dempster Highway travellers can drive an additional 147km (91 miles) on NWT Highway 10 to Tuktoyaktuk. NWT Highway 10, known as Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway, is the "first all-weather road to Canada's Arctic Coast". It starts from Inuvik, passing through the tree line, onto the tundra and ending at the Arctic Ocean in Tuktoyaktuk (Tuktuyaaqtuuq), a hamlet located in the Inuvik Region of the Northwest Territories.


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