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Trip Planning: Dalton or Dempster Highway?

globalgregors

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Spending a bit of time with maps and research and puzzling over our route north while we wait on a ship (for the second time).

Does anyone have a view on Dalton Highway through to Prudhoe Bay versus Dempster Highway through to Tuktoyaktuk?

Thanks in advance!
 

anand

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Is both an option? I ask because how likely are you to be back in the area?

Also, what time of year and how long do you have?

We did the Dalton in summer of '22 and it was fantastic. The Milepost and most of what I read online advised 2 days in each direction from Fairbanks to Prudhoe. We left Fairbanks in the morning and we're at Coldfoot by lunch, viewed the visitors center for the national parks/highway, and attempted to move our reservations (to take a dip in Prudhoe) up a day but were unable due to the security checks. The drive back south we did in a single shot from Prudhoe to just a few miles from the AK/Canada border.

The Demptser is on my list as well, however we were a bit short on time to tackle it on that trip. Being able to visit the Arctic on two routes would just be a great experience IMO.

Don't forget Top of the World Highway and Chicken, AK (going to Dawson City).

Feel free to ask any questions, I'm happy to answer!
 

globalgregors

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Is both an option? I ask because how likely are you to be back in the area?

Also, what time of year and how long do you have?

We did the Dalton in summer of '22 and it was fantastic. The Milepost and most of what I read online advised 2 days in each direction from Fairbanks to Prudhoe. We left Fairbanks in the morning and we're at Coldfoot by lunch, viewed the visitors center for the national parks/highway, and attempted to move our reservations (to take a dip in Prudhoe) up a day but were unable due to the security checks. The drive back south we did in a single shot from Prudhoe to just a few miles from the AK/Canada border.

The Demptser is on my list as well, however we were a bit short on time to tackle it on that trip. Being able to visit the Arctic on two routes would just be a great experience IMO.

Don't forget Top of the World Highway and Chicken, AK (going to Dawson City).

Feel free to ask any questions, I'm happy to answer!
Thanks for this @anand. We’ll be headed up there late June.

I don’t think we have time for both - we’re trying to get across and to the Newfoundland/Labrador coast for July/August.

Presently leaning towards Dempster preceded by a loop through Wrangell/Top of the World as you suggest.
One must resist attempting too much, as I’m sure you could spend a season and hardly scratch the surface.
 

anand

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Definitely be ready to be flexible... Everything in "the North" seems to work very similarly to "Island Time". On our travels up to Alaska we were leaving Whitehorse, literally a few hundred meters from turning onto the Klondike Hwy (to head to Dawson City) and the road sign switched to "Klondike Hwy Closed" (due to wildfires). This scrapped Dawson City/Chicken off our list, and we ended up in Alaska a day earlier than expected but were able to make the most of it with a quick rebooking on Harvest Hosts.

There is so much to see, appreciate, and (attempt to) take in throughout Alaska. Our travels were almost constantly surrounded by wildfires (we camped one night at Denali National Park, horrid visibility due to smoke), and that was early/mid July. Driving the Southern part of the Dalton included wildfires that were burning no more than 200 meters off the side of the road, which was absolutely wild to see.

Leaving AK we did the TransCanada Highway (mostly) across the country to New Brunswick (we did the Banff/Jasper/Yoho/Revelstoke/etc segment on the way up), and was our second trip doing (almost) coast to coast in Canada.

The mosquitoes are indescribable during that time of year, particularly along the Alaska (and Cassiar) highways through Northern BC and into the Yukon. We were infiltrated in our Sprinter van one night camped along the Cassiar Highway and slept for a few hours with the AC on high, all our fans on high, with mosquito nets over our heads and completely under a blanket; then spent the rest of that driving day (up to Whitehorse) killing those that remained. We can only imagine they entered through the body pressure vent. In Alaska they weren't nearly as bad.

