Driving the Dempster Highway to the Arctic Ocean is the greatest road trip we've ever taken. Many call driving the Alaska Highway the great roadtrip, but that seems congested and crowded compared to the Dempster. While driving to and through Alaska was an incredible experience, our favorite part of this far northern region of the world was the drive to the Arctic Ocean which is why we're sharing our experiences with you.
I think we all want a little bit of adventure in our lives, and for many, a roadtrip is the best way to take that first step into experiencing something new. The freedom that comes with loading up the car, turning on your favorite playlist, and hitting the road is hard to beat. Watching the scenery change as you slowly drive away from familiar places and into the unknown is exhilarating and, at times, a bit daunting.
If taking that first step into a new adventure is still scary, congratulations! Keep taking it one step at a time. If you're a seasoned traveler and thrill seeker, that's great, too. No matter who you are that's interested in taking off a journey to the Arctic Ocean, you can do it. With a lot of planning, you too can take a polar plunge where the polar bears swim and witness a region of the world that is remote and wild. We're to help you with everything you need to know before you hit the road. The planning starts at home, and we'll walk you through the steps of what you need to know.
The Dempster Highway is an incredible adventure for those who are willing and looking for adventure beyond the regularly trodden path of Alaska goers. We drove the road back in 2019 and had so much fun exploring places that few other tourists had ventured to before. People have been living in this region of the world for thousands of years, but the road has only been accessible to the general public since 2017.
The highway has grown in popularity the last few years. Since the last bit of road was completed in November 2017 and it became possible to drive to the Arctic Ocean directly, loads of people (including ourselves) have visited. We drove the road in 2019 (the second year you could reach the Arctic Ocean) and we could sense the strain it was putting on the locals. These are a people who are used to a quiet way of life and are not accustomed to droves of tourists filling up their town.
While everyone was kind and friendly, there were certainly moments when you could tell the locals (specifically in Tuktoyuktuk) didn't want us there. They've since made a campground to funnel the tourists to certain places so they aren't just parking, camping, and partying all over the place. When we visited Tuktoyuktuk, we witnessed tourists from all over the world partying, drinking, screaming, and blasting music still at 1:00 am. It may have gone on later, but we didn't stay longer to witness it because we felt like our presence was adding to the chaos that was thrust upon the locals without a choice.
Here's what we know: respect the people and they'll respect you. This is their home. Like all places, please travel responsibly. If you're going to visit these places, support local business by buying art, gifts, food at restaurants, and even staying at local hotels and bed and breakfasts.
I almost didn't write this article because encouraging people to visit Tuktoyuktuk seems like sort of a bad idea, but some of the locals are making a living off of the new tourism industry. I decided to go ahead and write this guide because chances are you stumbled upon my post because you were Googling "Dempster Highway." If you're going to go visit this region of the world, I hope this article encourages you to do so responsibly and prepare you to go safely and prepared.
We want to share everything we learned from our own journey up the Dempster Highway with you. Through research we'll continue to update this blogpost as information changes and route develops through the years.
Ready for an adventure? Keep reading to get to planning!
Navigate via coordinates, not necessarily Google Maps - Google can lead you astray, your best way to navigate is by kilometer markers/mile markers or GPS coordinates.
Take the phone number of a tow truck company, just in case - Hopefully you won't need the number of a tow truck, but just in case, take one! Chief Isaac Mechanical in Dawson City is who we'd recommend.
Don't pick up hitchhikers - While the Dempster Highway is overall very safe and everyone we talked to personally was very kind, we did have an unsafe experience with a man who kept stepping in front of our car wanting a ride. Later the locals advised us never to pick up hitchhikers (which we don't anyway). Even though this area is remote, don't pick them up.
Get the Milepost! - We talk about this more in the gear section later in this article, but it's so important I wanted to include it here as well!
The route markers are in kilometers, not miles - The highway is entirely in Canada which measures in kilometers, not miles. For our fellow Americans, we just want to remind you to switch your odometer if you're able to.
Be aware of the ferries and the times they are running - This will greatly effect your route.
Download all maps to your GPS device and/or phone before you leave stable wifi - Cell service is almost nonexistent along the Dempster Highway, so be sure you have all the maps you need before you go.
What is the Dempster Highway?
The Dempster Highway is an all-weather gravel highway that connects the Klondike Highway in Yukon to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories. It is the only road in Canada that crosses the Arctic Circle and offers one heck of an adventure if you love a good road trip through beautiful, wild, remote places.
The highway was completed in 1979 after four years of construction. The original route ended in Inuvik until the final leg of the road up to Tuktoyuktuk and the Arctic Ocean was completed in November 2017. Before then, Tuktoyuktuk was only accessible by road via ice roads in the winter and by air or boat the rest of the year.
