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Robert Campbell Highway Travel Guide

Epic Road Trip: Watson Lake, Yukon to Carmacks, Yukon

Robert Campbell Highway, Yukon
Driving the Robert Campbell wilderness Highway, in the Yukon

Table of Contents

What you should know about the Highway

  • The Robert Campbell Highway, (also known as Highway #4 or Campbell Highway), runs 583 kilometres from Watson Lake, Yukon, on the Alaska Highway to Carmacks, Yukon, on the North Klondike Highway. This is a lonely wilderness drive with long distances between services.
  • The Robert Campbell Highway is an alternate route to and from the Klondike taking you to a pristine Yukon wilderness northeast of Whitehorse.
  • If you’re heading to Dawson City, driving the Campbell Highway is 32 km shorter than driving the Alaska Highway to Whitehorse, then taking the Klondike Highway to Dawson City. But, be warned, it is a much rougher and slower road.
  • The largest portion of the Robert Campbell Highway is gravel. The condition of the road can vary dramatically according to recent weather and maintenance. The road can be rough any time of year and might be slippery in winter.
Robert Campbell, Yukon, heading west

Wild and wonderful

Unfortunately, many views along the way are hidden by trees and brush, and so are the wild animals. Try to get a glimpse through the trees whenever possible.

Driving this epic wilderness road through one of Yukon’s least populated regions, you will experience a quiet, lonely, extremely remote northern wilderness with excellent fishing and wildlife viewing along the way.

Most visitors to the Yukon don’t come this way. If you do, it could become the highlight of your trip.

Communities

  • Ross River, a Kaska Dena First Nation Community near the junction of the Robert Campbell Highway,
  • Faro, a former hard-rock mining town that has reinvented itself for retirees, artists, families and visitors who seek wildlife and the wilderness.

Brief history

The highway is named after Robert Campbell, a nineteenth-century Scottish farmer, fur trader and explorer. He was sent into the region in the 1840s to find a route west into the unexplored regions of central Yukon.

Today’s highway follows much of the same route as Robert Campbell took when he explored the area from the Liard River watershed to the Yukon watershed by way of the Pelly River.

The Campbell wilderness region is home to the Kaska people who lived a traditional lifestyle into the early 1900s. They were among the last of the First Nations to come in contact with European traders and missionaries.

Road Conditions

Between Watson Lake and Ross River, the Campbell Highway is for the most part gravel. Expect potholes in some places. Be flexible and don’t drive the Campbell after heavy rain. Check at the Watson Lake Visitor Centre about the road conditions.

I was fortunate when I drove the Robert Campbell Highway. The road was grated the day before. The weather was overcast but no rain in sight and the road was dry. I changed my original plan to stick around Watson Lake. Instead, I filled up my gas tank, stopped at the local Grocery Store for some supply, and got on the way.

Gas stations

  • Watson Lake
  • Ross River
  • Faro
  • Carmacks

Road information

The journey

Km 0 – Watson Lake

The world-famous Signpost Forest in Watson Lake

Watson Lake, population 790, sits at the junction of the Alaska Highway and the Robert Campbell Highway and is the first Yukon town you reach when you come from the south.

What puts Watson Lake on the map are the signpost forest and the northern lights centre, interesting for a quick stop. On your second trip into town, you probably won’t bother.

In Watson, Lake you ‘ll find practical conveniences like bank, accommodation, gasoline, food and others.

Drop-in at the friendly Watson Lake Visitor Centre for maps and information about the Yukon.

The next fuel after Watson Lake is in Ross River, 383 km away. Travelling by car or motorhome a full tank of gasoline will take you there. I suggest that you carry gas cans if you’re riding a motorcycle.

Km 10 – The historical Watson Lake Airport

Original Terminal Building from 1942, Watson Lake Airport
Original Terminal Building from 1942, Watson Lake Airport

If you have an interest in aviation, this is a place to visit. Turn left at the Watson Airport sign and follow the Airport Road for 2.7 km. The airport terminal was built in 1942 and is a designated Heritage Building. Inside the building, check out the historical photographs on display on the aviation history of this area.

Km 36 – Tom Creek

Tom Creek is named after an Indian Trapper whose cabin is at the mouth of the steam. The creek is renowned for its grayling fishing.

Km 47 – Sa Dena Hes Mining Access

This is a private road. The lead-zinc mine began production in 1991 but already ceased operation in 1992. The mine was only in operation for 14 months because of low zinc prices.

Km 57 – Frances River Bridge

Frances River bridge, Campbell, Yukon
Frances River Bridge, Campbell Highway

For many years the Frances River was part of a Hudson’s Bay Co. route into central Yukon. Because of its dangerous rapids and canyons, it was abandoned in later years.

