Our Trip Along the Dempster and Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highways
July 26-August 4, 2019
Part Two – Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk
Our journey to the Arctic Ocean started 5 days earlier in Whitehorse. We travelled the Klondike Highway to Dawson City and then the Dempster Highway to Inuvik, See Part One of our epic road trip here.
We awoke at our home for the night, Happy Valley Territorial Park in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, ate breakfast, and started on the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway.
The Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway (ITH) connects the two communities and is the first all-weather road to Canada’s Arctic Coast. It was just finished in late 2017 and replaced the ice road that previously linked Tuktoyaktuk to Inuvik in the winter. Like the Dempster, the ITH is a gravel road built well above the permafrost to prevent heat from the road from melting the sensitive environment. We began our 138km day trip filled with excitement and anticipation.
The scenery was beautiful and we definitely knew we were far north, past the tree line. The road is flat at times and passes through areas of rolling hills at other times, with some blind corners. The intense sunshine was back again and highlighted the bright blue lakes and ponds that were all around. We took our time and made the trip to Tuk in about 3 hours.
The drive was uneventful and we arrived to a lovely (though windy) day in Tuktoyaktuk. Our car was reading 6 degrees Celsius, but with the wind off the Arctic Ocean, our southern selves were freezing and we donned our jackets and toques. The following day the temperature soared into the 20’s (Celcius) in Tuktoyaktuk.
We understand that the locals have worked hard over the past several years, fixing up the hamlet and preparing for tourists. I imagine it must have been a huge change for the town to suddenly be connected by a year-round road, with an influx of tourists eager to drive to the Arctic Ocean.
We drove through the community all the way to the point, stopping at the Interpretive Centre to chat and sign the guest book.
The year we visited (2019) the hamlet was allowing camping at the point for a small fee. There were washrooms, benches, and a picnic spot. There is a sign up indicating the traditional fishing grounds and swimming is prohibited in that area. While we were exploring the area, we happened upon the same father and son travellers that we had met earlier on the Dempster! The father purchased a smoked white fish from a vendor on the beach and shared it with us. The fish had been cut so that we could peel off sections in a french-fry shape and it had a delicious smokey taste. Yum!
After we explored the point for a bit, we drove back though town. The Inuvialuit community was very welcoming. We stopped at a souvenir shop and Em picked out a beautiful hard carved inukshuk. The woman running the store saw Em shopping and gifted her a small toy made of seal skin! It was an ookpik, in Inuktitut language – a Snowy Owl! It was a very fitting gift indeed as we are occasionally visited by Snowy Owls down where we live in Southwestern Ontario! We had made the journey to the arctic just like the owl!
We drove over to the Pingo Canadian Landmark, a Parks Canada site. A pingo is basically an ice-covered hill.
The site had bathrooms, a small interpretive centre, fire pits and a picnic table. We were impressed by the community’s efforts to welcome tourists and provide some interpretation. We had lots of fun exploring the beach.
We found that there was lots to do in Tuktoyaktuk and we wished that we could have stayed longer. There are many activities that we didn’t have time for, including kayaking to the pingos and exploring a traditional sod house. When we visited. camping was available both at the point, and at the souvenir shop (I think I would have chosen the souvenir shop to get away from the wind!). Extending our stay in Tuktoyaktuk would have meant even less time on the Dempster though, which we already felt was rushed. We need unlimited vacation time!
We reluctantly drove out of Tuktoyaktuk and back to Inuvik. No time to be sad, however, as we were meeting up with friends in Inuvik for dinner!
After some delicious food and wonderful hospitality, we made our way to Jak Park Territorial campground for the night. This campground is just outside of Inuvik, so it feels more natural than Happy Valley where we had stayed the night before. What a beautiful place! Unfortunately, the lookout tour was in need of repairs (it was closed) but I had a lovely time walking around the grounds after the kids went to sleep.
Our campsite was surrounded by a thick forest of white spruce and birch, with alder and willow bushes., lots of fireweed and labrador tea. It was beautiful! Kory and I sat at the picnic table watching warblers dart through the spruce trees in the bright 11pm sun.
In the morning, we reluctantly packed up and began our long drive south. Be sure to check out part 3 to learn more about our trip back down the Dempster highway, including our stay at Tombstone Territorial Park.