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A Hike To Grizzly Lake In The Tombstone Mountains

A Hike to Grizzly Lake in the Tombstone Mountains

If you’re looking for world-class mountain scenery in an area that doesn’t get a lot of attention, then head to the Tombstone Mountain Range in the Yukon Territory. Starting at KM 58.5 on the Dempster Highway, the three to five day backpacking trip takes you first to Grizzly Lake, and then to Divide and Talus Lakes. It’s a wild, desolate, truly memorable landscape.

This blog takes you as far as Grizzly Lake, a distance of 11.5 kilometres with an elevation gain of 797 metres (2,615 feet).

Grizzly Lake hike in the Tombstones, Yukon

The Tombstones have been called the Patagonia of the North – an apt title as you’ll see when you get close to the mountains. Named for one of the mountains that is the colour and shape of a tombstone, the granite pinnacles have been eroded over time and sculpted into rugged peaks. To reach them, you must hike through a challenging landscape that takes you up and down over lichen covered, talus slopes that can become extremely slick when wet. The landscape though, is extraordinary – and I can safely say like nowhere else you’ve seen.  Try to arrange your trip for  late August when the boreal forest and alpine meadows combine to deliver a rainbow of fall colours. But go prepared for cold temperatures and snow. I had both.

"Early views of the first day of our Tombstones backpacking trip"

Early views of the first day of our Tombstones backpacking trip

Plan ahead for your Grizzly Lake hike

You do need to reserve a backcountry campsite either online or in person – though you’re taking your chances if you just show up at the park office. Depending on what sort of hiker you are I would suggest the following itinerary – Grizzly Lake for the first night, Divide Lake for the next two nights (and that way you can visit Talus Lake as a day trip without a heavy pack) and then a walk out if you’re a strong hiker; otherwise, plan on another night at Grizzly Lake.

Everyone must take their food in a bear proof barrel – one that will fit in your backpack. At the mandatory orientation (offered at 9 AM, 11 AM, 1 PM and 4 PM) you are given a barrel in return for a $60 cash deposit. The only downside is that you must drive back to the Tombstone Interpretative Center at KM 71 to return it at the end of the hike.

At the campsites you’ll find outhouses, cooking shelters, more bear boxes, tent platforms and barrels for grey water disposal.

"Late August and the colours are at their peak"

Late August and the colours are at their peak

"Hiking past the lookout"

Hiking past the lookout

"Such contrast in colour between foliage and rock as we climb the ridge"

Such contrast in colour between foliage and rock as we climb the ridge

"Desolate but beautiful with only about a dozen people seen over the course of the day"

Desolate but beautiful with only about a dozen people seen over the course of the day

"Looking down one of the side valleys"

Looking down one of the side valleys

"People look small in this landscape"

People look small in this landscape

"First sighting ever of a wheatear"

First sighting ever of a wheatear for me

"Grizzly Lake in the distance"

Grizzly Lake in the distance

A quiet moment beside Grizzly Lake in the Tombstones

A quiet moment beside Grizzly Lake

"Tent sites are a tad muddy"

Tent sites are a tad muddy – mostly because it’s been a very wet summer

"Cooking shelters"

Cooking shelters make all the difference in bad conditions

"Fantastic setting even under cloudy skies"

Fantastic setting even under cloudy skies

"Reflection on Grizzly Lake"

Reflection on Grizzly Lake

I’d rank the backpacking trip to Grizzly Lake in the top five in Canada!

The people we met on the trip were either from Whitehorse or from Germany and Switzerland. I find it interesting that the hike is well known outside of Canada.

Although it’s not far to Grizzly Lake, count on it taking between 5 to 8 hours. It is an area with grizzlies but I didn’t even see so much as bear scat. Do carry bear spray. One nice feature the park offers is the ability to rent bear spray for a $12 deposit. Since you can’t fly with it, this is very helpful.

Backcountry campsites are $12/night. Thank you to Yukon Parks for comping my nights in the park.

If you’re a backpacker, this is one trip that deserves to be on your bucket list.

Other posts related to this trip you might find worthwhile:

A Hike to Grizzly Lake in the Tombstone Mountains

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 53 Comments
  1. I feel like a bad Canadian because I’ve never even heard of Grizzly Lake. Not sure if I’d been able to do an 11km hike, but the views certainly look spectacular.