Tuchitua highway maintenance sign
Tuchitua highway maintenance section

Km 81 – Simpson Lake, Yukon Government Campground, 10 sites

Simpson Lake Government Campground, Yukon
The boat ramp at Simpson Lake Government Campground.

A 1.5 km access road leads to the campground and boat launch, right on the shore of the picturesque Frances Lake.

The lake is popular for angling and is often used by hunters as a base camp in the fall. Moose, waterbirds and nesting loons are common in this area. Simpson Lake Campground is only about a 1 1/2 hours drive from Watson Lake.

Km 108 – Junction Nahanni Range Road

Nahanni Range Road, Yukon
Information sign Nahanni Range Road, Yukon

The Nahanni Ranch, Yukon Highway #10 is also known as the Tungston Road. It leads 192 km to a dead end at a barricade, where the rod continues to Tungston.

Tungston Mine (CanTung Mine), was shut down in 1986.

The Mine reopened and shut down a couple of times after its first closure. Only, the nature of the mine had changed and there was no longer an operating townsite with families.

Please Note: Signs warn about challenging road conditions and the Yukon Government does not recommend this road for tourist travel.

Km 110 – Tuchitua River

To the East of Tuchitua River is a Government Highway Maintenance Camp. No services available there. A One-Way bridge takes you across the Tuchitua River.

On the way to Frances Lake Campground
On the way to Frances Lake Campground

Km 171 – Frances Lake, Yukon Government Campground, 24 sites

Frances Lake Campground, Campbell Highway, Yukon
Frances Lake Campground, Campbell Highway, Yukon

Frances Lake is another popular destination for anglers. Many of the sites are located close to the shore. Interpretive panels describe the importance of wetlands in the region.

Here, windy conditions are quite common. I had to move my RAV4 further back into the trees at night when it started to blow pretty hard.

Yukon’s first trading post operated here from 1842 to 1851, built by Robert Campbell for the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Km 230 Finlayson Creek

Finlayson Creek lies on the Continental Divide, separating the watersheds of the Mackenzie and Yukon Rivers. Finlayson Creek flows into the lake.

Km 233 – Observation Platform

Finlayson Lake viewing platform and information Panels, Campbell Highway, Yukon
Viewing platforms and information panels, Finlayson Lake, Campbell Highway

Stop a Finlayson Lake Rest Area and head up to the viewing platform with information panels about the Finlayson caribou herd. The herd population was just over 3,000 animals in 2007 and declined ever since because of overhunting. Check on the most reasoned survey online.

The caribou’s winter range is east of Ross River in lowland forest.

KM 246 Finlayson Lake Airport

Look out for the Finlayson Lake Airport with a 2,100-foot gravel runway. The Finlayson Lake Airstrip is adjacent to the Robert Campbell Highway.

Ketza River Mine

Ketza River Mine is an abandoned former gold and silver mine. The mine is located 85 km south of Ross River within the Traditional Territory of the Kaska Nation.

Ketza River is an abandoned gold mine about 80 km south of Ross River.
View at km 301

Km 303 – Bridge over Hoole River

There is a turn-out to the north at the west end of the bridge. The confluence of Hoole and Pelly Rivers. Bring your gold pan and try your luck.; here used to be gold in this river.

A walking trail leads into Hoole Canyon which has interesting volcanic rock formations.

Km 351 – Coffee Lake

Coffee Lake on the, Campbell Country, Yukon
Beautiful Coffee Lake in Campbell Country

Coffee Lake is a local swimming hole and has picnic tables. The beautiful lake is stocked with trout. This is a good picnic spot and an excellent place for watching water birds.

Km 355 – Junction with South Canol Road, Yukon.

Junction with South Canol Road
Junction with South Canol Road, #6

The Junction with South Canol Road, which leads 207 km to Johnsons Crossing on the Alaska Highway. Not recommended for tourist travel.

Km 363 Ross River access road

The main access road leads 11.2 km to the Ross River townsite.

Ross River

Ross River, Yukon
Welcome to Ross River, Yukon

Ross River, home to the Dena Council, is located at the confluence of the Ross and Pelly Rivers, 11 km off the Robert Campbell Highway. A summer ferry provides access to the North Canol Road.

This First Nation community has a population of 313. Here you’ll find a range of services and amenities, including a gas station, motel, B & B, General Store, Health Centre and RCMP.

Ross River gas staton
Ross River Gas station

Don’t miss to head down to the Pelly River to walk across the longest Suspension Bridge in the Yukon (182 m). It takes you across to the North Canol Road with great views of the river and the ferry if it is in operation.

The nearest campground is Lapie Canyon. To Faro, it is a 52 km drive from here.

