Driving The Dempster Highway: A Canadian Travel Guide For RVers

Driving The Dempster Highway: A Canadian Travel Guide For RVers

Driving The Dempster Highway is a road that cuts through the Northwest Territories of Canada and opens up this incredible part of the world for us to experience. This highway is one of the world’s most spectacular road trips and yet, many people have never heard of it.

NOTE: Due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) the NWT borders may be closed to all non-essential travel. For more information, see border information from the Government of the Northwest Territories.

Driving the Dempster: A Journey of a Lifetime

Start of the journey on the Dempster Hwy
Start of the journey on the Dempster Hwy. (D.Saparow)

The Dempster Highway is a remote highway in the Northwest Territories of Canada that was originally built to service mining and oil exploration. As years went by, it continued to serve as an important transportation route for locals and tourists alike who enjoyed exploring its scenery from their motorhomes or RVs. It’s no wonder then why so many RVers have made this journey over the years.

The highway was completed in 1957 and named for Hudson’s Bay Company trader and explorer Donald A. “Dan” Dempster. The highway crosses several mountain ranges, including the Richardson Mountains and Ogilvie Mountains, and many rivers, including the Peel River and the Mackenzie River. The Dempster Highway connects Dawson City in Yukon with Inuvik in the Northwest Territories and passes through a variety of landscapes. It might not be everyone’s idea of a perfect vacation, but for those who are brave enough to take it on, the Dempster Highway is an unforgettable experience.

The highway is the only road that links the rest of Canada with this northernmost point of North America. It’s a beautiful drive, past the Arctic Circle and all sorts of magnificent scenery, and finally linking up with the Inuvik-to-Tuktoyaktuk-Highway, which takes you all the way to Tuktoyaktuk and the Arctic Ocean.

History of the Dempster Highway

Setting up camp in the Tombstone campground
Setting up camp in the Tombstone Campground (D. Saparow)

The Dempster Highway has a fascinating history. However, its history is quite short, only dating back to the late 1950s when it was first built.

The Dempster Highway is a highway in Canada that connects the Southern Yukon with Inuvik, the Mackenzie Delta and communities in the Northwest Territories. The highway crosses land and territories with no sign of human presence; no side roads, houses or power lines. It is considered one of Canada’s most remote highways, connecting two major provinces and two big territories: Alberta and British Columbia to the north, and Yukon Territory to the south. In total, the highway spans 742 km/461 miles.

The Dempster Highway was constructed between 1969 and 1975 and has been nicknamed “the world’s longest dirt road”. The surface of the highway is gravel, which helps to prevent the permafrost from melting. Furthermore, the highway crosses through three different Canadian territories before reaching Inuvik.

Geography of the Dempster Highway

The highway begins its journey in Dawson City, Yukon, and winds through the mountains before descending on a plain and heading for the Blackstone and Ogilvie Mountains. This road is unique due to its geography, with sections of the drive winding through the mountains, following creeks and rivers, and crossing long flat plains.

Driving The Dempster Highway

Traveling the Dempster Hwy
Traveling the Dempster Hwy. (D. Saparow)

Before embarking on the journey, make sure you are fully aware of what you are getting yourself into. The Dempster Highway is an amazing road that winds through some of the most beautiful mountain and tundra scenery in Canada. The highway crosses several mountain ranges, including the Richardson Mountains and Ogilvie Mountains, and numerous rivers, including the Peel River and the Mackenzie River. It’s not a good fit for inexperienced city drivers who may not be used to handling such challenging terrain. Make sure to do your research and plan accordingly.

There are three layers of different types of soil that make up the highway: clay, shale, and sandstone. The first layer is made of clay, which is very dense and sticky when wet. The second layer is made of shale, which is less dense than the first layer but more porous than the third layer. The third layer is made of sandstone, which is only found in the lowest parts of valleys.

The highway is not without its challenges, though. The route is bumpy and narrow-the only set of lights you’ll see at night are located at a few country houses. But for all its challenges, it’s still a beautiful road If you’re looking for an adventure, this is the place to go.

The service stations are at Eagle Plains, Fort McPherson, and Inuvik, respectively (distance from Dempster Junction). For the majority of its length, the Dempster Highway crosses land and territories with no sign of human presence.

When Is the Best Time to Drive the Dempster Highway?

We reach the Artic Circle
We’re at the Arctic Circle (D.Saparow)

The best time to drive it is from June to September, when the weather is mild and there are still plenty of daylight hours. Fall colors make it a particularly popular time to visit this remote highway, but if you’re interested in seeing them at their peak, then you will need to plan your trip for late August or early September.

The Dempster Highway is an all-weather road that stretches from Dawson City, Yukon to Inuvik, Northwest Territories. The highway typically closes for approximately 6 to 8 weeks in the fall when the Peel and Mackenzie Rivers freeze and again in the spring when they thaw. Driving the highway in the winter can be dangerous and is not recommended.

