To the Northwest Territories in Canada via the Dempster Highway

Dempster Highway

What was my most exciting trip?

What was my most exciting trip? Perhaps you think that is certainly difficult to answer on my many journeys around the world. But the exact opposite is the case. All I can think of is one trip that deserves this status. A trip I took years ago through the Northwest Territories of Canada. It takes me along the Yukon River to Dawson City and from there over the Dempster Highway to the Arctic.


On the way on the Dempster Highway
On the Dempster Highway in the Northwest Territories in Canada

In the footsteps of the prospectors from Whitehorse to Dawson City

It lasted two weeks, started in Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory, followed the Yukon River to the gold rush town of Dawson City. You think, “Wow! Great!" ? "Right," I answer you. “That was it, too, as we followed in the footsteps of the prospectors, adventurers and adventurers who moved this way from the coast and across the Yukon River into the land of the Klondike at the end of the 19th century. There they hoped for wealth from the gold fields, but often found only with drudgery and little success. Often they were able to buy the bare essentials with their gold nuggets because traders exploited the greed for gold among greenhorns from all over the world. They came to the Yukon to make a profit. ”Dawson City is the last supply stop before continuing to the Northwest Territories in Canada.

On the trail of the prospectors in the Northwest Territories in Canada

But that was only the beginning of a journey that would take me to the Northwest Territories in Canada to the Arctic Ocean. The route between Whitehorse and Dawson City follows the course of the Yukon River. It always offers views of the river in northern Canada. The Five Finger Rapids are still reminiscent of the fate of the prospectors who moved through the rapids downstream to the Klondike. It's hard to believe that they conquered the river on their outrageous and self-built rafts, canoes or other water vehicles.

Encounters on the way

I remember our picnic in Minto right on the Yukon. We were kept company by a canoeist who came paddling down the river. As it turned out, he came from Munich. He had emigrated to the Yukon more than ten years earlier, where he and his wife had built a hut by the river in the middle of the wilderness. This can only be reached by canoe. He had come to Minto to buy his supplies of basic food like sugar, flour, salt, and other necessities. A trip he only took every few months in the summer. Not at all in winter, as he explained to us.



Dawson City is a must

After our stay in Dawson City, we completed the standard program. A stroll through the first capital of the Yukon, a visit to Diamond Tooth Gertie's Saloon, which already existed at the time of the gold rush, the view from the Midnight Dome of the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers and of course an attempt to buy gold from a bowl of river- Washing sand. Only then did our Nordland adventure begin.


Inuvik, the oil town in the Northwest Territories of Canada
Inuvik, the oil town in the Northwest Territories of Canada

On the Dempster Highway to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories of Canada

The next stage of this trip took me over the Dempster Highway to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories in Canada. This highway is - with the exception of the "Freedom Road“In Quebec and Labrador - the only road that leads from southern Canada to the far north of the country. I had already driven this highway in Canada's Arctic twice before. So it was nothing new to me.

Wilderness adventure on the Dempster Highway

Still, every drive on the Dempster Highway is an adventure. The condition of the road depends on the weather conditions that prevailed just before or shortly before the journey north. I was lucky this time, and the highway was dry, if dusty. That means that we could see every vehicle, as rare as it was, from a long way off by the dust cloud it generated behind it. When it happened to us, we closed all the bulkheads (as far as possible) to keep as much of the fine road dust outside as possible. This does not work everywhere, and so we pull our luggage out of the trunk, completely encrusted with dust, halfway through Eagle Plains. Our first sign that the adventure begins in the far north.

The Dempster Highway leads into the Northwest Territories in Canada

The Dempster Highway is a pure gravel road that leads through permafrost areas and over two large rivers, the Peel and the Mackenzie Rivers, from Dawson City to Inuvik, a city in the Mackenzie Delta that is primarily used as a base for the oil industry in the Arctic Ocean. From there, in winter, the equipment is transported via ice roads from the ice truckers to the oil platforms in the Beaufort Sea. In summer, on the other hand, the road to the far north is not so well suited for the heavy haulage that is delivered via the winter route. There are normal trucks that we come across on the highway that provide the city with everything it needs in the summer.

Eagle Plains - Stopover on the Dempster Highway

The Dempster Highway is particularly impressive because it leads through wilderness areas. Left and right of the road is nothing but forest, the peaks of the Tombstone Mountains or the chain of Richardson Mountains that we see from Eagle Plains, the only stop on the way to Inuvik. In Eagle Plains there is just one station of the road maintenance department, which ensures that the road remains reasonably passable, a motel where truckers, oil workers and we stay and one of the rare gas stations on this route.

Across the Arctic Circle to the Northwest Territories in Canada

From Eagle Plains, the trees get lower and lower along the route. We are in the latitudes of the taiga. Then the trees disappear completely and we can only see the vastness of the tundra. Only a few kilometers north of Eagle Plains we pass the Arctic Circle, which is marked by an exit on the road. A sign explains what this imaginary line is all about. From here to the north, the sun no longer sets in summer, and it is light for 24 hours.


Sunset over the Mackenzie Delta in the Northwest Territories of Canada
Sunset over the Mackenzie Delta in the Northwest Territories of Canada

Across the Peel and Mackenzie Rivers to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories of Canada

With one exception, Eagle Plains is almost all downhill. While the rest station is on the crest of a mountain range, from which you can look in both directions to the horizon over the crippled trees of the taiga, the Dempster Highway descends steadily a few miles behind it. There is only one more uphill stretch as we approach the border between the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Again, a sign marks the border between these two territories, which is in the middle of nowhere. Shortly behind, we look down at tundra regions that stretch far to the north. There is no sign of humans to be seen here - unless one of the rare vehicles on the highway sends its fountains of dust into the air.

Two rivers - two ferries on the Dempster Highway

Our way to Inuvik is interrupted twice by the two rivers that we cross with free state ferries in summer. In winter, ice bridges connect the two banks. The ascent on these ferries is adventurous and suitable for these wild regions. There is no ferry station here where facilities compensate for the difference in height of the water in the rivers. Here the road simply ends in the water. The ferry presses itself as close to the bank as possible and the bridge is laid as flat as possible on the mainland. Depending on the water level, this works sometimes better, sometimes worse. And if you are traveling with a larger vehicle, it can happen that the bumper tears off when driving onto the ferry because the driveway is too steep (which actually happened to us on an earlier trip). But this time we are lucky and we cross the rivers unscathed.



Fort McPherson to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories of Canada

We make a stop in Fort McPherson, where we marvel at the dollar bills in the village bar, which are stuck above, on and under the counter. In the local cemetery we visit the graves of the "Lost Patrol", a winter patrol that had not found its way back from Dawson City to Fort MacPherson and was found in March 1911 on the tundra just a few kilometers from Fort McPherson. From here it is only a few hours until we finally reach Inuvik on the Mackenzie River through forests that emerge to the left and right of the road.

Our journey is on continue by plane to Tuktoyaktuk and Herschel Iceland on the Arctic Ocean.



The Northwest Territories in Canada
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Source: Research on site (this trip was not supported by anyone)

Text: Copyright Monika Fuchs, TravelWorldOnline
Photos: Copyright Monika Fuchs, TravelWorldOnline (Sorry for the quality of some photos. These are slides. They were taken at a time when I didn't have a digital camera.)

To the Northwest Territories in Canada via the Dempster Highway
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