Our experience driving the Dempster Highway and the road to Tuktoyaktuk

We survived the Dempster Highway, and so can you! We are sharing all the details of our adventure in the Dempster here…

We have all heard the horror stories of the Dempster Highway. 740km one way of nasty gravel roads. The road so rough it sounds like the most dramatic story teller made it up… Well the horror stories are true. But we made it up and back and so can you.

The start of the Dempster Highway is 40km outside of Dawson City, Yukon. We stocked up on a few more groceries, dumped our tanks, and filled our fresh water before heading out. We also fueled up at the cardlock on our way out of town, for the cheapest gas.

It is recommended that you bring a jerrycan with extra fuel when you attempt the Dempster. We didn’t, but we can see the reasons. Fuel is pretty limited along the way.

Our first stop on the Dempster was Tombstone Territorial Park. Take some time here, the hikes out to Tombstone or in any direction from the park are really stunning. In the Yukon, Territorial parks are $12/night and this includes free firewood! The park is dry but did have water available, though boil notices were posted. We checked in at the parks visitor centre for our last updates on the road. We also recommend picking up the Dempster Highway Guide while you’re there. It includes towns, stops, points of interest, and information on the areas you will be driving through.

It rained for two days while we waited out the weather at Tombstone. The rain caused two mudslides between 220-346km marks. This shut the road down for two days. They started allowing traffic through while cleaning up the last mudslide. We were reminded that 4×4 could be the way to go on this drive (but really not necessary if the road is dry)

On the third day we were waved through, and made it past the mudslides. The road otherwise was not too bad to this point. Gravel, some loose and some packed, and pot holes but the road was wide and manageable.

With the stress of the road closures out of the way, we took our time pulling over constantly to take pictures, hike to the top of little mountains and dip in creeks.

We reached the Ogilvie Ridge View Point and that’s when things got interesting. The road and our views were changing. The Richardson Mountains looked incredible to the East of the road. The road itself got a whole lot worse. The paths that were packed gravel and not huge potholes got narrower and the shoulders got soft. So we slowed down, basically after the mudslide we barely approached the speed limit again.

Next stop Eagle Plains! At 370km there is fuel, camping and a restaurant here. We heard mixed reviews about the service from a few different people. We topped up our fuel, gas was actually not too crazy about $0.10-0.15/L more than in Dawson⛽.

The road is packed and pure potholes for the foreseeable future from this point. We saw several spots to boondock, but without 4×4 and not having cell service📵 made us a little weary of going too far off the beaten path.

We crossed the Arctic Circle! The roads were kind of ridiculous around this point, not great condition but wide enough to navigate around most potholes. We saw signs warning that the road doubles as an emergency airstrip🛩. It turns out this is no laughing matter, one day behind us a motorcycle accident had the driver air lifted out.

The landscape changed again. Rolling hills, less trees, and the ones that were there were tiny. Creeks were low, and there was still snow on the ground in some places. This stretch is where Grizzlies🐻 and Caribou🐂 often get spotted so keep your eyes peeled.

We camped out at Rock River another Territorial Park. It was quiet and surprisingly not too busy. It looked like a great spot to fish and a couple sites backed right on to the water🎣. The mosquitos were terrible so we didn’t spend much time outside.

The road changes again when we cross into Northwest Territories. You also cross the Continental Divide here! I’m not sure why the Yukon side is so bad, but the change was instant. Actually we have a theory, if you are driving the Dempster you are leaving the Yukon, so maybe they just don’t care? To be fair though the roads are an uphill battle to maintain because permafrost dictates what they can and cannot do. But wider, smoother gravel roads were a great relief after days of driving those crazy stretches!!

We took two free ferries on this drive: Fort Mcpherson and Tsiigehtchic. The loading area changes based on the shore line of the rivers⛴. We saw other RVs bottom out loading and unloading. But luckily we didn’t fully. We did discover when we stopped for lunch that we had rubbed our fresh water valve, turning it to open, and it dumped about 1/3 of our fresh water while we were driving😒.

We rallied and opted to finish out the drive to Inuvik, although there were some pretty nice looking spots to stop along the way. Overlanders were a common site on this trip, and they pretty much seemed to camp wherever they wanted.

