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Driving to Tuktoyaktuk Will Make You Rethink Life

Driving to Tuktoyaktuk Will Make You Rethink Life

If you’re looking for your next adventure, driving to the remote Arctic community of Tuktoyaktuk is as far off the beaten path as it gets. However, this isn’t exactly a Sunday drive. At one point, the area was only accessible by ice roads during the winter. However, the creation of an all-weather highway drastically increases its accessibility.

This challenging drive will test your driving skills and cause you to rethink life.

Ready for your next adventure possibility? Let’s get started!

Road to the Arctic Ocean, Driving the Dempster Highway to Tuktoyaktuk | Go North Ep 12

What Is Tuktoyaktuk?

Tuktoyaktuk is a small community in the Northwest region of Canada, sitting on the Arctic Ocean. It receives its name from the local Inuvialuktun language, meaning “resembling a caribou.” The community and its population of approximately 900 people have served as a significant trading post for the Inuvialuit people that call the area home.

One of the first things visitors to Tuktoyaktuk notice is the unique and fascinating culture. There are many community gatherings throughout the year to celebrate its Inuvialuit heritage. These celebrations typically feature drum dancing, throat singing, and traditional feasts. 

If you visit the area, visit museums and cultural centers. This is an excellent way to educate yourself and learn about this fascinating culture.

The geography of Tuktoyaktuk is as unique as its culture. It sits on a peninsula jutting out into the Arctic Ocean. No matter how you access the community, you’re in for an out-of-this-world driving experience through incredible Arctic landscapes.

Mortons on the Move at Dempster Highway
Travel the almost 500-mile long route to Tuktoyaktuk via the Dempster Highway.

How Do You Drive to Tuktoyaktuk?

Driving to Tuktoyaktuk requires drivers to traverse almost 500 miles on the Dempster Highway. The highway runs from Dawson City in Yukon, Canada, to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. It drastically increased access to remote communities along the route.

The Dempster Highway project started to support the area’s oil and gas exploration efforts in the 1960s. However, when officials eventually discovered that extracting oil and gas from the area was infeasible, construction and development of the highway ceased.

It wasn’t until people discovered oil in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, in the 1970s that interest renewed in completing the highway. By 1979, the road was complete and named after William Dempster, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officer who played a significant role in the development of the Yukon.

In November 2017, a brand-new all-season road was opened from the town of Inuvik, NT to the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk, located on the shore of the Arctic Ocean in the northwest territories of Canada. The Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway connected the Dempster Highway to the Arctic Ocean, and became the first and only Canadian road to the Arctic Coast.

When we found out about this road, we knew we just had to drive it! We made the trek in 2019, and it changed our lives.

Pro Tip: Check out our personal experience on the Road to the Arctic Ocean – Driving the Dempster Highway to Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk Canada.

Driving to Tuktoyaktuk
Driving to the remote Arctic community of Tuktoyaktuk is not for the faint of heart.

What Are the Dangers of Driving to Tuktoyaktuk?

Driving to Tuktoyaktuk isn’t a trip for the faint of heart. It’s hazardous and not something anyone should take lightly. If you’re not an experienced and self-sufficient driver, this probably isn’t the drive for you. Let’s look at some of the reasons this road can be so dangerous.

The road makes its highest elevation pass in Tombstone Park before descending on a plain and heading for the Blackstone and Ogilvie Mountains. The geography of this road is very unique, with sections of the drive winding through the mountains, following creeks and rivers, and crossing long flat plains. We saw wildlife and unique plants that only exist here in the north.

Unpredictable Weather Conditions

The weather in the Arctic can be incredibly harsh and unpredictable, especially in spring, fall, and winter. There’s a chance you must battle heavy snow, ice, and strong winds while traveling. Driving in these conditions can be incredibly dangerous, especially if you don’t have much experience with winter driving.

Van Life In The Arctic - Trilogy Trailer - Living The Van Life
Want to see what driving to Tuk is like in the winter? Our friend Chad from Living the Van Life braved the Arctic winter in his camper van.

Even the most experienced drivers cannot overlook unpredictable weather conditions. Temperatures can vary significantly daily. The Arctic climate can also generate some mighty winds.

Most visitors flock to the area during the summer, but even the summer weather can change quickly. Rain and high winds can make the gravel road muddy and slippery. Driving on mud-covered roads isn’t much more accessible than driving in snow and ice.

No matter when you visit, you’ll want to stay aware of the weather conditions. Check the forecast and road conditions frequently to help yourself and fellow travelers have a safe and enjoyable journey. Additionally, plan to stop at each checkpoint along the route to get the latest updates on real-time conditions ahead of you.


One of the most unique and dangerous characteristics of the Dempster Highway is its incredible isolation. While many adventurers on this route seek the remote wilderness experience, it can be exhilarating and challenging. You must prepare to conquer some of the world’s most rugged and remote landscapes.

