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Old 08-16-2010, 06:02 PM   #1
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Summer Trip Yukon Territories including the Dempster Highway

For us, the journey was broken into several portions of which I’ll post separate trip reports so I can post more pictures

This is a continuation of another trip report which covered from Seattle up through British Columbia.
This is the Yukon stage covering Whitehorse, Skagway, Dawson and Inuvik (the Dempster Highway) There wasn’t a lot of wildlife but great scenery and landscapes.

This picks up in Whitehorse (the largest city and the capital) in Yukon Territories. As the largest city, it had all of the services that we required at reasonable prices for Canada. It was also where I was introduced to the concept of Walmart camping.
The parking lot was packed with RVs!

I guess if you were in a self contained and insulated home it wouldn’t be terrible but it wasn’t for us. In fact, it coined a new phrase in our family vocabulary. “This place has all the charm of a Walmart parking lot.” Sadly, it was used a couple of more times on the trip when there was no Walmart in sight.

This time, we headed down toward Skagway and camped rough on the Canadian side.
Skagway is an attractive, fun historical town that was completely overrun by cruise ships while we were there. They said they have 4 ships a day except on Sunday which only has 1 ship. It was crazy crowded and we stayed in camp or out on excursions until evening so we could see the town with less competition.

We needed to do wash and chose the Skagway Mountain View RV Park which was modest but we went with a dry site and we were largely alone next to a single pup tent bicyclist. It had free wifi, pay showers and laundry.
We did look at some of the other parks and the nicest ones were both expensive and full? If you are thinking of going more upscale, you should make reservations in advance.
The National Parks Visitors Center and the Skagway museum were both well worth the visit. We liked both the Sweet tooth Café (more tourist oriented) and Klondike Kate’s (more blue collar) for breakfast.

The Dyea townsite has a self guided tour which was a pleasant walk although little is left of the tent city itself. Even there, we battled the cruise ship excursions that were doing bike rides, dog sledding and rafting/kayaking. I took a cruise with my family a couple years ago to Alaska so I don’t mind that the cruise ships were there and we (collectively) wanted to sneak onto a ship for a quick buffet and swim, but I didn’t enjoy the crowds and with that we also decided to skip Haines.

We filled up on fuel before we headed back to Whitehorse. The Whitehorse/Skagway highway is scenic but the fog moved in and we couldn’t see much.

This time, going through Whitehorse, we stayed outside the city at the Takhini Hot Springs where we soaked as well as camped. This is on the way to Dawson City.
While mine were the only kids there, we were comfortable and enjoyed the pools.

At this point, we were off the AlCan, heading to Dawson City on the Klondike Loop. We made it to Dawson a single day (335 miles). It looked a lot like this for 8 hours

While we didn’t expect it, Dawson ended up being one of our favorite places. The campground weren’t expensive, the town was quaint and the crowds were light.
We stayed at both the city campground across the river which had no services as well as Bonanza Gold RV Park, slightly outside town which had full services.
Make sure that you check on the “rush hour” for the ferry because it is small and first come/first served.

The ice cream shop was popular as we made an attempt to try every single flavor in town. You may not choose the same heroic quest but every family needs to challenge themselves and we made this ours. At times, the crowds were vicious and almost overwhelming but we persevered.

There is a Dawson City Visitors Center as well as a Dempster Highway Visitors Center. Both are useful for adults and the staff went out of their way to make it enjoyable for kids. Kids (and parents) get a variety of posters, booklets, and certificates. A majority of the buildings have a placard with background so a walking tour is enjoyable.

We visited Dredge #4 which pulled out 200 oz of gold per day for decades. The dredge was made of wood, with enormous gears and it kept the interest of us all.

We went to the paddlewheel graveyard on the Yukon where the obsolete boats were driven on the shore. Only a short walk from the city campsite, it was a neat walk for us all.

We went outside Dawson to try a little gold panning at Claim #6.

And we visited the Dawson Museum as well as the Railroad annex. It was the largest museum that we visited on the trip and was comprehensive in covering the gold rush.

On the fourth day, we headed up the Dempster Highway to Inuvik. It’s 450 mile each way, almost all of it was gravel or dirt. The condition varied from good to poor, slippery clay to deep gravel although it was never difficult, it just varied the speed that I could carry. I made it to Inuvik in a day and a half, camping rough along the way. There are campgrounds available that seemed to be largely unused.

We had an opportunity to use my new jack and compressor when I got a flat. I tried to plug it but the cut was too long. I had been warned that the thick tread tires tend to trap rocks and the rocks literally saw a hole in the tire. While I was skeptical at the time, however seeing the thin sharp rocks and receiving two flats made me a believer. Most of the locals were using standard road tires and they said flats were rare.