Km 364 – Turnoff to Lapie Canyon Government Campground, 18 sites

Lapie River Bridge, Campbell Highway, Yukon
Lapie River Bridge

Before you cross the Lapie River bridge, there is a rest area with toilets and bins. The turnoff to Lapie Canyon Yukon Government campground is shortly after the bridge.

A trail follows the edge of the small canyon. This is a good place for kayaking, canoeing and rafting if you’re experienced with wild rapids. The Canyon walls are home to many cliff-nesting birds.

Lapie Canyon Government Campground
Lapie Canyon Government Campground

Km 415 – Access road to the village of Faro

Stop at the intersection and check out the point of interest sign. Turn right and driving another 9 km will take you to the Village of Faro

Village of Faro

Welcome to Faro
Welcome to Faro, Yukon

Faro, population 420, was established in 1968 as a hard-rock mining town supporting one of the largest lead-zinc mines in the world. Today it is a delightful friendly community that makes a genuine effort to make visitors feel welcome.

Faro offers a range of visitor services and amenities, including a beautiful Visitor and Interpretive Centre and friendly staff. J.R. Connolly RV Park is just across from the Visitor Centre and a convenient place to stay.

Fara has beautiful hiking trails with interesting interpretive displays about the mine and local wildlife and plants. Ask at the Visitor Centre for information and a map.

Km 419 – Johnson Lake, Government Campground, 15 sites

This small campground lies on the shore of a marshy lake. Here you can watch waterbirds and listen to the loons at night. The campground is also a great base for visiting Faro, Ross River and the North and South Canol roads.

Km 467 – Little Salmon Lake

Driving west on the Campbell Highway
Driving West on the Campbell Highway

The Robert Campbell Highway follows the north shore Little Salmon Lake, this large, deep, fjord-like lake. Good fishing for northern pike, grayling, whitefish, and lake trout.

Km 469 – Drury Creek, Government Campground, 10 sites

Drury Creek Government Campground

Take the short access road to the Drury Creek Government Campground with beautiful views of Little Salmon Lake.

This is another popular campground among the locals. A variety of songbirds nest in the rich creekside habitats. A fishing hotspot for northern pike, grayling, whitefish, and lake trout through the year.

Km 502 – Little Salmon Lake Government Campground, 15 sites

A steep, narrow, windy access road leads to the Little Salmon Lake Yukon Government Campground. The campground occupies a large open area right by the water on the west end of Little Salmon Lake.

Its northern name Chu Cho means “big water”. Beware of winds and waves!

Check for special fishing restrictions at this lake that protects sensitive lake trout populations.

Km 543 – Access Road to Frenchman Lake, Nunatak and Tatchun Lake Campgrounds

The turnoff to Frenchman Lake Road
The turnoff to Frenchman Lake Road

The Frenchman Lake Road is a narrow gravel road and is the access road to three Yukon Government Campgrounds. The road connects to the North Klondike Highway.

Frenchman Lake Campground, 10 sites

Follow the road for 8 km for Frenchman Lake. This is a small cozy campground with good access to Frenchman Lake for boating and swimming from the dock.

Check for the road conditions before you go. Drive carefully on this winding narrow gravel road, especially after the rain.

Nunatuk Campground, 15 sites

Nunatak Government Campground is situated 15 km on Frenchman Road from the Campbell Highway turn off.

Nunatuk refers to a mountain peak surrounded by a glacier. The campground provides easy access to Frenchman Lake. It has a mix of sites in the forest and along the lake.

Tatchun Lake Campground, 20 sites

33 km Frenchman Lake Road loops around to Tatchun Lake Campground. Ancient camps are still used today by the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nations to fish whitefish, trap beaver and hunt caribou and mouse.

Another 8 km will take you to the junction with the Klondike Highway, 27 km north of Carmacks.

The total driving distance on Frenchman Road is 46.2 km. The stretch between Nunatuk and Tachun can be quite rough.

Km 556 – Point of interest sign, Eagle Nest Bluff

View Eagle Nest Bluff

Km 583 – Junction North Klondike Highway

Road North Klondike Highway
Arrival at the North Klondike Highway

Turn south on Klondike Highway for 3.2 km to Village of Carmacks, to fill up your gas tank.

For Dawson City head north and drive 354 km on the North Klondike Highway.

Useful Tips

  • Check the current road conditions at the Watson Lake Visitor Centre
  • Always wear your seatbelt and drive with headlights on.
  • Watch your gasoline tank
  • Keep on the right on corners and hills
  • Be prepared for a rough road and construction sites along the way
  • Watch out for mining areas
  • Don’t miss a side trip to Faro
  • Please Note: Distances used in the travel log are only approximate.

Emergency Services

For emergency services dial 911 or phone the RCMP at Watson Lake, Ross River or Carmacks.

Yukon Travel Information

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