Dempster Highway

(Yukon Highway 5 and NWT Highway 8)

The Dempster Highway begins 40 km/25 miles east of Dawson City in the Yukon and ends in Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories. Since November 2017, Dempster Highway travellers can drive an additional 138 kms of highway, NWT Highway 10, from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk, NT. NWT Highway 10 from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk was previously a seasonal ice road, only accessable in winter, the extension ensures visitors can travel to Tuktoyaktuk all year round. 

The Dempster Highway stretches 740 km/460 miles through the Tombstone, Ogilvie and Richardson mountain ranges and three ecological areas, providing the opportunity to view wildlife and enjoy some of the most beautiful wilderness scenery in the world.

Completed in 1978, the Dempster is the only public highway in Canada to cross the Arctic Circle. It was named for Sgt. W.J.D. Dempster of the Northwest Mounted Police who, in the winter of 1910-11, was sent to search for the "Lost Patrol". Construction started under Canada's "Roads to Resources" program in the late 1950s, but only 117 km/72.7 miles were completed at that time. In the 1970s, work began again as an overland supply route to Inuvik was needed to serve the largescale oil exploration taking place in the Beaufort Sea. Since then, visitors from around the world have discovered the phenomenal beauty of this highway and make this journey a major focus of their vacation.

Information about the route and highway conditions is available at the Dempster Delta Visitor Information Centre on Front Street in Dawson City. There is also an interpretive display about the highway at the junction of the Klondike Highway and the Dempster Highway.

The NWT portion of this route will take you through the communities of Fort McPherson, Tsiigehtchic, Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk. There are several territorial campgrounds, viewpoints, picnic sites and fishing spots along the way.

Northwest Territories' campgrounds along the Dempster are Nitainlaii (D2), Vadzaih Van Tshik (D3) and Gwich'in (D3). Jàk (D4) and Happy Valley (D5), located in Inuvik, can easily accommodate RVs.

Once in Inuvik, you can venture to the Arctic Ocean.

Gasoline, diesel and propane services are available at Fort McPherson, Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk (no propane in Tuktoyaktuk) in the NWT and Eagle Plains in the Yukon.

Kilometres/miles reflect distance from the beginning of the Dempster Highway in the Yukon, at the junction of Highway 2 (Klondike Highway) and Highway 5 (Dempster Highway).

When crossing into the NWT, The Dempster becomes NWT Highway 8.

Distances to various locations from Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk
Distance Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk
Inuvik, NT / 138 km (86 mi)
Arctic Circle, YT 331 km (205 mi) 469 km (291 mi)
Eagle Plains, YT 379 km (236 mi) 517 km (322 mi)
Dawson, YT 774 km (481 mi) 912 km (567 mi)
Whitehorse, YT 1,227 km (762 mi) 1,365 km (848 mi)
Calgary, AB 3,532 km (2,195 mi) 3,670 km (2,285 mi)
Fort Nelson, BC 2,200 km (1,366 mi) 2,338 km (1,452 mi)
Edmonton, AB 3,235 km (2,010 mi) 3,373 km (2,096 mi)
Vancouver, BC 3,898 km (2,422 mi) 4,036 km (2,508 mi)
Toronto, ON 6,611 km (4,120 mi) 6,749 km (4,206 mi)

Tombstone Mountain Campground

Kilometre 72 (Mile 45)

30 campsites.

Viewpoint of Tombstone Mountain

Kilometre 75 (Mile 47)

North Fork Pass

Kilometre 82 (Mile 51)

The Dempster Highway's highest elevation at 1,298 metres/4,229 feet.

Commemorative Plaque

Kilometre 117 (Mile 72)

The Royal Northwest Mounted Police trekked this country on their monthlong patrols from Dawson to Aklavik. This plaque commemorates the role of Sgt. W.J.B. Dempster.

Engineer Creek Campground

Kilometre 194 (Mile 120)

Yukon Government campground offering 15 campsites, kitchen shelter, water, toilets and other amenities.