While the road offers an amazing experience for tourists like ourselves, the highway is a lifeline to those who live in these northern communities. While centuries of people have lived in these regions without road access to the southern regions of Canada, the Dempster Highway has made this region more accessible for transporting good, jobs, and even medical care, changing the way many of these folks live and work.
How long is the Dempster Highway?
460 miles / 740 kilometers
Road conditions on the highway
Is the Dempster Highway paved?
No, the Dempster Highway is not paved. The road conditions vary along the route so always be ready for potholes, soft shoulders, washboard portions, and plenty of giant rocks in the road.
Please do not take the road conditions lightly! They can be very dangerous, especially to cyclists and motorcycles. During our way back south from Tuktoyuktuk we ended up witnessing a motorcyclists have a bad wreck due to hitting some rough road. Thankfully he was with a group of friends on motorcycles and they were able to call for help via an emergency communication device.
Yes, driving the Dempster in a vehicle is much safer, but the road conditions wreak havoc on your tires. We've had multiple friends experience severe RV damage and vehicle damage while on the road and let me just say, those tow trucks are not cheap.
Take the road conditions seriously always keep tow hands on the wheel.
Is the road open all year?
Technically, yes, the road is open all year. However, we do not recommend driving it outside of the summer months due to lack of daylight, snow and ice, and just the sheer remoteness of the route.
While I'd love to experience Northwest Territories and the Yukon in the winter one day, for the full Dempster experience I'd recommend going during the summer months. You'll see more wildlife and have better sunlight for those beautiful views if you travel during the peak season. Not to mention the campgrounds will be open only during peak seasons, which is important if you're traveling in some sort of RV/camper like we were and need places for showers and to fill up water tanks.
Ferries along the Dempster Highway
There are two ferries along the Dempster Highway. You'll want to plan your route accordingly so you time the ferries when they are open. The ferry only runs in the warm months when the river is thawed so if you're planning to drive the Dempster in the dead of winter, you'll just drive across the rivers once they're frozen.
The ferry times can really trip you up if you find yourself driving with the midnight sun in the summer. While driving the Dempster Highway we found our sleep schedule to be very thrown off due to the never ending daylight hours and even chose to drive during the middle of the "night" a few times. The road is already pretty remote, but not passing anyone all night under a never ending golden hour was magical. We'd highly recommending having plan A, B, and C in mind before beginning each day of driving. That way if you miss the ferry because you spent too long exploring rivers and mountains, you won't be scrambling to find a campsite without cell signal.
Ferry #1: Peel River ferry
Peel River ferry operates 9:00 am - 1:00 am daily during open season
Ferry #2: McKenzie River ferry
The McKenzie River ferry operates every hour, on the hour, everyday during open season when the river is thawed.
Do I need four wheel drive to drive the Dempster Highway?
I can't vouch for what it's like to drive the Dempster in the winter, but I'd venture to say you'd need four wheel drive in the snowy/icy months. However, when we drove the route in June, we did not have four wheel drive in our Sprinter van and did just fine! Four wheel drive is not necessary, but all terrain tires are.
We saw all sorts of vehicles driving the route. From beat up old cars to massive motorhomes and trucks pulling Airstreams. We saw it all. Obviously there are some vehicles that are more cut out for these types of road conditions than others, so I wouldn't set out with just any vehicle. Our 2018 Sprinter van held up beautifully on the trip and was very comfortable for sleeping in at night. We sold that van in 2020 and I miss it everyday. Such a good, faithful adventure rig!
In talking to others on the route, some rigs held up better than others, so it's more than just four wheel drive that's required for the Dempster. For example, we talked to one lady who was driving a new Chevy truck and pulling an Airstream up the Dempster. Her truck was holding up great, but the Airstream made it about 30 miles down the route before cabinets started falling apart. Yikes. She ended up dropping the trailer and driving the rest of the route in just the truck.
We met another retired couple who were driving the route in a big motorhome (I'm not sure what kind it was, but it was at least 30 feet long). They told us stuff had been bouncing around like crazy and making so much noise during the ride that it was unbearable. They finished the route, but not without having multiple blowouts because they didn't prep with the right tires.
I'd venture to say that with the right all terrain tires (and a spare tire or two), most SUVs and trucks will make the route just fine. If you're planning on driving some sort of camper up the road, it should be one that's made to go off-road. Most mainstream camper brands such as Airstream, Winnebago, and Jayco are intended for campground use and maybe some moderate boondocking. The construction of their components, while solid and beautiful, is not made to withstand the vibrations that come with driving hundreds of miles of washboard roads.