There are many long stretches where drivers see nothing but the Arctic tundra, thick forests, and the Richardson Mountains. Gas stations, restaurants, and other conveniences will be few and far between. You’ll need to be as self-sufficient as possible. When we drove in mid-summer, we passed only a handful of other drivers on the route. In non-peak times we would expect traffic to be even less.

Long, Rough, Gravel Road

The Dempster Highway is a long, rough, gravel road. If you’ve ever driven on one of these roads, you know how challenging they can be. When traveling along the route in the winter, you should expect snow, ice, and some of the slickest roads imaginable.

However, it’s not a walk in the park for travelers who come during the summer. Summer weather presents drivers with unique challenges. While you might not have to worry about mud, snow, and ice, you’ll battle dust, potholes, and washboard roads. Drivers should take caution when passing other vehicles to avoid kicking up debris that could cause severe damage to a car.

Gravel road driving is just rougher on vehicles than paved roads in general. You have to be prepared for additional tire wear and the increased risk of a flat tire.

Pro Tip: Add a tire pressure monitoring system (TMPS) to your Tuktoyaktuk gear list. You won’t regret it!

Driving to Tuktoyaktuk is an epic adventure, but comes with many challenges.

Limited Access to Emergency Services

Drivers must prepare, knowing they will have limited access to emergency services along the route. You may have a limited ability to communicate in a hazardous situation. Even if you are, response times can be extremely long.

As a result, anyone brave enough to travel this route should ensure they have plenty of supplies and that their vehicle is in good working order. Attempting to cross the road without contingency plans or understanding the limited access to emergency services is an extreme risk you should not take.

Tips for Driving to Tuktoyaktuk

As scary as it might sound, it’s possible to drive safely to Tuktoyaktuk. Many people do it every year and live to tell about it. However, there are some things that you can do while going to help ensure you have a safe trip.

Work With the Forecast

Driving to Tuktoyaktuk will require some flexibility. It would be best if you worked with the weather. Attempting to forge through less-than-ideal driving conditions can be extremely dangerous. Stay aware of the weather and adjust your plans accordingly.

Being prepared with the proper supplies while driving to Tuktoyaktuk is key to your success.

Carry Enough Fuel

Here are the fuel stops available to you along the Dempster Highway:

Dempster Junction – 0 km/ 0 miles
Eagle Plains – 365 km / 226 miles
Fort McPherson – 547 km / 340 miles
Inuvik – 736 km / 457 miles

Expect fuel to be much more expensive in these places, but plan accordingly or carry spare fuel with you to make the distances.

Have the Right Vehicle

No matter when you make the drive, you want an appropriate vehicle. The rough and rugged conditions encourage a four-wheel drive, high ground clearance, and tires with good tread and reinforced sidewalls.

A couple of additional features to consider in a vehicle for the trip are fuel efficiency and cargo space. Fuel stations can be hard to find during your trip, and getting the most MPGs possible doesn’t hurt. Additionally, a vehicle with significant cargo space allows you to bring plenty of food, water, and other crucial gear and equipment to be as self-sufficient as possible.

Be Prepared for a Breakdown

Drivers need to prepare for a breakdown when traversing the Dempster Highway. The rough road conditions can cause flat tires and damage critical suspension components. You want a good selection of tools on hand to address multiple potential issues. Definitely bring a spare tire or two, as well.

Rugged conditions can send vibrations throughout your vehicle and cause things to loosen. Additionally, cold weather can put batteries nearing the end of their usable life out of their misery. A dead battery in the remote wilderness is not a memory you want to make.

Stock Up on Supplies

The supplies you carry during your trip to Tuktoyaktuk could save your life in an emergency. You must ensure you have at least a few days of food and water. You never know when you might have to wait out inclement weather or severe road conditions.

In addition to food, you’ll want plenty of fuel. Most travelers carry at least an extra jerry can or two of gasoline. A fuel station may not always be available or functional. An extra can or two may mean the difference between stalling on the road or successfully pulling into the next fuel station.

You must also carry a healthy supply of emergency supplies, including warm blankets and clothing. They could be handy during an emergency and help avoid a more dangerous situation. Additionally, while most service stations along the route accept credit cards, cash is king. Ensure you carry some cash as a backup.

Tuktoyaktuk offers an adventure you are sure to never forget.

Take It Easy

You don’t want to be in a hurry when traveling the Dempster Highway. Slowing down increases your safety and makes it easier to take in the entire experience. This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for many travelers, so absorb as much as possible.

Take frequent breaks to stretch your legs and enjoy the scenery. If you do, you’ll give your vehicle the best shot of conquering this incredible adventure. Inspecting your vehicle for any issues, especially tires, is a good idea during each stop.

Plan Your Stops

Fortunately, there are several well-spaced spots along your route to Tuktoyaktuk. These stops are excellent opportunities to stock up on supplies. Whether you stop for the night or grab supplies is up to you.

