Canada Opens First Permanent Highway to Remote Arctic Coast

Canada's new Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway is the first all-weather road to Canada's Arctic Coast. (Photo: Canada Department of Transportation)

Need to really, really get away from it all? Canada's first-ever permanent road to the Arctic coast just might offer the wild new North American road trip you're looking for.

Starting from Inuvik in Canada's Northwest Territories and ending at Tuktoyaktuk on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, the 85-mile gravel road is an absolute game-changer for isolated residents who live there. Previously, the only way to leave or access Tuktoyaktuk was via an ice highway in the winter (popularized by the Discovery Channel series "Ice Road Truckers") or by plane during the summer.

"Oh, it’s going to be a total impact, for sure," Laverna Smith, a resident of "Tuk" told The Guardian. "We can just hop in a car and come down to Inuvik whenever we want."

As shown in the map below, created by the Northwest Territories Government, the new Arctic highway offers some remarkable opportunities to explore a part of the world previously inaccessible to most vehicles.

Canada's newest highway, spanning some 85 miles, offers unprecedented access to the Arctic coast. (Photo: Northwest Territories Government)

First proposed in the late 1950s as a way to connect the communities of northern Canada over land to southern Canada, the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway didn't receive the necessary approval and funding until 2014. At $300 million Canadian dollars ($235 million U.S.), it's also one of the most expensive road projects ever undertaken, with an average cost of more than $2.2 million in Canadian dollars per kilometer to build.

As you might expect, much of that cost went into engineering a highway over shifting terrain of ice, sediment and permafrost. So as not to disturb the fragile foundation the gravel road rests upon, environmental engineers made every effort to protect the base track from thawing.

Built on permafrost made of essentially 90 percent water, the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway acts as an insulator to keep its foundation from thawing. (Photo: Northwest Territories DOT)

"It's located on permafrost," Rick Hoos, an environmental consultant who worked on the highway, told CBC News. "The top two meters of the terrain thaws in the summertime. One of the ways of dealing with that is to build a berm — which is the road — deep enough so that the ground below will remain frozen. The road itself acts as an insulator."

According to government officials, the two-lane gravel roadway is engineered to handle all manner of cars and trucks.

Road-trippers along Canada's new highway likely will discover plenty of reasons to pull over and gape at the region's unspoiled natural beauty. (Photo: Northwest Territories DOT)

In anticipation of the tourism the highway is likely to generate, the town of Tuktoyaktuk (pop. 900) this summer began a beautification project to welcome visitors. The first order of business? A literal fresh coat of paint. Thanks to a donation from Loop Recycle Products, a Canadian company that specialize in recycling discarded paint, the town was able to make use of more than 2,400 gallons of paint, stain and trim. A jelly-bean color scheme was settled on to make the settlement stand out on the coast.

According to the Red Deer Advocate, the town is also developing parking for RV vehicles, bed-and-breakfast lodging, and public facilities such as toilets. The Northwest Territories government estimates the new road also will reduce significantly the current cost of food, fuel and other goods by more than $1.5 million per year. Tourism alone is expected to increase by $2.7 million annually.

The highway officially opened Nov. 15 at 6 a.m. and will be celebrated with a feast, songs, and fireworks in Tuktoyaktuk.