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Driving The Dempster Highway To Tombstone Park, Yukon Territory

Driving the Dempster Highway to Tombstone Park, Yukon Territory

The Dempster Highway is a 735 kilometre all weather dirt road that connects the Klondike Highway (the highway that connects Skagway, Alaska to Dawson City, Yukon Territory) to Inuvik, located in the Northwest Territories on the Mackenzie River delta. The highway takes you across the Arctic Circle.

Last week I had the pleasure of driving a small portion of the Dempster Highway. John and I were headed for the Tombstone Mountains for a three day backpacking trip. The highway takes you right to Tombstone Territorial Park – though I was told that the highway itself isn’t actually in the park.

The road is a popular one for adventurous travelers. There are loads of RV’s making the full trek to Inuvik, but there are lots of people who are content to just go as far as Tombstone Park. That’s all we had time for – and we were told by a number of people that we had seen the most scenic section of the road. However, the drive on the Dempster Highway is about the journey and exploring a part of the world few people will ever see.

I’d seen plenty of photos before we’d left of the Tombstone Mountains so I planned specifically to be in the Yukon for the height of the fall colours – which for this part of the world is around late August. My photos don’t do the area justice. The drive is one of the prettiest I’ve ever done and would rank in my opinion, in the top three in Canada.

The photos will give you some idea of what to expect until you reach the mid-way point of Tombstone Territorial Park.

"It's a long way on a dirt road to Inuvik"

It’s a long way on a dirt road to Inuvik

"Heed the sign"

Heed the sign

"Near the beginning of the Dempster Highway, Yukon Territory"

Near the beginning of the Dempster Highway

"Dempster Highway, Yukon"

You’re into the mountains in very short order

Heading for the Tombstones, Yukon Territory"

Cloud formations help to make the drive a stunner

"The fall colours are glorious in Tombstone Territorial Park by the end of August"

The fall colours are glorious in Tombstone Territorial Park by the end of August

"Dempster Highway"

Beautiful coloured grasses along the side of the Dempster Highway in Tombstone Park

The road just past the Tombstone Mountain Campground

The road just past the Tombstone Mountain Campground

Tombstone Mountain is the peak in the distance

Tombstone Mountain is the peak in the distance

"Pretty mountain stream along the Dempster Highway"

Pretty mountain stream

"Dempster Highway, Yukon"

Wide, open roads with not another vehicle in sight

"The fox was the only mammal of note that we saw along the highway"

The fox was the only mammal of note that we saw along the highway

"Vivid colours make the drive one of the best I've ever done"

Vivid colours make the drive one of the best I’ve ever done

"Driving south road - after we've finished backpacking in the Tombstones"

Driving south road – after we’ve finished backpacking in the Tombstones

Tips for Driving the Dempster Highway

  • If you’re planning to rent a car, make sure that you are allowed to drive the Dempster Highway. Many rental companies forbid it.
  • You cannot rent a car in Dawson City; Whitehorse, a 6 – 7 hour drive away, is the closest center. We rented from Budget and were allowed to drive as far as Tombstone Park, though I’m not so sure about Inuvik.
  • You can now drive all the way to Tuktoyaktuk (as of 2018).
  • Services are few and far between. You’ll likely have to camp, at least until you reach Eagle Lodge or Inuvik. The good news is that you can camp just about anywhere along the side of the highway for free.
  • Fill up at the gas station at the corner of the Dempster Highway and the Klondike Highway. You will need a credit card to do that, as it’s not a manned station.
  • Purchase groceries and supplies well in advance of getting to the highway. If you’re planning to drive all the way to Inuvik, then take extra gas and a spare tire. If it’s your own car, make sure it’s been well tuned before you start your journey.
  • Cellphones do not work – at least as far as the park.
  • Be self-reliant.
  • Tombstone Territorial Park does have a Visitor Centre that is open until mid-September. You can get water there and it’s possible to rent cans of bear spray if you want to go on a hike.
  • Bring extra batteries for your camera.
  • If it rains, your car will be covered in mud. You will be muddy. Bring cloths and a bucket so you can at least wipe down the back windshield on occasion.
  • Be prepared to be wowed.

Driving the Dempster Highway to Tombstone Territorial Park in the Yukon

Leigh McAdam

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 39 Comments
  1. You’re so right that this road would be a Top 3 anywhere. It looks absolutely stunning. I can’t get over how early the fall colors are appearing up there. I think I’d have a hard time driving and not stopping every so often just to take it all in. Those colors look unreal and some of your beautiful photos look like paintings.

  2. How lucky to have the time to take that glorious road trip. One of my favorites, a little further north, was driving the Alcan Highway in Alaska from Whitehorse to Fairbanks and back. The widlife and midnight sun, seeing the face of Mt. Denali, were stupendous. Aren’t we blessed?!

    1. @Elaine We drove down to Kluane National Park and I saw the signs pointing for Fairbanks. I’d love to do that drive and figure we need at least a few more months to do all the exploring we’d like to do in the area. We are blessed!!

  3. I hope you went a little further than just the National Park, because the beauty of the landscape continues well beyond. We were able to watch a Grizzly family graze right next to the highway and hundreds of caribou on their migration south. Early Autumn seems to be the most beautiful time to visit! Plus the mozzies are gone = an added bonus.
    ps: the gas station on the highway corner has a diy-pressure cleaner to wash your vehicle after you come off the Dempster.

    1. @Juergen We drove part way through the park but we were really up there to do a three day backpacking trip in the Tombstones – which we did. My husband and I plan to go back and drive the entire highway one day. I was happy not to have bugs – but we traded them for a blizzard. Good to know about the gas station and their pressure cleaner.

  4. Wow, you really go to some of the most scenic areas, love all the colors and landscape, it is stunning. Hope you can share it with us for Travel Photo Mondays!

  5. I guess the closest remote road I have traveled is the road into Big Bend National Park. There are no gas stations for 150 miles. This pales in comparison to this amazing road. Gorgeous shots and great tips for those that want to follow in your tire tracks.

  6. The Dempster Highway looks like a bucket list item. I do enjoy remote dirt roads. A remote road that comes to mind that I have been on is the Road to Hana on Maui in Hawaii. It, however, is well traveled and crowded but it leads to a remote spot. It is a personal favorite.

  7. Wow! Spectacular scenery and gorgeous photos! I can honestly say that each picture was better than the last and all of them were stunning!

  8. Wow, that is absolutely beautiful. We have a motorhome and would love to do this drive. Our problem is that we have to work during the summer, so we may have to wait to do this drive until we have a summer that is free. Our RV is all set up for boondocking as we have it equipped with solar and know how to be very careful with our water and waste. One day we will make it. Thank you for these wonderful photos!

    Ruth

    1. @Kevin & Ruth Most of the vehicles on the Dempster are tourists traveling with motorhomes – usually smaller ones from what little I saw. The road is a grand adventure and I can’t recommend it enough.

  9. This looks like such an adventure! I think I would love this drive. Your photos are fantastic and the fox picture is wonderful!

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