Here’s to the glorious road trip – where the passing world projects on your windshield like a High Definition flatscreen. The trip is as much about the drive as it is about the destination.
Toss your bags in the back of the car, truck, van or RV, pick your playlist, crank the volume and head out in search of adventure. Part of the appeal is the complete change of scenery, experiencing unique sights and sounds around every corner. And some of the excitement is in the new people you will meet along the way. If the ultimate road trip is what you’re looking for, you need to take the trek on the iconic Dempster Highway – a drive that takes you across the Arctic Circle to the top of the world. Experience a road trip that rivals the Autobahn or the Cabot Trail in both fame and beauty.
Named after the legendary Mountie William Dempster who criss-crossed the north dozens of times, the highway begins just north of Dawson City in the Yukon and stretches over 730 kilometres to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. Along the way, the all-weather, gravel packed road rolls across two time zones, two continental divides, a trio of mountain ranges, five rivers, two ferry crossings and finally up and over the Arctic Circle. The Dempster is a beacon of pristine wilderness that attracts adventure enthusiasts from around the world, like one couple from Argentina who drove from the tip of South America to the Arctic Circle on a motorcycle. Campers, cyclists, photographers and voyagers all journey to this wild roadway. With travellers as intriguing as the route itself, no matter where you come from you’ll fit right in.
The early leg of the trip traces the history of the north as it follows former dog sled trails and traditional hunting and trap lines. The highway cuts through forest and mountains, spectacular river valleys and alpine meadows that are ablaze in wildflowers. In November, the massive herds of caribou, up to 120,000 in all, cross the highway on their annual migration.
After a stop at Eagle Plains to refuel and hear the stories about the infamous Mad Trapper, you have a short drive to the Arctic Circle. It’s an imaginary line but one that fills the imagination with awe. The road crosses the big-shouldered Richardson Mountains, far above the treeline and then it’s on to historic Fort McPherson on the Peel River and later the ferry at the stunning confluence of the Mackenzie and Arctic Red Rivers. If time allows, stop at Gwich’in Territorial Park for a picnic, paddle and some fishing on Campbell Lake.
The Dempster ends its journey in lively Inuvik, perched on the East Channel of the Mackenzie River. Tour the famous Igloo Church and North America’s most northerly greenhouse. And make sure to leave the road for the skies and the Arctic coastline with a flight-seeing journey to Tuktoyaktuk. If you are in town in July, cap off your journey to the top of the world by attending the heralded Great Northern Arts Festival, which this year runs from July 12 – 21 and celebrates its 25 anniversary.
Weather wise, the best time of year to drive the Dempster is from June to September when the days are long and warm – once you cross the Arctic Circle it truly is the land of the Midnight Sun. On the Northwest Territories portion of the highway, there are three visitors’ centres and six campgrounds as well as motel or hotel options at Eagle Plains, Fort McPherson and Inuvik. To help plan your trip along the Dempster Highway to the top of the world, visit www.spectacularnwt.com.
The Northwest Territories is home to fifty wilderness lodges, unique places to stay and play that are tucked in rocky alcoves, on islands, near mountains and on the shores of mighty lakes and rivers. Reach them by plane, snowmobile, hiking trails and road. Discover more one-of-a-kind vacations in the Northwest Territories in our next story which comes online in mid-March.
For more information on planning a trip to the Northwest Territories, go to: www.spectacularnwt.com.