Cycling the Dempster Highway to Inuvik

Cycling the Dempster Highway to Inuvik

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I heard from several people that cycling the Dempster Highway to Inuvik was one of the best cycle trips in the world. But how did it compare to the Dalton highway. Better roads, less hills, less traffic, more facilities along the way for travellers and stunning scenery. I found out they were right.

Dawson City

I set off from Dawson City in the Yukon Territories with the goal of cycling the Dempster Highway to Inuvik. Lucile joined me for the first 40km out of Dawson City as she was on her way to Skagway to catch a ferry south.

Prior to leaving Dawson City I checked the weather for the next week, all looked good with possible showers and storms at about day 4 or 5. The windmap indicated that I would have headwinds for most of the journey, at least for the first couple of days. I thought that if the bad weather arrived it might also come with a change in wind direction.

I packed enough supplies for about 8 days with the knowledge that I could get a roadhouse meal at the halfway point at Eagle Plains Lodge and stock up on groceries at Fort McPherson about 200km from the end of the road at Inuvik.

Cycling the Dempster Highway

The first 40km out of Dawson City was flat, quick riding. As I turned left and started cycling the Dempster Highway I was greeted by headwinds as I slowly but steadily climbed towards Tombstone National Park. The first 30km was manageable but by late afternoon it was apparent that I would not make it to Tombstone Territorial Park as the wind was now a raging 40km/h headwind that made forward progress difficult. I stopped next to a small flowing creek that was sheltered from the wind and made camp for the night.

Next morning I was keen to cycle early before the wind picked up too much. I made good time on the uphill climb to Tombstone National Park Visitors Centre. Just before the centre I spotted a Moose and calf on the other side of a Beaver Pond. I sat near the road watching them for about 15 minutes while about 6 cars went past. None of them saw the Moose and about half were busy reading or looking at their computers (the passengers of course). Shortly after the Visitors Centre I was at the highest point of the trip. I had been climbing uphill for over 115km from Dawson City. I was above the tree line at this point and the mountain scenery and open land was great. Mt Tombstone 20km distant from me. A peak not unlike Federation Peak in Tasmania.

cycling Dempster Hwy
Tombstone National Park
Cycling the Dempster Highway Tombstone National Park
cycling Tombstone National Park
Rocky road inside Tombstone National Park
What most people see
What most people see, great scenery of mountains and Beaver Lakes
What I see, great scenery of mountains, Beaver Lakes a Moose and calf…..
Mt Tombstone
Mt Tombstone 20km away
Ever present company
Ever present company

Leaving Tombstone National Park

Mid afternoon there were strong winds but I was going downhill by now so the headwind didn’t seem to make progress too slow, although I did half my normal downhill speed. I stopped for dinner at a small roadside pullout area and afterwards continued with a view to camping at the next available spot off the road. Several kilometers down the road I found a great sheltered spot. I decided not to stay there as I found Bear tracks all around the area. They appeared fresh so I decided to move on further and make some distance between myself and the fresh Bear tracks.

After about 5km I couldn’t find any areas that would make a place to camp so I continued down the valley while watching Dall Sheep clinging to the sides of steep mountains till I made it to one of the formal campgrounds at Engineer Creek. It was now late but I was still full of energy and set up the tent, I found another cyclist in the campground.

dempster highway
Heading downhill from the high point
dempster highway
Long and lonely roads cycling the dempster highway
cycling the dempster highway
Volcanic looking landscapes

I met the other cyclist Murat from Vancouver the following morning. We chatted for a while before he set off and I had breakfast. 50km later I caught up with Murat and we had lunch on the side of the road before the big climb to where the road follows the plateaus and ridges to Eagle Plains Hotel. We filled up water and set off.

Running low on Water

Once on the top of the ridge line it was apparent that water would be a problem. I didn’t think I would have enough water to make it to Eagle Plains Hotel. Neither did Murat. We continued for most of the rest of the day until I saw a truck driver stopped on the road, I asked him for water and he was able to spare a couple of litres. Without which we would have been in trouble.

