We're recently back from an amazing trip to Yukon, the North West Territories, and Alaska!
We rented a Jeep with a roof top tent in Whitehorse from Overland Yukon and spent two weeks driving the Dempster Highway, up to Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean, followed by a quick diversion into Alaska along the Top of the World Highway.
This was our first visit to NWT and Alaska, but our second trip to the Yukon, after visiting in March 2022. It was great to see the contrasts between Summer and Winter. You can read more about our Winter visit, which focuses on Whitehorse and Dawson City.
Day 1 - Whitehorse
We were met at Whitehorse Airport by Andrew from Overland Yukon, who introduced us to the vehicle that would be home for the next couple of weeks and showed us how to set up the roof top tent. The roof tent is really simple and quick to set up, and we were very impressed with how comfortable it was. With our family of four, we opted to upgrade for the larger tent, and it fit us perfectly.
We then drove into Whitehorse to pick up some supplies, including the all important beer and gin from Yukon Brewing! With an afternoon arrival and knowing that we needed to stock up before heading on the road, we decided to spend the night near Whitehorse, so opted for a night at Caribou RV park. It's a great full service campground on the southern outskirts of Whitehorse, where we stayed in a cabin at the end of our Winter trip.
The first set-up of the tent on our own went very smoothly thanks to Andrew's clear instructions, and we were quickly ready to enjoy a beer and the free popcorn (Fridays only) on the deck outside the campground reception, before heading next door to the Wolf's Den restaurant for dinner.
At this time of year in Whitehorse the sun hardly sets at all, so it was strange going to bed in almost full daylight. A red fox wandered right past the tent just as we were heading up to the tent, which turned out to be the first of many foxes on this trip.
Day 2 - The Klondike Highway
We headed into Whitehorse in the morning and went to the Visitors' Centre to pick up some maps and information booklets. Being Canada Day, there were lots of events planned in Whitehorse, we wanted to hit the road, so didn't get to experience much, but we did go to the pancake breakfast at Shipyards Park. The sourdough pancakes were delicious, even in the rain; as the locals said 'if our beer is worth freezing for, our pancakes are worth getting wet for'!
The 530km Klondike Highway from Whitehorse to Dawson City is paved and can be travelled relatively quickly, (roughly 6 hours) although there was a pretty long stretch of muddy construction work where it wasn't clear which part of the 'road' we were meant to be on! We'd been this route before, so didn't hang around, but there are some worthwhile stops at the Braeburn Lodge (for their famous cinnamon buns) and the Five Fingers Rapids viewpoint.
Fuel stations are few and far between, so take advantage where you can to fill up. We stopped in Carmacks to top up the tank.
Our second night was spent at the Klondike River Campground, just outside of Dawson City. This was to be the first of many Territorial Campgrounds which all have similar facilities; fire rings, free fire wood, pit toilets and picnic tables. The campgrounds cost $20 per night, and work on a self-registration system - take cash and a pen!
Day 3 - The Dempster Highway
Day 4 - Crossing the Arctic Circle
Now getting used to the road, and after a short previous day, we were ready to tackle a good stretch of the Dempster by Monday.
After a quick stop in Eagle Plains for gas and lunch in the roadhouse restaurant, we continued north to the cross the Arctic Circle at 66°33' N and onwards over the Yukon / North West Territories border.
Just south of Fort McPherson we took the free ferry over the Peel River, and then stopped at the NWT Territorial Campground at Nitainlaii (about 345km from Engineer Creek). With the stop for lunch, this was about a 6 hour day.
This campground also had hot showers and flushing toilets, luxury!
Day 5 - The Road to The Arctic Ocean
The next day we completed the last 190km or so of the Dempster and made it to Inuvik, Canada's largest settlement north of the Arctic Circle. After a trip to the visitors centre, we filled up at the gas station, and resupplied at the grocery and liquor stores.
The short stretch of paved highway between Inuvik airport and the town was a welcome relief but didn't last long, as it was soon time to hit the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway. The first road in North America to reach the Arctic Ocean; the ITH, or Road to the Arctic Ocean, was completed in 2017 and linked Canada from Coast to Coast to Arctic Coast by road for the first time. The gravel highway stretches 140km from Inuvik to Tuk. Crossing the Arctic treeline just north of Inuvik you leave the Boreal Forest and enter the wide open tundra of the Barrenlands; home to herds of reindeer and caribou (although we saw neither!).
While the ITH is well maintained and doesn't have many potholes, it is very thick gravel which hasn't been as compacted as some of the previous sections of road; we found it pretty slow going. The 345km or so from Nitainlaii to Tuk took us about 6 hours including the stops in Inuvik. Just south of Tuk, you'll see the Ibyuk Pingo rising up from the surrounding flat tundra. Pingos are unusual hills formed around a core of ice, and there are 1350 of them in the region. Ibyuk is Canada's tallest and the world's second-tallest pingo at 49 metres (about 161 feet) in height. Eight of these pingos are protected by Parks Canada as the Pingo Canadian Landmark.
Day 6 - Tukoyaktuk
After a couple of beautiful nights camping by the Arctic Ocean, we were sad to leave Tuk. We headed back down the ITH, stopping again in Inuvik for gas, ice and groceries. Then we were back on the Dempster heading south.
We spent the night at the Gwich'in Territorial Park campground, which had great views over Campbell Lake, and was pretty much deserted on a Thursday night. With the stop in Inuvik, it took us around 3 and a half hours to cover the 190km.
Day 8 - The Dempster Highway to Eagle Plains
We really wanted to camp at Tombstone Territorial Park, on our way south, so it made sense to break up the journey at Eagle Plains. While it looks like a major settlement on the maps, Eagle Plains is really just a roadhouse. The facility was purpose built at the halfway point between Dawson City and Inuvik and consists of a gas station, motel, tire repair shop (of course), restaurant, (of sorts, it had a canteen like feel to it, but isn't bad and certainly serves a purpose out there), bar (complete with a ton of stuffed animals and a pool table) and campground.
Day 9 - The Dempster Highway to Tombstone Territorial Park
Day 10 - The Dempster Highway to Dawson City
Apparently two bootlegging brothers got caught in a snowstorm, one had fallen through the ice and got a wet foot. He got frostbite, and his brother chopped his toe off with an axe. They decided to keep the toe in a jar of whiskey, and left it in a cabin. Years later someone found the jar and decided to drink the whiskey, I think it was probably a drunken bet! And so the sourtoe cocktail was invented. Or something like that anyway...