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You Can Now Drive the First Highway to the Arctic Ocean and It Makes for an Epic Road Trip

Road Trips Insider Guides
by Tim Wenger May 10, 2018

There’s a new way to reach the northern tip of Canada and touch the legendary waters of the Arctic. A new gravel road to the northern tip of the Northwest Territories, opened in November 2017, connects the primarily Inuit colony of Tuktoyaktuk to the larger town of Inuvik 93 miles to the south. Before the opening of the ‘Road To Tuk,’ this village abutting the Beaufort Sea and the Arctic Ocean was only accessible by plane or via an ice road in the winter.

About as wild and unspoiled as an Arctic town can be, Tuktoyaktuk is located above the Arctic tree line, meaning you can see for miles out across the northern tundra. The opening of the road aims to boost the local economy and allow for easier access to food and supplies for local residents. If you make it up there soon, you’ll be among the first tourists to visit this small Inuit settlement.

How long does it take?

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Google Maps routes the 93-mile drive at 2.5 hours one way, so visiting Tuktoyaktuk and getting back to Inuvik is totally possible as a day trip. Of course, you have to get yourself in Inuvik first, which can be done via a connecting flight from Yellowknife. This is certainly the best option — were you to drive, the fast option has you dipping down into both Alberta and British Columbia before coming back north through the Yukon and finally back to the Northwest Territories, a 92-hour trip in itself.

How is the road?

The road is made of gravel and is accessible throughout the year. Although it was built to provide year-round access for residents and visitors, you still need to look out for winter conditions. On the way up and back you’ll pass beautiful lakes, streams, and plenty of pristine open wilderness — there’s not much in the way of settlements.

What can I do along the way?

The first place you need to check out is the East Channel of the Mackenzie River, which you’ll see from the road as you approach. The river is the longest in Canada and heads north through the Northwest Territory to feed into the Arctic Ocean. The views of its snaking pathway from the side of the new highway are strikingly different than the more familiar waterways further south. You’ll then pass by the Arctic tree line at the northern edge of the Boreal Forest — there will be no trees north of you anywhere in the world.

Shortly afterwards, you’ll drive through reindeer grazing land. The animals you may see from the highway are Canada’s only herd of domestic reindeer.

If you drive back down at night, you’ll be far enough away from any big city light pollution that you might look up and find yourself directly underneath Northern Lights.

What is there to do in Tuktoyaktuk?

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The first step is to know a bit about the village itself. Tuk, as locals tend to call it, was settled by former whalers in the late 1800s following the decline of whaling in the region around Herschel Island (located west of Tuk, off the coast of the Yukon). As more people needed a place to settle, a church and trading post were established and the camp became known as Port Brabant. The town has been called by its indigenous name, Tuktoyaktuk, since the 1950s. As you pull into town, you’ll be greeted by a big sign.

After walking along the seashore and checking out the town’s traditional sod houses, grab a meal at the town’s only restaurant, End of the Road Ltd. Tuktoyaktuk welcomed its first sit-down restaurant in a decade in 2017, which offers pizza, burgers, and local specialties. If you want to stay the night, the Tukto B&B can accommodate up to five guests and provides a continental breakfast.

Another must-do is the Pingo Canadian Landmark, an area meant to protect a series of eight pingos. A pingo is a large chunk of ice covered by a mound of dirt that resembles a cone, a formation that only occurs when there is active permafrost.

Finish the trip by dipping your toes in the cold waters of the Beaufort Sea. Major props if you make it all the way in, and if you happen to catch a wave, you’re an absolute legend.

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