Ogilvie River Bridge

Kilometre 223 (Mile 141)

The Dempster Highway leaves the river valley at Kilometre 242 (Mile 150) and begins to climb again some 915 metres/3,000 feet into the continental divide and through the rolling Eagle Plains.

Ogilvie-Peel Viewpoint

Kilometre 259 (Mile 161)

"Drunken Forest"

Kilometre 281 (Mile 174)

Permafrost action has heaved the ground under a patch of jack pine and black spruce.

Eagle Plains Hotel and RV Campground

Kilometre 369 (Mile 229)

This marks the halfway point to Inuvik. The highway lodge is open year-round, offers a licensed restaurant and lounge, full-service garage, RV park and campground – 15 sites.

Arctic Circle

Kilometre 405 (Mile 252)

Just beyond Eagle Plains, the highway crosses the Arctic Circle where there are 24-hours of daylight for six weeks during summer. Make sure you take your picture at the signpost!

Rock River Campground

Kilometre 447 (Mile 277)

17 campsites offer sheltered protection within a steep gorge of the Richardson Mountains.

Wright Pass Summit

Kilometre 464 (Mile 288.3)

The last high point on the highway before travellers cross into the Northwest Territories.

Yukon/NWT Border Crossing

Kilometre 465 (Mile 288.9)

Here you will find a rest stop and interpretive display. The Dempster Highway crosses the continental divide a third time as it winds through the Richardson Mountains.

James Creek Highway Camp

Kilometre 14.4 (Mile 8.9)

No services. Good grayling fishing.

Midway Lake

Kilometre 43.9 (Mile 27.3)

Site of the annual Midway Lake music festival held on the August long weekend.

Tetlit Gwinjik Day Use Area

Kilometre 71 (Mile 44.1)

Nestled on the north-facing slope of the Peel River Plateau, this interpretive lookout gives a sweeping view that encompasses the Richardson Mountains, the Mackenzie Delta and the community of Fort McPherson on the banks of the Peel River.

The Abraham Francis Ferry – Peel River Crossing

Kilometre 74.2 (Mile 46.1)

Operating hours are 9:15 am to 12:45 am from early June to mid-October, and operates based on demand.

In winter, an ice road replaces the ferry during freeze-up.

Attention

Crossing the river is not possible during spring ice break-up and fall river freeze-up. Check current river crossing conditions: 1-800-661-0750

Nitainlaii Territorial Park

Kilometre 75.9 (Mile 47.2)

There are 23 non-powered sites perched on a cliff overlooking the Peel River, and surrounded by stands of white birch and white spruce trees. This is an ideal place to unwind. Spend time in the visitor centre for a fascinating glimpse of the life of the Gwich'in people, past and present.

Fort McPherson

Kilometre 85.4 (Mile 53.1)

Fort McPherson (pop. 791) is a picturesque community located in the Mackenzie Delta and home to the Tetlit Gwich'in people, and is a popular stopping place for travellers heading for the end of the road.

Of Special Interest

  • Visit the Fort McPherson Tent and Canvas Company, world famous for their prospector tents, tepees and sturdy duffel bags
  • Visit the graves of the Lost Patrol of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police

Frog Creek

Kilometre 122.4 (Mile 76.1)

The Louis Cardinal Ferry – Mackenzie River and Arctic Red River Crossing

Kilometre 142.6 (Mile 88.6)

The ferry operates from 9:30 am to 12:45 am "on demand", from early June to late October. This ferry travels across the Mackenzie River and also provides access to Tsiigehtchic. You need to let the ferry personnel know that you want to go there.

In winter, an ice road replaces the ferry.

Attention

Crossing the river is not possible during spring ice break-up and fall river freeze-up.

Check current river crossing conditions: 1-800-661-0750

Tsiigehtchic

Kilometre 142.6 (Mile 88.6)

Tsiigehtchic (Arctic Red River) is a community of 177 located at the confluence of the Arctic Red and Mackenzie Rivers. Tsiigehtchic, means "mouth of iron river". Most of the Gwichya Gwich'in inhabitants still follow a traditional lifestyle of hunting, fishing and trapping.

Rengling River

Kilometre 177.9 (Mile 110.5)

A fine picnic spot, with Arctic grayling fishing.

