Choosing A Van – Introducing Our Roadtrek Zion

We wanted to introduce you to our van and talk a little about why we chose her!

We are not sponsored or endorsed by Roadtrek, but we are going to be talking a lot about them here.

We met our van in Chilliwack, BC at O’Connor RV. We had been daydreaming about vans and researching vans, and really binging on vanlife YouTube videos to see what was out there and what it was like.

We love all the custom van builds out there, honestly, they are gorgeous and mostly what got us thinking about van dwelling in the first place. That being said neither of us is particularly handy or mechanically inclined so building out our own van didn’t seem like the right fit.

Our initial idea was a Volkswagon Rialta. we liked that they were a little roomier than a Westfalia, and had a kitchen and wet bath. Mechanical issues, costs, and standing room for Logan ended up being the main reasons we kept up our search.

We found a used Roadtrek 210 Popular online and really liked the look and features of it. So we figured going and seeing one couldn’t hurt. We drove 2.5 hours to O’Connor and went window shopping. Holy cow, RVs are insane, the dealership had everything from vans, to little $5000 trailers, all the way up to the massive half million dollar busses that are arguably nicer than any house we will ever own (leather furniture, a bar, a fireplace, two TVs) really. If you have never gone and walked around and checked out RVs it’s actually a really fun experience.

Back to the vans. We still knew very little about Roadtrek at this point. We saw the Popular models on Chevy chassis. We also got to check out the E-trek, and Adventurous models on the Mercedes chassis.

When you order a new Roadtrek you chose the chassis, and then the features to be included in your van. We did not order our van, so there are definitely things we would change. But the van was 2 years old but never owned so we were able to get a great deal on it.

When we found our Zion we loved it almost instantly.

Let’s start with the exterior the granite metallic paint job was actually our favorite of the available colors. (Though now we would be curious for the temperature to see how a white or silver van compares).

The ProMaster 3500 has a 3.6L, gas V6 engine, with front wheel drive. We may consider diesel and 4×4 in the future but again the base cost was a big factor. Another thing we considered and appreciate, is that we can take this van to any Dodge dealership so, along the way, we have never had an issue getting in for service. Mechanical issues are a headache, but in our minds easier to negotiate than with say a Mercedes.

The side sliding door has a Thule power step that can be locked out when we camp, otherwise it slides out when the door is opened.

There is a backup camera which is helpful. We had never used one before so it took some getting used to. We typically leave our rear windows covered so this is definitely handy.

Our van had the Continental Package. Our spare tire is hitch mounted on the rear of the van. For access to the spare this is great, but given the option, we would choose the standard under mounted spare tire. We have to lower the spare tire to access the rear driver side door. It’s a double-edged sword, we feel like its a little extra security and a buffer to protect our bumper…but it’s a hassle loading and unloading.

We have a full sized 12′ power awning. We didn’t use this much at first but now we use it often. It gives us shade on the passenger side of the van which really helps with temperature control. Easy to set up and take down. When it comes to being stealthy, awnings and air conditioners are a dead giveaway that its a camper van. But we would keep the awning its been really useful.

There is a roof mounted 11,000 BTU Dometic air conditioner. We have a love-hate relationship with this. One it puts the height restriction of the van over 9’5. Its noisy as all get out and it is right above the bed, so using it is not always fun, and at night it’s hard to ignore the sound. The draw of the a\c will kill our fully charged battery in an hour. We have been in some crazy hot spots like Palm Springs, or Key West in Florida where we really needed the a\c to help keep the van livable for us and Holly. We have the ability to plug in if we need to run the a\c a lot.

We have Roadtreks proprietary Ecotrek power module. This now includes 2, 200 amp lithium batteries mounted under the van (there is a lot of debate in Roadtrek land about AGM vs Lithium.) We started out with one battery and Roadtrek upgraded us to two. We are almost always off-grid, so we rarely plugin, and have rarely had any issues managing our power.

We have a 280amp under the hood generator. This is essentially like a second alternator that allows us to charge our house batteries automatically when we drive.

The van has full plumbing, so we have a 36.5-gallon fresh water tank, a 23.5-gallon gray tank, and a 9.6-gallon black tank. Filling fresh water is easy, the intake is just inside the driver side door. We can also connect to city water through a valve on the rear passenger side of the van (we have never needed to).