Pick your vehicle wisely! It takes more than a good engine to get you to and from the Arctic Ocean. When we drove the Dempster we were very much on a tight budget and didn't want to pay for a tow truck if we broke down. Instead we took every precaution and packed recovery gear including a compressor and extra tires, just in case. We'd highly recommend you do the same unless you want to pay $5,000-$10,000 for a tow.
How long does it take to drive the Dempster Highway?
It takes approximately two days (each way) to drive the Dempster Highway, depending on your stops. The journey is a memorable experience full of breathtaking views and wildlife sightings. While you could drive the route there and back in a total of 3 or 4 days, we'd recommend taking longer to truly enjoy the experience. It's such a unique place that (like many places on earth) is best explored at a slower pace.
If you're going to go to the trouble of driving all the way to Dawson City to drive the Dempster, go ahead and allow for enough time to truly take it all in. For many it's a once in a lifetime experience that shouldn't be rushed.
We took about a week to drive the Dempster and that felt rushed. Looking back I wish we had stopped for days in places like Tombstone Territorial Park, but those were the days before Starlink for RVs was available and we were working full time. For years our schedules were dictated by internet, but that's changed since then.
We had friends who were taking a year sabbatical to travel in their van around North America and they spent weeks on the Dempster Highway fishing, hiking, reading, and taking it all in.
It's up to you how long you can afford to take on the highway, but I'd recommend no less than 6 days.
Where does the Dempster Highway start and end?
The Dempster Highway starts just outside of Dawson City, Yukon, Canada and ends in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories.
Dawson City is an old gold rush town and the perfect start to the adventure. Here you can grab a few last minute groceries, fill up on fuel, visit the visitors center (they have free wifi!), and walk the pathway along the river to stretch your legs before hopping in the car for a long drive.
Where is the highway?
The Dempster highway runs through Yukon and Northwest Territories, two of the most northern provinces in Canada. The route is about half in each province and runs southwest to northeast until it reaches the Arctic Ocean.
Is the Dempster Highway in Alaska or Canada?
Canada. The Dempster Highway is often confused with the Dalton Highway, which is the route that runs through Alaska up to the Arctic Circle.
It's easy to get to Dawson City to start the highway driving from Alaska though. That's what we did and we absolutely loved driving the Top of the World Highway to enter Canada. Definitely the prettiest border crossing we ever made in our van!
Due to Dawson City's western border location, it's very easy to get to the Dempster from Alaska and we'd highly recommend adding this adventure to your route if you're traveling in a vehicle capable of making the drive.
Dalton Highway vs. Dempster Highway
We've never driven the Dalton Highway so we can't speak to what that's like, but in talking to friends who have completed both routes, most say the Dempster Highway is the more scenic and enjoyable route. Technically the Dalton Highway stops 7 miles short of the Arctic Ocean, but in the town of Deadhorse, Alaska (where the Dalton Highway ends) you can book tours down to the Arctic Ocean. I'd recommend checking out this blogpost about driving the Dalton Highway so you know what to expect mile by mile on the Dalton Highway.
Best time of year to drive the Dempster Highway
The Dempster Highway remains open almost all year around, but unless you're an experienced winter traveler, we would only recommend completing the journey June-August. May and September could potentially offer decent travel conditions, but it's not impossible for these regions to start getting snow in September and sometimes it's still burning off in May.
The highway closes for a small amount of time in the fall as the river is freezing over when the ferry can't cross, and before the ice is thick enough to drive across. It closes again for a few weeks in the spring for the opposite reason. Generally in the fall it's closed 6-8 weeks and 3-6 weeks in the spring. Exact dates vary year to year.
Something a lot of people don't consider about driving the Dempster Highway in the summer is the midnight sun. We happened to arrive at Tuktoyaktuk during our journey up the highway on Summer Solstice so we had sunlight the entire time! This was our first time to experience nonstop sunshine and it was incredible. At moments it felt like the longest golden hour which was magical. Keep in mind that on the flip side of the midnight sun is complete darkness for over a month in the winter. Even when the sun does finally make an appearance again, the days are still short.
Unless you're wanting a very wintery experience, summer is your best bet. It's hard to beat the wildflowers, wildlife, and never ending sunshine. The only negative to traveling during peak season is the mosquitoes. You think Alaska or Tennessee has bad mosquitoes? You haven't seen anything yet. Those Yukon mosquitoes are no joke. At times we'd have hundreds swarming us and would have to shield our faces as we walked just to keep them from ending up in our eyes and mouth. Bring lots of bug spray and mosquito hats and you'll be much more comfortable than we were!