Gwich'in Territorial Park

Kilometre 277 (Mile 172.1)

The Dempster Highway serves as a boundary for the 8,800 hectare park and connects visitors to two campgrounds, two day use areas, a scenic lookout and a hiking trail. The park is home to a number of natural heritage wonders of the Mackenzie Delta Region: limestone cliffs, rare Arctic plant communities, migratory bird staging areas and Campbell Lake, an excellent example of a reversing delta.

The following five sites are within the park and offer day use or camping facilities.

Gwich'in Territorial Park – Vadzaih Van Tshik Campground

Kilometre 221 (Mile 137.4)

There are 10 non-powered sites nestled on the side of Caribou Creek, well protected from the elements by a steep cliff on the north side of the creek. Birds of prey glide high past the park. Vadzaih Van Tshik Campground does not have internet access; therefore, campsites are not available for booking on NWTParks.ca. This campground has a self-registration kiosk by the entrance. Campsites are on a first-come, first-served basis.

Gwich'in Territorial Park – Tithegeh Chii Vitaii Lookout

Kilometre 225.9 (mile 140.4)

A short walk from the highway takes you to the edge of the cliffs overlooking Campbell Lake, watch for peregrine falcons. Wood frogs inhabit the lake, which is their northern range limit. There is also approximately half a kilometre of walking trails for you to enjoy.

Gwich'in Territorial Park – Gwich'in Territorial Campground

Kilometre 240 (Mile 149)

Facilities include 29 non-powered campsites and 4 tent sites. Enjoy the spectacular shoreline of Campbell Lake.

Gwich'in Territorial Park – Ehjuu Njik Day Use Area

Kilometre 244.3 (Mile 154.9)

Spend the afternoon picnicking at Cabin Creek or cast your line for Arctic grayling.

Gwich'in Territorial Park – Nihtak Day Use Area

Kilometre 254 (Mile 157.8)

This day use park provides an access point to Campbell Lake at the foot of the Dolomite Hills. During the spring water runoff, large numbers of whitefish migrate up the creek to spawn. Spend the day picnicking and absorbing the panoramic scenery.

Junction with Airport Road

Kilometre 259.3 (Mile 161.1)

The airport facilities are to the left and the town of Inuvik is at the end of the road to the right.

Jàk Territorial Park

Kilometre 266.0 (Mile 165.3)

This park, located just outside of Inuvik, has 11 powered and 25 non-powered sites. An observation tower offers excellent views of the surrounding scenery and prime bird watching opportunities. Watch for falcons, eagles, ducks and more. Look for cranberries, blueberries and cloudberries that give the park its name – Jàk means "berry" in Gwich'in. Camping reservations at Jàk Territorial Park can be made online at .

Inuvik

Kilometre 269.3 (Mile 167.3)

Inuvik (pop. 3,170) is the largest community in this region and is the last stop on the Dempster Highway and start of the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk road. A modern Arctic community, Inuvik has full visitor services, including boat and air tours to other communities and to sites of interest in the Mackenzie Delta.

Inuvik serves as the base for trips to other communities and national parks. From Inuvik, you can drive north to Tuktoyaktuk and dip a toe in the Arctic Ocean. In summer, take a boat to Aklavik or Tuktoyaktuk, or fly to one of the more remote communities on the Arctic coast such as Ulukhaktok, Sachs Harbour or Paulatuk. Consider booking a fly-in trip with Parks Canada to Ivvavik National Park and Herschel Island. During the winter, drive an ice road between Inuvik and Aklavik.

Located 220 km/124 air miles north of the Arctic Circle, Inuvik experiences the true Midnight Sun from May 24 to July 24. The sun does not set for 57 days.

This is contrasted by about 30 days (December 5 to January 5) when the sun does not rise above the horizon, but still provides 4 hours of twilight.

