The first part of our adventures in Tombstone Territorial Park featured a tough, but rewarding off-trail hike to the top of Rake Mountain. It included a very wet ascent across the tundra the following day. We arrived at the road-accessible campground close to the Interpretative Centre absolutely drenched but also ridiculously triumphant. The only problem on the horizon was the issue of drying our gear out and the change in weather.
Trying to dry out
Waking up to rain tapping on the roof of the van, it wasn’t looking good for our hike to Grizzly Lake, a 23km return trip. We had tried to dry out our clothes, gear and hiking shoes the best we could on the van’s air vents as well as the campfire the night before, but there was only so much we could do.
JR was feeling pretty content with the experience we’d had in Tombstone so far, and so wasn’t too fussed about going to Grizzly Lake. For me, this was the hike I really wanted to do; I wanted to see the unbeliveably jagged peaks featured on the front of seemingly every Yukon Tourism publication for myself. After conferring with the Interpretative Centre staff, we paid $12 for 1 night’s camping in Grizzly Lake (but still held our reservation for a 2nd), figuring we’d start the hike and see if the weather cleared up.
TOMBSTONE’S GRIZZLY LAKE HIKE
With a sliver of blue sky approaching in the distance, we started hiking at 2pm. Not the best time to start a ‘very difficult’ hike. As it turns out, this hike IS reasonably hard. The trail begins with a nice stroll through the forest and alongside a creek, followed by a lot of elevation gain within a reasonably short distance. The reason for this? Most of the hike takes place on or around the side of a mountainous ridge above the Grizzly Valley.
It is no doubt an incredibly beautiful place to hike, but it does involve some hard work getting up there. Once you’re up, you’re mostly up for the long haul until a few kilometres near the end when you head down to the valley’s campground. On the day we were hiking there were exceptionally strong winds blowing in from the Arctic, which meant we absolutely froze everytime we were in an exposed position. Everytime this happened, I almost wanted to be gaining elevation again since it was a whole lot warmer!
RIDGES and ARCTIC WIND
Hiking the ridge also involves a lot of traversing on, around and over rocks of all shapes and sizes. I’m not a huge fan of rocks. But what I am a huge fan of is the spectacular views from the Grizzly Lake trail! And oh my, everything looked pretty darn wonderful from up there. The glistening blue lake framed by almost dangerously jagged mountains is truly a sight to be seen. The best views are seen around 4km in.
At this point, if we had turned around and treated it as a day hike, we would still have felt accomplished and extremely happy with what we had done and seen. But we wanted to go all the way, especially as the weather, wind aside, had really come out for us. We met a lot of people coming from the other direction who had hiked in through rain. Those rocks I just mentioned were apparently very very slippery the day before.
My second favourite part of the hike (the views of course top everything) was seeing marmots in the aptly named Marmot Meadows section. And not just one, we saw a whole bunch. They are such beautiful creatures and we were so pleased to see and hang out with them for a while, as well as some pretty cheeky ground squirrels.
Back down in the valley
We finally made it to Grizzly Lake Campground at 9.30pm after a total of 7 and half hours on the trail (the estimate is 6-9 hours). Everyone in the campground was French, which was especially fun for Jean Robert. I was proud to have made it, especially after we spoke to everyone else who agreed that it was a hard 11km, even the Tombstone Ranger who hikes (or practically runs it) it in 2.5 hours! Sadly, we did have one problem. We absolutely hated the campground.
It felt extremely claustrophobic with movement being restricted by fence-lined pathways to protect the tundra. We had hiked towards this stunning lake and surrounding mountains for hours, only to reach it and feel disappointed that we couldn’t really see or explore the area properly. I totally understand why movement has to be restricted in this area but it felt so anti-climatic for us. I think the main issue was that just a few days before we had hiked up Rake Mountain without a trail and then camped at the top with no-one else in sight. It was such a stark difference to reaching Grizzly Lake.
a special arrival
There are hikes onward to other lakes from the Grizzly campground, so maybe going further would be better (around 30% of the hikers staying at Grizzly Lake that night continued on the next day, as we had originally planned to do). We were the last hikers to leave the campground in the morning, having been quickly ushered away from the cooking area while we were making breakfast by the Ranger. At first I thought a Grizzly bear had been spotted. The truth was less exciting but still pretty cool; a helicopter was landing to swap out the waste barrels (outhouses and greywater) and drop building materials for a new outhouse.
Despite some bad points (and lots and lots of rocks), I would absolutely recommend this hike to others. The views of Mount Monolith and the other jagged peaks behind Grizzly Lake are amazing. Really, really amazing. They live up to the brochures and more. It is definitely worth going for a 5/6 hour day hike to see the views from the ridge – in fact, that is my main recommendation here. If, like me, you want to see the famous mountains of Tombstone Park but do not have overnight equipment or a lot of time, then go for a 5/6 hour hike on the Grizzly Lake Trail. You will probably be pretty tired around 90 mins in, but keep going! You won’t regret it.
Note – Whether you hike the Grizzly Lake trail as a day hike or overnight trip, hiking poles are really useful on the return journey. JR really hurt his knees descending the trail on the 2nd day, aggravating a long-term problem.
Tombstone Territorial Park is a large protected wilderness area in northern Yukon, around an hour and a half away from Dawson City (pop. 1,300). The park is accessible from the Dempster Highway, the 737km dirt road to Inuvik (NWT) and the Arctic Circle. The road intersects Tombstone at around 50km in, with the Interpretive Centre located a bit later at 71km. If you’re considering hiking to Grizzly Lake, make sure you book a campsite a few days in advance during July and August.
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