The communities along the Dempster Highway vary from a bustling Klondike city to tiny Gwich'in hamlets that still follow a traditional lifestyle. All are unique, unforgettable and worth a visit.
Your Dempster Highway adventure begins in Dawson City, Yukon 40 km southwest of the start of the highway. Perched on the banks of the Yukon River, this town of 1,375 was founded in the 1890s at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush and is steeped in gold rush history. Visit in late July for the Dawson City Music Festival or learn about the Han First Nation culture at their annual Moosehide Gathering.
Once you’ve crossed the Yukon/NWT border, the first community you’ll reach is the hamlet of Fort McPherson, a Gwich’in community of about 900 people. Its traditional name, Teet’lit Zheh, translates to “Place at the head of the waters” identifying its location on a bluff above the east bank of the Peel River. Visit the grave site of the Northwest Mounted Police’s Lost Patrol of 1910-11. Corporal Jack Dempster led the search for the doomed patrol and the highway is named for him. Stop by the Fort McPherson Tent & Canvas shop for virtually indestructible duffels and backpacks.
Formerly known as Arctic Red River, “Tsiigy” is a small community of 177. Most of its Gwich’in inhabitants maintain a traditional lifestyle of hunting, fishing and trapping. If you’re making the drive in August, check out their Canoe Days celebration, with canoe races, fiddling, jigging and drum dancing.
This town above the Arctic Circle is the Northwest Territories' first planned community. With a population of just over 3,000 people, Inuvik is the hub of the Western Arctic. The citizenry is a mix of Inuvialuit, Gwich’in and non-Indigenous settlers and you will find all of these cultures represented at community events. Don’t miss the iconic “Igloo Church” and if you are driving the Dempster in July, plan your trip to coincide with Inuvik’s Great Northern Arts Festival. While there’s lots to do in Inuvik itself, it also serves as the jumping off point to other adventures such as paddling and hiking trips in Aulavik, Ivvavik and Tuktut Nogait National Parks. Learn more about Inuvik.