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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).

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

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"

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

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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