The Dempster Highway (known as Yukon Highway 5 and Northwest Territories Highway 8 in those territories respectively) is a highway through the sub-Arctic wilderness of northern Yukon Territory and extreme northwestern Northwest Territories in Canada. The highway runs 671 kilometers (417mi.) from the Klondike Highway near Dawson City to the Amerindian settlement of Inuvik, extending an additional 194km (124mi) to Tuktoyatuk during winter months as an 'ice road'—where ice on lakes & river crossings is thick enough to safely traverse by vehicles. The road is one of just two roads in North America to cross the Arctic Circle. Although considerably less traveled than its American twin, Alaska's Dalton Highway, the road offers much similar scenery.
The road was built by the Canadian government to spur oil exploration in the Mackenzie River delta and eventually serve the construction of an oil pipeline.
The Dempster Highway has very little services and shops along its length and those services & goods which are available are quite expensive. Therefore, travelers are advised to have basic survival supplies, car repair equipment, and equipment for camping and other activities:
Due to the scarcity of services, the traveler on this road will need a certain degree of self-sufficiency while traveling along the highway on your own. Therefore, you are advised to bring what is listed in the Prepare section.
A wide variety of different road surfaces will be encountered by travelers on the Dalton. The beginning 100 miles are said to be the worst (pothole wise), but that may just be the time it takes to get acclimated to road conditions. This surface is gravel/dirt and is littered with a landscape of craters and potholes that will often slow your pace down to the 10mph mark, or destroy your suspension. Later on, a few patches of paved road will be encountered, but in a rough arctic environment like this, it is apparent they don't hold up too well. Be constantly on the lookout for massive potholes on any part of the road. These will sneak up on you suddenly after a comfortable few miles. Further north, the gravel roads seem to be in better condition and they permit higher speeds.
There are no medical facilities on the highway. The nearest hospital is in Fairbanks. Oil companies likely have limited clinical facilities in Deadhorse should you find yourself in desperate circumstances, but are otherwise only for employees. Should you find yourself gravely ill, a medical evacuation is very expensive, takes much longer than is standard in the rest of the US, and can be limited or impossible during severe winter weather.
Should you decide to collect water from streams, it is advisable to boil such water as giardia is common in Alaskan streams and very contagious.
Weather is an important factor to add into Dalton Highway Trip calculations. Remember, this is the Arctic! During the summer it is very possible to encounter heavy snow while driving through the Brooks Range via Atigun Pass. Drive with extreme caution on the windy mountain roads. The gravel can be very slippery, especially in rain or snow. During the winter, the area is possible to encounter temperatures below -60 F (which is cold enough to freeze your brake fluid!). As mentioned earlier such temperatures are fatal and thus winter travel is highly discouraged.
The Dempster Highway passes through territory of the fearsome Grizzly bear. Understand that grizzly bear attacks are almost always defensive, whereas black bear, of which most Americans are familiar, attacks are predatory (often unexpected). Bear repellent spray (a very strong pepper spray/mace) is considerably safer than carrying a rifle. See this article for comprehensive information on bear safety. In the winter, Polar bears can roam the region near Inuvik. You cannot learn enough about bear safety in this region.
You may also encounter wolves and foxes in this region. Moose can be dangerous if threatened. They weigh, on average, 1400lbs (640kg) and have 6ft wide antlers. Being mauled or stepped on by a moose can be lethal or leave you seriously injured in a region where medical services are distant and take hours for you to be treated. Animal life along the Dempster is great, but enjoy them at a distance.