About Tombstone Territorial Park
Tombstone Territorial Park is located in central Yukon. It is about 110 kms (1.5 hour drive) from Dawson City and 560 kms (7 hour drive) from Whitehorse. There is only one dirt road – Dempster Highway – going to the Tombstone Territorial Park.
Hiking in Tombstone Territorial Park
Tombstone Territorial Park is a mecca for trekkers and backpackers alike. It is on the bucket list of most hikers in Canada and around the world, including mine.
There are several short hiking trails (day hikes) within the park. But, the highlight of the park is the 43 kilometer long – Grizzly Lake, Divide Lake & Talus Lake trail. You need a backcountry permit to hike this trail. It is an extremely popular trail and the permits often get sold out for the upcoming hiking season in January itself, within 2 days of the start of the sale. Hence, you need to plan and purchase the permits well in advance. Camping permits can be bought here.
Important Note: Tombstone Territorial Park is extremely remote and wild. Hence, to hike the backcountry trails, you will need to complete a backcountry orientation, which can be found here. Even if you have a permit, but haven’t completed the orientation, you will not be allowed to hike. You will also need to purchase/rent a bear proof food canister, without which it is not permitted to hike.
The Grizzly Lake, Divide Lake and Talus Lake Trail
Okay, so there was a lot of information on the Tombstone Territorial Park and hiking in this remote wilderness. Now, lets get into the meat of it!
|Type||Out & Back|
|Elevation Gain||2696 mts|
The Grizzly Lake trail is one of the top 10 hikes in Canada. Due to its remote location, carrying a heavy backpack, and the presence of grizzlies makes this a very difficult trail. People generally hike this trail in 4-6 days. There are three campsites on this trail, one at each of the lakes – Grizzly, Divide and Talus. Each campsite has 10 tent pads.
In this post, I will share my 5 day itinerary. You may choose to skip day 4 – the rest day or use that day for a short day hike around Grizzly Lake.
Day 1: Trailhead to Grizzly Lake
Distance: 10.7 kms; Time: 4-7 hrs
As I woke up and peeked out of my tent, the Sun was already up, over my head. It was 6:30 am, but it felt like I only had 3 hours of sleep after a long, tiring day of driving from Whitehorse to Tombstone the previous day. But, there was no time to dally. We had to pack up our tents, make breakfast and leave for the trailhead by 8:30.
As planned, after rushing through breakfast and packing up, we reached the trailhead at 8:45 am. There were around 10 cars parked in a fairly large parking area. There were no issues in finding a spot to park our car.
After pulling out the backpack from the trunk and putting it on my back, it suddenly struck how heavy it was and that I had to carry it for next 5 days on my back!
It was sunny with few patches of clouds. But, the temperature was much higher than I’d expected – not ideal – to hike with such heavy load on your back.
After taking few mandatory snaps at the trailhead marker, we begin our big adventure! With excitement and positive energy abound, I was looking forward to witnessing some of the most spectacular scenery and landscapes for next 5 days.
Initial 1.7 kms are a gradual rise in elevation with less than 10% grade and mostly through the forest floor. Then, begins the actual climb.
Next 2.3 kms are steep and you will gain about 620 meters of elevation within this distance. At about 3 kms from the trailhead, you will be above the tree-line and have the best views of the Grizzly valley in front of you. If you look behind, you will see the tiny parking lot and the Dempster highway from where you started.
Personally, (spoiler alert!) this is my favorite view of the entire trail. In the far distance, on a clear day, you should also be able to see the first campsite from this point.
Next 2.4 kms are gradual ups and downs. At 6.4 kms, you’ll scale the highest point of the day, at 1,705 meters. Between 4 km and 6.4 km, there are several big rocks where you can sit in the shade and grab lunch, while gazing at the trail that you still need to cover before calling it a day.
Post lunch, it is a fairly easy trail, for the next 4.3 kms, to the campsite. You will loose some elevation in the remainder of the trail. The Grizzly Lake campsite is at an elevation of 1,390 meters. This section of the trail is very beautiful with some grassy sections.
At about 6.8 kms in, at the end of the small grassy section, there is a small creek flowing among the cracks beneath the rocks. This is the only place where you can refill your water cache. But, do not depend on it as the creek may dry out during some times of the season.
As you’re going down, there is a constant view of the magnificent grizzly valley to your left stretching all the way to the Grizzly Lake. The lake and the campsite are at the foot of Mount Monolith and other big rocky peaks surrounding it.
Continue on this trail, until you reach a fork at 10.2 kms. The trail on the right is the Divide Lake Trail, which you will be hiking the next day. The trail on the left leads to the Grizzly Lake campground.
Enjoy the rest of your day relaxing and rejuvenating at the lake. If you’re up for it, you may take a plunge in the lake too. Beware, the water may be freezing cold!
Day 2: Grizzly Lake to Divide Lake to Talus Lake
Distance: 11.6 kms; Time: 5-8 hrs
Day 2 is the most difficult day of the hike. Today, the trail will take you over the Glissade Pass and across to the Klondike Valley, on to the other side of Mount Monolith. We had planned to hike all the way to the Talus Lake without camping at Divide Lake.
After a heavy breakfast and refilling our bottles from the Grizzly Lake, we set out for the trail at 9:30 in the morning. As you begin, you will first need to retrace your steps from yesterday until you reach the fork of Grizzly Lake and Divide Lake trail. There is a clear marker here showing the way towards the Glissade Pass.
