Day 8 & 9 (Out and back)
Day 8: Dawson City > Tombstone
Day 9 & 10: Dawson City > Eagle Plains > Arctic Circle > Eagle Plains > Dawson City
Day 11: Dawson City > Laundromat
Route: Klondike Highway > Dempster Highway & Back
Drive Quality: 10/10
Road Quality: 6-7 (dry)
3 (wet) (See bottom of the blog for road conditions)
Wildlife spotted: Moose
When we arrived in Whitehorse, we felt removed. Hundreds of kilometers of sky-high trees and plane-less skies will do that. Then, in Dawson City, we felt truly removed. Hours passed, grasses and trees crept closer to the roadway squeezing out humanity with every passing kilometer. But it was only once we reached Eagle Plains after 400kms of sprawling, mostly untouched nature, that we truly began to understand what removed meant.
We had heard many things about the Dempster Highway. A quick google search shows a few blogs, with conflicting information, many of which are ominously named “Things you MUST know before EVER attempting…” We had some concerns, but with no way to prepare further, we decided we should make an attempt at the very least. We awoke tired, but to clear skies, and decided if we were going to make it, it had to be then.
We set off from Dawson and traveled the 40k back South to the Dempster Highway. Signs warn ‘370k until next service’ as you turn onto the gravel and dirt highway. The first 40 kilometers are unremarkable, the trees encroach on the road and a few dirt driveways disappear into the trees. You arrive then at Tombstone Territorial Park.
The landscape here quickly becomes stunning – both alien and earthly at once. Ragged rocky mountaintops stretch skyward, with sloping, lichen-covered rock slabs plunging into wide open valleys. The floors are covered in fluffy moss and grasses, bumpy and asymmetrical as result of permafrost thawing and freezing. Lakes and rocky creek beds vein out along the floor, clear water reflecting bits of sun, lakes pooling out as respite spots for moose and caribou.
The landscape changes heading further North with rocky, physics-defying formations crowding the tops of mountains before they crumble and turn to scree. The rivers become wide, they rush over the rocky riverside as the road passes under and over the tree line. In these areas, the spindly, thin trunks of conifers reach skyward, often failing to thrive. They pop up, Lorax-like in clumps along mountainsides, the tops bushy with needles, the bottoms barren.
Eventually we found ourselves a portion of the highway which runs along the ridges of the peaks, overlooking the mountain sprawl in every direction. The mountains appear jagged but soft, like rocks covered in satin – they change from green to grey to blue to purple depending on the mood of the sky.
After 396 kilometers of this, we reached Eagle Plains. Eagle Plains is a lodge complete with motel, RV and campground, gas station, restaurant, and small convenience store (though don’t expect to stock up on food). They serve dinner until 8, though the bar is open until ten. If you are in search of a room, call in advance. Roadwork is common on this route, and most of the construction workers stay here, so often times the place is full. An unassuming but essential stop, we had a great evening camping and overlooking the wildflower-filled valley-sprawl below.
The next morning, we rose early to drive 40 kilometers North to the Arctic Circle, before turning around and making the journey back to Dawson City. Though we were told the road conditions worsen as you go North, we did not find any noticeable difference in the sections between Eagle Plains and the Arctic Circle.
The Dempster Highway is a well-packed dirt/gravel roadway. We were shocked at the quality of the road, with many sections packed enough to maintain 80+km/hour safely. However, there are areas of potholes (easily avoidable), some deeper gravel (around corners), and some sand.
The worst of the highway is the 100k before Eagle Plains, where construction is occurring. Construction areas occur seemingly randomly and without warning and consists of deep and unmarked large gravel portions, which are easy to get swept into. We had two close calls in these sections, so be warned. Because of the permafrost, construction is common, and consists of layering large gravel/rocks. In these sections our speed was often reduced to 30km/hour to prevent loss of control.
Also note: Rain DRASTICALLY changes the safety of this route. We were fortunate enough to get through Day 1 with no rain, but we got pummeled for the remaining 150km on the way out. When the road becomes wet, it has the consistency of thick clay/mud, and is incredibly slippery. Rain is often heavy and relentless and can quickly turn a beautiful day into a very difficult one. While KLRs or other bikes meant to handle those conditions would still be sufficient, we would not recommend doing this route on cruisers or street bikes during any inclement weather.