You didn't ask for this, but a bit of unsolicited advice, if you're passing Pukaskwa National Park in Western Ontario, and have the ability to spend the night there and get in a hike by the lake, do so. The water is crisp, cool, and clear; and the setting is very serene and quiet.

If I can help further, don't hesitate to shoot me a DM or post here
 

globalgregors

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Definitely be ready to be flexible... Everything in "the North" seems to work very similarly to "Island Time". On our travels up to Alaska we were leaving Whitehorse, literally a few hundred meters from turning onto the Klondike Hwy (to head to Dawson City) and the road sign switched to "Klondike Hwy Closed" (due to wildfires). This scrapped Dawson City/Chicken off our list, and we ended up in Alaska a day earlier than expected but were able to make the most of it with a quick rebooking on Harvest Hosts.

There is so much to see, appreciate, and (attempt to) take in throughout Alaska. Our travels were almost constantly surrounded by wildfires (we camped one night at Denali National Park, horrid visibility due to smoke), and that was early/mid July. Driving the Southern part of the Dalton included wildfires that were burning no more than 200 meters off the side of the road, which was absolutely wild to see.

Leaving AK we did the TransCanada Highway (mostly) across the country to New Brunswick (we did the Banff/Jasper/Yoho/Revelstoke/etc segment on the way up), and was our second trip doing (almost) coast to coast in Canada.

The mosquitoes are indescribable during that time of year, particularly along the Alaska (and Cassiar) highways through Northern BC and into the Yukon. We were infiltrated in our Sprinter van one night camped along the Cassiar Highway and slept for a few hours with the AC on high, all our fans on high, with mosquito nets over our heads and completely under a blanket; then spent the rest of that driving day (up to Whitehorse) killing those that remained. We can only imagine they entered through the body pressure vent. In Alaska they weren't nearly as bad.

You didn't ask for this, but a bit of unsolicited advice, if you're passing Pukaskwa National Park in Western Ontario, and have the ability to spend the night there and get in a hike by the lake, do so. The water is crisp, cool, and clear; and the setting is very serene and quiet.

If I can help further, don't hesitate to shoot me a DM or post here
That’s very helpful. We so far dodged the worst of the bugs in Siberia and Central Australia, but our good fortune will surely not last. I have a list for further investigation here, thanks again.
 

dreamalaska

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All posted above is correct. I haven’t driven the Dempster so can’t speak to that. But the Dalton is usually kept in fairly good shape. It’s also known as the “Haul Road”, which most locals refer to it as, since it’s primarily used by commercial trucks supplying parts, pieces and supplies to the oil fields in Prudhoe. Aways be prepared to move to the right with your blinkers flashing when an 18 wheeler comes up behind you, or you’ll find yourself in a ditch along the gravel highway. FWIW The truckers take no quarter and believe that anyone other than another trucker is destroying “their” highway (which is kind of true since it was privately built for the construction of the pipeline and oil fields and zero non-commercial vehicles were allowed on it for many years). If you have any major mishaps there’s a commercial truck stop, campground and motel with restaurant in Coldfoot (definitely not lower 48 standards though btw, but you shouldn’t get dysentary).

North of Coldfoot to Prudhoe there wasn’t any gas station or restaurant when I last drove it, so be prepared.

The Top of the World highway from Tok to Chicken to Dawson City is also a great drive. The Canadian side was cut along the ridges of the mountains, so there are incredible views. Dawson City has the Palace Theater, a historic gambling hall with can-can dancers which is good for a show. The town is a gem. You can loop east and around to Whitehorse to get back on the Alaska Highway on the way home.

One stop off the Alaska Highway in British Columbia is Liard River Hot Springs, a natural hot springs area right off the highway. It’s a government park so fees are cheap.

