Canada's Arctic Ice Road

Travel an amazing road over the frozen MacKenzie River and Arctic Ocean from Aklavik to Tuktoyaktuk high in Canada's Northwest Territories.

By: Adam Hill
January 4, 2017

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Canada is a pretty huge country with many amazing secrets and one of the most amazing and untravelled roads is the ice road on the frozen MacKenzie River. It travels from Aklavik into the Arctic Ocean to Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories. 

You can reach this road by two routes, drive the Dempster Highway from Whitehorse in the Yukon to Inuvik (the beginning of the ice road), or fly to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories where you can then hop on a plane and fly straight to Inuvik. Both have their own challenges, from time to cost. 

Once you get to Inuvik the rest is pretty easy! The trip to Aklavik is only a couple of hours away so you can really take your time, park your truck and explore if you like. Once you get to Aklavik, stop into the grocery store to pick up food for dinner, get dinner going and then wait for the night to come. I recommend traveling this road in March due to the increase in auroral activity and with the lack of light pollution in Canada's Arctic, you'll be able to see everything the sky has to show you. Remember to bring your best/warmest winter gear. Nights can easily dip below -40 ºC. 

Spend a night or two here and meet the people of the community. The Gwich'in people of Aklavik are amazing. They're kind, extremely tough and community minded. I've always felt welcomed when I've been in Aklavik. Ask a local for the history of the Mad Trapper. 

When you're finished in Aklavik, pack up your truck and start your trip to Tuktoyaktuk (Tuk) via ice road on the Arctic Ocean. When you're driving, watch for fissures in the road, they can get quite large, and keep an eye open for caribou and wolverine. I was lucky to see a wolverine on my last trip, it was pretty far away but it was still pretty damn cool! 

(I met this guy in Tuk, he's a German runner who just finished running the whole Dempster Highway in March.)

Tuk is amazing location on it's own. It has Canada's largest pingos, is (too) frequently visited by polar bears and it has it's own community freezer buried deep into the arctic's permafrost. The pingos are on the outskirts of the community and you can drive somewhat close to them. You can easily walk across the wind packed snow to the pingo in March if you like. Keep an eye open for arctic animals, like ptarmigan and foxes. They're camouflaged well so keep a sharp eye open. 

The community freezer is another amazing place. The Inuvialuit people of Tuk dug deep into the permafrost and made a number of rooms that are used to store country foods like musk ox and fish throughout the year. 

2017 is the last year that this ice road will be open to Tuk since a year round road is currently being constructed from Inuvik. If you can get a chance to get up here, do it!

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.