There is a 25L\7 gallon propane tank mounted under the rear of the van. We have put propane in 3 times in 10 months and we have never run out of propane. (This feeds, hot water, stove, and furnace).

We also have our outdoor shower. We have actually only used this twice, but it’s definitely handy to have.

Since we have a black tank the van comes equipped with a 12V macerator sewage dump as well as gravity dump. We have always used the macerator, we are able to dump our tanks and hit the road in about 3 minutes. We have had the cover for this area replaced twice. We aren’t sure what the answer is, but hopefully, we can find a more durable solution.

We have 2, 100-watt solar panels on the roof. This is actually only enough power to trickle charge our battery management system, so we would love to upgrade this, to power more than our batteries. Roadtreks can come with significantly more solar when you order them.

Stepping into our van the standing room is listed at 6’2 but Logan is able to stand upright with his head grazing the ceiling so this was a pretty good physical fit for us.

The cabinets are oak and the floors are laminate in ebony, and countertops are granite.

The front chairs swivel so we use the passenger seat facing back pretty much any time we are parked. There is a small table that can be installed between these seats. Though we have only used it once.

Our control panel sits right above the sliding door, we can monitor our batteries, tanks (though they are never accurate), our inverter, patio lights, and awning are all controlled here as well.

There are 6 USB ports, 6 12V DC outlets, and 8 110V outlets throughout the van.

We have a fully enclosed bathroom. Its tiny, but it works for us. Having your own toilet when traveling is so nice (no more nasty outhouses). We do use the shower. We are always surprised to hear that some people don’t but to each their own. We try to limit our water use when we are off-grid, but being able to wash off after a long hike and not going to bed dirty and sweaty is a treat. We do have wipes, but nothing beats soap and water.

Our Fantastic Fan is probably our most used appliance. It is remote control operated and has a rain sensor. This fan creates awesome airflow to help keep the van cool, and also works as our exhaust fan for cooking and showering.

Our kitchen includes a small sink, we don’t love the fold-down faucet but it allows more prep space for us to cover the sink, there is a fold up counter to extend the kitchen space. Stainless steel backsplash so cleanup is easy. There is also a 2 burner propane stove. Given the way our battery system works, I am glad to have propane vs induction. We have never run out of propane or had any issues with the stove. Though we may be interested in buying a small induction unit to try.

The storage capacity in our van is actually huge. Roadtrek did a good job of using the space well. We have food and kitchen supplies stored in the two cabinets under the sink and stove (and we stock so much food like we are Costco shoppers). The slide-out pantry is great, though we did have an extra latch installed to secure it so it doesn’t pop open while we’re driving. The large drawer under the fridge has been a pots and pans drawer, a clothes drawer, and now its an everything drawer (laptop, Dyson, first aid, sunscreen, towels, doggy bags, you name it) our closet is also used for food and coffee brewer storage.

Our fridge was another selling feature, it’s a 5 cubic foot NoreCold fridge which is pretty big by van standards (food storage is a biggy for us). We like that it sits high in the van, so we can see what’s in it, and don’t have to bend down to grab things from it. The fridge runs on 110\12v so it requires the battery to operate. There is a small icebox, we would love more freezer space but we make the most of it!

Fridge cleaning day…

We have a 16000 BTU Suburban furnace with a programmable thermostat. We have used this on a few cold nights and it’s worked pretty well to keep us comfortable.

The valves for our water are tucked in a small cabinet under the fridge. We have a Girard hot water on demand system. There are some good and some bad to it. There is no reservoir like in other water heaters, so less space. It’s a heat exchanger, so you have to pass a lot of water through to get the hot water (not great when you are trying to conserve water and gray tank space).

Our 2000 watt Microgreen inverter is stored in a cabinet under the rear driver side bench seat. This allows us to run our 12V appliances and the a\c.

The rear cabinets are also pretty spacious they run all the way to the rear of the van. We store all our clothes in the rear cabinets and we have a lot of clothes!! Our solar control panel is stashed up here. We also use one cabinet as an electrical supplies cabinet. Our remotes, Weboost Drive 4G X, and our antenna receiver for the tv is in here.