Also, as mentioned, anyone traveling to Alaska should buy and carry a copy of “The Milepost” guide (milepost.com, local bookstore or Amazon). Always worth it when you’re in trouble and there’s no cell phone service.
 

anand

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One stop off the Alaska Highway in British Columbia is Liard River Hot Springs, a natural hot springs area right off the highway. It’s a government park so fees are cheap.
The electric gates that close you in at night on the campground side always makes you feel safe there :)
 

Xrford

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I did the Dempster highway on my GS800 Motorcycle several years ago before the leg to Tuk was created. Here are my notes
  • Road can turn into a wet slippery mess if it rains
  • Make sure you have enough gas to get you 400km as the only reliable fill ups are at Eagle plains 1/2 way and in Inuvik at the end. Your fuel mileage will be worse than normal so give yourself some buffer.
  • Eagle plains has gas/food/logging but if you intend to stay the night then book ahead as it is popular place for people visiting the arctic circle
  • Camping is an option at eagle plains and at the provincial campsites and First Nation run camp sites along the way.
  • Upto the NWT boarder the landscape is stunning. After that it becomes a little less exciting.
  • The road is used a lot by semi trucks transporting goods to the oil drilling companies and the First Nation communities. This means that these trucks kick up a lot of dust and rocks when they pass you going the opposite direction or if you come up behind one. They will crack windshields/head lights/aux lights and puncture radiators so protect these areas of your vehicle.
  • Tires are also prone to being punctured so make sure to carry a good spare and some tire plugs and an inner tube. You will not have much support for tire repairs until Inuvik.
  • A portion a reasonable amount of time so you can take it slow and take in the sights as there is a lot of great pictures to be taken along the way.
  • I was told by the First Nation people that the best time to visit is June during the National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21 this year) as all the First Nation communities have celebration events during this time.
 

globalgregors

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All posted above is correct. I haven’t driven the Dempster so can’t speak to that. But the Dalton is usually kept in fairly good shape. It’s also known as the “Haul Road”, which most locals refer to it as, since it’s primarily used by commercial trucks supplying parts, pieces and supplies to the oil fields in Prudhoe. Aways be prepared to move to the right with your blinkers flashing when an 18 wheeler comes up behind you, or you’ll find yourself in a ditch along the gravel highway. FWIW The truckers take no quarter and believe that anyone other than another trucker is destroying “their” highway (which is kind of true since it was privately built for the construction of the pipeline and oil fields and zero non-commercial vehicles were allowed on it for many years). If you have any major mishaps there’s a commercial truck stop, campground and motel with restaurant in Coldfoot (definitely not lower 48 standards though btw, but you shouldn’t get dysentary).

North of Coldfoot to Prudhoe there wasn’t any gas station or restaurant when I last drove it, so be prepared.

The Top of the World highway from Tok to Chicken to Dawson City is also a great drive. The Canadian side was cut along the ridges of the mountains, so there are incredible views. Dawson City has the Palace Theater, a historic gambling hall with can-can dancers which is good for a show. The town is a gem. You can loop east and around to Whitehorse to get back on the Alaska Highway on the way home.

One stop off the Alaska Highway in British Columbia is Liard River Hot Springs, a natural hot springs area right off the highway. It’s a government park so fees are cheap.

Also, as mentioned, anyone traveling to Alaska should buy and carry a copy of “The Milepost” guide (milepost.com, local bookstore or Amazon). Always worth it when you’re in trouble and there’s no cell phone service.
More welcome advice, thank you @dreamalaska . Out of curiosity… do the truckers use UHF on the Dalton?
 

