Overland Destinations: The Road to Tuktoyaktuk

Overland Destinations: The Road to Tuktoyaktuk

by Stephan Edwards

Welcome to Overland Destinations, a regular feature from the Overlander Notebook - practical and inspirational ideas to fuel your next overland adventure, whether it's close to home or a world away. 

This week, the road to Tuktoyaktuk and the Arctic Ocean. 

For the first time ever it’s possible to drive all the way to the Arctic Ocean. For decades, the only road to that northern shore ended a handful of miles short of the water near the town of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Oil and gas companies controlled access to bay itself, and for many people who adventured thousands of miles across Canada and the Alaskan Arctic just to get there, getting in a bus for the final few miles to dip a toe in the icy waters was a little bit of a let down.

But in the last few years, the tiny hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk in Canada’s Northern Territories has welcomed overland explorers right to the water’s edge. In the past, Tuktoyaktuk could only be reached by a specialized ice road during the winter. Isolated from the rest of the country during the warmer months due to melting permafrost, getting there by sea or air was the only option. With the winding down of oil drilling in the Canadian Arctic, the small communities on the northern shores of the continent needed a more consistent and accessible travel corridor to link them to the southern world. Built over the course of three years in some of the most intense conditions imaginable, the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk road (Northwest Territories Highway 10) started welcoming travelers the final 86 miles to the Arctic Ocean from the end of the Dempster Highway in 2017. Now the gravel two-track road to “Tuk” is open 365 days a year.


Not so much a technical driving challenge as a pure overland adventure in the old school meaning of the term, the journey across the vast Canadian Shield and the endless taiga and tundra requires a certain kind of preparation. You will need to steel yourself for long driving days in often harsh and variable conditions just to even reach the start of the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk road.

Arctic landscape in Canada


Endless washboard, treacherously slippery mud, maniacal semi truck drivers, an almost certain cracked windshield, and freezing temperatures are all part of the equation. Not to mention the isolation, and the sense that you are driving to the very end of the earth. Which, in a lot of ways you are. It's possible to travel the roads north to Tuk on a motorcycle, or even in a Ferrari (seriously), but a four wheel drive prepared for the worst and equipped with plenty of fuel capacity and a library of audio books will do you well.
 

Richard and Ashley Giordano at the Arctic Ocean


How To Get There

It's hard to get lost on the way to Tuktoyaktuk, since there's only one road that stretches from near Dawson City in the Yukon Territory all the way to Tuk. If you are coming from the south, which you most certainly are, turn north off of the Klondike Highway (Highway 2) onto the Dempster Highway (Highways 5 and 8), and keep going until you hit the water.

When To Go

The way north is now technically a four seasons road, so you can make it to the Arctic Ocean any time of year. There is something romantic about attempting a winter trip, like Expedition Overland's Richard and Ashley Giordano. It's guaranteed to be a adventure unlike any other, no matter how you cut it. However, if the very thought of a Canadian winter gives you mental frostbite, the early fall is the ideal time for an Arctic expedition. Colder temperatures will have eliminated most of the mosquitoes and other nasty biting insects, but true winter will have yet to set in.

Icy road Canada


Special Considerations

As with any extended overland journey, preparation will be key for a successful end to your trip. Canada's Northwest Territories are some of the most isolated landscapes on earth, and you will need to be as self-sufficient as possible, both for your party and your vehicles. Canada's unpaved northern roads are notoriously hard on tires, glass, and suspension components in particular. You will need to carry food, water, and fuel not only for the days you plan to be traveling, but also for the days when you will inevitably be delayed by weather or road conditions. Supplies, including gasoline and diesel, are extremely expensive in this corner of the globe. So, prepare your wallet as well.

Lastly, travel with respect. Planning a trip to these small communities at the ends of world is a privilege, and should you reach Tuktoyaktuk, being welcomed there is a gift. Show some humility and treat your hosts with respect. They are sharing their communities and their resources with you.

Ready for a taste of the adventure? Watch XOverland's Solo Arctic Series and get ready to go north!

Photos: Ashley and Richard Giordano


1 Response

Bruce E Cooper
Bruce E Cooper

December 27, 2021

This is a great trip, did it back in 2017, but unless they built bridges over the rivers it is not technically opened 365 days a year, “Now the gravel two-track road to “Tuk” is open 365 days a year”. I believe that during the rivers winter freeze and spring time melts there are no ways to get across the two rivers you cross by ferry or ice roads, please correct me if I am wrong.

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