Inuvik was a cute town, the girls at the Visitor Center were awesome. They gave us their honest opinion from their experience driving to Tuk, finally, more than just “you should have 4×4 and spare tires”. We again did a little stock up stayed at Happy Valley Territorial Park ($22/night with power). It rained again, so we did laundry (yes they have laundry facilities and nice showers in the park!!!) laid low and waited for the road to dry up again.

When the weather cleared we topped up on gas, again cheaper at the cardlock on the way out of town. We headed out on the 138km road to Tuktoyaktuk. The road to Tuk was only finished in November 2017, so this is the first summer it was open!

The scenery changed again, less and less trees until their were basically none. No more mountains, but soooo much water and Pingos in the distance. A Pingo is basically a hill that is built up by groundwater being pushed up by permafrost. And seriously look at a map of this area, there is water everywhere🏞.

There were a few stretches of the road that were not great, jagged rocks instead of gravel (its all trucked in so they use what they can get) soft shoulders, so “pullouts” were not really an option for us. A shocking number of gravel trucks hauling down this road⛟🚛…some slow down when passing, some don’t, so error on the side of slowing down to avoid rock chips. The thing we appreciated about this stretch of road, is that they seem to be constantly working on it. Again we slowed down, had a scary moment in the last 20km to Tuk, they were doing roadwork, and this meant deep loose clay and sand😕.

But we made it, and really the road to Tuk isn’t technically the Dempster but it was the best of the gravel roads on the trip.

The first thing you see on the edge of town, sadly is the dump. It is not buried, so the rubbish is visible. Thanks again to the permafrost. But a good reminder to try to pack out whatever you bring.

Finally! We made it to the Arctic Ocean! The end of the road (litterally)

This was a pretty special experience and it wasn’t lost on us that we were so lucky.
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Lucky to visit Tuktoyaktuk in the first year that the new road is open. Prior to this, the Dempster went as far as Inuvik, so Tuk was only accessible by ice road in the winter, and by plane or boat.

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Lucky that our van made the trip. Slowly but without high clearance, or 4×4, or heavy duty tires. We were dusty, and our nerves were tested but it was worth it.⠀

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Lucky that the village is unchanged. There is a humble visitors centre, free dry camping at the end of the road on the water, and the locals are interested in the new visitors. Not too often would they have seen RVs rolling into town.

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Lucky to have met more travelling friends, we loved sharing the experience with them. It may not last that locals want to meet you, invite you back to their place for coffee to tell you about their lives, and hear about yours. Being offered muktuk (beluga) and fresh or smoked fish. Or trying a muskox burger prepared in a canvas tent outside the local store.

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We stayed up way too late, and watched one of the last nights that the sun did not set below the horizon (3:30am, it never set). We took a dip in the Arctic, and admired the Pingos from a distance.

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We don’t know if or when we will get to come back, but we expect that things will change.

We met Claudia and Jann from Switzerland while trying the Muskox burgers in Tuk🍔. We really hit it off with them. Our second couple of Swiss friends, and we are taking it as a sign that we are meant to go to Switzerland next year while we travel Europe🇨🇭.

We camped out together in Tuk, then in Rock River on the way back down the Dempster, and then once again we boondocked on a hillside outside Tombstone🏕. It was the first time we saw the moon in over a month🌛, I almost cried! We decided to carry on and casually roadtrip with Jann and Claudia into Alaska!

We made it back to the start of the Dempster and wanted to kiss the ground when we got back to paved highway🛣. We posed with the van (who really deserved a big hug after all she’s been through) and Holly🐶 who has developed a new fear of gravel roads after driving them for the better part of a month. We collected our certificates along the way: swimming in the arctic, completing the Dempster Highway and crossing the Arctic Circle.

So why did I talk so much here about the road? Well, in the days leading up to this trip, we weren’t sure we would go. All we heard was horror stories but no one could tell us where or why the road was such a nightmare. Every day on the trip we just said “we will go as far as we can”. I hope that given the chance to go, you will take it.

Pack a spare tire, we didn’t need one but honestly some of that is just plain luck, and our tires look a little worse for the wear after all this time on gravel.

