Anyone expecting to see much of Alaska on the Alaska Highway may be a little disappointed. Anyone else wanting a magnificent road trip through epic northern scenery would not. The thing is, you see, that more than two-thirds of the Alaska Highway actually runs through Canada. And it’s not any the worse for it since the wilderness landscape of Yukon and BC offers a fantastic experience of its own.
75 years of discovery
The Alaska Highway celebrated its 75th birthday in 2017. The aim of this epic 2,700km wartime construction was to build a secure transportation link between the lower 48 states and Alaska. The journey was notorious for being a rough drive, something that is (usually) the opposite these days. The length is also a little shorter now, being ‘only’ 2,200km after some straightening over the years. Despite the ease of driving, the Alaska Highway still symbolises adventure and excitement. And there are quite a few reasons why…
Driving the Alaska Highway
The town of Dawson Creek, BC, is Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway and it was here that work started in May 1942. The road heads north from Dawson, travelling through the oil and gas-rich Peace Region. For a short time, we actually lived one street off the Alaska Highway in the ‘energetic’ (meaning industrial) city of Fort St John. Past another ‘Fort’ town (this time, Fort Nelson) and many, many remote work camps, the Alaska Highway starts to take on more character.
Turning west into the Rocky Mountains, the roads finally meets wilderness. With a few exceptions, the road to Yukon is surrounded by rugged mountains, azure lakes, raging rivers and limestone gorges. Moose, bear, bison, stone sheep and caribou sightings are common. After leaving BC, things only get better.
Reaching Yukon Territory already feels like an achievement (970km out of 1255km done!) but there is still so much more to come. Driving is easy with long, flat sections that edge beside might lakes and rivers. The views seem to open up more here, with peaks of huge mountains easily spotted in the distance. Delta Junction is the end of the Alaska Highway, just over 300km from the Canadian/USA border.
Highlights of the drive
We were visitors to the Alaska Highway quite a few times during our five-month road trip around Western Canada and Alaska. Here are our favourite spots:
A slight detour from the current road, the Kiskatinaw Bridge is the only original timber built bridge along the Alaska Highway still in use. Part of a Provincial Park today, the 162m long curved structure is well worth the very short side trip to see.
The name of this lake means “big lake” in the local Kaska language. This brilliantly blue-green lake is one of the largest natural lakes in the Rockies. There are lots of pull-outs and campgrounds from which to admire the bright water of the lake as well as the surrounding mountains.
Despite the crazy popularity of Liard (this place was the busiest of anywhere we visited on the whole Alaska Highway), it is still possible to get enjoy some relaxation time at these hot springs. The large natural pool is located in a lush forest, accessible via a short swamp boardwalk. Open all year round, Liard hotsprings is a must-stop on the Alaska Highway.
Like the southern section of the Canadian Rockies, the northern part also has awe-inspiring mountains, an abundance of wildlife and beautiful lakes aplenty. The biggest difference? The Northern Rockies does not have the crowds that Banff, Jasper and the Icefields Parkway has. We loved hiking to see hoodoos (rock pillars caused by erosion) and spotting SO MANY animals.
One of the more unusual attractions on the Alaska Highway is Watson Lake’s Signpost Forest. Started by one of the US soldiers working on the highway’s construction, there are now more than 75,000 signs in the ‘forest.’
Kluane National Park and reserve
For a long stretch, the Alaska Highway runs through, or alongside, Kluane National Park and Reserve. Those huge mountains I mentioned earlier? They’re in Kluane (including Mt Logan, Canada’s highest mountain at an incredible 5959m), which is actually part of one of the world’s largest protected areas. Soldier’s Summit offers a great viewpoint of the shockingly bright Kluane Lake.
alaska Highway Road Trip Essentials
When taking a trip on the Alaska Highway, there are a few things you should not leave home without.
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Simply put, this is the bible of Alaska Highway travel. The Milepost is a mile-by-mile guide to the Alaska Highway plus all of the major roads leading to it. Every single thing on the road is mentioned, from gas stations and campgrounds to pullouts, viewpoints and even signposts. The Milepost literally covers everything you could ever need to know about the Alaska Highway while driving it, in epic detail. Buy it!
The bugs are a little bit thirsty up north. Be sure to take some form of bug protection, especially if camping along the way. Trust me, you’ll thank us for this one after your trip on the Alaska Highway!
vehicle safety kit
The Alaska Highway takes in some long distances and there are few fully supplied towns along the route. Be prepared for every eventuality and carry a vehicle safety kit. There is regular traffic along the highway in summer but it’s never a good idea to count on others to have things like boosting cables.
Don’t rush. Yes, you could drive from Dawson Creek to Whitehorse in two long summer days, but why do that? Driving the Alaska Highway road trip is all about the experience; stopping for snacks at the roadhouses, relaxing in Liard hot springs, visiting every viewpoint on the way. If you don’t see the Alaska Highway from anything other than your vehicle’s windshield, you may be doing it wrong.