  2. Your photos are each worth well in excess of the proverbial 1,000 words. The scenery is simply stunning. Unfortunately, the thought of perhaps running into a grizzly bear, bear spray notwithstanding, means that I am unlikely to find myself on this hike, so I’m especially grateful for your lovely photos.

    1. @Suzanne The thought of running into a grizzly always freaks me out too – but so far it hasn’t stopped me. I make a lot of noise which is one of the best things you can do. Plus we never saw so much as bear scat on the hike.

  3. That really is some country!
    You’ve made it look suitably enticing, but with a few reality checks thrown in, just in case we all head straight for them hills unprepared!
    So beautiful – I’d agree – this hike looks so worth the effort – then when is any hike not worth the effort?! 😉

  4. I’m not generally a backpacking hiker, but if the reward is worth it, I’ll go to great lengths…this is worth it. Great shots, great colours, and so proud it’s part of our country!!!

  5. That does look like an incredible adventure! I love seeing mountains now that I live in Florida and grew up in Vermont. I’ve visited Patagonia and this place has it’s own beauty. The colors are magnificent.

  6. I’ve been wanting to see the Yukon but this is unbelievably gorgeous. Now I understand the need for bear boxes for food but… what about your own protection? I’m going to research this further because I’m seriously thinking of a visit…

  7. Hi. Great pictures. I used to live in the Yukon and went hiking a lot – 6 times over the Chilkoot (which is not technically part or the YT) and 3 trips into Kluane. Hope I can get back and visit Tombstone. For people who have not been there – the autumn color shown are quite common in the Yukon, even if the terrain is more spectacular than most. The territory is mostly mountains and more mountains.

  8. Wow, the autumn colours are incredible. Such beautiful photos, thank you for posting! I did this hike in late July and now I’m thinking I chose the wrong month! I’m amazed that there are short sleeves being worn in the picture; it was so cold on our hike with strong Arctic winds. I liked the hike (the views really are amazing) but preferred the other ‘off trail’ hikes we did in Tombstone. I found the campground by Grizzly Lake really claustrophobic, which is suprising with all that nature around! Everyone at the campground on our hike was French – either French Canadian or from France. I was the only hiker with English as a first language, which I found pretty interesting.

    1. @Gemma I had seen photos of what the area looked like in late August so I knew that’s when I wanted to be there. Trust me, we got some cold weather on the next few days, but the first one was okay when you were moving. I actually liked the Grizzly Campground for its location but it was very muddy when we were there since they’d had so much rain in August – the whole summer actually.

  9. Your pictures and story to go along with is are amazing! This looks like a great camping trip. I had planned to go to Whitehorse this summer, and after a little research it looks like I definitely have to add Tombstone to my itinerary. I’m wondering if you wouldn’t mind emailing me with advice on this awesome adventure?

    1. @Stephanie It is a great backpacking trip but not necessarily an easy one if it’s wet. There is the option to continue on to Divide and Talus Lakes as well. The Tombstone Mountain Range is incredibly beautiful and late August with all the colours seems like a great time to visit – even if it does get cold.

  10. Hello,
    Thanks for posting the beautiful pictures. I am going back to Yukon in late August and hopefully weather will allow us a couple of hike in Tombstone as well. Late last August I hike Grey Mountain on August 30 before leaving and the colors up there, specially looking into the valley opposite to Whitehorse were spectacular!
    I take it one used to climb can make Grizzly Lake a day trip? What other hike in Tombstone would you recommend?
    We hiked the Chilkoot: no bugs and rain only at night, another one of a kind hiking trek!

    Thanks,
    Christine

    1. @Christine The Goldensides hike is a great short hike in the area – and you could also go part of the way to Grizzly Lake if you don’t have enough time. Grizzly Lake is doable as a day trip ONLY if you are sa super strong hiker and you aren’t carrying a full backpack.

  11. Thanks for the breathtaking views and amazing photos! Did you use wide angle lens and filters? I plan to hike the same area next August.

  12. Completed the hike in late August this year. Combined with a flight from YVR and hiking with my son, was a life experience to be sure; a test fora city guy but worth every minute. I had a choice to leave one of my lens at home to reduce weight but that didn’ t happen!

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