When do you cross into the Arctic Circle during the drive?
There will be an official sign marking the Arctic Circle at mile 252 marker (405 kilometers). Roughly half of the Dempster Highway sits above the Arctic Circle.
Reaching the Arctic Circle sign feels like a true accomplishment. At the sign there's a display with information about the area including a map that shows just how little of the world is actually in the Arctic Circle. It was pretty weird to realize just how far from home we really were. I mean "weird" in a really cool but also unsettling sort of way.
The location of the sign has a big parking lot so you really can't miss it. It's not like there's really a whole lot out in these parts. Be sure to stop, take a picture, and enjoy soaking in the fact that you just drove to the Arctic!
The parking lot where the sign is is a great place to make lunch and/or take a quick nap in your car. We spent about an hour or two stretching our legs, eating a picnic lunch, and running our dog Kramer around for abit.
Where to stay along the way
Since the Dempster Highway is very remote, there are lots of places to camp, but very few places to lodge if you're looking for more formal accommodations such as hotels or bed and breakfasts.
Like we've said already, when we drove the Dempster Highway we were in our converted Sprinter van which was self-contained and had everything we needed including toilet, shower, fridge, bed, electricity, and stove/oven. This gave us the freedom to go pretty much anywhere we wanted and to take as long as we wanted to in each place. While we highly recommend this form of travel, we realize a campervan isn't everyone's favorite way to travel. A vehicle and a good tent or another off-road capable camper would offer a similar level of freedom.
Camping while driving the Dempster
We always recommend using the iOverlander app to check for camping spots in more remote locations such as the Dempster Highway. Since it's user generated you're going to get real feedback from others who have driven the road and camped recently. As long as you're okay boon docking off-grid, you'll have a multitude of campsites. If you'd prefer something a little more official, you'll be a bit more limited, especially if you're traveling in the off season.
Yukon and Northwest Territories are a campers paradise. So many beautiful, remote, and free campsites in this region. Not everywhere is a free campsite, so be sure to learn all about the ins and outs of camping in Yukon before you pick a place to set up camp. All of the places we chose to camp at we found on there iOverlander, so if you'd rather stick to places that others have gone before you, that's the perfect places to find free campsites along the Dempster Highway. There are tons of beautiful camping spots on iOverlander and and we never shared a spot with any other campers.
There are a handful of developed campgrounds along the Dempster Highway. Do keep in mind that when I use the term "developed," I mean most of them are official campsites that offer a few basic amenities. Do not expect anything like a KOA along the Dempster. This is an incredibly remote area of the world which is why we recommend traveling with all that you'll need, preferably in a self-contained vehicle that can go off-grid for a long time.
Note: As we've already mentioned, the Dempster Highway has experienced a huge influx in tourism since the extension to Tuktoyuktuk opened in November 2017. The campgrounds regularly fill up so always have a plan A, B, and C in case your first couple options don't workout.
Tombstone Mountain Campground: 36 campsites for self-contained vehicles and tents only. Cook shack, fire places, tables, pit toilets, bear-proof storage, garbage and recycling bins and water from the river.Open May-October 1. Dempster Hwy, Yukon, Unorganized, YT Y0B, Canada | Google Maps
Engineer Creek Campground: Small government campground available for self-contained vehicles and tents. 11 spots total, no pull through spots, all vehicles must be self-contained, tent spots are available. Open late May-October 1. GPS Coordinates: 65.3523°N 138.27186°W | Google Maps | Mile: 120 - Kilometer: 193
Eagle Plains, Yukon:We did stay in Eagle Plains for one night which wasn't our original plan, but it ended up being a good stop. It was a safe, quiet spot to park with a fuel station, fresh water, showers, laundry, electric and non-electric hook up spots, and even wifi for an additional charge. We did take advantage of the fresh water, but I can't vouch for what the rest of the facilities are like. Eagle Plains, YT Y0B 1N0, Canada | Google Maps | Mile: 229 - Kilometer: 369
Rock River Campground: 17 spots total, 3 of which are pull-through. Pit toilets, recycling and garbage bins, cooking shelter, picnic tables, fire rings, and bear proof food holders are available. Open annually from the end of May-October 1. GPS coordinates: 66.91172°N 136.35541°W | Google Maps | Mile: 277 - Kilometer: 446