The weather was very hot on this day. Murat made camp early and I continued another 40km or so closer to Eagle Plains. I thought I would have enough water to get me there around lunch time the following day. On this stretch of road I clocked up 5000km for the trip!

dempster highway
Top of the world experience
cycling the dempster highway
Cycling across the plateau near Eagle Plains
cycling the dempster highway
Bicycle touring canada

I set off early to beat the heat of the day and made it to Eagle Plains Hotel very thirsty and hungry. In a thirsty blur I demolished about 5 litres of water along with several cups of coffee. I asked the staff to advise any travelers heading south to supply some water to Murat if they saw him. I knew he would also be in need of water.

Murat made to Eagle plains only an hour behind me. He started very early and also ran out of water. He told me that some trucks stopped him and offered him water. Great to hear that they stopped to see if he was OK. Its about 120km with no water, except for some mud puddles or putrid tundra water. Made worse by my steripen which I use to purify water failed on me. Damn, back to purification tablets.

Cycling in the Arctic

I set off in the late afternoon after hydrating and eating with the intention of making it to the Arctic Circle marker. I planned to camp there. It was very windy when I was there and I considered cycling a little further to find shelter. A Swiss couple, Peter and Susan, offered to use their camper as a wind break for my tent which worked well and assisted in stopping the tent from rattling so much that I couldn’t sleep.

cycling the dempster highway
Crossing the Arctic Circle for the second time on this journey
arctic circle cycling
The Swiss couple were kind enough to park their RV near my tent to protect me from the wind

Cycling North West Territories

Peter and Susan offered me breakfast the next morning which I accepted then I headed off through the rolling hills and treeless plains before climbing to Wright Pass which marks the border of Yukon Territories and North West Territories. I had heard from the Swiss that there was a Bear here yesterday. I saw lots of fresh Bear poo but no Bear, only great scenery as I pass through the Richardson Mountains.

cycling the dempster highway
The climb to the NWT border
cycling the dempster highway
Climb up to the border between Yukon Territories and North West Territories
cycling north west territories
Hello NWT

On the descent from Wright pass I overtook my first vehicle. It was a grader, traveling slow making the road smooth. I don’t get a chance to overtake vehicles often.

I continued through the treeless hills and valleys of the Richardson Mountains and made another climb to the final large mountain pass of the trip. The weather started to threaten rain as I ascended and headwinds did their best to blow all the mosquitoes and black flies away from me.


When I made it to the top of the pass I was quite tired from climbing the 2 mountain passes in one day so thought I would find the first available spot to pitch the tent. Not long after starting the descent I spotted a Brown Bear about 300-400 meters away. It was just walking along stopping on occasion to dig around in the dirt before moving off. It stopped at one point and looked in my direction and waved its head around. I waved back and said, ‘Hello Mr Bear’. He continued on with the same walk downhill stopping only to dig around in the dirt. I though it prudent to make some kilometers between myself and the bear. As I was descending a valley there was nowhere for the bear to go other than nearby to the road.

I was tired by now and wanted to stop at the next spot to pitch my tent, but I peddled for about 20km from the pass to a place where I could stay the night. I don’t have a bear proof food container. My food, toiletries and other nice smelling stuff is placed in one pannier which I stash in the bushes 25m-50m from where I sleep. If a bear comes to my camp and finds my food while I sleep there is little I can do, but at least it should prevent the bear from entering my tent.

dempster highway
Climbing the second pass over the RIchardson Mts
dempster highway
Most people see the great mountain scenery
bear dempster highway
I notice the Brown bear and the great mountain scenery

The Mud

At about 1am it started to rain and continued until around 10am. From my previous experience with roads like this I should have stayed in bed and read a book while the road dried out. Instead I packed up and cycled through the horribly slow and sticky mud. When the road gets wet there are some parts that stick like glue to the bike. On several occasions so much mud got stuck in the front guards that the wheel would not turn. I thought to myself, it cant get too much worse so I didn’t take the guards off. Well it did get worse and I should have taken the guards off. It took me the whole rest of the day cycling mainly downhill to make the 40km to the next campsite.

mud dempster highway
Rain = soft sticky mud that locks the front tyre from turning, click to enlarge.
Pell River
Crossing the Pell River by ferry

The following morning Murat came to my camp. He arrived late after being hit by the same storm and didn’t eat dinner till midnight. We set off together for the short journey to Fort McPherson. We wanted to visit the store for groceries. Not that we needed any, we both were traveling faster than we thought and had enough food. We just wanted the luxury of some fresh fruits and vegetables. The grocery store was well stocked with everything a hungry cyclist would want, including good coffee!