Drive slow, so much slower than you think. No normal vehicles are immuned to damage, and the posted speed limits seem absurd in some parts; trucks, RV’s of all sizes: motorhomes, trailers and 5th wheel, vans, motorcycles, cars, jeeps, you name it, they got flats, flipped, lost parts, broken axles, cracked windshields and even went off the road. Overlanders may be an exception but most of them were leisurely taking their time too. (Also note that long rigs are not recommended on this drive.)

We took 10 days up and back, and I would strongly reccomend at least a week to 10 days. We would have loved to stay longer in Tuk and Inuvik, and stop in some of the small towns along the way. We met a guy who did almost a month on the Dempster all in all, and his stories were incredible.⠀

This drive was definitely the craziest thing we have done in 40,000km of being on the road, it’s a bucket list trip for sure. We are so glad we did it, we made it out and back with minimal issues.

What we did get out of it was some incredible memories, a better understanding of the Inuvialuit people who live in the Northern most parts of Canada, a million pictures, and some new life long friends.

Full-time Vanlife: Visiting Denali National Park, Alaska and a couple things we wish we had known…

We love travelling with our “no plan plan” but when it comes to visiting Denali, it bit us in the butt a little. A park this big deserves time and some planning.

Denali National Park, is home to Denali (also known as Mt McKinley) the highest peak in North America. When approaching the park from Fairbanks we were able to see Denali on a clear day from well over 100 miles away.

Even given its tremendous size it’s crazy to think that only a third of the parks visitors see the mountain. That’s right, summers in Alaska are gorgeous and the days are long, but this mountain range gets socked in pretty regularly. So don’t fret, if you don’t see it, you are not alone. But you may want to keep an eye on the weather for your visit and give yourself a more than a day or two.

This park is rugged and wild, its home to Grizzlies, Moose, Dall Sheep, Wolves and Caribou to name a few. There is a well maintained paved road up to mile 15 in the park. After which only campers with reservations and park tour buses are able to continue down the remaining gravel stretch of road.

The back country in Denali is definetly the way to go for those who want to get away from the crowd and experience a good portion of this massive park.

For those of us who don’t want to veer too far off the beaten path, not to worry… There are trails that are well marked and maintained in those first 15 miles. There are lookouts and information shared throughout.

A few things not to miss,

° Spruce Forest, Horse Shoe Lake and Taiga trails. These are easier trails to manage, see wildlife, check out the river, and the incredible work the local beavers do

°The sled dog demonstration! Yes Denali National Park relies on the service of their sled dogs for patrolling in the winter!

°Taking a walk around Mountain Vista trail, where the park has shared historic photos of what stood in that space when visitors first started accessing the park.

Let’s talk tours. Guided tours are generally not our thing, we prefer exploring on our own. Unless you are camping at Teklanika or tent camping further into the park, this is the way to see the remainder of the road. You know that iconic picture of Denali reflecting back over Wonder lake, you will need the get a spot on a bus to get to this point in the park. The park service has their own team of tour buses, that run anywhere from 3-12 hour tours.

We were unfortunately only able to go on the 5 hour trip, with Holly to consider we left early and got back before the afternoon temperature started rising. This is longer than we would typically ever be away from her. These busses are also your best bet for seeing wildlife! Though it’s not guaranteed, we saw at least 6 Grizzlies, several Caribou, Dahl Sheep, Moose, several birds including a Short Eared Owl, Hawk Owl and finally Golden Eagles a plenty. Our driver Kevin was also awesome, knowledgeable and just as excited about every sighting as the rest of us!

Things to keep in mind:
°Your national parks pass does cover the cost of admission into this park

°Your pass does not cover camping (when making your reservations online you may be charged the admission fees as well, so show your pass when checking in to get that part refunded.)

°Your pass also does not cover the tour buses, and make those reservations early, some buses were looking pretty full. You do get access to free shuttle buses for the first 15 miles with your admission to the park.