The highway can take anywhere from 5 to 8 days to drive, depending on the weather conditions and how many stops you make. However, there are tourist information centers located along the route as well as various accommodation options (such as campsites) available should you need them. So make sure you’re prepared before you hit the road and enjoy the amazing scenery while you’re at it.

Know What You’re Getting Yourself Into Before Driving the Highway

Along the North Klondike River
Along the North Klondike River

The Dempster Highway is a grueling journey from Inuvik to Norman Wells. It’s one of the most remote roads in North America and is the only road that connects Northern Canada to Alaska.

Make sure you have extra fluids, spare belts, basic tools, tow-rope, axe, knife and matches. Additionally, ensure that all of your tires are in good condition with lots of treads before embarking on the journey . This will help minimize damage to your vehicle while driving on rough terrain.

The Dempster Highway is notorious for its poor driving conditions, which can be difficult to predict due to the 24-hour daylight in the summer months. The highway is narrow and filled with potholes, making it treacherous to drive on at any time of year.

Dora’s Dempster Highway Quick Tips:

  • Make sure your vehicle and tires are in good condition.
  • Start your trip with a full tank of gas so you don’t run out of fuel and always carry some extra gas with you, just in case. Gas stations are available at Klondike River Lodge, Eagle Plains, Fort McPherson and Inuvik.
  • You’ll want to make sure you have a full size (or two) spare and that you know how to change it yourself.
  • The highway has a maximum speed limit of 90 km/h (55 mph) and has several river crossings that are closed by ice from October to May. Choose the speed according to road conditions.
  • When driving the Dempster Highway, it is important to obey all posted signs. This will ensure your safety while traveling on this route. There are many sharp curves and steep drop-offs, so please drive with caution.
  • The Dempster Highway is a two-lane paved road that has no shoulder and poses its own unique risks to drivers.
  • When meeting vehicles, especially large trucks, be sure to slow down and pull over in order to help avoid any damage to your windshield.
  • Driving the highway in the winter can be dangerous and is not recommended.
  • Check weather and road closures before you go.
  • Bring a first-aid kit.
  • Pack plenty of food and water.

The Northwest Territories and Inuvik

Dempster Hwy The Axeman Creek
Dempster Hwy. The Axeman Creek (D. Saparow)

Inuvik is located in the Northwest Territories and is home to a growing population of over 3,000 people. The new highway starts at Inuvik and crosses the Peel River, Mackenzie River using a combination of seasonal ferry service and ice bridges. This new route provides travelers with an additional 147km (91 miles) on NWT Highway 10 to Tuktoyaktuk from Dempster’s original terminus in Inuvik—meaning that visitors can now drive all the way to Tuktoyaktuk on one road. The journey from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk is approximately 2 hours.

Inuvik is also the gateway to the Arctic and has become a popular tourist destination. The Inuvik Region is located in the Northwest Territories and is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in North America. Visitors can enjoy hiking, fishing, kayaking, and dog sledding in this unique part of the world.

Bring Food and Water

There is no food or water available until Eagle Plains on the Dempster Highway. This means that if you are traveling in an RV, you will need to stock up on groceries and water before you leave Dawson City. (We recommend the AQUATANK-2.)

When traveling in Canada, it is important to be aware of the drinking water advisories. Many areas have non-commercial water sources that should be boiled or treated before drinking. It is also important to check with local authorities before consuming any water, as advisories can change quickly.

Make Sure You Have Adequate Supplies when Driving on The Dempster Highway

Be sure to pack appropriately for the Dempster Highway. Driving on it can be awesome, but don’t forget to prepare for the drastic temperature changes from morning to night.

Make sure you have adequate supplies, including mosquito head nets and bug repellent spray. Trust me, you’ll thank me for this one on those windless days in early summer when the mosquitoes are out in full force.

A Portable Tire Air Compressor can be a lifesaver if you find that your spare tire is slightly deflated, and a Tire Repair Kit can be helpful for small punctures while driving.

The Milepost Travel Planner is an excellent resource for outlining what you’ll need, with a mile-by-mile account of the highway and every other major highway in Alaska and Yukon.

When driving in bear country, the safety of yourself and the bears needs to be at the forefront of your mind. Bear spray is a great way to keep yourself safe in the event that you encounter a bear. But, it is important not to rely too heavily on it and to practise proper Bear Avoidance Techniques.

Final Thoughts

There is no one answer to the question of what is the best way to see Canada. It really depends on what you want to see and do. If you’re looking for an adventure, explore our vast wilderness by canoe, kayak, or raft. Or go camping, fishing or hiking in some of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth. If you’re more interested in history and culture, visit one of our many museums or cultural centers, or meet some locals and learn about their way of life. So take your time and enjoy the journey—you won’t regret it!