Our van came with a Samsung 24″ flat screen tv on a swivel mount as well as a Panasonic blue ray player. We mostly use our own external hard drive for movies, or we stream Netflix.

Our lighting in the van is LED, each light is controlled separately like a push button.

All of the window coverings and upholstery come standard in the van. It would be nice to have more options to make them a little cuter. That being said we visited the factory we met the man who makes most of it, and he does very good work. We may eventually do some DIY projects to make it feel a little more “us” in here, but really we don’t mind black and gray.

Lastly our bed. So our King sized bed is actually three pieces. The Zion comes in different configurations. Ours had the front facing power sofa (also two more seatbelts so passengers are possible). The front-facing sofa slides flat, and the two seats easily transition to cushions for the bed. The wooden panel that is used to bridge the gap under the bed is actually not big enough (we feel the hole in the middle or a sag at the foot of the bed). We will be cutting a new piece to fit it properly. We also have a 3-inch memory foam topper that we will be replacing. We leave our bed down like a bed all the time. There is ample storage under the bed, but it requires raising the bed to access it. If we were choosing or building custom, we would likely have a fixed bed and have it raised to make access easier.

So why Roadtrek?

  • This a Canadian based company, their factory is in Kitchener, Ontario. They have been building Class B campervans for decades.
  • Roadtrek offers a pretty amazing 6-year transferrable warranty. This covers all the RV components. This warranty has already replaced a cabinet, our fantastic fan motor, a macerator dump hose, and more.

The downsides:

  • Roadtreks proprietary Battery Management System is definitely great, but if you do run into problems, you need someone certified to fix it. There is a shortage of great RV repair technicians, and we were lucky enough to find one of the best in servicing Roadtreks, but not everyone is so lucky. Turn around time and back and forth with the factory leaves a lot of owners frustrated. That being said if you can book in at the factory in Kitchener, the service is incredible.
  • Customization is not what they are about. You have a lot of options to chose from when you order a new Roadtrek, but they are not in the business of customizing. With the growing popularity of vanlife, Class B vans, and Roadtreks in general that factory is pumping out more vans than ever. They won’t be adding in features just for you. There are the standards that they offer, and that’s it.
  • The price tag is high. The website lists the base MSP for a new Zion at $96,022 USD. Financing options are available at most dealerships, which is good because most people don’t have this kind of cash. These vans really are gorgeous and are built well. We think the higher price has been worth it for us so far with the warranty alone.
  • In our van specifically, the low clearance is the price we pay for the holding tanks, plumbing, propane, and batteries. Having a van with higher clearance would be nice for the kind of traveling we do. But we have made it work.

If you have any questions about our van or van life just let us know!

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 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 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!

Driving the Dempster Highway and the road to Tuktoyaktuk

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

Our experience driving the Dempster Highway and the road to Tuktoyaktuk

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

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

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!!

On the Road to Adventure Since 2017

We are Kira and Logan, a couple of 30 something Canadians and our pooch Holly 🐶

We are still fairly new to vanlife, and we are first time Rv’ers. We hit the road full time Novemember 1, 2017, and haven’t looked back! We are figuring it out as we go. We sold our house and most of our stuff and bought a Roadtrek Zion, she’s a fully converted 2015 Dodge Ram Promaster 3500 van.

We were both working full time, in Squamish B.C.  Our schedules never really lined up, so we barely saw eachother. We were tired of living in a gorgeous town, that we never got to enjoy, because all we did was work. We knew we wanted to travel, we were always trying to plan our next vacation. So we took action and made it happen.

So far we have logged 45000km/28000 miles, visited 22 states, and 19 national parks in the U.S. We worked our way accross Canada through 5 provinces and 2 territories and made it up to the Arctic Ocean.

We have met some of the most incredible people along the way. Travel is an amazing common interest. We get lost almost daily, we have gotten stuck and had to be dug out, pushed out or pulled out a few times. Every second hasn’t been perfect, but we love the adventure.

Next year we will be heading over to Europe to explore, still not sure if we will take our van, but we are leaning towards it.

We have always loved meeting, following and supporting other vanlifers and travellers on their journeys!

We hope to see you on down the road!