The hike to Grizzly Lake in the Yukon’s Tombstone mountains is, to say the least, a bit out of the way. The trailhead is at the 58.5km mark (about 36 miles) along the Dempster Highway, an unpaved road notorious for cracking windshields, whose start is some 300 miles north of Whitehorse. If you do find yourself in the wilds of the Yukon, however, the Grizzly Lake hike (and its extensions to Divide Lake and Talus Lake) makes for an outstanding and surprisingly moderate short backpack through incredible scenery. The photos and brief description below are based on a two day trip my brother and I took in summer 2010, camping for one night at Grizzly Lake.
The 11.5km (7 mile) long trail to Grizzly Lake starts with a climb through the forest to Grizzly Ridge and a viewpoint down the valley toward Mount Monolith. It’s pretty much the only maintained trail in Tombstone Territorial Park, and although labeled as “very difficult” in the park literature it’s a very clear route whose only challenge comes from a decent amount of climbing… about 2,600 feet en route to the lake. Once you clear the trees, the trail stays high on the north side of the Grizzly Creek valley, with superb views in every direction.
We camped at Grizzly Lake. The campsite here has ten sites, which need to be reserved in advance, along with a cooking area and outhouse. There are no trees nearby, but you can rent a bear canister for your food when you pick up camping permits at the Tombstone visitors’ center a short distance further along the highway. It’s a great location to spend the night! If you have more time, it’s possible to continue on without too much difficulty from Grizzly Lake to Divide Lake and Talus Lake, further in the backcountry.
The nearest place to stay to the Tombstones is Dawson City, formerly at the center of the Klondike Gold rush. Dawson lies on the Yukon river and is an interesting – if slightly weird – place to visit in its own right, with a number of decaying historic structures and more modern buildings constructed in a similar style. The entire surrounding area was picked over with a fine tooth comb for gold, first by hand and later on an industrial scale, and you can visit one of the enormous dredges (“Dredge number 4”) that basically strip mined the landscape. We stayed at Klondike Kate’s cabins, which at least in 2010 were a very good option for accommodation. From Dawson it’s a short drive to the start of the hike. The Dempster highway – which extends 460 miles and crosses the Arctic circle to end in Inuvik – is a well-maintained gravel road that owes its windshield-destroying reputation to the presence of heavy truck traffic. With a bit of care, making it as far as the Tombstones should not pose much of a risk of problems.