°During peak season the campsites in this park fill up weeks in advance!!! We definetly recommend grabbing a site at Teklanika campground. If you are travelling by RV also remember to check on the size of your rig for restrictions, we saw at least one Class A make the trip. But there are no hookups in this park

°If you are camping in the park make your tour reservation before heading to your site. Once your in your site, the park asks that you keep your vehicle in your campsite. The tour buses will come pick you up at the camground

°Remember that all the campsites in the park are dry. So make sure you are stocked up and charged up before you head in. At Teklanika campground you will be booking your site for a minimum of 3 nights, and again, the vehicle stays put once it’s parked

°Travelling with pets? This one is always a challenge for us, but pet owners are asked to stick to the roadside trail, and parking areas or the road, and of course always on leash. Keep this in mind when you are planning how to see the park. We understand the busses may allow dogs (double check when booking) but stops are limited. So that’s potentially either a long time for your pooch to be alone, or on a bus with alot of very excited tourists

°The park does have a free dumpstation and potable water at the campground registration office

°Thinking of staying outside of the park? There are some great boondocking spots (mostly a short drive from the park) as well as a a few full service RV parks nearby

We drove from Fairbanks which brought us through Healy on our way to the park. Definetly stop and check out 49th State Brewing, they have an awesome beer selection, and nice menu (late night half price appies after 9pm). This pub is also home to the prop bus from Into the Wild, a popular photo op for tourists.

Or if you’re up for the Stampede Trail its just on the edge of town. Logan made his way out to the real “Magic Bus” back in 2004. His travel buddy had read John Krakauers story about Chris Mccandless, and couldn’t pass up the chance to see for themselves. The hike is long enough, it’s an overnighter. With two river crossings, some muddy spots, and all the wide open spaces.


Visiting Denali National Park, and a couple things we wish we had known…

We love travelling with our “no plan plan” but when it comes to visiting Denali, it bit us in the butt a little. A park this big deserves time and some planning.

Denali National Park, is home to Denali (also known as Mt McKinley) the highest peak in North America. When approaching the park from Fairbanks we were able to see Denali on a clear day from well over 100 miles away.

Even given its tremendous size it’s crazy to think that only a third of the parks visitors see the mountain. That’s right, summers in Alaska are gorgeous and the days are long, but this mountain range gets socked in pretty regularly. So don’t fret, if you don’t see it, you are not alone. But you may want to keep an eye on the weather for your visit and give yourself a more than a day or two.

This park is rugged and wild, its home to Grizzlies, Moose, Dall Sheep, Wolves and Caribou to name a few. There is a well maintained paved road up to mile 15 in the park. After which only campers with reservations and park tour buses are able to continue down the remaining gravel stretch of road.

The back country in Denali is definetly the way to go for those who want to get away from the crowd and experience a good portion of this massive park.

For those of us who don’t want to veer too far off the beaten path, not to worry… There are trails that are well marked and maintained in those first 15 miles. There are lookouts and information shared throughout.

A few things not to miss,

° Spruce Forest, Horse Shoe Lake and Taiga trails. These are easier trails to manage, see wildlife, check out the river, and the incredible work the local beavers do

°The sled dog demonstration! Yes Denali National Park relies on the service of their sled dogs for patrolling in the winter!

°Taking a walk around Mountain Vista trail, where the park has shared historic photos of what stood in that space when visitors first started accessing the park.

Let’s talk tours. Guided tours are generally not our thing, we prefer exploring on our own. Unless you are camping at Teklanika or tent camping further into the park, this is the way to see the remainder of the road. You know that iconic picture of Denali reflecting back over Wonder lake, you will need the get a spot on a bus to get to this point in the park. The park service has their own team of tour buses, that run anywhere from 3-12 hour tours.

We were unfortunately only able to go on the 5 hour trip, with Holly to consider we left early and got back before the afternoon temperature started rising. This is longer than we would typically ever be away from her. These busses are also your best bet for seeing wildlife! Though it’s not guaranteed, we saw at least 6 Grizzlies, several Caribou, Dahl Sheep, Moose, several birds including a Short Eared Owl, Hawk Owl and finally Golden Eagles a plenty. Our driver Kevin was also awesome, knowledgeable and just as excited about every sighting as the rest of us!

Things to keep in mind:
°Your national parks pass does cover the cost of admission into this park

°Your pass does not cover camping (when making your reservations online you may be charged the admission fees as well, so show your pass when checking in to get that part refunded.)

°Your pass also does not cover the tour buses, and make those reservations early, some buses were looking pretty full. You do get access to free shuttle buses for the first 15 miles with your admission to the park.

