Back On The Road & Mississippi Bound

Van Life – On the road again, our first week back on the road, heading to Mississippi

We are finally Back On The Road & Mississippi Bound!

From Ontario to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi in 3 days.

On The Road & Mississippi Van Life

Well, we did it. We watched for a “warm” gap in the weather and went to pull the van out of storage the first day we saw above freezing temps.

Our experience storing the van overall was pretty good, sadly it ended up being insanely expensive. The storage facility only offers seasonal contracts, so we paid for Sept-May even though the van only ended up being there for just shy of 2 months. It was a price we paid for the peace of mind of our van being tucked away indoors and warm.

So we brought the van back tot he apartment and cleaned it out properly, every cupboard drawer, and surface was cleaned (still soo much dust from NWT, I think it is in the walls, and have no idea yet how we will get it out. Holly was at a boarding facility we were testing out for Ireland. So for a few glorious hours, the van looked shiny and new, and predominantly free of dog hair😍.

Vanliving, Fulltime Travel, Van Life On The Road & Mississippi

We organized all of the cupboards, some slight changes from last year, but overall the system we have seems to work. It is insane how much food we store in this van.

Everything fit nicely, and I am especially happy with my clothes cupboard. I included our new packing cubes in our last post, but honestly, they make my heart happy every time I open my clothes cupboard.

Vanliving, Fulltime Travel, Van Life, packing tips, minimalist wardrobe

After cleaning and packing the van, we cleaned the apartment and dropped off the keys, and said goodbye to our temporary home. Picked Holly up and hit the road.

Our first stop was at Logans mum’s house. We packed up all our winter gear from our time in Ontario, vacuum packed them and are storing them in her basement. We also stocked her fridge and freezer. We had done a Costco shop not too long ago, and now had way more food than we could fit in our fridge, and some items we knew couldn’t cross the border. One last yummy supper with the family and we were off.

Our First Night On The Road:

We slept our first night at an “On Route”, these are the top-notch rest stops along the 401. We were still winterized so we didn’t have running water in the van. Being close to 24-hour restrooms was nice 👌. Also having Tim Horton’s and Starbucks in the morning is a treat.

On The Road & Mississippi Van Life Tim Hortons

The next morning we carried on and crossed the border in Windsor.

This was our first time being stopped and inspected at the border.

They didn’t like hearing that we were not working, and we were traveling for 2 months (though we have crossed three other times, and they never seemed too concerned). We were also honest about the food items we had in our fridge and thought we had remembered to unload everything, that was a no-no.

We had to put Holly in an outdoor kennel, and head into the building. The border guards were mostly friendly and helpful to the people they were dealing with, ours wasn’t, but that’s just luck of the draw. The guards who inspected our vehicle took a few cherry tomatoes, avocados, and peppers…they were from the U.S and we didn’t think anything of it. They let us know that we hadn’t told them about those items and that the fine for lying to them about food is $300. Thankfully they knew weren’t trying to hide anything, so we got off with a warning.

Tip: They suggested making an itemized list of the contents of the fridge and freezer next time. In all honesty, we usually don’t cross with any food in the fridge, that big Costco shop, and the sudden change in weather left us overstocked…we will empty the fridge next time.

The silver lining in all of this is that Holly did amazing. Our biggest fear since day 1 of traveling has been Holly. She has a history of being reactive, so we worried about her having a meltdown at the border. She sat so calmly and sweetly in that little kennel and watched the guards searching our van without making a peep. She looked super sad, but overall that was a huge win. The training we did with her in B.C has been life-changing.

We watched the weather along 3 different routes south. The first day made it as far as Kentucky, the rain was insane! We were staying out of the freeze that seems to be affecting everyone right now, so that was good. We thought we would visit Mammoth Caves National Park, and do some bourbon tasting, but the majority of Kentucky was under flood warnings. With freezing temperatures two days away.

The next morning the driving conditions were horrible and we switched routes twice. We actually had to pull off the highway a couple times because the rain was so heavy we literally couldn’t see. We are from the PNW and have never seen rain like this.