globalgregors

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I did the Dempster highway on my GS800 Motorcycle several years ago before the leg to Tuk was created. Here are my notes
  • Road can turn into a wet slippery mess if it rains
  • Make sure you have enough gas to get you 400km as the only reliable fill ups are at Eagle plains 1/2 way and in Inuvik at the end. Your fuel mileage will be worse than normal so give yourself some buffer.
  • Eagle plains has gas/food/logging but if you intend to stay the night then book ahead as it is popular place for people visiting the arctic circle
  • Camping is an option at eagle plains and at the provincial campsites and First Nation run camp sites along the way.
  • Upto the NWT boarder the landscape is stunning. After that it becomes a little less exciting.
  • The road is used a lot by semi trucks transporting goods to the oil drilling companies and the First Nation communities. This means that these trucks kick up a lot of dust and rocks when they pass you going the opposite direction or if you come up behind one. They will crack windshields/head lights/aux lights and puncture radiators so protect these areas of your vehicle.
  • Tires are also prone to being punctured so make sure to carry a good spare and some tire plugs and an inner tube. You will not have much support for tire repairs until Inuvik.
  • A portion a reasonable amount of time so you can take it slow and take in the sights as there is a lot of great pictures to be taken along the way.
  • I was told by the First Nation people that the best time to visit is June during the National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21 this year) as all the First Nation communities have celebration events during this time.
Thanks @Xrford - most helpful. We are good for 1000kms or so range on a firm surface - it generally sounds equivalent to remote Australia or perhaps Siberia/Mongolia so I think we are fairly prepped. I gather no tribal area permits or restrictions apply

All of those factors sound like it could quickly turn into a handful on a bike, that must’ve been epic.
 

Xrford

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Thanks @Xrford - most helpful. We are good for 1000kms or so range on a firm surface - it generally sounds equivalent to remote Australia or perhaps Siberia/Mongolia so I think we are fairly prepped. I gather no tribal area permits or restrictions apply

All of those factors sound like it could quickly turn into a handful on a bike, that must’ve been epic.
Yes it was a very enjoyable adventure. To add to the memories I had a breakdown on the way back just before reaching eagle plains. My bike stopped on the hill upto eagle plains. I thought I ran out of gas, but as it turned out the battery lost a cell and dropped to 10 volts so the bike died and would not restart. I had to flag down some tourists on their way back from the arctic circle to get a lift to eagle plains where I got my buddy who was ahead of me. He towed me back to eagle plains. The next day after diagnosing the problem some trucker overheard my problems and offered to haul me and my bike back to Whitehorse where I was able to source a new battery. Later on, during the same trip, along the Robert Campbell highway (this a very remote gravel highway ln the Yukon, similar to the dempster and I also recommend to you) we saw another GS800 abandoned with a sign saying “gone to get new battery”, so as it turns out, it was a known weakness with that model. These unforeseen challenges that seem daunting at the time, in hindsight become the treasured memories that put the “adventure” in to your travels. The people up north are very generous and look out for one another so whatever predicament you get yourself into, be assured they will do everything in their power to help.

As far as permits, none are needed. I believe in Tuk it is a very remote village with very few resources and facilities for tourists , so plan on making your home base in Inuvik and go to Tuk as a day trip.
 
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anand

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Out of curiosity… do the truckers use UHF on the Dalton?
Pretty much everywhere across the US/CAN they'll be using CB (27Mhz), logging roads in Western CAN use a spectrum of VHF.

In July when we drove the Dalton, we passed (or got passed) by 0 Northbound trucks on the way up (a handful of bikes and there vehicles), and on the southbound leg followed a few trucks and bikes, but had no issues with traffic or anything like that. The road surface was better to drive when it was wet (it was lightly snowing from Atigun Pass north) than the corrugations when dry. Our Sprinter was fine in 2wd the whole time on KO2s
 

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I traveled both 2 years ago and highly recommend the Dempster if you were forced to pick one. First, the Dalton is purely a "Haul Road" for the oil trucks. So tons of stones kicked up, and dangerously fast truck drivers. The Dempster was nearly empty, we passed maybe a dozen vehicles max from the start all the way to Tuk. Not counting the fuel stops, etc.

The biggest plus to the the Dempster is that you can camp right on the Arctic Ocean beach. And do a polar bear plunge without scheduling a tour to pass through the oil fields. If you go during a time where it isn't running, you don't actually get to travel all the way to the coast and it feels a bit cut short. Tuk is a great little town, we talked to some locals, and were invited to witness them pulling in a whale and watched them butcher it and prep it for processing. There isn't any services that were open when I arrived, but an overpriced camp site on the beach, 50 CAD was well worth every penny.