Continue on the left, towards the steep climb which you will see in front of you. Within 200 meters from the fork, the trail becomes steep and the going slow. You will be thankful that the most difficult section of the trail is right at the outset, when you’re well rested and fresh.
When you reach to the top of the Glissade Pass, you can take some rest here and catch your breath. Take in the magnificent views of the Grizzly Lake on one side and the small but bright green valley on the other side leading to the Klondike Valley.
It can get windy and cold up at the top of the pass. An extra layer might be handy. It is a great spot for having a quick bite before continuing on.
The next part is to climb down the pass on the other side. Going down should be a lot easier as you would be rolling down on loose scree and rocks. The incline is even steeper than the one while climbing up.
Once, you’re down in the valley, next 1.7 kms are easy ups and downs with a gradual decline in some elevation, but not noticeable enough. There are a couple of rock scrambling too.
On your right, there will be a small stream running with some bushes with some shade beneath them. It is a good place to refill your bottles and break for lunch.
Continue further until you reach the point where the valley meets the bigger Klondike Valley. Here, you’ll turn left and continue for another 2 kms to Divide Lake.
The hike from Divide Lake to Talus Lake is the easiest section of the entire trail. It is a 5.9 km hike, one way, from Divide to Talus. Many people choose to stay for 2 nights at Divide Lake and do a day hike to Talus Lake. I might choose this option too, if and when I do this trek again.
This entire section is relatively flat with an elevation change of no more than 200 meters. This part of the trail is not only flat, but also very green and refreshing. At the far end, in the background, are the majestic Tombstone Mountains, which are a part of many postcards and social media whenever you search for Tombstone Mountain Territorial Park.
As you continue along the trail, you’ll climb about a 100 meters on the right side of the Divide lake. From here, you’ll have a different perspective of the lake. Continuing further, you’ll pass a couple of small ponds on your right. Further down, the Tombstone River runs parallel to the trail.
Further ahead, you will pass two small lakes on your left, whose brilliant blue and aqua colors will blow your mind. From the second lake, the Talus Lake campsite is visible. The rest of the trail, going down, is a bit rocky so keep your footing firm.
Congratulations on reaching the Talus Lake Campground and making it to the half way mark!
Day 3: Talus Lake to Divide Lake to Grizzly Lake
Distance: 11.6 kms; Time: 5-7 hrs
This was one of the most spectacular mornings. It was a magical sight to see the first rays of the sun illuminating the Tombstone mountains behind the campsite.
Following a hearty breakfast, we packed our tents and were again ready for the day’s hike back to the Grizzly Lake. I personally feel that going back on an in & out multi day trek is a little easier as you’re familiar with the trail and know what to expect. So you’re mentally prepared for the challenge ahead. Also, you have a little lighter pack to carry, now that half of the food is already consumed.
We set out on the trail at around 9:30. It was a consistently sunny and warm weather on the day 3 as well. The hike was easy going until the Divide Lake campsite, where we stopped for lunch.
After about an hour and a half of rest, we carried on. Just before the steep climb of the Glissade Pass, we paused for another break and refreshment by the creek. It is a good spot to refill your bottles.
Climbing up the Glissade Pass from this end was more challenging than from the other side on Day 2. Even with a slightly lighter pack, it was really slow going. Firstly, we had been already walking the entire morning and early afternoon. Secondly, it was too hot with no shade whatsoever. Lastly, this side of the pass is steeper compared to the other side and unlike grassy or rocky sections on the other side, it has loose scree and gravel to tackle with. So, every step up, your foot slides down about half a step. Hence, in effect, you’re climbing 1.5 times the actual climb.
After a long and tiring day we were at the top of the pass. The campsite was right in front of us. We trotted along for another 45 mins to an hour before crashing down on the tent pad.
The rest of the evening I spent cooking, having supper followed by soaking my tired legs in the freezing waters of the lake which surprisingly felt so refreshing.
Day 4: Rest Day at the Grizzly Lake Campsite
On day 4, we had planned to do a short day hike to the Twin Lakes. But, I had to cancel it at the last minute due to my ankle injury. I was scheduled to travel to Tanzania in 2 weeks and didn’t want to risk cancelling that trip. So, instead we decided to just relax and refuel ourselves for the final day out.
Day 5: Grizzly Lake Campsite to Trailhead
Distance: 10.7 km; Time: 4-6 hrs
It is day 5, our last day in the Tombstone Territorial Park. It was a cloudy morning. For the first time in 5 days, it was not sunny and a bit cooler. What a perfect weather to hike!
After packing our tents and breakfast, we set out on the trail around nine. It was easy going, for one, we knew how the trail was and what to expect and secondly, it was a gradual climb up for the first half of the day and a steep climb down near the end of the hike.
While going back, we took fewer breaks. If I recollect correctly, only 2 to be precise. One for lunch and another short one during the climb. We both, wanted to finish the hike as soon as possible and reach Dawson City for a nice grilled burger and chilled beers. It was all that I could see.
By 2:30pm we were at the trailhead, much faster than the time we took on our first day. An hour and a half later, we were in Dawson City having our well earned greasy meal and a chilled beer.
Later that evening, I caught my flight back home for a comfortable sleep in my bed, aah so blissful!
The Tombstone Territorial Park is situated on the Dempster Highway, a little north of Dawson City. There is only one road going through the park – The Dempster Highway. For those, who are not doing any backcountry hiking, there is one vehicle accessible campsite – Tombstone Mountain Campground.
Grizzly Lake Trailhead is located about 1 hr 15 mins drive from Dawson City and 6 hrs 30 mins drive from Whitehorse.