An Arctic Adventure
Grimlock, my 12-year-old bull terrier, hopped from boulders and stumbled slightly on damp stones and driftwood. When his front paws submerged, he touched his nose to the frigid water before quickly lifting his head back to me inquisitively.
“That’s salt water; you’re at the Arctic Ocean!”
The Dempster Highway in Canada has been high on mine and Grimlock’s adventure list, since the completion of the Inuvik–Tuktoyaktuk Highway in late 2017. This final stretch of all-season road is the first highway in Canada to connect to the Arctic Ocean and made our dream of kayaking together in a third ocean come true.
Here’s how we did it.
Route planning and prep
Grimlock has spent a significant amount of his life on the road, even before we became full-time travelers in 2017, so I had a baseline for planning our trip to the Arctic Ocean in Canada. Most of the trip prep would be completed before crossing the border from the United States: what to pack, where we could go, and locations we could restock some supplies (the remoteness of the north requires bringing extra supplies for specialty items like Grimlock’s medications and food).
Aside from researching weather conditions, wildfires were also a concern, with it being a record fire year across Canada. Portions of the route had closed intermittently, so I frequently monitored official highway conditions for the Yukon and Northwest Territories, community websites, and Facebook groups dedicated to driving the Dempster. After a final check the day before our anticipated start date, we were ready to go.
In kilometers or miles – it’s a rough road
It’s about 885 km, or 550 miles, from the official start of the Dempster Highway to the Arctic Ocean sign. Other than some short portions, the drive is slow going over gravel and shale rock. And if the road conditions don’t slow you down, the views will. The road follows the rugged peaks of the Tombstone Mountain Range almost to the Arctic Circle when the scenery shifts to expansive tundra. After crossing into the Northwest Territories, you’re nearing the end with two ferry river crossings and fuel stops in the Arctic communities.
The weather during the drive was crisp and clear in August, with the sun lingering in the sky most hours. Even above the Arctic Circle, the temperatures weren’t too cold for Grimlock, comfortable in his Stumptown™ Quilted Dog Coat. Grimlock typically refuses accessories but has welcomed this coat in his senior years. The Highlands™ Dog Sleeping Bag and Highlands™ Dog Pad are two more of Grimlock’s must-have overland items. I was able to remove the pad for him to use outside our Toyota Tacoma (aka our home-on-wheels) while I cooked, and he relaxed at our dispersed campsite. When we were ready to call it a day, I combined the pad with his sleeping bag for Grimlock to curl inside to block the nighttime sun still creeping through the truck windows.
Kayaking in the Arctic Ocean
With about a decade of kayaking adventures together, paddling with Grimlock in the Arctic Ocean became a dream goal on this trip. I connected with the owner of Arctic Ocean Canoe & Qayak in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, to ensure dogs were allowed and rentals would still be available at that point in the season.
Once we arrived, I unpacked our usual gear, including a small dry bag of treats, Grimlock’s Float Coat™ Dog Life Jacket and The Beacon™ Dog Safety Light. We hit the water at 8 p.m. with the sun slowly making its way to a midnight sunset. The weather was my main concern as a storm was set to move in that evening. But to my relief, it merely drizzled on our way back to the inlet from the calm open ocean.
In addition to safety while paddling, I made sure to pack extra towels to help dry Grimlock as quickly as possible given the water temperature and evening chill. We ended the night camped inside our Tacoma with an oceanfront view. After successfully sniffing out some fish skins along the shore, Grimlock curled up warmly in his Highlands™ Dog Sleeping Bag. His reddish fur smelling of sea salt, we fell asleep to the sounds of the third ocean that we kayaked together, completing the main goal of our Arctic adventure.
Commemorate your trip
A fun surprise while driving the Dempster Highway was discovering the free commemorative certificates at various centers along the way. The staff joyfully included both our names as we collected these “Arctic explorer” souvenirs. We found our four at the following locations:
- Tuktoyaktuk Visitor Information Center, Northwest Territories: driving the highway from Inuvik to the Arctic Ocean; dipping a toe (or paw!) in the Arctic Ocean
- Inuvik Town Office, Northwest Territories: Arctic Circle Certificate of Passage
- NWT Dempster Highway Visitor Centre, Dawson City, Yukon: driving the Dempster Highway
Bonus tip: You can get your certificates laminated for a toonie ($2CAD) each at The Downtown hotel in Dawson City, which also has pet-friendly rooms.
By the end of our Dempster Highway trip, Grimlock and I logged 1,240 miles in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, crossed the Arctic Circle again, and paddled in a third ocean together. After that, we headed to the southern half of the U.S. for winter to try to find some warmer water. Following the Spring thaw next year, we’ll be on our way back to Canada for more kayaking adventures and our first time exploring the Maritimes.