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Hitting the Arctic Circle in Canada – the Dempster Highway

Hitting the Arctic Circle in Canada – the Dempster Highway

Hitting the Arctic Circle in Canada – the Dempster Highway
February 10
22:20 2013

A statistic conducted by Kanetix Ltd shows that one third of Canadians’ travel plans are taken in Winter. There are a couple of choices on how to reach the Arctic Circle in Canada, with the Alaska Highway being the most obvious and easiest approach. However, the Dempster Highway is another approach, especially for the adventure-types who want to travel with some risk involved.

Dempster Highway, Yukon, Canada
Dempster Highway, Yukon, Canadatravfotos / / CC BY-NC

The Dempster route stretches across from Dawson City all the way to Inuvik. Along the way, a traveler can be treated to 450 miles of absolute, northern wilderness. Being one of two roads that penetrate the Arctic Circle on the Canadian-U.S. side of the planet, the road sees heavy travel, despite being poorly developed.

The first thing a traveler needs to understand about the Dempster Highway, though, is that it is not a comfortable Interstate. The road is predominantly dirt and gravel; there is no pavement. As a result, hundreds of trucks and cars have given up a vital organ or their ghost on the route as a result of torqued axles, lost wheels, destroyed tires and more. Further, various parts of the road can be blocked by natural movement via landslides, snow, or flooding. As icing on top of the cake, the number of fuel stations available along the route is minimal or none, depending on which part of the Dempster a traveler is on. Many of the areas are considered full-commitment sections where, once started, the traveler has to drive and reach the destination to survive.

Clearly, the road conditions demand a durable vehicle, more likely a jeep or truck with four-wheel capacity and a diesel or similar engine type for power support. Small compact and standard cars will simply be mincemeat for any kind of long trip on the Dempster Highway.

As travelers get closer to the Arctic Circle, they will also need to get use to the idea of clear daylight at night. Given the position on the planet and the time of year, a driver could easily never see full night-time darkness within the Circle region.

By the time a driver does make it to the end of the Dempster at Inuvik, he will be greeted with a small town of workers who make their living supporting energy companies with bases and facilities in the area. Total population equals approximately 3,500, and the town itself sits right at the edge of the Arctic Circle. The feeling of “cold” is an understatement in Inuvik, nights during the dark season can reach down to 40 degrees below zero.

In terms of an actual road, Inuvik is the last stretch of hard road available for the Dempster. During the winter, drivers and truck haulers can take advantage of the ice roads created over frozen waters that can reach Tuktoyaktuk farther north. Otherwise, going further means having to use one of the local pilots to cover the distance.

Most travelers will be completely wiped out and exhausted at the end of the route, which the locals at Inuvik expect. Temporary lodging can usually be arranged at one of the local vendors as well as fuel and stocking up for the exit trip to eventually get out of town again. The Dempster is doable, but it will provide a road adventure very few people in the world take on outside of being a truck driver for a company hauling supplies. As a result, if one wants to really see wild Canada and the Arctic Circle, the route should be given serious consideration.

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