As others have said, make sure you have a spare tire. And be prepared to use it. I had 1 flat and due to it being an odd size, I wasn't able to find a replacement until I got to Vancouver. I could of ordered one in Anchorage, but didn't feel like waiting for a week for it to arrive.

Oh, and the Mosquitoes were absolutely unlike anything I have ever experienced. Found myself driving longer than I planned everyday because I couldn't do much outside of the truck or camper without getting swarmed with them. Pack insect nets that go over your hat and tons of bug spray.

If you have any questions feel free to reach out.
20220720_111339.jpg
 

globalgregors

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I traveled both 2 years ago and highly recommend the Dempster if you were forced to pick one. First, the Dalton is purely a "Haul Road" for the oil trucks. So tons of stones kicked up, and dangerously fast truck drivers. The Dempster was nearly empty, we passed maybe a dozen vehicles max from the start all the way to Tuk. Not counting the fuel stops, etc.

The biggest plus to the the Dempster is that you can camp right on the Arctic Ocean beach. And do a polar bear plunge without scheduling a tour to pass through the oil fields. If you go during a time where it isn't running, you don't actually get to travel all the way to the coast and it feels a bit cut short. Tuk is a great little town, we talked to some locals, and were invited to witness them pulling in a whale and watched them butcher it and prep it for processing. There isn't any services that were open when I arrived, but an overpriced camp site on the beach, 50 CAD was well worth every penny.

As others have said, make sure you have a spare tire. And be prepared to use it. I had 1 flat and due to it being an odd size, I wasn't able to find a replacement until I got to Vancouver. I could of ordered one in Anchorage, but didn't feel like waiting for a week for it to arrive.

Oh, and the Mosquitoes were absolutely unlike anything I have ever experienced. Found myself driving longer than I planned everyday because I couldn't do much outside of the truck or camper without getting swarmed with them. Pack insect nets that go over your hat and tons of bug spray.

If you have any questions feel free to reach out.
View attachment 7858453
Many thanks @Jackattack13 . The vehicle comes straight off an Australia crossing, it sounds like we’ll be wise to keep the inventory much as it is. I’ll be delighted if we catch weather like you had above, it looks perfect!
 

dreamalaska

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More welcome advice, thank you @dreamalaska . Out of curiosity… do the truckers use UHF on the Dalton?
Good question - TBH IDK. I’m not sure which frequency those speed demons use. Whether dedicated UHF or regular VHF CB channels 17 & 19 radio - dunno. But definitely worth finding out if things go awry. There are 3 or 4 Alyeska Oil Pipeline pump stations along the highway that are manned 24/7 in case of emergency.
 
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Jackattack13

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Many thanks @Jackattack13 . The vehicle comes straight off an Australia crossing, it sounds like we’ll be wise to keep the inventory much as it is. I’ll be delighted if we catch weather like you had above, it looks perfect!
The trails are really remote, so you need to plan on being self sufficient. Not Australia remote, as someone will eventually pass by, but spares, etc might be hard to come by in smaller towns. My AC compressor went out while on the Dalton and ended up waiting to get it fixed in Bellingham WA as a heat wave came in and I couldn't take it anymore. Lol.

We traveled both trails in July and the weather was great for the most part. A couple days of rain that turned the Dempster into a soupy mess. Saw 2 Adventure motorcyclists go down hard. 1 got a serious concussion. Drove up on him right after he went down and he didn't know where he was. A local was heading south and volunteered to take him to the nearest medical center. The other blew out his knee and needed a medi flight. Hard road for the motor.

4WD and good offroad tires pulled us through the mud. I have some pics of our XP Camper 80 percent covered in thick mud. Took longer then I like to admit for me to get it all off once back on pavement. Lol.
 
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