Cranbrook bills itself as the basecamp of the Kootenays as it offers easy access to…
If you’re looking for world-class mountain scenery in an area that doesn’t get a lot of attention, then do the Grizzly Lake hike in the Tombstone Mountain Range, Yukon Territory. Starting at KM 58.5 on the Dempster Highway, the three to five day hiking trip takes you first to Grizzly Lake, and then to Divide and Talus Lakes. It’s a wild, desolate, truly memorable landscape.
This blog only takes you on a hike to stunning Grizzly Lake in the Tombstones, a distance of 11.5 km with an elevation gain of 797 m (2,615 feet) one way. The next day we traveled about 10 km to reach Divide Lake, via Glissade Pass – and part of that hike was in a blizzard.
The Patagonia of the North
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.
Plan ahead for your Grizzly Lake hike in the Tombstones
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.
Hike to Grizzly Lake for the first night. Then go to Divide Lake for the next two nights. That way you can visit Talus Lake as a day trip without a heavy pack. Then walk all the way out from Divide Lake if you’re a strong hiker. Otherwise, plan on another night at Grizzly Lake.
If you want it to be even easier you could do Grizzly Lake, Divide Lake, Talus Lake, Divide Lake, Grizzly Lake and then out. That would take you six days. There are lots of permutations and combinations but if you go late in the season be very aware that temperatures can plummet quickly.
Mandatory orientation for the hike
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.
Here’s a look at the landscape you’ll enjoy on the hike to Grizzly Lake.
I’d rank the hike 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 hike to Grizzly Lake in the Tombstones, 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.
Getting to the Tombstone Interpretive Centre
The Interpretive Centre is on the Dempster Highway at Km 71. Count on a 1.5 hour drive from Dawson City, 7 hours from Whitehorse and 12 hours from Inuvik in the Northwest Territories.
If you have further questions you can either email me through my contact form or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call them toll free at 1-800-661-0408 ext 5648.
If you’re a backpacker, this is one trip that deserves to be on your bucket list.
Further reading on the Yukon
- The Ivvavik National Park Base Camp Experience
- The Goldensides Hike in Tombstone Mountain Territorial Park
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