The Canol Road

The Canol Road is a classic and somewhat rarely used road compared to the more known roads like the Dempster.  Canol is short form for the Canadian Oil Road.  The road was built to support a pipeline from Norman Wells in the Northwest Territories to Whitehorse in the Yukon.  The pipeline has come and gone but most of the road remains.

Sign at the beginning of the South Canol, photo by Sue Thomas

The gas pipes were only used for one year (1946-1947) and the road was decommissioned soon after.  In 1958 the road was reopened to access the small town of Ross River from the Alaska highway.  A few small mines have come and gone over the years, namely one in the late 1950’s that was mining molybdenum.

In 1972 the section of the Canol from Ross River to the NWT border was reopened.  A small barite mine has been opened and many companies have used this road as a means to gain access into the NWT to survey for potential minerals and mine sites, to date none have been put into commercial use.

Along the South Canol, photo by Bob Holcomb

Photo By: Stefan Gladwin

Groundhog Creek, a side excurion on the South Canol

Photo By: Stefan Gladwin

 Camping on the Canol Photo By: Stefan Gladwin 

The Canol has undergone several name changes over the years.  Until 1978 it was referred to as the Yukon Highway 8.  Then it became known as the Yukon Highway 6 and is now known as the Canol Road although officially it remains Highway 6.

south canol russell higginson
South Canol, photo by Russel Higginson

The Canol can be broken down into three sections, the South Canol, the North Canol and the Canol Heritage Trail.

The South Canol

Photo by Bob Holcomb

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This section of road starts on the Alaska Highway about 126 km’s from Whitehorse and runs for about 220 km’s to the Robert Campbell Highway near the town of Ross River.  This section is entirely gravel and offers some nice roads and views.  There are a few designated camp sites along the road, two campgrounds can be found at Quiet Lake and another more rudimentary one at Lapie Lakes.  The road follows a couple of rivers (Nisutlin and Rose Rivers) and offers some great mountain scenery in spots.  The South Canol is the most popular of the three sections as it can be used to cross between the Robert Campbell and the Alaska Highway.  We say popular but this is a relative term, this is a fairly remote road and common sense should be used.  Fuel can be found at Ross River.

lake on south canol
Beautiful scenery on the South Canol - Photo By Mark Keating

Quiet Lake Campground, photo by Sue Thomas

Photo By: Stefan Gladwin


Side excurion up Groundhog Creek Photo By: Stefan Gladwin (Above and below)


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Quiet Lake - Photo by Mark Keating

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South Canol, beautiful scenery, photo by Russell Higginson

The North Canol


Winding roads along the North Canol, photo by Bob Holcomb

Camping on the Canol Photo By: Stefan Gladwin


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This section of road begins at the Robert Campbell Highway at the small town of Ross River.  Fuel and a small shop that offers basic supplies can be found here.  The road quickly crosses the Pelly River just north of town.  A ferry is available for vehicles.


Photos by Bob Holcomb

 Photo By: Stefan Gladwin

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Spring ride up to the NWT/Yukon border on the Canol    Photo By: Stefan Gladwin

This section of the Canol is approximately 209 km’s in length, keep in mind you’ll need to turn around and come back the same way so having enough fuel is certainly something to consider.  The North Canol is considered among many to be one of the finest roads in Canada for getting out into the wilderness.  Don’t expect to see much if any traffic along this stretch of road, local hunters or other overland travellers make up the “bulk” of the people who now utilize this road.  The scenery and wildlife are first class, the road is approximately a lane and a half in width with lots of twists and turns through uninhabited valleys and along pristine rivers.  Evidence of commercial use in the past is evident in old cars and trucks that have been left to rust.  These old vehicles offer a spooky atmosphere, perhaps leading to this UFO story  LINK  The North Canol ends at the border with the NWT.

Camping at the border of the Yukon and the NWT, photo by Bob Holcomb

The Canol Heritage Trail

A true expedition trail:  The Canol Heritage Trail travels along the abandoned part of the Canol Road into the NWT.  Attempting this trail requires careful planning and preparation.  The remoteness and the terrain make the Heritage Trail a classic.  Heading into the unknown is rare in this day and age, this trail provides just that.  All the planning you can do may not be enough to make a go of this trail as there are several rivers that need to be crossed and water levels will dictate how far you can get.

Photo By: Jim Welsh

 Photo By: Jim Welsh


The trail begins at the Yukon/NWT border at Mcmillian Pass and ends at the town of Norman Wells in the NWT.  To date no motorized vehicle has finished the trail in recent years.

Photo By: Stefan Gladwin 


There are some notable places along this trail for folks interested in taking an attempt at the road.  I won’t go into too much depth as folks who are going to attempt this overland route NEED to do a lot of research.  Just consider how much fuel and supplies you’ll need.  Having an accident out here may very well be the end of you as there is no search and rescue within hundreds of kilometres.  Don’t take this advice lightly, this trail is the real deal.  Several groups have made attempts at it over the years with varying degrees of success.  Although no group has made it to the end a few have made it quite far.  A group of land rovers from the Calgary area made a valiant attempt and were equipped with a collapsible aluminum raft for their vehicles.  One fellow who runs a web site LINK has made a few notable attempts.  In the end everyone gets turned back at one point or another due to water and or remoteness.  Some parties have show up well prepared and been turned back due to high water very close to the beginning of the trail.

Photo By: Jim Welsh



Photo By: Jim Welsh




Photo By: Jim Welsh





Photo By: Jim Welsh

Photo By: Jim Welsh



Field and Stream ATV Expedition of the Canol heritage Trail


Hoadley Canol Expedition 2010 (ATV's)


Land Rover Expedition (2009)



Commercial Guided SNowmobile Tours of the Canol Heritage Tral


Photo gallery of a 2009 Expedition


A trip of the Canol Rd to the NWT border (North and south Canol)


This website offers a decent breakdown of the trail and offers some insight and information about notable features along the way. Map and pictures.


This web site has a write up by a fellow who hiked the Canol heritage Trail and has some valuable information