Length of stay: 2 days
Visited: September 2023
Tombstone Territorial Park is located in western Yukon about 600km north of Whitehorse. It was named after the Tombstone Mountain Range, which resembles a gravestone. Despite its name, the landscape is quite lively and diverse with boreal forests, jagged peaks, alpine meadows and arctic tundra. It’s reputed to be especially scenic at the end of summer with all the fall colours in the valley.
Day 1: The Drive Along the Klondike and Dempster Highways
We left Whitehorse bright and early. We stocked up on groceries and gas the night before as we had a long day of driving. Our game plan was to spend the next few days in Dawson City, which included a detour to Tombstone beforehand. It was a rather uneventful drive along the Klondike Highway, but the leaves were starting to change colour which looked scenic.
The most notable point of interest along the way is Five Fingers Rapids Recreational Site. The Five Fingers Rapids feature four islands that divide the Yukon River into five narrow channels. This section of the river was especially tricky to navigate during the Klondike Gold Rush for those traveling to or from Dawson City towards Whitehorse.
From the parking lot there’s a viewing platform. This also marks the start of a trail (1.6km round trip, rated moderate) that leads closer to the edge of the rapids. There’s several wooden staircases that lead down to a path that then weaves through the dense forest. The trail ends at another viewing platform overlooking the rapids. On the way back we stopped to read the information panels that are located along the staircases. This gave us an opportunity to catch our breaths and learn some fun facts about the flora and fauna in the area.
We were back on the road for another few hours before turning off at the start of the Dempster Highway. It is the only road that provides access to Tombstone. The Dempster Highway is a gravel road that starts 40km east of Dawson City and connects the Klondike Highway to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. It’s extremely remote with limited services along the way.
The Dempster Highway is 740km long. We only had to cover the first 72km to reach the Tombstone Mountain Campground. The road for the most part was in pretty good condition with just a few potholes, but the clouds were starting to get darker the further north we drove. And it was getting cooler outside. Just as we were pulling into the Tombstone Interpretive Centre, located half a kilometre south of the campground, it started to rain.
We checked out a few of the exhibits which provided more information about the history and landscape of the park before heading to the campground. The thing with Tombstone Mountain Campground is that it’s small. There are about 50 campsites, all of which are first come, first serve. By the time we arrived at 5pm, all the sites were already taken. There were a few camper vans and cars parked in the overflow parking lot near the entrance of the campground. We found a spot that was tucked away on the side and decided to call that home for the night.
The rain soon subsided and we were able to make some dinner on the picnic table, which we then ate in the car. We played a few rounds of cards before setting up our sleeping pads and sleeping bags in the back.
Day 2: Exploring the Trails
The temperature dropped to -3°C overnight. The nice thing about sleeping in the back of our car compared to our tent (besides the fact that it’s more spacious), is that our sleeping bags didn’t feel as damp when we woke up the next morning from the cold. The downside was that the condensation from our breaths made all the windows freeze over from the inside.
It was tough to get up from our warm sleeping bags. But at least we woke up to blue skies and sunshine. It was way too cold to make breakfast outside, so we headed to the indoor picnic shelter. This place was packed the night before, but was mostly empty this morning, likely because it was still pretty early. There were a few other campers here, one of which had already started a fire in the wood stove. We found a free space at one of the picnic tables and got started with breakfast. After finishing up, we figured we might as well go for a hike to stay warm.
There are six established trails in Tombstone, most of which are located around the Tombstone Mountain Campground. We started with Goldensides (5km round trip, rated moderate) which is located at the 74.5km mark along the Dempster Highway. To get to the trailhead we first had to hike about a kilometre along a wide gravel road to a microwave tower. It was all uphill, but gradual. Much of the ground was still frozen and there was a light layer of ice covering all the vegetation in the open meadow.
Beside the microwave tower there’s then a turnoff for Goldensides. From here the trail meanders through an alpine meadow then up a ridge along the side of Goldensides Mountain. The shrubbery was just starting to change colour, which looked especially scenic against the blue skies.
The trail reaches a junction where there’s a short detour on the right that provides a closer view of a vertical rock column. Continuing onwards, the trail leads up a small ridge to a viewpoint of the surrounding valley with mountains in every direction.
We turned around and headed back to the parking lot. Along the way we had stunning views of the North Klondike Valley and Tombstone Mountain.
We headed to the Tombstone Interpretive Centre where the Beaver Pond Trail (2km round trip, rated easy) is located. The trail mostly follows a gravel path and along a few short boardwalks, passing by a series of wetland ponds created by beavers. There are ten interpretive panels scattered along the trail that explain more about how the landscape was shaped by glaciers, weather, humans and beavers.
We wrapped up our hike around noon, so it seemed fitting to take a break and eat some lunch. We returned to the campground and whipped up something quick to eat. The next two trails we planned to hike were located in the campground and can be combined to form a longer loop. Starting with the North Klondike Trail (3.2km round trip, rated easy to moderate), which can be accessed between campsites 18 and 19. After about one hundred metres there’s a turnoff for the Edge of the Arctic Interpretive Trail, which we planned to hike on the return journey.
The first part of the path winds through a forest of poplars and follows the North Klondike River. The trail then meanders through an open subalpine meadow and along a series of small boardwalks, with impressive views of the mountains in every direction.
The trail ends at a bench. We turned around and headed back towards the campground, but made a small detour to complete the Edge of the Arctic Interpretive Trail (500m loop, rated easy). There are five interpretive panels along the trail that explain more about the subarctic vegetation and types of animals that live in the area.
At this point we were getting tired and the rest of the established trails were longer or more challenging compared the ones we’ve already tackled. So we decided to get a move on and head to Dawson City.