Our route took us towards Memphis, we made a quick stop, and then straight on to Mississippi…and 75° weather! We forgot about the humidity in the south! We instantly delayed, picked up a couple of brochures at the visitor center, where we were greeted with “Y’all are so welcomed here, Y’all are a long way from home! Welcome to God’s Country”. Southern hospitality is real folks.
**Side note, rest stops in Mississippi have free dump stations!

We decided to stay in a state park for the night, we wanted to camp, we needed access to water and sewer so we could finally de-winterize our tanks. So we chose George P. Cossar State Park. Full hookups for $30. Free showers and they even have laundry facilities. The campground was amazing, right on Enid Lake. Huge sites, quiet, and the day we arrived, almost empty! We found out later that the weekend was fully booked out, event though temperatures were dropping again, I kid you not, “it’s ‘coon huntin’ season”. It is a very real thing, and all fill up for it.

Our first time de-winterizing wasn’t too bad. We drained all the antifreeze from the lines and fresh tank. We added water and bleach, flushed all the lines, and the water pump, and drove around the park to slosh it all around, and left it overnight. The next morning, after a perfectly quiet sleep, we drained again and added fresh water to rinse. We added some vinegar to the fresh water this round, one more rinse and it should be good to go. We started using the water for flushing, and washing dishes, man did I miss having our washroom!!!

From there we made our way to Pass Christian down some of the craziest backroads (thanks Google Maps). We got in after dark, which we usually try to avoid, but we knew the spot we would be sleeping from last year). The Walmart in this town is beach front…so we arrived after dark, walked the dog, went grocery shopping, late dinner and off to bed. I think this Walmart has the most beautiful view of any Walmart. It is a quiet spot, not a ton of RVs park there and it’s tucked away on the coast.

So here we are now on the Gulf Coast, we are excited to be back and have more time to spend. We don’t really have a plan, but we will likely head towards Texas first. We are checking out Gulf Islands National Sea Shore as it was full when we were here last time. Logan is in bird nerd paradise. His list for the year is already around 100, and we were in Ontario winter for the first month.

5 Tips To Help Stick To Your Budget While Traveling Full-time

We set a monthly budget for ourselves when we were getting ready to hit the road. While we can’t say we nail it every month. We have done pretty well overall. Here are 5 things that have helped us stick to budget on the road:

We set a monthly budget for ourselves when we were getting ready to hit the road. While we can’t say we nail it every month. We have done pretty well overall. Here are 5 things that have helped us stick to our budget on the road:

1. Stock up:
Meal planning and knowing what you need before you head out will go a long way in your budget. Groceries and supplies are often at a premium in remote places.

so if you stock up, it can save you some serious bucks in the long run. Also preparing your own food and coffee is much more budget friendly than grabbing food on the go.

And of course, never go shopping on an empty stomach! Planning ahead keeps random snack purchases to a minimum.

2. Boondocking:

Boondocking, travel tips, vanlife, budget travel, frugal travel, living in a van, free camping

Technically this refers to being out in the “boonies”, but these days it’s usually associated with free camping. We do pay to camp pretty regularly as well, but we have gone a month or more at a time without paying to camp, and that really helped our budget. There are several apps out there like Ioverlander, Wikicamps, Park Advisor and websites like freecampsites.net. These are user fed with comments, photos and info about free spots. You are getting peoples honest opinions, for better or worse. We love BLM land while travelling in the U.S many areas allow free dry camping for up to 14 days. Remember this is typically dry or wild camping so there likely won’t be facilities, pack it in, pack it out. I will mention Walmarts here as well, many do offer free overnight parking for RV’s, I did say many, not all. We see folks ignoring the signs for overnight parking pretty regularly. If you need to overnight at a Walmart or any other business and you aren’t sure about their rules, check with them first (this may save you from a knock on your door in the middle of the night asking you to move)

3. Passes:
Are you into exploring National Parks and visiting National Historic Sites? Our America the Beautiful National Parks Pass paid for itself in Utah alone. The cost of admission to most National Parks is around $30. This pass cost us $80. It has more than paid for itself in 22 National Parks, dozens of National Historic Sites, and National Monuments. We bought the Parks Canada Pass as well, and the price tag is a little higher, but with the number of National Parks, and Historic Site visits it has also more than paid for itself.

