The Alaska Highway

  • Photo of The Alaska Highway
  • Photo of The Alaska Highway
  • Photo of The Alaska Highway
  • Photo of The Alaska Highway
  • Photo of The Alaska Highway
  • Photo of The Alaska Highway
  • Photo of The Alaska Highway
  • Photo of The Alaska Highway
Photo of The Alaska Highway
Photo by flickr user njwilson23

This road trip is for travellers with the pioneer spirit who appreciate spectacular countryside and aren't afraid of long distances and empty roads. Travelling from Canada to Alaska, this classic journey offers wildlife and wilderness, but not that much in the way of luxury. In the summer it can be a bit of a caravan train and in the winter you have to contend with the weather and many services being closed but it's an adventure you can do any time of year.

This road goes by many names, the Alaskan Highway, the Alaska Highway or the even more abbreviated Alcan, but they're all referring to the same 1,390 miles between Dawson Creek in British Columbia to Delta Junction, Alaska, via Whitehorse in the Yukon.

It says a lot about this road and the terrain that it traverses that the first person ever to travel the route did it on a dog sled, and that it was built by the US Army over seven months in 1942 under the shadow of a potential Japanese invasion. But while the terrain around the road hasn't changed that much, the road itself has – it's a lot better than the dirt and gravel tracks that first linked up these remote regions via highway.

The Route

The Alaskan HighwayThe Alaska Highway's 0 marker in Dawson Creek is counted as one of the city's attractions – the highway has really put Dawson Creek on the map (sorry). It also has a museum about the highway: The Alaska Highway House and a pioneer village of originals and replicas. The first 300 miles from Dawson Creek to Fort Nelson is pretty straight and flat. Stop off in Fort Nelson if you like classic cars, as one of its main attractions is an impressive collection of antique cars. Beyond Fort Nelson the road crosses the Rocky Mountains so it's anything but straight and flat – it's 150 miles of narrow roads with limited over taking lanes curling over hills and up the sides of mountains heading up to the highway's highest point: 4,250 feet at Summit Pass – or Milepost 392. Coming down the other side is just as winding, heading for the MacDonald River Valley. This is caribou country so you need to look out for them on the road – not that they're going to be hard to spot! Yukon Territory, Canada

After Watson Lake, where one of the main attractions is a signpost forest started by one of the soldiers who built the highway, the road straightens out again towards Whitehorse, which is one of the largest cities on the route. This section is relaxing, with views of long, gently sloping lake filled valleys. The road then remains straight as it heads for the Alaskan border except for a short stretch of curve-y driving around Lake Kluane and a rough patch around the Shakwak Valley and Destruction Bay where the road's been ravaged a bit by all the frost.

Between the Alaskan border and Delta Junction the road alternates consistently between straight stretches and long corners. Delta Junction marks the official end of the Alaska Highway, highlights of Delta Junction are the fishing and bison spotting – it's not a huge centre but it's historic. Nearby Fairbanks is much bigger.

Road Conditions

Most of the road is in pretty good condition. The last long section of gravel road was paved in 1992, but there are still sections of gravel in between tarmac where the road is being repaired. If you're travelling in summer be prepared to be held up by road works in places.

Practicalities

Kluane National ParkPeople tackle the highway in anything from motorbikes, to vintage sports cars to huge RVs and motor homes, and you can camp in tents or vans, or stay in lodges or hotels en route. In the height of summer accommodation does fill up, even the camp grounds, so either book your accommodation in advance or quit the road early to make sure you have somewhere choice to stay. You can travel the route all year, and people do, but in winter many of the campsites will be closed, so you have to book your accommodation and carry gas just in case – apart from that it's going to be quieter and the roads are supposed to be smoother.

Most traffic comes though between May and September, but in May there's often still spots of icy road. Some of the more northerly attractions operate on a holiday timetable: they open for Memorial Day and close after the Labour Day weekend.

You do need to make sure you have your passport or travel documents in order for the border crossing, and you'll need to use two different currencies, so this trip requires a little more planning than some of North America's other great road trips.

Not all of the highway has phone coverage, so don't rely on your mobile (or cell) to get you out of any bother. Although there are plenty of service stations, communities and roadside hotels and campsites along the route, on some stretches they're up to 150miles apart. But that's the beauty of it.


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