Begun in 1959 to service northern oilfields, and completed over twenty years later – by which time all the accessible oil had been siphoned off – the 741km Dempster Highway between Dawson City and Inuvik in the Northwest Territories is the only road in Canada to cross the Arctic Circle. This route offers a tremendous journey through a superb and ever-changing spectrum of landscapes – mountains, open tundra, rivers, bogs, with thousands of wandering caribou and millions of migrating birds. In June the landscape bursts into colour as scores of tiny arctic plants suddenly bloom en masse, while in late August the tundra is ablaze in the most intense hues of red, yellow and orange imaginable. It’s also hard to resist the temptation of crossing into the Arctic 445km north of Dawson City, a section that takes you over the most captivating stretch of highway. Yet the highway is a hard-packed gravel road and the journey to Inuvik (12–15hr) is not a breeze; the road is generally in good condition, but often very slippery when raining, so drive the speed limit and give plenty of room to oncoming traffic. Keep in mind this road is very much about the journey rather than the destination.
The highway is open year-round except for brief periods during the November freeze and April thaw.