Crossing the Mackenzie River

Most of the hills for the trip were now behind me, there were a few rolling hills on route to the ferry that crossed Mackenzie River, one of the longest in Canada. The road from Mackenzie River was now almost completely flat and completely straight, very little in the way of corners here. Murat and I made good time for the next 90km. We stopped for dinner next to a river and I thought it would make a good campsite.

As the weather was so incredible and I was still full of energy I set off after dinner at 10pm for another midnight cycle. Its a great time of day when the weather is clear. There is little traffic, its peaceful. The next 2-3 hours of cycling was memorable. My mind was clear to think about how great cycling the Dempster highway had been up to this point and how great my whole trip had been.

The midnight sun

I stopped for the midnight sun cycling photo and pulled into the Vadzaih Van Ttshik campground. The mosquitoes greeted me. I made a deal with them. If they stay outside the tent they can live, if they enter the tent they will die.

Mackenzie River
Mackenzie River
Mackenzie River ferry
Mackenzie River ferry
cycling the dempster highway
Long straight road after Mackenzie River, lots of Black flies for company
cycling the dempster highway
Midnight sun cycling the Dempster Highway

I slept very well during the night and woke to find that Murat made another early start on what would be our last day as we cycled into Inuvik. For the first time on the trip the wind was in our favour and we were blown into Inuvik.

cycling the dempster highway
Murat and tailwind on the last day cycling the Dempster highway into Inuvik
cycling the dempster highway
End of the road
cycling the dempster highway
End of cycling the Dempster Highway, Inuvik


I finished cycling the Dempster Highway. I arrived at Inuvik and headed to the Information Centre to be greeted by the Mayor, Editor of the local newspaper and other municipal staff who informed me I was the ‘Tourist of the Week‘. A local promotion to increase awareness for tourism in the area. I received some gifts including an Inuvik T-shirt and the most prized NWT vehicle number plate which is shaped like a Polar Bear, I will attach it to the back of my bicycle, very cool.

Great Northern Arts Festival

My visit coincided with the opening of the Great Northern Arts Festival. I timed my arrival for opening ceremonies. I witnessed the traditional local dancers and drummers perform. Feeling very welcome in Inuvik, a great northern town with every facility that a traveler might want and for anybody cycling the Dempster its a great place to either start or finish the journey. I liked the place so planned on staying here longer than anticipated. I couldn’t believe how tropical the weather was while I was here, very similar to my hometown in the tropics!

inuvik culture
Passion for culture
Local Inuvik group
culture Inuvik
Local Tuk performance
Igloo church, Inuvik
28 degrees on the main street of Inuvik 200km above the Arctic Circle!

Cycling from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk

A new road recently opened linking the small remote village of Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Coast. Previously this road was only open in winter as an ice road. Now there is another option for reaching the far northern coast in the arctic. Will more cyclists take this route or continue cycling on the Dalton highway in Alaska to Prudhoe Bay?

I have cycled both routes and they both have stunning scenery, wildlife, great camping and more. They are both so good. I did see more wildlife on the Dalton wwy in Alaska. But had great interactions with the indigenous people on the Dempster hwy. Both are two of the greatest bicycle touring journeys in the world.

Cycling the Dempster Highway Stats

  • Dawson City to Scoutcamp Creek = 89km
  • Scoutcamp Creek to Engineer Creek Campground = 147km
  • Engineer Creek Campground to Roadside Rest Area = 132km
  • Roadside Rest Area to Arctic Circle = 81km
  • Arctic Circle to Near Midway Lake = 97km
  • Midway Lake to Nitainlaii Campground = 40km
  • Nitainlaii Campground to Vadzaid Van Tshik Campsite = 150km
  • Vadzaid Van Tshik Campsite to Inuvik = 53km

Are you planning to cycling the Dempster Highway? When do you start?
Let me know in the comments section below.

