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Call of the Yukon: Tombstone Territorial Park

It’s fair to say that I left a bit of my heart in the Yukon last year. This place is so unlike anything you’ll find in Australia. It’s cold, wild, remote, and dark for a large chunk of the year.

Even a year later, and even though I’ve just returned from the stunning Northern Territory, the Yukon is still haunting me.

Few places have left such longing in me as Canada has. Few places have me go on and on about them months after we’ve returned. Few places make me want to start every second sentence with “Remember when we were in...”.

Tombstone Territorial Park in the heart of the Yukon is right at the top of all these places.

Snow-capped mountains at Tombstone Territorial Park

We spent a mere week in the Yukon – I’m really not sure what we were thinking. But in that one week, we went hiking in Kluane National Park, flew over Kluane’s majestic glaciers and icefields, drove the Top of the World Highway, soaked up some Klondike gold fever in Dawson. We squeezed a lot in, and yet we spent less than 24 hours in Tombstone.

Regretting that we didn’t have enough time there, let alone drive to the Arctic Circle, would be an understatement. We always knew we couldn’t drive to the Arctic Circle given our setup (rental campervan, an ambitious itinerary, impending weather) but having only such limited time in Tombstone is a massive regret.


TOMBSTONE IS WILD AND REMOTE

Tombstone Territorial Park is made for adventurers. It’s a remote wilderness, some 300 km south of the Arctic Circle in Canada’s Yukon Territory. And it’s only accessible by dirt road, the infamous Dempster Highway. This road is known to be a tyre slasher of a highway so anyone attempting the long drive to the Arctic Circle and beyond should bring some spares.

We had zero issues travelling the 70 km on the Dempster to Tombstone Territorial Park, but that’s probably because we crawled almost the entire way. We were so incredibly paranoid about wrecking a tyre. Plus, we weren’t actually supposed to go on it with our rental van.

Autumn forest along the Dempster Highway
Dempster Highway, en route to Tombstone. The weather’s not boding well.

Tombstone’s beauty is marked by rugged mountain peaks, vast and desolate landscapes, rocky slopes covered in scree, and icy, crystal clear lakes. There are hiking trails but much of it is backcountry hiking with few to no markers. It’s a harsh environment but one where mass tourism hasn’t quite arrived yet. At least not from what I’ve seen. It makes me happy that such unspoilt wilderness still exists.

We arrived just at the end of autumn, with still a few sprinkles of vivid autumn colour around us. So far north, the summers are short and autumn’s even shorter. This was early September, and the cold and snowy weather was arriving with a speed we didn’t quite expect.

Fog over mountains
Even in foggy weather, the last bursts of autumn colour were incredibly bright

After some glorious days in the Yukon, the weather turned and we were served up rain and fog. So we left Dawson City wondering whether it’d be even worth trekking out to Tombstone. Well, Tombstone tugs on your heartstrings even if it’s foggy and freezing cold.

The Continental Divide cuts the stark landscape into boreal forest climate and alpine tundra. The vegetation changes abruptly once you cross the divide, it almost feels like you’re stepping over an invisible, geographical line.

I thought the forest parts of Tombstone were breathtaking. The tundra, however, was something else. I never imagined that windswept barrenness could be so beautiful.

I love places like the Yukon, and Tombstone in particular, because they give me perspective. I feel small and insignificant when faced by such overwhelming natural beauty. These places remind me that whilst I matter, I’m still only a small piece in a bigger puzzle called life. They ground me and help me connect: to nature, to just being, to my faith.


A PHOTO SNAPSHOT OF TOMBSTONE TERRITORIAL PARK

I already have a bucket list for our next trip to Tombstone, like driving the entire Dempster Highway, hiking to Grizzly Lake or enjoying valley vistas from the Goldensides trail.

But until I get a chance to return to Tombstone and explore some of the backcountry, here are some photos from our short but glorious day.

By late morning, we finally crawled out of the campervan and went on a couple of short walks. It was freezing!

Snow-capped mountains and winter landscape at Tombstone Territorial Park

The autumn foliage was heavy with the overnight snowfall, coating everything in an eerie silence.

And then suddendly, the sun broke through and gave us deep blue skies.

By early afternoon, the snow was starting to melt but at 2pm it was still -4┬░C. Tiny Tonky is parked all by himself in the carpark.

So we thought, let’s drive north!

With the tundra stretching out before us, we were at the end of our journey along the Dempster Highway.

Snow-capped mountains and valley at Tombstone Territorial Park
A last goodbye to Tombstone…

Next time I’ll be there in late August to catch autumn in its full splendour!

6 Comments

  • gtdalgleish
    8 May 2020 at 5:49 AM

    Looked up about this park after reading about young man who accidentally died while living in an abandoned bus, now a place of pilgrimage it appears. Your photos are brilliant, hope you don’t mind if I use them on my desktop. Thank … you …

    Reply
    • Kati
      8 May 2020 at 2:09 PM

      Hi Graham,

      Wow, I can’t say that I’ve heard about this story about the young guy, sounds like a very tragic accident.

      I’ve never had anyone ask to put my photos on their desktop (so thank you, I guess ­čÖé ) and I didn’t realise you could download them, haha. ­čÖé

      Reply
  • gtdalgleish
    9 May 2020 at 5:21 AM

    I was unable to download directly, [… – redacted], well worth the effort. Young man’s name is Christopher McCandless, and a journalist followed up his rather tragic story and wrote a book ‘Into the Wild’. There’s also a film that I was able to watch on Amazon Prime (for a small consideration). McCandless abandoned his studies and went off without any communication to his family. Ended up following the Stampede Trail and living in an abandoned bus no 142 trying to live off the land. A swollen river prevented his return to civilization. People have died trying to visit the bus.

    Reply
    • Kati
      13 May 2020 at 4:18 PM

      Hi Graham,

      Ah yes, “Into the wild”… I read that last year, an interesting read for sure. And as you’ve figured out by now it’s actually in Alaska in Denali National Park, not the Yukon. ­čÖé The scenery is equally grand in Alaska, I’m sure. I’ve only seen a very small part of it, most of our time was spent in the Yukon. But I definitely want to return and explore places like Denali (without dying in a search of the abandoned bus, I must say).

      Reply
  • gtdalgleish
    13 May 2020 at 1:36 AM

    Have recently noticed there is more than one Yukon. Your Dempster highway is in Canada, whereas the Stampede trail is in Alaska, partly in Denali Park it appears. Sorry for the confusion. Doesn’t take anything away from your photos …

    Reply
    • Kati
      13 May 2020 at 4:19 PM

      No worries at all, I figured that you were talking about Alaska after your last comment. ­čÖé

      Reply

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