Blog 282 The road to Inuvik and Tombstone

 For many overland travellers the goal of reaching the Arctic circle is a big pull but getting into Alaska is not an option if you only have an electronic three month USA visa. This is because entering Alaska starts the USA visa ticking then you have to ride back through Canada and the lower 48 before the visa expires. The alternative is to travel the Dempster highway to Inuvik which is the only all weather road in Canada which crosses the Arctic circle.

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Dawson city is the starting point for this relatively new highway in the Yukon. Highway is a bit of a misnomer as it is a gravel and shale road which leads to Inuvik which is also a dead end so you have to retrace the 736km (457miles) back again. During the winter months the highway extends another 194km (121miles) to Tuktoyaaktuk using ice roads.


It’s construction started in 1959 when oil and gas exploration was booming in the McKenzie Delta but spiralling costs and political arguments over funding led to it being abandoned still unfinished in 1961. It wasn’t until 1968 when huge reserves of oil and gas were found at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska (USA) that the Canadian government stepped in to assert its sovereignty over the Arctic seabed off the Yukon coast. They finished the road which was primarily intended to supply the oilfields and the growing town of Inuvik. The road now passes through unspoilt areas of the Yukon and is a popular adventure touring route.


Ice on the water in the background

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The road was officially opened in 1979 and the full journey includes two ferry crossings (or seasonal ice bridges).

It is built on a gravel berm which in places is up to 2.4metres (7ft 10 inches) thick to insulate the permafrost underneath. There is only one fuel station at Eagle Plains which is 408km from Dawson City hence why we filled our spare fuel bladder before we left. There are no other services whatsoever until Inuvik.IMG_2636 IMG_0228 IMG_0233 IMG_0349

Kev was quite keen to ride all the way to Inuvik but everyone we spoke to in Dawson that had travelled it recently had all got punctures in the later sections which were paved with needle-like shale. We didn’t have a spare tyre and we were mindful that we needed to preserve the tyre we were running on until we could replace it in Fairbanks or Anchorage.

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Our compromise was to ride up the Inuvik road (Dempster Hwy) about 80 miles into Tombstone territorial park and back. Quite a few people we had spoken to had said that was the most scenic part of the trip and it was before the tyre shredding shale section.IMG_2584 IMG_0323 IMG_0329 IMG_0335

The scenery was spectacular and it was well worth the detour. Our favourite part however was looking around the frozen ice in the river. Bear in mind this was late June and there were still these huge hunks of river ice that was like a mini glacier.

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Ice like this can be dangerous so we moved carefully amongst it to get some pictures.

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This was a flowing river without a huge glacier behind it so we didn’t have that worry, that said we could see when we looked back up towards the road (that Kev is sitting on) the gravel hid the ice underneath.

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Tombstone national park is quite special in that it is the meeting point of boreal, alpine and arctic environments and there are flora and fauna here that exist nowhere else on earth.

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Next Up – Dawson City the history and the buildings.






  1. #1 by Kev & Karen on December 22, 2013 - 7:35 pm

    Hi Michael,
    Sorry we missed you and thanks for the kind words. Have a great Christmas. We’ll email you to get your blog.

  2. #2 by Michael and Martha and Nina on December 22, 2013 - 2:51 am

    Kev and Karen
    Glad to hear you are in SF. We just missed you, flying back to Michigan from there on the 19th for Holidays. Back to the Pickle GMC on the 7th Jan. We came across your camp in the Oregon sand dunes again after meeting you in Manzinita, OR. Nina would surely like to have spent some more time playing with you, our black and white springer (English by the way). We will be looking for you in the southwest, but if we don’t find you, continue your amazing journey in safety and continued good will that you are spreading. I did a blog about you that is on our site, if you are interested and of course are spreading the word of your accomplishments to all I meet and know, Michael

  3. #3 by Nancy Gibb on December 19, 2013 - 9:19 pm

    Hi Kev and Karen,
    Awesome photos – can’t believe you are on the other side of the world now – and very glad Karen is fully recovered.
    Want to ask if you resize your photos before uploading and what is the quickest way? Having probs with out blog and may need to shift to another site.
    Best wishes for a very happy Christmas and may 2014 be full of adventure and trouble-free. – N and D.

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