Next : Hiking the Chilkoot Trail

More Canadian Outdoor Adventures:

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Campsaver | Competitive Cyclist | Patagonia | | MEC Canada -Bicycle Touring Gear |

Bicycle Touring the Dempster Highway Canada

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About the Author:
Brad is an Australian who has completed the hiking Triple Crown after he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Appalachian Trail. He has hiked on every continent (except Antarctica) and has cycled from Alaska to Ecuador. He is an expert on outdoor gear currently living in Chile.

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48 thoughts on “Cycling the Dempster Highway to Inuvik”

  1. Great blog. I’m actually in Inuvik about to cycle down the dempster. I just cycled up to tuk and back and the soft gravel was pretty tough in some places.

    I was wondering what the road surface of the Dempster was ?? Hopefully a little more compact. Also, were you able to pick up groceries/resupply at eagle plains?


  2. Hi Brad,
    thank you for your very detailed report on the Dempster! I would also like to cycle to Inuvik and would like you to answer a few questions: Did you book your return flight to Dawson before you left for Inuvik or did you stay in Inuvik at short notice? How much did the return transport including the bike cost? And: How much did the rental for the boat from Whitehorse to Dawson cost? What camera and lenses did you use…
    I wish you Brad, always a hand air under the rim!
    Greetings from Germany. Klaus

    • Hi Klaus,
      I booked my flight from Inuvik when I arrived. As I didn’t know the exact date of my arrival I decided to just get a flight when I arrived. I didn’t need a bike box. I can’t recall if the bike was extra. I also can’t recall the canoe rental but I just checked online so do a search of the canoe companies in Whitehouse and you should get information. I like the Sony RX100.

      • Hi Brad – thank you for your feedback. From time to time I look at your website and look forward to more stories from you.

  3. Thanks for creating this journal!
    I’m heading to Inuvik and then hope to get a ride to Tuk in early June, where I’ll start my ride south to Victoria BC.
    Appreciate your details on what’s available at Fort McPherson and Eagle Plains.
    My concern is distances between water sources. In your journal you indicate that you rode at least 120k’s with no water between Tombstone Park and Eagle Plains. Are there any other sections that were of concern with regards to water access?
    I’ll be both filtering and/or purifying.

    Thanks again!

  4. Heading there June 2022. Air North says bike needs to be boxed but you noted it was not needed. Wondering if policy may have changed since your trip. Did you ask about a box before your trip?

    • I went to the airport at Inuvik and spoke with the people at the airport desk and they told me to just bring the bike. They are used to taking some cargo on the flights from Inuvik so some of the front seats of the plane were removed. I had no issue and there were 3 cyclists with bikes on my flight. Things may have changed, I could only suggest speaking with the contacts at the airport at Inuvik and speaking with someone there, they know best. If it is confirmed that things have changed with flying with bikes, please let me know.

      • I am sending up canvas bike bags by mail to Patrick at Paddy Cycles bike shop in Inuvik. He will hold them until we fly home. Just checked again today and the official word is you need a box but it can be up to 70lbs at least for the trip up from Vancouver. $50-$60 is pretty good value.

    • Hey Dan,
      I’m also heading there in June!
      I’m flying from Vancouver to Whitehorse on June 7 and will ride to Tuk, and then turnaround and head back to Dawson where I’ll head west for a “bit of a ride” in Alaska before flying home from either Whitehorse or Anchorage.
      I hope that I run into you!
      And thanks for posting Brad, nicely done!

      • Hi Pete. We arrive in DC June 5 and start riding on 7th. See you on the road. Dan (

  5. Hi there,

    we are planning to cycle the Dempster higway from Dawson City to Tuk this summer 2021 – if Covid-19 allows us.

    Does anyone know about place (store, shop) where we can refill our food supplies on the way up north?

    And does anybody know if it is possible to send a package of food / cloth / equipment from Dawson City to a place on the route?

    Thanks for your help

    • Good luck I hope you are able to get there this season. You can get a meal and candy bars at Eagle Plains hotel which is about 400km from Dawson. Fort McPherson at about 590km from Dawson near the Peel River has a fully stocked grocery store which will give you enough choice for a full resupply. Inuvik has a fully stocked grocery store too at about 770km from Dawson.