Nataiinlaii Territorial Park: 23 non-electric sites available. Showers, toilets, picnic area, and tent sites available. Do note that once the generator that powers the bathroom showers is turned off at night, all electric in the campsite goes off including lights and even flush toilets. GPS coordinates: 67°20'59.6"N 134°51'30.6"W | Google Maps | Mile: 335.5 - Kilometer: 540
Vadzaih Van Tshik Territorial Campground: Campground nestled amongst cliffs on a creek. Tent and camper/RV spots available (only 1 pull through site). Pit toilets available and fresh water can be found in the creek. GPS coordinates: 68°05'12.9"N 133°29'35.4"W | Google Maps | Mile: 425 - Kilometer: 684
Gwich'in Territorial Park: 15 camper/RV site and 4 tent sites. Facilities include picnic tables, BBQ pits, kitchen shelter, and pit toilets. GPS coordinates: 68°12'08.8"N 133°25'23.1"W | Google Maps | Mile: 433 - Kilometer: 697
Jàk Territorial Park: 11 electric and 25 non electric camping spots available. Available facilities include toilets, showers, picnic tables, and potable water. GPS coordinates: 68°20'03.3"N 133°39'08.3"W | Google Maps | Mile: 453- Kilometer: 729
Happy Valley Territorial Park: 19 electric and 15 non-electric campsites available. Toilets, showers, picnic facilities, potable water, and dump station are all available here. *This is the only RV dump station I'm aware of along the Dempster highway. GPS coordinates: 68°21'38.6"N 133°44'12.2"W | Google Maps | Mile: 456 - Kilometer: 734
Tuktoyuktuk Souvenir Shop: This is the unofficial campground in Tuktoyuktuk. While it offers no amenities, you can legally camp here for a fee. Currently (2023) the rates are $25 per camper/RV and $15 for a tent. Address: Community Aerodrome Radio Stn, Tuktoyaktuk, NT X0E 1C0, Canada | Google Maps
Tuktoyuktuk Campground: This is the official campground in Tuktoyuktuk. I don't actually know the name of it because I can't find it on Google and I've only seen it referred to as "Tuktoyuktuk Sandpit" on iOverlander. Facilities include pit toilets, potable water, and electricity (but not available at individual campsites). Camper/rv sites and tent friendly. There is no wi-fi at this campground but cell service for most carriers is available at the campground since it's located inside Tuktoyuktuk city limits. GPS coordinates: N 69.45556, W 133.03750 | Google Maps
Hotels/lodging along the Dempster
I know I've said this several times already in this article, but this region of the world is very remote. There are no chain hotels or fancy Airbnbs to book for luxury vacations. There are a few very basic hotel accommodations to be found and a handful of bed and breakfasts in the area. While the remoteness of the Dempster Highway can seem daunting when planning accommodations, part of what makes it special is the local charm you experience by staying somewhere small. You're contributing to the local economy and meeting locals through interactions.
During our journey down the Dempster we were in our campervan so we didn't personally stay in any of the accommodations I'm about to list, but in reading reviews of others who have stayed at them, many of the options will give you a chance to see and experience a very authentic side of this region, something I wish we had be able to find a bit more of!
The Downtown: If you're looking for a place to stay before you begin your drive up the Dempster, The Downtown could be a great place to crash. It's basic but with solid reviews and it's location is right in downtown Dawson City making everything walkable. Address: 1026 Second Ave, Dawson City, YT Y0B 1G0, Canada | Google Maps
Eagle Plains Hotel: Basic hotel located just south of the Arctic Circle line. The hotel is a main stop for all Dempster Highway travelers since it serves not only as a hotel, but also a fuel station, campground, showers, water, and more. Eagle Plains, YT Y0B 1N0, Canada | Google Maps| Mile: 229 - Kilometer: 369
Peel River Inn: This hotel doesn't have raving reviews on Google, but it'll get the job done if you're on a long road trip and you find yourself wanting to divide your drive by stopping in Fort McPherson, or if you happen to time the ferry on the south side of time wrong. Address: Fort McPherson, NT X0E 0J0, Canada | Google Maps | Mile: 342 - Kilometer: 549
Inuvik Capital Suites: This is the highest rated hotel in Inuvik. Again, it's nothing fancy but it's a place to rest, relax, and explore the town of Inuvik. Address: 198 MacKenzie Rd, Inuvik, NT X0E 0T0, Canada | Google Maps | Mile: 455.5 - Kilometer: 733
Inuvik Dome: I found this place on Airbnb and at the time of writing this article, Juan's home has 5 stars. If you want a few more comforts on the road than a hotel will offer such as a kitchen and laundry, this could be a great stop for you.