My kids were pretty excited to help fix the flat and get on our way. Because the lugnuts were tight and the tires are heavy they ended up spraying bug juice and swatting the hordes of blood sucking vampires that were landing on my sweaty back and arms. The head netting which I almost didn’t bring was quite handy. As I was lifting the heavy tire back onto the spare carrier, the girls sat back and yell encouragement and direction. “Up!”, “Down” ,“Over, no, no, Dad, the other way!”, “Wow, I think that is a horse fly on your back now Dad, it’s huge!”. It was a classic family moment.

We had the tire repaired and got gas at Eagle Plains which is roughly half way to Inuvik. There is an RV park which had all the charm of a Walmart parking lot . We continued on and camped rough. This was the peak of mosquitoes for us on the trip and whenever we would stop the van, we would be swarmed.

Shortly before Fort McPhearson, we had another flat which was repaired just outside town. In both cases, it was $30C to have the flat fixed.

I’m hoping that once they are a little bigger, I’ll grab something cold from the fridge and supervise their tire changing efforts. My wife assures me that their enthusiasm will decline the quicker this approaches a task rather than an adventure.

Bugs and flat tires aside, there was outstanding scenery.

You cross both the Arctic Circle and into the NorthWest Territories. Here is my van sporting the two tone Dempster paint job

The back of the van got so dirty, it was completely dark with no light coming through at all. I am still getting the crusted dust/mud off the van almost a month later!
Here is one of my companions on the trip

The last 150 miles or so to Inuvik are all boggy tundra. The trees are short and spindly without much of an opportunity to camp rough because the road is built like a dike with few pull offs outside the available campgrounds.

Inuvik is a pleasant enough place, built between 1955-1961. All the buildings are on pilings and the conduit for piping (electric and plumbing) are all above ground so they don’t have problem with the permafrost. People were friendly but it is clearly a working town, not built for tourism. There are a few neat buildings including the Igloo Church

and you can walk the town in an hour or so.

There is a good Visitors Center with friendly staff. There is also a community water park that bills itself as the only waterslide north of the Arctic Circle unfortunately, it has limited hours so check beforehand if this is an objective

We stayed at the provincial campground in town for what we later voted was the worst night camping of the trip? It was hot and muggy, noisy construction worker neighbors, ferocious mosquitoes, barking dogs, loud cars, never ending sunlight, loud fan, it seemed like everything was working against us. As I explained to the kids later, we have to have a couple miserable nights to appreciate the good ones. From that point forward, my kids were the number 1 fans of camping remotely where it is noticeably quieter.

As expected, these were the highest prices for fuel and groceries that we found anywhere on the trip.

We stayed a day in Inuvik and then headed south to Dawson. The trip back was uneventful with the same beautiful landscapes then we were off to the Top of the World highway and Alaska.

That will be for the next installment.

Stay tuned.


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Old 08-16-2010, 06:12 PM   #2
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Re: Summer Trip Yukon Territories including the Dempster Highway

Thanks for sharing. Inuvik is on my short list of places I need to visit. The Dempster looks somewhat like the Dalton did when it was all dirt and gravel.

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Old 08-17-2010, 01:15 PM   #3
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Re: Summer Trip Yukon Territories including the Dempster Highway

Fantastic photos and great commentary bit burger! I'm still envious that you did the trip I was planning but didn't do!

Back in March I camped at Valley of Fire State Park east of Las Vegas near a woman from Whitehorse in the Yukon. She had done the Dempster many times and said that the shale outcrops on the turns frequently sawed through a vehicles' sidewalls. She was proud that she had piloted her new Sprinter Van to Inuvik and back to Dawson without a single flat on her last trip.

Thanks again for a great trip report.
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Old 08-17-2010, 11:27 PM   #4
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Re: Summer Trip Yukon Territories including the Dempster Highway

Great write up ! Great pics ! Thanks for sharing.
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Old 08-18-2010, 12:24 AM   #5
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Re: Summer Trip Yukon Territories including the Dempster Highway

Mark, do you think a mud terrain tread would have the same problems with rocks and flats? That's some primo info.
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Old 08-18-2010, 07:09 AM   #6
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Re: Summer Trip Yukon Territories including the Dempster Highway

And as a follow-up to Daveb's question, would airing down do any good in a situation such as the Dempster?

I must admit that back in 1999, I got to Inuvik without any flats, but that's because I flew there.
2006 Baja Tan SMB 4X4 EB50 PH 6LPSD
Mohawk Royalex Solo 14 foot canoe (light white-water)
Mad River Kevlar Explorer 17 foot canoe (flat water)
Dagger Royalex Legend 16 foot canoe (white-water)
Maravia New Wave 13.5 foot raft (fishing and white-water)
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Old 08-18-2010, 11:31 PM   #7
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Re: Summer Trip Yukon Territories including the Dempster Highway

Great adventure! still impressed you did this!
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