  6. Hello. Thanks for the great details on the trip. I rode the Dempster in 1999 and loved it. I’m thinking of going back this summer and am wondering about the traffic. It was very quiet in 1999 – a car or truck every few hours. Is it still quiet and peaceful, or has it become much busier?

    • Not much traffic, however, now that the road is open all the way to Tuk, there may be more interest and more traffic on this road. As you know, it is an awesome road and worth the effort.

      • Hi Brad, Thanks for sharing the Dempster Hwy cycle details. i was planning on doing that this year of 2020 but postponed for next year due to Covid-19. Do you of any touring group?, other members or even your plans to do it next year? I am planning to do it next end of summer 2020.

      • Haven’t heard of anyone yet, I’m sure there will be people there when you get there. It is a great ride

  7. Hi! I have a few questions for you!

    -I read that you canoed with your bike from Whitehorse to Dawson. However, I was wondering if you know of any other options to bring two bikes with me from Whitehorse to Dawson that doesn’t involve renting a car….
    -Is the ride mostly uphill and quite steep from Dawson to Tombstone Territorial park? Also is the gravel pretty intense to go uphill?
    -Approximately how long did it take you to ride from Dawson city to Tombstone park?

    Thanks so much! Appreciate any feedback!


    • Hi Emily, The places that rent canoes can also organise transport of bicycles to Dawson, it is the same transport that bring the canoes back to Whitehorse. The ride to Tombstone is uphill but not difficult, the roads were fine when I was there. I rode there in a day from Dawson, albeit a big day. Enjoy the ride and canoeing in that part of the world, truely amazing. cheers, Brad

  8. I am planning to ride from Skagway to Tuktoyaktuk next summer. Do you recommend riding the route North or South? I will either fly to Juneau or Inuvik and out from the other.

    What do you think is the best time of year to go? I’d love to see the midnight sun, but I am also considering temperatures, mosquitos/black flies, foliage at Tombstone, water availability, etc.

    What time of year is the Arts Festival?

    • Riding northbound or southbound is a matter of personal choice. I liked going northbound because it made the destination seem so exotic and impossible to get to, it just felt like such an achievement to end in the hard places. Going south will be more favourable with the wind, specially later in the season. Ending in Skagway would be great too, many places to chill out, eat, drink and celebrate a great journey. The midnight sun is worth it, I loved cycling at midnight on several occasions, normal life seemed so far away during those times. As for flies and mosquitoes you are out of luck, just deal with it. Traveling in this part of the world comes at a cost in other ways. Check out the internet for the Arts Festival, I think the dates change every year. Good luck, it is an awesome place to go cycling.

  9. Great account of your trip. Is anyone doing this this season by any chance? I’m in Inuvik now prepping by bicycle, planning to hitch up to Tuk to begin in the next few days.

  10. You survived the entire trip, Congratulations too.

    I drove the Dempster in June 2017 and stopped at the Yukon/NWT border to get back to Fairbanks for my flight home to NC. I met a couple of European cyclists from Germany and the Netherlands. Wished both good luck in their journey. In Alaska on the Dalton, a cyclist couple were hit by a tractor-trailer who claimed not to see them. The husband was ok but the wife suffered some serious injuries that required a life flight to Fairbanks – this happened hours before I arrived to start my journey to Coldfoot. They were on biking journey from Prudhoe Bay all to way down to Patagonia.

    I have planned a 10 days return trip to Alaska and Canada this coming June to finish driving both the Dalton and Dempster and the new road from Inuvik to Tukoyatuk that opened in November 2017 – months after my trip to the border.

    • Yeah, a great trip. Would be great to get all the way to Tuk but it wasn’t open when I was there. Sad about the other cyclists.

  11. What type of bike did you ride? Tread suggestions? Packing list suggestions if you have them.

    I’m not a big cyclist, but would like to do this same trim summer of 2019….how much training would you say is involved?

    • I did little or no training, I chose to take it easy and get fit as I cycled. Before heading to the Dempster I had already cycled in Alaska for a month and prior to that I was cycling and hiking in Tasmania. It takes a week or two for the body to get strong. I’m not really a big cyclist but I try to always keep fit. Go for it, it’s a great trip.