Smitty's Bed and Breakfast: If you read the Google reviews of Smitty's you'll see that people who have stayed her have loved the hosts! Even if we visit Tuktoyuktuk again one day and travel by camper/RV, I'd consider booking a night or two here because of the way you get to interact with the locals and learn about their culture and way of life. Past guests rave about how kind and hospitable the people are, so when you pass through Tuktoyuktuk, I'd recommend staying here. Address: 608 Kitti Road, Tuktoyaktuk, NT, Canada | Google Maps
Hunter's B&B, Tuktoyuktuk: Similar to Smitty's this B&B in Tuktoyuktuk has excellent reviews! While it's more expensive than Smitty's it's been renovated recently and is definitely the most modern option in Tuk. Address: 324 Oceanview Dr, Tuktoyaktuk, NT X0E 1C0, Canada | Google Maps
Finding fuel (gas/diesel) while driving the route
There are four main places to fill up on fuel along the Dempster Highway. While we were never in fear of running out of fuel, had we stayed out there for weeks and used an excessive amount of our diesel in our air heater, it might have been a different situation. Thankfully our van was entirely electric with the exception of the air heater, so we were never arrived at a fuel station with less than 100 miles left. Still, we carried an extra few gallons of diesel which we highly recommend you do, too.
Fuel stop #1: Dawson City, Yukon
Right before you hop on the Dempster Highway on the outskirts of Dawson City you'll have a couple of opportunities to fill up on fuel (both gasoline and diesel). There are two different options directly across the street from one another, and unfortunately we made the mistake of going to the more expensive one. Oops. We didn't even notice the other option across the street because there wasn't really any sort of convenience store attached to draw our attention to the pumps. Do as we say, not as we do and fill up at the less noticeable fuel station and save ~$.40 a gallon!
Cheaper gas station: Klondike Hwy, Dawson City, YT Y0B 1G0, Canada | Google Maps
This is also a great time to grab any sort of last minute auto supplies such as an air compressor if you don't already have one. The cheaper gas station is next door to a NAPA store, so be sure to stop in there if you need something.
If you're like us and end up with a flat tire right before you hop on the Dempster Highway, we recommend getting tires from Chief Isaac. Not only was this guy incredibly helpful, his prices were better than we found in Anchorage and he had our tire size in stock.
Eagle Pains, Yukon is the first time you'll see fuel on the Dempster Highway. Eagle Plains is 229 miles / 368 kilometers from the start of the highway and just 35 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle. Not only do they sell fuel (diesel and gasoline), they also have a campground (really just a dirt parking lot) with boondocking spots and also 15 amp electric sites. Laundry, fresh water, showers, tow truck services, camping spots, and even hotel rooms can be found here.
Inuvik, Northwest Territories is the largest town you'll come across while driving the Dempster. There are a few different fuel options here, but we'd recommend Northwind Petroleum Limited. It's where we filled up and the prices were fair.
At the end of the Dempster Highway in the town of Tuktoyuktuk you'll have a couple more options to fill up on fuel. We filled up in Inuvik both on the way to Tuktoyuktuk and on the way back so we never had to fill up in Tuk. I can't vouch for their prices, but Bob's Gas Tuktoyuktuk has good reviews on Google!
Before we get the basic list of what to pack, let's talk about where to resupply for the journey. The best advice I can give for this is to stock up before you leave a large city. The term "large city" is relative when you're this far north, so know that I'm referring to places like Anchorage and Whitehorse who have big box stores including Walmart. Food and basic necessities like toiletries and sunscreen will be far more expensive the further north you go. Not to mention the produce will be significantly fresher from the big box stores since they typically have faster delivery from the southern states/provinces.
*Pro tip: In Alaska, get your produce from Fred Myer. We were told they have the quickest delivery times from the mainland which means fresher produce.
What we did: We went shopping for all of our groceries before we headed up to Dawson City, Yukon to begin the journey. We knew we'd be cooking every meal ourselves so we snagged a lot of food to get us through a few weeks. It took us a few days to get from Anchorage to Dawson City, then we didn't know how long we'd want to be on the Dempster Highway. Go prepared, because the stores up in Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk are expensive. If you have dietary restrictions, you'll definitely want to plan ahead.
I don't want it to sound like there's nowhere to get supplies along the Dempster Highway if you need them, because there certainly are a few stores. However, if you know you'll have a hankering or a need for something specific, get it before you head out.
Gear for your vehicle
Because the Dempster Highway is a variety of unpaved services, you need to go prepared with the right gear. Four wheel drive is not required (at least in the summer months), but good tires and recovery gear should be carried!
All terrain tires - Before you head out on the Dempster, get all terrain tires! We got a flat on our Continental road tires in Dawson City the day before we started driving the Dempster, and thankfully a shop in town (Chief Isaac) had all terrain tires in our size in stock. The shop owner says he regularly gets called up the Dempster to tow people who have flats and blowouts. The roads are rough, you need all terrain tires, just trust me.
