Dempster Highway 2014 Ride Report: Maps, Words, Pics, and Blarney

This ride report is a few words about the Dempster Highway, and how to get there, from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. I start from Whitehorse as that's the last real bit of population you'll see.  The Yukon, which is bigger than California, has 36,000 people living there; 28,000 of them reside in Whitehorse.

It's like taking a small handful of chocolate chips and tossing them onto a large pool table. Yep, there's a lot of room. You may now eat the chocolate chips. 

My perspective is slightly different, as I lived in Whitehorse for 13 years: 1981 to 1993. I met my wife there, and we started our family there, so I've been in and out of the Yukon many times, in many ways. My wife's parents have resided there since 1961. Look right. Howdy folks!


Granny and Boompa; 80 and 84 years young!

There are many ways to get to Whitehorse, Yukon's capital, but that's an article for another time. The vast majority of people going north, go through Whitehorse. Anyways, I have great excuses to visit a most unique and beautiful part of the world. Having said that, I never rode the Alaska Hwy on a motorcycle (completely), and I never was on the Dempster, period. Weird, when I think about it, because I drove by the Dempster Highway exit while going to Dawson City, on more than one occasion. It's often been said that where you are now, in life, is exactly where you're supposed to be, so here we are.

Whitehorse being the northern metropolis that it is, has all the amenities. Of course, there are some tourist attractions, like Miles Canyon, and the Yukon River that literally flows through town, and stores that sell gold gobbed rings, or Rams head watches glittering yellow.

I guess I'm just an optimist, or confused...
The road ends in Inuvik...

Whitehorse has the feel of modernity, although you can go 50 kms in any direction, and feel like you're alone in the bush...and you probably will be!

...parked in Whitehorse, Crestview subdivision. 10 kms north of downtown.

"There are strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold; the arctic trails have their secret tales that would make you blood run cold..."  Robert Service

As you leave Whitehorse, within minutes, you'll be turning right on to Hwy #2, the Klondike Hwy. You will no longer see the Alaska Hwy, until you return. Within the hour, you should be stopping at Braeburn Lodge.

Although there are lots of fuel stops before the Dempster, it never hurts to top up. I like visiting, and this place, like every place in the worthy.

And Sweet...

Their cinnamon buns come in only one size, huge! Me and my Bro ordered the grilled cheese and "a" Cinnamon Bun. We barely finished the grilled cheese, which was Sasquatch sized, and we packed up most of the bun, snacking on it throughout the rest of our day.

Braeburn Lodge...          

Bikes and  Buns

Carmacks is up next, and honestly, from the highway it seems like nothing more than a fuel/snack stop, but there is a thriving, little community a ways off the road. Nevertheless, we fueled up, ate some bun, and rode on.

Always watch for wildlife on these northern roads. Black, brown, or grizzly bears. Moose, caribou, deer, bison, fox and rabbits.

           And livestock..?
Wildlife aside, our closest call was a crazy horse that came flying out of nowhere like he had a hot potato up his as#! Just about clipped us, and certainly surprised us.

Actually, that horse had us chuckling for hours, as he seemed somewhat possessed, divots flying from his hooves...

Stay frosty.

Next, Pelly Crossing rolls into view; fuel, coffee, and carrot cake. Another small community that's been there awhile, but as far as the highway is concerned, they mostly mind their own business. On our way south, we stopped again at Pelly Crossing, and counted over 30 motorhomes, just pulling out, in a travelling caravan; luckily, the caravan was going North. It was early July, and the tourist traffic was picking up; July seems to be when the traffic increases, which would make sense.




No I'm not sleeping...

Just resting my eyes

Stewart Crossing is next; although nowadays, it's really only a government road camp. You cross the Stewart River and turn left towards Dawson City. Right takes you up towards Mayo and Keno City. Good rides if you have the time. These communities are somewhat isolated, but that's part of their beauty

After Stewart Crossing, you'll have to make a decision, because the Dempster Junction eventually shows up, but at that junction, you're also only half an hour from Historic Dawson City (now being considered for a UNESCO Heritage Site). My recommendation, don't skip Dawson City; I believe skipping Dawson is a serious miscalculation. Dawson is the mother lode of gold rush towns. We stopped there on the way North and South. Homeward bound, we celebrated with an amazingly fresh beer, and I rarely drink, and some kind of bacon lasagna. Mmmmm....mmm!

Dawson City, the Kissing Houses ...

      and up on the Dome, ....with a view of the valley ...well, you'll have to get off the bike!