°During peak season the campsites in this park fill up weeks in advance!!! We definetly recommend grabbing a site at Teklanika campground. If you are travelling by RV also remember to check on the size of your rig for restrictions, we saw at least one Class A make the trip. But there are no hookups in this park

°If you are camping in the park make your tour reservation before heading to your site. Once your in your site, the park asks that you keep your vehicle in your campsite. The tour buses will come pick you up at the camground

°Remember that all the campsites in the park are dry. So make sure you are stocked up and charged up before you head in. At Teklanika campground you will be booking your site for a minimum of 3 nights, and again, the vehicle stays put once it’s parked

°Travelling with pets? This one is always a challenge for us, but pet owners are asked to stick to the roadside trail, and parking areas or the road, and of course always on leash. Keep this in mind when you are planning how to see the park. We understand the busses may allow dogs (double check when booking) but stops are limited. So that’s potentially either a long time for your pooch to be alone, or on a bus with alot of very excited tourists

°The park does have a free dumpstation and potable water at the campground registration office

°Thinking of staying outside of the park? There are some great boondocking spots (mostly a short drive from the park) as well as a a few full service RV parks nearby

We drove from Fairbanks which brought us through Healy on our way to the park. Definetly stop and check out 49th State Brewing, they have an awesome beer selection, and nice menu (late night half price appies after 9pm). This pub is also home to the prop bus from Into the Wild, a popular photo op for tourists.

Or if you’re up for the Stampede Trail its just on the edge of town. Logan made his way out to the real “Magic Bus” back in 2004. His travel buddy had read John Krakauers story about Chris Mccandless, and couldn’t pass up the chance to see for themselves. The hike is long enough, it’s an overnighter. With two river crossings, some muddy spots, and all the wide open spaces.


Full-time Vanlife: A Few Tips For Traveling In The Northwest Territories, Canada

Tips for travelling in the Northwest Territories

A few tips for travelling in the Northwest Territories…

☆Bring your bug protection… what ever you are expecting it’s sooo much more than that. Expect mosquitos and horse flies that are known as “bulldogs” by the locals. If it doesn’t have deet, it won’t work 😦

☆Always check in at the local visitor center. We got the inside scoop on the best spots for camping, local history, and all the details from cheapest gas and groceries, to the best hiking trails you don’t want to miss

☆ Gas up! The communities up here are spread out, and fuel isn’t available at every stop. So when you have the chance top up before your next stretch!

☆Don’t miss out on their Territorial Parks! Alot of them have powered sites, awesome showers, some even have wifi and laundry facilities!!!

☆Take your time, the routes are rugged and secluded, wildlife are all around. If ever there was a time to slow down and appreciate all the nature around you…this is it!!

☆be prepared…this goes for spare tires, Jerrycans, bear spray…

☆cell service is very limited. Northwest Tel has the cell business up north, Telus and Bell will get service via their towers, but only in bigger towns. For our friends from the U.S. check with your provider to see if you will get service. ATT for example picks up Roger’s and so you will likely see zero coverage all the way through

If you have some awesome travel tips to share or experiences from the Northwest Territories we would love to hear them!!

A Few Tips For Travelling In The Northwest Territories

Tips for travelling in the Northwest Territories

A few tips for travelling in the Northwest Territories…

☆Bring your bug protection… what ever you are expecting it’s sooo much more than that. Expect mosquitos and horse flies that are known as “bulldogs” by the locals. If it doesn’t have deet, it won’t work 😦

☆Always check in at the local visitor center. We got the inside scoop on the best spots for camping, local history, and all the details from cheapest gas and groceries, to the best hiking trails you don’t want to miss

☆ Gas up! The communities up here are spread out, and fuel isn’t available at every stop. So when you have the chance top up before your next stretch!

☆Don’t miss out on their Territorial Parks! Alot of them have powered sites, awesome showers, some even have wifi and laundry facilities!!!

☆Take your time, the routes are rugged and secluded, wildlife are all around. If ever there was a time to slow down and appreciate all the nature around you…this is it!!

☆be prepared…this goes for spare tires, Jerrycans, bear spray…

☆cell service is very limited. Northwest Tel has the cell business up north, Telus and Bell will get service via their towers, but only in bigger towns. For our friends from the U.S. check with your provider to see if you will get service. ATT for example picks up Roger’s and so you will likely see zero coverage all the way through

If you have some awesome travel tips to share or experiences from the Northwest Territories we would love to hear them!!