Extra fuel- While we never needed the extra fuel, your vehicle might. It never hurts to carry a few extra gallons just in case.
Traction boards - Some of the road shoulders along the Dempster Highway are very soft and sandy. These are a necessity when going off of paved roads!
Shovel - In case you get stuck on those soft and sandy shoulders, you'll want some sort of shovel to dig yourself out if you get stuck.
Food and other daily essentials
Pack food and daily essential like you would for any other long stint off-grid. We'd recommend getting any dairy, meat, produce, and dry goods before you leave the larger cities. If you plan to be up north for a few weeks, we'd recommend stocking up on basics like toilet paper, canned goods, and toiletries, too.
Gear for the outdoors
While the wildlife is abundant and certainly one of the main reasons people (including us) want to drive the Dempster Highway, it does come with risks. Go prepared! This region is home to black bears, grizzly bears, and polar bears! Not to mention the most intense mosquitoes we've ever seen.
Bear spray- The highway is deep in bear country. Black bears, grizzly bears, and even polar bears call this region of the world home. If you plan to spend any time outside while along the Dempster (hiking, fishing, etc.), be sure to pack bear spray! We even saw grizzlies walking down the main roads in broad daylight in Inuvik. I'll say it again: this is deep in bear country.
Bug spray - The bugs can be intense along the Dempster, especially as you make your way towards Tuktoyaktuk. Mosquitoes and other flying critters will become your new best friends if you don't come prepared. With bug spray in tow, you'll be able to enjoy outdoor activities during your time in the Arctic.
Mosquito net - You'll be glad you have a mosquito hat when the bugs get going. Never in my life have I seen mosquitoes as intense as those along the Dempster. I did not have a mosquito hat on the journey, but oh man, I wish I had. They were unbearable at times!
Sunscreen - With 24 hours of daylight at times, you'll need to protect yourself from sun. Don't forget to reapply ever couple of hours!
Sunglasses - Along those same lines, bring sunglasses for driving the Dempster Highway. The roads are exposed with no tree coverage, so you'll want to bring something to protect your eyes during the long road trip. Especially if you're driving with 24 hours of daylight like we did.
Navigation & Safety
As a whole, the Dempster Highway is very safe with wildlife being your biggest threat (be sure to pack that bear spray we talked about above!). Other than that, we did want to mention again about the threat of hitchhikers. Please hear me when I say that 99.9% of the people in this region are good, kind people. However, we had a pretty sketchy situation on the outskirts of Tuktoyuktuk where a man kept stepping in front of our vehicle and hitting our window asking for a ride. It was a really heartbreaking moment because he was crying and whimpering, "please help me." It's likely he was under the influence of some sort of substance, so we knew better than to open the window. Later while talking with a local in Dawson City we were told we were wise not to stop or anything, and while this sort of interaction is rare, it wasn't the first time she had heard of something like that happening to out of towners.
The Milepost- This is an annual publication (practically a giant magazine), and it's our number one recommendation for navigation in Alaska and along the Dempster Highway. Every year the team at the Milepost travels every single mile that they write about to talk to businesses about the next season so they have the most up to date information to publish the following year. It's a heck of a book, and hands down our most recommended piece of equipment for driving the Alaska Highway or Dempster Highway.
Garmin GPS - We're big fans of Garmin's products. They have the best satellite technology for overlanders and adventurers. We didn't have the Garmin Tread Overland for our trip to Tuktoyuktuk, but we wish we had! Not only does it help you seamlessly navigate when out of cell signal, it also integrates with apps including iOverlander.
Emergency communication device - Garmin's InReach Mini 2 is our #1 most recommended piece of gear for anyone who spends any amount of time outdoors. This is one of those things that you don't need until you need it, and it can literally save your life. With push of a button, Garmin will notify the nearest emergency rescue team to dispatch to you based on your coordinates. Response time varies depending on where you're at, but help will come! We've heard of responses taking anywhere from 30 minutes (hiking in California) to 8 days in the most remote locations. The device also has text communication via satellite. Yes, the texting is expensive, but it's a good way to notify family or friends when you're out of reach for days.
What to do along the Dempster Highway
Whitehorse is a town located right on the Yukon River. Whitehorse has a cute little downtown district with local restaurants, shops, and great park and riverwalk. We stopped here on our way to and from Alaska and the Dempster Highway and loved it both times. It was a great place to sort of reset since there were coffee shops with internet, big box grocery stores, and paths to run and walk on. There's so much to do in Whitehorse, Yukon, and we definitely recommend stopping here for at least a night or two.