Population of Dawson City: currently, 1,300, in 1898, 40,000. When in Dawson, one just needs to stand on the dusty main street and try to visualize what it must have looked like in 1898 with all those crazed miners: men, women, and animals, thirsting for gold. Must have been a zoo. Hang a few days, hug a few cold ones. Dawson has some great, local eateries. We met more bikers in Dawson City than on the Dempster, that's for sure. Pop over to the Northwest Territory tourist info house, and see if Evelyn is still there. She's born and bred first nation, and a world traveller at that. Great lady, and knows the Dempster, like I never will.

Just a few pics from Dawson City. Wander streets that gold miners trod more than a century ago, only you can carry a latte and camera, not a pick and shovel.
Whitehorse to Dawson is about 6 hours; fuel stops to this point are absolutely no problem. Camping, hotels, BnBs, eateries, it's all there. That will change on the Dempster...
...40 kms (25 miles) east from Dawson City is Mile 0, Dempster Hwy. From Mile 0, Dempster Hwy, it is 370 kms (230 miles) to Eagle Plains, taking approx. 6 to 7 hours. After Mile 0, Eagle Plains is the next fuel stop; it has a hotel, restaurant and camping. Nothing after that for 200kms (125 miles) when you reach Fort McPherson; there are campgrounds along the way, Tombstone and such, but you'll have very little company at these stops.

 If you skip Dawson City, Whitehorse to Eagle Plains is about 13 hours, "if the weather " cooperates... a sunny Dempster and a wet Dempster are at different ends of the spectrum...

 And I did say weather, didn't I? A week before we reached Dawson, the story goes, a rider on a GS was helicoptered out. Slippery! Thus, the recommendation to visit Dawson City. Rest, recharge, check your steed, and savour where you are. When you, and the weather, are ready, drive back the half hour, stop at the mile 0 gas depot, and proceed north. On to the Dempster Highway!
It can be a long drive just to get here, but you made it!

Gas up first, and then photos at the Dempster sign; you can see the sign as you fuel up. We carried spare gas, but never needed it. My Vee got 5L/100 km (56 m/g) and went the entire 370 kms (230 miles), right to the pumps at Eagle Plains. Now cross the bridge and scratch gravel on the mighty Dempster

The Dempster.
Took me long enough,
didn't it..?

Unlike the highway to Prudhoe Bay, the Dempster Highway is not yet a dedicated truck route

The first day's ride was the best. Of course, you're excited, but the road is at it's best. Hardpack, swooping up and down, winding through passes, and along streams and rivers. We had a mixed bag of weather, all day, but rain was never an issue. A few spits, some clouds, river fog, and glimpses of what was to come. Sun, and lots of it. And how many shades of green can mother nature have? Endless...

The scenery gets better with every hour. We stopped so many times just to look around and try to take it all in.

And you'll almost tire of taking pictures. Well, not really..,

 ...although, we wondered if maybe a person should walk the whole way so as to not miss anything. The enormity of this country will lodge in your brain. The tundra rolls away in shades of green only to melt in the distance into mountain ranges, in misty hues of blue. In some places, it felt like I could see for hundreds of miles in any direction.

Within 7 hours we were pulling into Eagle Plains.

Traffic was minimal.
We saw one, maybe 2, motorcycles. We were tired, mostly from riding on the dirt, and being a bit overwhelmed with where we were.
We both have lots of experience on dirt bikes, but honestly, not so recent. And the Vstroms are not dirt bikes. Still, no real issues, and it was an awesome ride.
We had pre-booked our room,
but really didn't need to.
Having said that, we got the last available room coming back.
The room was basic, roomy enough, clean, and the restaurant served truck driver style food.

Loved it


Check out the
Eagle Plains' lunch menu

Did I say the first day was the best? I meant.., the 2nd day was the best...

Leaving Eagle Plains, you will arrive at the Arctic Circle sign post within the hour. I don't think anybody drives by that. We hung out there for almost an hour. You wait a lot of years to see it... enjoy the moment. The sign was in pretty rough shape. We actually put part of it back together.

Here's a
link to our repair video

I'm expecting a large cheque from the Yukon Govt. LOL! Right.

Your next marker will be the Northwest Territory welcome sign.

The unreal scenery continues.

The NWT road is different from the Yukon side.

On the NWT section of the Dempster the road has less hardpack and more gravel, especially if you get behind a road crew! The scenery will change as you get closer to Inuvik. The mountains become smaller, and you're surrounded by forest, where the trees are all 7 feet tall; like Charley Brown Christmas Trees. It's a tough environment to be anything... alive. Some of the straight stretches on the NWT road were 20 km (12 miles) long. About as long as any we saw for weeks.

Once you cross the Peel River by ferry, Fort Macpherson is minutes away. The town is a half of a km off the Hwy, and provides the only fuel between Eagle Plains and Inuvik. The Mackenzie River Ferry is next. Both ferries are free. Well, you may have to give a little blood to the mosquitos, or horse flies.

