Ice Road Driving in Canada: The Yukon to the Northwest Territories

You can’t roll your windows all the way down, but you can crank the satellite radio and hit the highway on 1,200km of winter roads in Northern Canada. Made popular by the TV show Ice Road Truckers, you’ll need to pack your long johns (and maybe your snow shoes) for this ULTIMATE Canadian Ice road driving adventure from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, a small hamlet on the Arctic Ocean. It’s a season specific adventure, as the ice and winter roads connecting remote Northern Canadian communities are constructed on and over lakes, rivers, and frozen muskegs.

Ice Road Driving in Canada

Ice road driving en route to Tuktoyaktuk © Merven Grueben/NWTT

Start by jumping a quick flight from Edmonton, Alberta to Whitehorse, YT (approximately 2.5 hours direct from Edmonton) to rent your vehicle. A truck or SUV with four by four capabilities and a full sized spare tire are a must to survive the journey. Get acquainted with the landscape by taking a Northern Lights tour outside the city limits – there are no guarantees you will see the aurora borealis, as predicting a solar storm is a bit like trying to forecast the weather, but if you do catch them, you’re witnessing mother nature’s best sky artist.

Ice Road Driving in Canada

Aurora Borealis, Dempster Highway Area © Robert Postma/Government of Yukon

Next, head north into the wilderness on the Klondike Highway for about 550 km (five to six hours depending on conditions) to Dawson City. It’s a former Klondike gold rush boomtown, and your connection to the Dempster Highway. Stay at the Downtown Hotel and become a member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club. Yes, it’s a human toe, in a cocktail, but you get a certificate to add to the collection. Furthermore, stretch your legs and travel the Dempster route via dog sled, the original form of travel on this route.

Ice Road Driving in Canada

Dog Sledding the Dempster route © J Bradley

Next stop is Eagle Plains, YT – the halfway point to Inuvik, Northwest Territories. There isn’t much around for more than 300km in either direction so the Eagle Plains Hotel is not only a smart choice, but also your only choice in this remote area. Winter weather is aggressive on vehicles so pack extra fuel, matches, candles, shovels and blankets, and dress for survival, not for winter fashion. Restock and get back on the road to pass through rolling tundra followed by the Richardson Mountain Range. Stop for a selfie at the Arctic Circle sign and enjoy the changing landscape en route to Inuvik. Time permitting, tear up some powder on a snowmobile once you’ve had a chance to check out the local culture.

Ice Road Driving in Canada

Dog sledding on Annie Lake, Yukon © Cathie Archbould, Government of Yukon

The final stretch takes you all the way to Tuktoyaktuk, the official ice road adventure, crossing 194 km of ice bridges and winter roads built on the MacKenzie River Delta and Peel River. If you’ve made it this far, just keep heading north, because really, when is the next time you’ll be visiting the Arctic Ocean? You’ll have to mind the speed limits, posted at 30km an hour at some points – drive too fast and you’ll create a wake under the ice, causing dangerous breakup at the shore. Be prepared to hear it crack and boom under the weight of the vehicle.

Ice Road Driving in Canada

Glare ice on the winter road to Tuktoyaktuk © Merven Grueben/NWTT

Note: many tour operators offer guided excursions departing from Whitehorse, Dawson City, and Inuvik if changing a tire in -40 weather doesn’t sound like your idea of a vacation. Whether you do it yourself, or hire some help, pack your woolies, your adventurous spirit and put snow boot to pedal on an ice road driving expedition through Canada’s breathtaking North.

 

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Have you been ice road driving? Would you take this extreme Canadian road trip? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

 

Written by Tara Gaucher

About Tara Gaucher

Tara Gaucher is a traveller, writer, television host, and fitness enthusiast based in Edmonton, Alberta. You can find her working on a 300lb deadlift, attempting to master her DSLR camera, and hanging out at local comedy clubs trying her hand at stand-up. Her suitcase is always half packed in case the opportunity for adventure arises, and she is a self-proclaimed master of last minute flights. Equally as important, she is a purveyor of highly crafted cocktails. Personal motto: live the dream.
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