Your Guide to Tackling the Dempster Highway

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A person holding a map of Demspter Highway

Have you ever dreamed of reaching the Arctic Circle? What about dipping your toe into the Arctic Ocean? Well, there’s a highway in Canada that will make these dreams a reality. The Dempster Highway is one of the most remote roads in Canada.

But the beautiful scenery, abundant wildlife, and epic adventure make it worth it for many travelers. Let’s dive in and learn more about how you can safely tackle the Dempster Highway!

What Is the Dempster Highway?

The Dempster Highway is one of the most amazing drives in Canada as it winds through mountains and valleys in the wilderness. In the Yukon, it’s also called the Yukon Highway 5; in the Northwest Territories, it’s also called the Northwest Territories Highway 8.

Although breathtaking, it also poses a challenge to travelers. The one-lane road stretches for hundreds of miles. You’re literally in the middle of nowhere with no services should something happen. This adventure requires preparation and caution, so let’s learn a bit more before you start heading north.

A sign for Demspter Highway

Where Is the Dempster Highway?

The Dempster Highway crosses the Arctic Circle, connecting Dawson City, Yukon to the Inuvik, Northwest Territories. If you continue past the Dempster Highway and onto the connecting highway, it ends at the Arctic Ocean. The route includes seasonal ferry services and ice bridges across the Peel and Mackenzie Rivers.

The remote community of Tuktoyaktuk was once so isolated that it wasn’t accessible by car until 2017 with the opening of the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway, which begins at the end of the Dempster Highway.

How Long Is the Dempster Highway?

If you want to drive all the way to the now-accessible community of Tuktoyaktuk, the entire route along the Dempster Highway and the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway measures approximately 543 miles. Just the Dempster Highway measures about 457 miles.

The Dempster Highway starts 25 miles east of Dawson City, Yukon on the Klondike Highway. The highway takes you to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories.

But once you reach this remote community, it’s only 86 miles to the Arctic Ocean by way of the Inuvik–Tuktoyaktuk Highway. If you’ve made it this far, you might as well keep going and dip your toes in the Arctic!

Is the Dempster Highway Paved?

The Dempster Highway isn’t paved, so you won’t want to take your Porsche. Almost every mile of the route is gravel, which makes travel difficult and strenuous. You must drive slowly and be aware of changes in the road surface. For example, you’ll probably encounter plenty of potholes as well as slippery surfaces.

A sign pointing to Dempster Highway

Tips for Safely Driving the Dempster Highway

The long Dempster Highway travels into the remote wilderness of Canada. In order to travel safely, we have a few tips for you.

Don’t let these tips scare you away from this beautiful landscape. But do adhere to these suggestions to ensure that you have a safe, enjoyable experience along the Dempster Highway.

1. Pack a First Aid Kit

You won’t be near any services along the drive. Make sure you have a well-stocked first aid kit. You’ll want even more supplies than the typical one you might take on a hike. Remember, help won’t arrive for a good while on this stretch of highway. Be prepared.

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2. Pack a Satellite Phone

Again, there are no services along the Dempster Highway. You can’t stop and use a pay phone, and very little cell service exists. Pack a satellite phone so that you have a way to call for help should an emergency arise.

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3. Fill an Extra Jerry Can

You’ll be on the road for hours, if not days, as you travel along the Dempster Highway. The only locations with gasoline and diesel are Eagle Plains, Fort McPherson, Inuvik, and Tuktoyaktuk.

However, it’s very, very expensive. Fill your own jerry can at the beginning of your trip so you have some extra fuel before you need to stop.

4. Travel With a Good Spare Tire

As mentioned earlier, the Dempster Highway is a gravel road. This type of surface is hard on tires. Plus, you’ll drive over potholes and have to pull over to let others pass on this one-lane road. Make sure you have a good spare tire, a good jack, and an emergency roadside kit.

5. Stay Informed About the Weather

The weather can change quickly in the Canadian wilderness. The forecast when you begin your day may not be the same when you end your day. As you stop, ask the locals about the weather forecast. This will help you be prepared and make good, safe decisions along the journey.

6. Pack Bear Spray

Remember, you’re in the wilderness and traveling through wildlife habitats. Pack bear spray and stay alert. If you camp along the Dempster Highway, make sure to store your food away and properly dispose of your trash.

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7. Drive With Your Headlights on

Finally, truckers often use this route. Travel with your headlights on at all times. It’s a one-lane road, so you’ll need to pull over to let others pass.

As already mentioned, the weather can quickly change so even though fog or rain wasn’t forecasted, the afternoon may bring changes. So make sure other drivers can see you at all times.

When Is the Best Time to Drive the Dempster Highway?

The best time to drive the Dempster Highway is during the summer. The shoulder seasons of spring and fall can prove unpredictable, and the winter snow makes the road impassable for vehicles. Only snowmobiles can travel on this road in the winter. The rivers also freeze, so the ferry service closes.

The highway also completely closes for a few weeks in fall and spring when the rivers freeze and thaw. So you should drive the highway during July or August to avoid any of these conditions. 

Keep in Mind: If you’re looking for a scenic drive in Canada, then you’ll love the Icefields Parkway! These are the best stops to check out along the way.

View of Dempster Highway

Can You Camp Along the Dempster Highway?

Wild camping is permitted along the Dempster Highway. But you must pack away your trash, park safely, and watch for wildlife. Remember, this is the Canadian wilderness. However, there are also a few primitive campgrounds along the route.

The Yukon has three campgrounds, and the Northwest Territories has two. You’ll have no amenities, but you’ll be safe. Eagle Plains is the only place with a private campground. Showers are available here during the summer.

Stay Safe As You Travel to the Arctic Ocean

How amazing would it be to pull up to a sign that says “Arctic Circle”? With the combination of the Dempster Highway and the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway, you can even reach the Arctic Ocean.

But you must be prepared and undertake this adventure with caution. The Dempster Highway travels hundreds of miles, and it isn’t paved. Caribou, elk, and bears are abundant. You’ll have limited services like fuel stations and grocery stores and no cell service.

However, the journey is worth the challenges! It’s a beautiful drive through the Canadian wilderness and one you won’t soon forget. 

Would you like to travel the Dempster Highway and reach the Arctic Circle?

Last update on 2024-07-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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