Dempster Highway

(continuer en français) – Last updated: August 26, 2022

Dempster Highway is a bit like the jam jar on the top shelf. Even though we know that it is forbidden to touch it, the temptation grows stronger.

The top shelf, because if you look at the Yukon map, the Dempster Highway is at the top right, well, let’s say northeast of the territory, then into the Northwest Territories and eventually reaching the Arctic Ocean.

Forbidden, as most rented cars are not allowed to drive on this highway, more precisely the insurance contract imposed on customers does not cover this portion of the road network, leaving them solely responsible for incidents, even if the road surface is not involved.

At the junction with the Klondike Highway, 25 miles, 40 kilometres, south of Dawson City, there is one last gas station where you can fill up. A little further on, a sign announces that the next services are at … 230 miles, 370 kilometres, which is the distance to reach Eagle Plains, it will be the first inhabited place to refuel.

In total Dempster Highway is a 460 mile, 740 kilometre, road from Dawson City in the Yukon to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, also passing through Fort McPherson and Tsiigehtchic. A recent extension now leads to Tuktoyaktuk by adding 86 miles, 138 kilometres.

Decided in 1958, construction of the road was mainly motivated by the exploitation of energy deposits. However, the last section of the road was not completed until 2017.

The pavement is in the form of a gravel embankment to prevent motor traffic from warming the frozen subsoil, the permafrost. Otherwise the road would gradually sink into the ground, requiring a much greater maintenance effort.

As there are few accommodations on the road, many travellers come with their own lodging. During the summer months there are many RVs (Recreational Vehicles) campervans and caravans. Initially motivated by oil, the Dempster Highway has become a tourist activity attracting many travellers, curious about the vast northern landscapes and the midnight sun, not to mention the little thrill of adventure on an outstanding road.

After 43 miles, 70 kilometres, Dempster Highway arrives at the Tombstone Territorial Park Interpretive Centre. The park was established in 2000 to protect 850 square miles, 2,200 square kilometres, from possible economic development. First Nations were involved in the creation and management of the park.

The Visitor Centre building contains a few informative panels on wildlife, a sense of déjà vu. There is a small equipped campground on site. It is mainly used as a starting point for hikes in the park, including three backcountry campsites.

The Dempster Highway runs through the Tombstone Territorial Park, allowing visitors to enjoy its majestic landscapes that have remained unspoilt, with human impact limited to the dirt road.

Further north the altitude exceeds the tree line, then it will be the tundra to the Arctic Ocean. In the south, the trees are still very abundant, although tending towards more and more stunted sizes. The slim silhouette of the spruce, with a vaguely human-like appearance, is found everywhere, like crowds gathered along the road.

In the valleys, the beavers are active, their dams extend the wetlands which will also serve as feeding grounds for other species, notably moose.

A small entertainment on a long journey, the river crossings that provide a different perspective on the landscape. The wooden bridge adds a touch of rusticity.

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    • I went on this trip to the Yukon in the middle of August. While preparing this article, I was rereading my travel notes and I noticed less bugs on the Dempster Highway than the previous days in the Yukon. I also saw fewer flowers, I don’t know if there is a connection.

      Liked by 1 person

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