The Dempster Highway starts 40km south of Dawson City, and goes up past the Arctic Circle to Inuvik, North West Territories. It is 671 km long, and entirely gravel and shale, the latter which is known to shred tires.
Travelling the Dempster is like a rite of passage, something every Canadian really should experience. The scenery is epic, and remote. You can look around and see for what feels like hundreds of kilometres, and know there is no one out there.
We checked with the North West Territories visitors centre in Dawson before we headed for the Dempster. They said it was in fair condition, but then said they always report fair. The agent at Canadream said we had an 80% chance of a flat tire, but the lady in the visitor’s centre who grew up in the area said that estimate was highly inflated (get it – inflated? 🙂 )
There was an electronic sign at the start of the Dempster warning of fire activity 270 km up the road, with the potential for delays. We decided to go anyway 🙂
We passed the area with fire activity. The fire was out. Likely started by lightning I would guess.
Halfway up the Dempster is Eagle Plains. Not a community really, just one site with a dusty old motel, a parking lot for RVs, a restaurant, lounge, gas station, helicopter pad, and tire shop. It feels like an odd place, on top of a hill, in the middle of literally nowhere, but a great place to fill up your gas tanks, repair your flat tires, and stay for the night.
The next morning we filled up with gas and headed north for Inuvik.
We made it to Inuvik, Northwest Territories! Just 90km away from the Arctic Ocean!
Inuvik is as far as the Dempster Highway goes… in summer anyway. There is a winter road up to Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean. A year round road is currently being built. We hoped to catch a flight up to Tuktoyaktuk to dip our feet in the Arctic Ocean!
Inuvik is a unique northern town. They have utilidors between their buildings. These are big round conduits filled with insulation and their water and sewer pipes are tucked away inside the insulation.
Inuvik’s most recognized building is probably this round Catholic Church known as the Igloo!
We had an option to tour the church, or the community greenhouse. We picked the greenhouse. What an idea! They converted the old arena into a community garden!
For just $50 and approx. 15 hours of volunteer time, you can have a plot in the greenhouse. If you are a good community garden citizen, you may be considered for a second plot in the following year.
Some of Inuvik’s citizens live elsewhere some of the time. Our tour guide was putting in her volunteer hours to show us around. She worked in the medical field, so she flew in to work there for a week or so at a time. When someone is away, they put up a sign asking for other people to help water their plants.
The tour companies were closed for the day when we arrived, so we got a campsite in town and stayed for the night. It was a chilly night, and very bright!
The next morning we booked a trip to Tuktoyaktuk for 6pm. That meant we had all day in Inuvik. There isn’t much to do in Inuvik. It is a northern, remote town. We found the public library and used their internet for a bit to check in with the world and update Facebook with some photos.
There were a shocking number of taxi’s in Inuvik, but I suppose there really isn’t a need to own a vehicle.
The grocery store and department store are attached in the middle of town. There is also a Pizza Hut Express and KFC Express shared counter in the store. This was the only chain restaurants we saw on our entire trip, outside of Whitehorse. For kicks we got two KFC big crunch combo for lunch. The price was over $10 each, and didn’t include a drink, but the taste was exactly the same as any other KFC restaurant!
The prices in the grocery store were startling!
The cloud bank didn’t lift all day. We were losing hope that we’d be able to get to Tuktoyaktuk, and the weather for the next couple of days didn’t look good either.
The morning tour flight was cancelled due to the low clouds. We had to weigh just how badly we wanted/needed to get to Tuktoyaktuk. We’ve wanted to go there for years, but if we waited another day, and still couldn’t go, then we ran the risk of having to drive back down the Dempster in the rain, which makes the road really slick. That didn’t sound good.
We drove to the tour company’s house to check in.
The 6pm flight was cancelled too, so we made the tough decision to drive back down the Dempster and spend the extra day back in Dawson City again, because we loved it so much there and had more to see and do!
Stay tuned, the next post will cover our trip back down the Dempster and another couple of days in Dawson City!
Lisa (Verkley) Schuyler is a blogger reporting live from her new home in Canada’s Yukon Territory. Often found wearing a hoodie, covered in pet hair, Lisa is a mis-placed forester who now spends her days engineering happiness for WordPress users. Lisa loves nature, animals, and most importantly, her handsome husband Jeff.