      Here is my bicycle and tyre specs
      My gear list

      Here is a list of my tools and spares

      • Awesome thanks. Ironically, my next trip in the fall is scheduled for Tasmania…I was planning on just backpacking, but maybe I’ll bike instead (depending on how this Youkon one goes.

        Also, how did u manage to get your bike to Dawson city? Can u fly it there ? I’m checking into the local bike places to see if they rent bikes rigged enough for the trip.

      • I put my bicycle in a canoe at Whitehorse and paddled the Yukon river. Theres a flight from Inuvik to Whitehorse

      • Specifically for the Dempster Highway, did you use the Duremes or the Mondials or something else? Do you think “regular” gravel tires would be better (Maxxis Rambler) or do you think the heavier weight and heavier duty tires are critical for durability? thanks!

      • I used the Duremes (which are no longer available). Depending on how much weight you’ll be loaded up with you should be fine with the Maxxis Rambler or any other Gravel tire. The road is generally OK with a few long sections of rocky gravel. If it rains, it will not matter what tire you use, you will not be cycling, the soil is so sticky it will build up on your chainstays, forks and anywhere else it can stick. Good luck, the Demster is a great bike ride.

  12. Hi ! Congratulation on this great review.. It’s a great help for us. We are French and with my partner we plan a great trip by bike starting next June starting from the dempster highway. At what time of the year have you been there? Cause it seems you didn’t had trouble with rain or mosquitos. Thank you for the great adventure stories!

    • Hi, I was there in July. I did have some problems with rain. It turned the nice dirt road into mud which got stuck in my wheels and made it impossible to cycle. As for mosquitoes there are were some when I camped at the end of the day but it was not too bad. It is a great ride, you will love it. Good luck with your trip.

  13. Brad

    Was it Fly North airlines back to Whitehorse? I’m starting my trip this June. Unfortunately will miss the festival in inuvik. It appears that bicyclists go north and south on Dempster highway. Any opinions on direction? Would prefer north to end in Inuvik, it seems like a nice place to end a segment . Thanks Greg .

    • I think that was the name of the airline. No need to pack it in a box. They have remove a few seats on the front so you just carry the bike in a store it behind the pilots.
      I had a slight headwind going north. Not too bad, maybe southbound gets better winds.
      Other than that not much difference. If landing in Inuvik they have a very good grocery store. And prices weren’t that bad considering

  14. Did you fly out of Inuvik?

    Was wondering how viable it is to get a bicycle on the smaller planes that fly out there to Whitehorse.


    • I flew out of Inuvik. No problems. No need for bicycle boxes. I rode my bicycle to the airport. They asked me to take off the pedals and let some air out of the tyres. They roll the bicycle onto the plane. The first couple of rows of seats have been taken out of the plane and used for bicycle storage or oversized luggage. All very easy. There were 3 cyclists on my flight. Any other questions let me know.

      • This is great info, thanks! Did your flight from Inuvik connect with another flight (e.g. westjet/air canada)? Did you need to box your bike once you got to a larger airport or could you fly all the way home this way?

      • I flew from Inuvik to Whitehorse and didn’t take any connecting flights. The Inuvik flight was on a smaller plane and the bicycles were rolled onto the plane and stored behind the pilots. There were 3 bicycles on that flight. The 2 other cyclists had connecting flights and with no bicycle boxes they got to Vancouver on connecting flight with no problem. Any further than that and you are probably on a bigger plane with stricter rules.

  15. Your pics are great! Hopefully in a weeks time we will be riding the highway! I do have a much litres of water do you recommend to carry for every 100km? just an aprox. Thank You a lot.

    • I carried 10 litres but rarely needed that much as there is lots of water. The section heading to eagle lodge Jason water and when I was there it was very hot. Maybe take a little more water for that section. Enjoy your trip

  16. Thank you for your posting. Saw a number of grizzlies just before and after Wright’s Pass on cycling the Dempster in late August along the same area could be heard 400 or more large deer like creatures making loud oscillating eeecking sounds. Congrats on all your other great rides. Be looking for your report of your Tour Divide Race. Yukon K.


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