You can't really start the Dempster Highway without stopping in Dawson City since the highway starts just outside of town. While the town can feel a bit touristy in spots, it's also really quite charming and a beautiful little place. It's right on the river and the historic buildings look much like you would have expected them to during the Gold Rush which was Dawson City's most thriving era. The streets are mostly still dirt which I found pretty cool and added to the historic feel. I highly recommend stopping here for a couple of days and just enjoying the small town feel. There's so much to do in Dawson City, Yukon so don't rush your visit!
Just a few miles outside of Dawson City, Yukon at the official start of the highway stands a sign with "Dempster Highway" in a large font. This is a great photo opportunity, just don't forget to read the sign and learn about the adventure you're about to embark on!
While the entire Dempster Highway is worth the drive and beautiful, Tombstone Territorial Park might be the most beautiful place we experienced along the route. The mountains are rugged and the landscape vast. While we enjoy our time in the park, I don't know it nearly as well as the locals, so I'd recommend you checkout this guide to Tombstone Territorial Park from Canadian locals.
The rivers in this region of the country are beautiful and unspoiled. I wish we had a kayak back when we drove the Dempster Highway but we didn't. Kayak, canoe, or even rafting are all possible on the rivers, so pick whichever option you'd like based on whether you're wanting more of an adventure or day of relaxation. Canoe and kayak rentals as well as guided rafting trips and custom trips are available in Dawson City. Don't want to canoe back upstream? Klondike Adventure Tours also offers shuttle services.
*Note: Don't forget your bear spray on the river!
Arctic Circle Sign
There's something mind blowing about driving across the Arctic Circle marker. You'll reach this sign right off the road around mile 251/kilometer 405. Grab a picture and be sure to read the sign. Take special note of the map of the world from the top and notice how little of the world actually sits above the Arctic Circle.
There are so many places to explore along the Dempster! If you like hiking, you'll love Tombstone Territorial Park, but really all down the Dempster you'll find beautiful places to stop off and take a walk. Don't know where to start when searching hiking trails? Checkout these top 10 hiking trails on the Dempster Highway.
I know I've mentioned the wildlife multiple times already in this article, but I can't express enough how many bears and wolves are in this region. Bears specifically seem so much more abundant than they do in Alaska. Always carry bear spray and your Garmin inReach!
I'm not really a fishing kinda person, but Chris has done some fly fishing in Montana in the past and loved it. We noticed lots of people fishing along the Dempster and naturally I had to look up and learn more about fishing in the area. This website has a good overview of fishing along the Dempster Highway and what you can expect. Don't forget to research and secure the necessary permits for fishing before you go!
Visit and learn about the pingos
I had never heard of pingos until we reached Tuktoyuktuk. As you drive from Inuvik to Tuktoyuktuk along the last stretch of the Dempster Highway, you'll start to notice all sorts of unusual looking hills popping up across the flat landscape. The short explanation is that they're ice-cored hills covered in grass. They're very fragile so do not walk or drive on them! Observe from a distance and learn more about the pingos before you arrive in Tuk.
How to get to Pingo National Landmark Viewpoint: Inuvik - Tuktoyaktuk Hwy, Inuvik, Unorganized, NT X0E, Canada | Google Maps
Take a dip in the Arctic Ocean
It's not a trip to the Arctic Ocean without at least dipping your toes into the water. Jumping all the way into the ocean was our plan, but truthfully, when we got there we felt like we were invading the local's space too much and opted not to jump in. Instead we dipped our toes and went on our way. It's been a few years since we've visited Tuktoyuktuk and while it sounds like most locals are a bit overwhelmed by the influx of tourists, the campground that's right next to the Arctic Ocean sign (see below) is a great place to jump without encroaching on more of the local's space.
Congrats! You've made it to the end of the Dempster Highway! Next to the campground is the official sign marking the Arctic Ocean. You absolutely must take a photo there to document the moment and the adventure of a lifetime.
The Dempster Highway remains one of my favorite travel memories. I love a good road trip and I love the excitement of visiting a place I haven't been inundated with mass amounts of photos and videos online revealing exactly what the scenery is like. The Dempster was a true adventure and one I'll remember for the rest of my life. I hope it's the same adventure for you and that you take in every moment of the journey!
Just one last reminder: please travel responsibly. Respect the locals and leave no trace on the road and trails along the way.
Be safe and have fun out there! :)
Like this post? Checkout these other articles for planning your trip to Alaska and Canada!
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We're Chris and Sara
A creative husband and wife duo from a small-town in Tennessee with passion for all things travel. Checkout the links below to join us on our past, present, and future adventures!