Even the best four-wheelers need a trail. So when discussing possibilities for a backcountry ATV trip with the editors of Field & Stream, one route came to mind: The Canol Trail.
Nine hundred miles east of Anchorage, Alaska, at the spine of the staggering Mackenzie Mountains, the Canol Trail cuts through some of the most remote country in North America. Short for Canadian Oil, the Canol is an abandoned pipeline trail in Canada’s Northwest Territories that was built by the U.S. in World War II to transport oil from the fields at Norman Wells to refineries in Whitehorse, and on to Alaska. Only used for one year, the oil line was shut down and, in the end, deemed a huge waste of money.
Today the Canol Trail is still quite possibly the most remote trail in the world. Bridges were long ago washed away by rushing mountain rivers. The dirt road built during the pipeline’s construction has long since over grown. The trail snakes down into the deep glacial canyons and up to 5,427 feet above sea level at the fabled Planes of Abraham. Rusty wartime relics like old Ford trucks and ten-inch oil pipe still litter the landscape. The region is legendary for its wild and untamed expanses of mountain wilderness, history of gold rushers, murder, and mountain men.
Field & Stream_ Video Editor Mike Shea and I are attempting the journey aboard two Polaris Sportsman 550 ATVs. From Whitehorse we’ll travel by truck more than 300 miles northeast to the trailhead. Without air support, we’ll carry all the food, fuel and survival gear we’ll need for the full 222 miles aboard our quads and in towed trailers. We’ll face three major river crossings, including the Twitya River at mile 135 – a 60 yard stretch of deep, fast, icy mountain water. We plan to ferry it on a homemade raft.
Without doubt, this trip will challenge the limits of what can be done on an ATV. Over the next few weeks Mike and I will bring the story back to you through blog posts, photos and videos. You’ll see us, and our machines, pushed to the edge. This, my friends, is the Canol Trail.