Of Special Interest

  • The Western Arctic Regional Visitor Centre is a unique building, with northern displays
  • Visit the Igloo Church - Inuvik's best known landmark
  • Visit the Community Greenhouse, in a former arena, it is a green oasis
  • The Aurora Research Centre where visiting scientists provide public presentations on their research projects
  • The Great Northern Arts Festival, held the 3rd week of July, draws amazing talent from across the north

Happy Valley Territorial Park

Located in the town of Inuvik, this park offers convenient walking access to the town's facilities and attractions. There are 19 powered and 15 non-powered sites as well as a group tenting site. Situated on a bluff overlooking the east branch of the Mackenzie River, the park has wonderful views of the Richardson Mountains. Camping reservations at Happy Valley Territorial Park can be made online at .

Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway (Highway 10)

For the first time in Canadian history, Canada's highway system is connected for the travelling public from coast to coast to coast. As of November 2017, the brand new 138 km (85.8 mile) highway between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk will open up the Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk, NWT (pop. 898) and the Beaufort-Delta to the world.

To access the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway, travellers can either take the Mackenzie Road through the town of Inuvik (turn right at Navy Road) or take the Marine Bypass Road (and turn right at Navy Road). Navy Road will transition into the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway at the municipal boundary.

Along the journey north of Inuvik, travellers will be treated with incredible views of hundreds of lakes, sweeping views of the Mackenzie River Delta and the unique ability to drive to the shores of the Arctic Ocean. There are 8 pull-out rest areas located along the journey to safely pull over and stretch your legs and enjoy your adventurous day.

The Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway can be categorized into three zones:

  1. Highlands (begins in Inuvik ends at the edge of the Caribou Hills);
  2. Lake Lands (the central segment between Parsons Lake and Husky Lakes); and
  3. Tuk Plains (the final zone that weaves through the small lakes and wetlands of the Tuktoyaktuk Coastal Plains)

The Highlands

Kilometre 0 (Mile 0)

The Highlands section of the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway passes through the Caribou Hills and is characterized with stunted tree growth (poplar, birch and white spruce). Midway through the Highlands section of the highway, travellers will cross into the fall migration zone of both the Bluenose West and Cape Bathurst caribou herds. There are four bridge crossings in the Highlands sections at Km 2.5 (mile 1.5), Km 8.4 (mile 5.2), Km 26.1 (mile 16.2), and Km 40.4 (mile 25.1). Make sure to pull-over and take a highway break at one of the three pull-out rest areas in the Highlands section at Km 29 (mile 18), Km 30 (mile 18.6), and Km 41 (mile 25.5).

Lake Lands

Approximately Kilometer 52 (Mile 32.3)

The Lake Lands section of the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway is a transitional zone between the Caribou Hills and the Tuktoyaktuk coastal plains and begins at approximately kilometre 52 (mile 32.3). It contains two bridge crossings Km 57.3 (mile 35.6) and Km 69.1 (mile 42.9), and two pull-out rest areas at Km 62 (mile 38.53) and Km 71 (mile 44.12). Travellers will drive past two major lakes; the picturesque Parson's Lake and the scenic Husky Lake. The vegetation throughout this transitional zone is varied with tundra shrubs and small stunted trees that typically grow in the sheltered lowland river valleys.

The Tuk Plains

Approximately Kilometre 87 (Mile 54.06)

The Tuk Plains is a breathtaking section of the highway characterized by low shrubby vegetation, hundreds of lakes and the Beaufort-Delta pingos! The Tuk Plains is steeped in tradition and history and the area is home to many interesting and significant Indigenous cultural sites. The area is actively used by caribou and grizzly bears; caribou herds migrate through this zone during the fall rut and grizzly bears use the area for denning over the winter. Stop and absorb the unique views of the Tuk Plains at one of three highway pull-outs located at Km 107 (mile 66.5), Km 103 (mile 70.2), and the Pingo pull-out rest area located 3 Kms (1.86 miles) from the Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk. Expect two bridge crosses in the Tuk Plains at Km 92.6 (mile 57.5) and at Km 104.1 (mile 64.7).

Tuktoyaktuk

On the shores of the Arctic Ocean sits the peaceful hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk (pop. 898). The hamlet's name, Tuktoyaktuk, or Tuktuuyaqtuuq (Tuk), is the traditional name from the Inuvialuit language and is translated as "place resembling a caribou". Today, it is common to refer to Tuktoyaktuk by its first syllable, "Tuk".