I had a horse fly land on my shoulder, but he was immediately smothered by this mini helicopter,
a huge dragon fly (as long as my little finger).

The dragon fly clung
to my jacket, enjoying his meal,
for about 15 minutes.
Even driving didn't faze him.

I think I transported him about 20 kms from his home before
he burped, smacked his lips, and flew off.

What a beast!
Oh, thanks, by the way.

Fort Macpherson is pretty easy to drive by as the signage is sparse; we actually did miss it, and had to turn back. We stopped for fuel and had a difficult time finding a java. There was 2 stores, one opened at 1pm and the other had a sign on the door that said they would open as soon as an employee showed up. It's 366 kms (228 miles) from Eagle Plains to Inuvik, so fuel seemed like a good idea.

The road from the NWT sign is pretty straight, and gravelly, compared to the Yukon side. We ran up to a grader working the road, and the calcium /magnesium crew. What a mess. I don't think we'll ever get all the cal/mag* road mix off of our bikes.

*Cal/mag is a recipe for hardening the road.

The rest of the way to Inuvik was quite uneventful, other than the dust from the occasional semi. The scenery is not so scenic, as it's flatter, and like I said earlier, covered with Charley Brown Christmas Trees.

We got a great room in Inuvik for $140.00+. The only other place where a room cost more, was Eagle Plains, $155.00+. (average room cost was $90.00 to $105.00 the whole way). Having said that, our Inuvik room was more like an apartment. Pretty nice. As you get within 15 minutes of Inuvik, you're going to hit pavement, and that will be weird. Don't get too excited, there's not much, and it's frost heaved big time, like riding a wave. I'm still unsure what to say about Inuvik, as we did not spend more than the night there. Seemed like a nice, sleepy little town. I think we were still so enamoured with the Yukon side of the Dempster that we wanted to return. Honestly, we discussed the fact that if one had a schedule to keep, just making it to the NWT sign would be a great ride, on it's own. It's 35 kms (22miles) from Eagle Plains to the Arctic Circle sign and another 60 kms (38miles) to the NWT sign, an easy 2 day rounder from Dawson City. Just saying.

In the end, it was the ride of our life time, up to this point, and I would recommend it highly, and I also recommend you do the whole thing if time permits. It's the kind of ride some people might get tattooed onto their arm. I look at the photos often and think back to the sights, sounds, and smells. Stirs the emotions, really.

I do believe I may go that way again this year, as my wife just parked her new Vstrom in the garage, and guess where she wants to go this summer? Oh yeah, baby! Bring it on!

A few final thoughts: at this time, a road is being built from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk, and it is supposed to be done in 2018. Meaning, of course, driving to the Beaufort Sea will be a reality. The road extension is not about tourism, I think we all know that. It's about that stuff we put in the tanks and gear boxes of our motorcycles. Oil. I imagine it will become much more like the drive to Prudhoe Bay, a truck route. How it's going to change this area is more of a guess than this retired hillbilly truck driver can make. It doesn't take too much imagination to know that it probably won't be like it is right now. So better get off your butt off the couch and put it in the saddle.

It took us 2 days to get to Inuvik, from Dawson City, and the same to return. We had casino lucky, good weather, 25 Celsius in Inuvik, and no more than a smattering of rain. We rode a DL 650 and a DL1000 Vstrom; they performed near text book perfect. I did wear out my rear Shinko tire, but it took all 8000kms (5000 miles), from Vancouver to Inuvik and back, to do it. My brother's Heidenau tires faired far better. And you can bet your air filter will be filthy. We had camping gear, but never used it, as I have a heart condition, and besides the rooms were all well-kept, and fairly priced. Those places also have food troughs. You can take a Harley or Ducati 996 to Dawson City, the road is that nice. No more than a few short stretches of gravel where there's road repairs. Those bikes would probably make Inuvik too, but if it were to rain hard... I'm thinking that just might be a tad krappy. Do I hear a chopper?

Pink Mountain on a quiet day. Amen.

20 years ago, when my wife and I used to drive south on the Alaska Highway, we would always stop at Pink Mountain, sort of a halfway rest between Liard Hot Springs and Fort Nelson. There was 2 gas stations across from each other, dead like a morgue, serving cold (questionable) sandwiches and warm coffee. It was great. This time, 20 years later, when my bro and I stopped at Pink Mountain on the way home, their was a line up for fuel. The place was full of tourists, and oil and gas workers; their pickups, semis, and a few bikers all crowding the parking lot. When I went in to pay, the line up for the till was 10 people deep. They were paying for gas, beer, milk, beer... and whiskey. It was still Pink Mountain, but not like I remember it. I'm not saying this is good, or bad..; it just is. The times, they are a changing.

Have a great day, and happy trails to you, my friends.