Tombstone Territorial Park

One of the first stops along the route is Tombstone Territorial Park. This is near the beginning of the highway and provides some incredible views of the surrounding mountain ranges. There are hiking trails, campsites, and programs to help you learn about the region’s history. However, many pass by this stop because of its proximity to the start of the highway.

At the Visitors Center, you can borrow a guidebook that would share information about the road and points of interest all the way to Inuvik. This guide was awesome, and we highly recommend you read through it before or during your trip as you drive.  

You can find it online free here (download to have offline): The Dempter Highway Travelogue

Eagle Plains Hotel

The next stop along the way to Tuktoyaktuk is Eagle Plains. This small community sits at almost the halfway point along the Dempster Highway. It has a hotel where travelers can fill up on gas, food, and even stay a night or two. Due to the limited number of stops between Tombstone Territorial Park and Eagle Plains, this is one stop you’ll likely want to make.

Plan a stop at the Eagle Plains Hotel, one of the traveler checkpoints along the Dempster.

Fort McPherson

Fort McPherson is another good stop along the northern portion of the Dempster Highway. It’s approximately 120 miles from Eagle Plains and is an excellent opportunity to learn about the culture and history of the Gwich’in First Nation. There’s a cultural center, historic sites, and opportunities to see arts and crafts the community made.

Inuvik, Northwest Territories

You didn’t drive the whole route not to stop in Inuvik, right? This town sits at the northern end of the Dempster Highway. We bet you’ll be surprised by how large and modern this town is after driving all this way!

The town of Inuvik was a planned community constructed by the government of Canada in the 50’s to provide a centralized location for government and modern amenities to the native communities of the northern northwest territories.

Many amenities and services are available, including gas stations, grocery stores, and places to stay. You’ll find several restaurants to grab a celebratory meal. While here, take the opportunity to explore the cultural center and local museums. You can even give dog sledding and ice fishing a try.

Respect the Culture

Dempster Highway passes through several territories with Indigenous communities. You’ll find communities for the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, the Tetlit Gwich’in, the Inuvialuit, and the Gwich’in First Nations. Each has a rich cultural history and deep connection with the land that visitors must honor and respect.

As you should when visiting any culture, you must learn about the culture and history. Visit cultural centers, museums, and any interpretive sites to help understand and appreciate the culture. This can also help ensure you follow any local customs and etiquette.

When visiting these communities, we always try to support the local businesses as much as possible. If you’re purchasing something to remember the trip, shopping locally is an excellent way to spend your hard-earned money.

As a reminder, these areas live in nearly 24-hour daylight in the summer. This can mean weird open and awake times that you may not be used to. Our advice is to roll with it. You may have locals driving around a having a good time at 3AM, and that is just their way of life.

Finally, leave no trace. These communities have a sacred connection to the land, and visitors who pollute or destroy the land disrespect their culture. 

mortons in front of tuktoyaktuk sign

What to Do in Tuktoyaktuk

So you’ve made it all that way, no what? Now, it’s time to be present, open your heart and mind, and experience it all. After all, when will you likely be back again?

While we found many things to do in Tuktoyaktuk, definitely hit up the Visitor Center when you arrive, as things are changing fast and constantly in this town. Since the all-season road opened, they have been learning and adapting to the new tourism. The Visitor Center will have all the answers to your questions, like where to stay, where to do your Arctic Ocean plunge, and what shops and businesses you can’t miss. We also recommend talking to the locals, as many of them were just as excited to talk to us as we were to them.

We know we mention the culture a lot, but don’t forget about the natural wonders of the Arctic tundra. Tuktoyaktuk is called the “Land of the Pingos,” so you should probably see them! Also, keep your eyes out for muskox, arctic foxes, and caribou. The birdlife in the Arctic is also astounding, as many migratory birds travel all this way for their summer nesting.

Driving to Tuktoyaktuk Will Make You Rethink Life

If you take the leap and drive to Tuktoyaktuk, we can promise that it’s an adventure you’ll never forget. You’ll gain a new appreciation for how big the world is and how different its people live. The people you’ll encounter along the Dempster Highway are some of the toughest and most incredible people you’ll ever meet.

When you finally arrive in Inuvik and at the end of the highway, you’ll feel like you’re on the world’s edge. It’s an experience and feeling that will likely shape many areas of your life. You’ll grow your skills and personality in one life-changing experience.

Pro Tip: If you plan to camp along you route to Tuktoyaktuk, check out these Tips for Boondocking in Alaska & Canada.

The Call of the North: Journey to the Arctic Ocean | Go North Ep 1
Want to watch our whole adventure from the beginning? Start with Go North episode 1.

Is a Trip to Tuktoyaktuk Worth the Risks?

While a trip to Tuktoyaktuk can be hazardous, it’s worth the risk. This trip is a unique experience that can change your entire worldview. There are risks and challenges, but you can minimize these with proper planning and equipment. If you enjoy adventure, unique travel experiences, and spending time in remote wilderness areas, this is one trip we think you should consider.

Will you travel to Tuktoyaktuk on your next adventure? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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