History

Tuk has established a long history and reputation as a traditional whaling town. Since ancient times, the Inuvialuit have lived on the shores of the Arctic Ocean and established the permanent settlement at Tuktoyaktuk in 1905. For centuries, the area was a favoured fishing locality and a place to harvest caribou and beluga whales. Tuk has held onto its traditions as a whaling town as many local community members still hunt, fish and trap.

Services Available

  • Two gas stations that sell both gasoline and diesel (Northern Store and Bob's Welding Gas Bar). Unfortunately, there is no place in town to purchase propane
  • Two grocery stores (Northern and Stanton's)
  • One convenience store (End of the Road Store). Hours: 7 pm – 12 am (4 days/week)
  • Two (take-out) food establishments (Stanton Store and End of the Road Store)
  • Over-night campers/parking allowed at the Point Area near the picnic shelters ("Leave-no-Trace" wilderness camping only please)
  • There are six Tuktoyaktuk tour guides that offer community tours, boat/land tours, or fishing/hunting/camping tours
    • Arctic Tour Company: 867-977-2230
    • Chuck Gruben's Guiding and Outfitting: 867-977-2360
    • C-Tap Guiding and Outfitting Services: 867-977-2669
    • Cockney Big Game Hunting: 867-678-5368
    • Joanne's Taxi: 867-977-2547
    • Ookpik Tours and Adventures: 867-977-2170

Pingo National Landmark

Unique to the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk is the famous the Pingo Canadian Landmark, a natural area protecting eight pingos (out of 1,350 pingos) in the area. One of the protected pingos in the area is named Ibyuk Pingo, and is Canada's largest pingo (and 2nd largest in the world) at 49 m (160 feet) tall and stretching 300 m (984 feet) across the bottom. Ibyuk is estimated to be more than 1,000 years old and grows at a rate of about 2 cms (0.8 inches)/year. Traditionally, pingos were used by the Inuvialuit as navigation aids, and as look-outs for locating caribou herds or whales offshore.

The Pingo National Landmark is located 5 kms (3 miles) west of Tuktoyaktuk. To access the Pingo National Landmark viewing boardwalk, launch your (or your rented) canoe/kayak at the Day Use Area beach and paddle west towards the pingos for 30 to 40 minutes. The Tuktoyaktuk Canoe club will lend out their canoe(s) to responsible visitors. To sign out a Canoe Club canoe (with oars/life jackets), inquire at the local RCMP detachment. (Please note: Due to operations, the Detachment may not always be open to the public). Visitors are allowed to hike the pingos on foot; however, ATVs and snowmobiles are not permitted.

DId You Know?

There are two types of pingos; open-system and closed-system pingos.

  • An open-system pingo is formed in areas of thin or discontinuous permafrost when the groundwater is forced past the permafrost (under artesian pressure) and comes into contact with the freezing surface. The artesian pressure continually forces groundwater to the surface, in turn, pushing up the overburden and creating a pingo
  • A closed-system pingo is formed in areas of continuous permafrost. When a water body such as a lake saturates the unfrozen areas below the ground surface, but above the continuous permafrost. When the permafrost advances, it will freeze the water-saturated ground into an ice lens and under hydrostatic pressure will force the ice lens towards the surface forming an ice mound (or pingo)

Tuktoyaktuk Ice House

A unique feature in the community of Tuktoyaktuk is the community ice house, which is used as a community freezer. The ice house is a large underground series of tunnels and rooms. It was carved out of the permafrost below the community over 50 years ago, in 1963. There are 19 rooms in total and three hallway/tunnels. It is used by locals to store meat collected during hunts. To ensure the integrity of the locally harvested meat, the ice house is closed to the public.

Our Lady of Lourdes Schooner

On the main street in Tuktoyaktuk sits a beautifully restored retired schooner named Our Lady of Lourdes. For more than 20 years (in the 1930s and 1940s), the schooner served as a delivery vessel to far-flung Catholic missions from Tuktoyaktuk to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.