4. Points Cards and Memberships:
We have points cards for groceries, gas, and drugstores. The points we earn through our regular purchases have gained us free groceries, supplies and gas. We are members at MEC and REI, and have used those memberships for gear along the way. We also stay in RV parks from time to time, so our Membership to Passport America and Good Sam have earned us discounts that more than covered the cost of membership.

5. GasBuddy!
The biggest single expense in our travels has been fuel. We have spent more than one third of our budget on gas! So we do the best we can by using the GasBuddy website and app to find the cheapest gas on our trips. At least we can plan ahead and avoid overpaying for gas. Every penny we save adds up when it comes to fuel. Gas prices are often super inconsistent and vary a lot from station to station and town to town. Our second piece in fuel savings is fuel economy. We aim for the sweet spot and use cruise control whenever we can, we have contests to see who is the more “efficient” driver.

If you have tips for saving on the road, we would love to hear them!

Don’t forget to check out our tips for staying connected on the road!

5 Tips To Help Stick To Your Budget While Travelling Full Time

We set a monthly budget for ourselves when we were getting ready to hit the road. While we can’t say we nail it every month. We have done pretty well overall. Here are 5 things that have helped us stick to budget on the road:

We set a monthly budget for ourselves when we were getting ready to hit the road. While we can’t say we nail it every month. We have done pretty well overall. Here are 5 things that have helped us stick to our budget on the road:

1. Stock up:
Meal planning and knowing what you need before you head out will go a long way in your budget. Groceries and supplies are often at a premium in remote places.

so if you stock up, it can save you some serious bucks in the long run. Also preparing your own food and coffee is much more budget friendly than grabbing food on the go.

And of course, never go shopping on an empty stomach! Planning ahead keeps random snack purchases to a minimum.

2. Boondocking:

Technically this refers to being out in the “boonies”, but these days it’s usually associated with free camping.  We do pay to camp pretty regularly as well, but we have gone a month or more at a time without paying to camp, and that really helped our budget. There are several apps out there like Ioverlander, Wikicamps, Park Advisor and websites like freecampsites.net. These are user fed with comments, photos and info about free spots. You are getting peoples honest opinions, for better or worse. We love BLM land while travelling in the U.S many areas allow free dry camping for up to 14 days. Remember this is typically dry or wild camping so there likely won’t be facilities, pack it in, pack it out. I will mention Walmarts here as well, many do offer free overnight parking for RV’s, I did say many, not all. We see folks ignoring the signs for overnight parking pretty regularly. If you need to overnight at a Walmart or any  other business and you aren’t sure about their rules, check with them first (this may save you from a knock on your door in the middle of the night asking you to move)

3. Passes:
Are you into exploring National Parks and visiting National Historic Sites? Our America the Beautiful National Parks Pass paid for itself in Utah alone. The cost of admission to most National Parks is around $30. This pass cost us $80. It has more than paid for itself in 22 National Parks, dozens of National Historic Sites, and National Monuments. We bought the Parks Canada Pass as well, and the price tag is a little higher, but with the number of National Parks, and Historic Site visits it has also more than paid for itself.

4. Points Cards and Memberships:
We have points cards for groceries, gas, and drugstores. The points we earn through our regular purchases have gained us free groceries, supplies and gas. We are members at MEC and REI, and have used those memberships for gear along the way. We also stay in RV parks from time to time, so our Membership to Passport America and Good Sam have earned us discounts that more than covered the cost of membership.

5. GasBuddy!
The biggest single expense in our travels has been fuel. We have spent more than one third of our budget on gas! So we do the best we can by using the GasBuddy website and app to find the cheapest gas on our trips. At least we can plan ahead and avoid overpaying for gas. Every penny we save adds up when it comes to fuel. Gas prices are often super inconsistent and vary a lot from station to station and town to town. Our second piece in fuel savings is fuel economy. We aim for the sweet spot and use cruise control whenever we can, we have contests to see who is the more “efficient” driver.

If you have tips for saving on the road, we would love to hear them!

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.

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.

Dempster Highway, driving to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, travel guide, vanlife travel, full time travel, off the beaten trail, epic roadtrips

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.

Thanks for checking out this guide to driving the Dempster Highway, visit our guide to getting off the beaten trail in Louisiana

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: 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.