Driving the legendary Alaska Highway is a lifetime experience
The Great Alaska Highway connects America’s most isolated state with the lower 48. Constructed during World War II it serves as one of the few options to get up north to the Final Frontier without getting on a boat or plane. While driving up to Alaska sounds easy enough, this 2.174km (1,523-mile) voyage is not one to be underestimated.
Where does the Alaska Highway begin and end?
The road (also known as the Alaska-Canadian Highway, or the ALCAN) runs from Dawson Creek (in British Columbia) to Delta Junction (Alaska). There are always areas of construction or repaving with loose, dusty gravel. Prepare for lots of dust. Major rerouting projects frequently tie up traffic and break windshields, sometimes lasting for years, especially on the Canadian portion.
When was the Alaska Highway built?
The first proposal for a highway from Alaska to Canada was made in 1920, but the road wasn’t actually completed until late in 1942. Workers were on the job without fail, even when temperatures hit extreme lows. Today, the road is much-improved from where it was at, but those extreme low temperatures can have drastic effects on the pavement. The road was built as a supply route to military forces in Alaska during World War II to help the American military transport equipment to and from Alaska. The men worked tirelessly in lengthy shifts, sometimes in temperatures of -40° F. A record temperature of -79° F was set during construction. This major effort helped open Alaska to the rest of the world. It was completed on October 28, 1942. This road was roughed out by American Army engineers in just seven months from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to the already completed Richardson Highway at Delta Junction, Alaska.
How long does it take to drive the Alaska Highway?
The trip on the ALCAN can be a quick one, or you can stretch it out to spend multiple days just exploring around Whitehorse. Backpacking routes can be found all over the area, even for beginners. While you can definitely complete this 1,523-mile trek in under four days, we don’t suggest that you rush it. Chances are good that you will end up stuck behind a camper that is taking weeks to finish the whole thing. In these situations, it’s best to enjoy the traffic jam, not get upset with the construction happening, and focus on the beauty in front of you. It’s not often that you can find yourself so far from civilization with no one but the few cars sharing the road with you for company. The Yukon territory also has a great number of hot springs to explore while you drive through. It’s not an area that you want to blast through just to finish the drive sooner. Driving to Alaska in a private car or RV offers the opportunity to linger along the way.
Is the Alaska Highway remote?
While the road has made its way into the far reaches of the Yukon, one thing that still has not found its way there is cell phone service. Most of the drive is in a dead zone, no matter what carrier or signal booster you have. Because of this, it’s important to be prepared when setting off on the 4-day or more journey up or down the ALCAN. Many people bring extra gas cans with them, but there are plenty of gas stations along the way. The only thing is, when you think you may be able to skip a gas station, reconsider blowing by one. They can be few and far between and are often not open on a 24 hour schedule. It’s not uncommon to see someone on the side of the road who “thought they could make it” the extra distance to find a gas station.
How to Prepare For a Trip on the Alaska Highway?
Rescue services can be distant. Towing services can be up to 1000 kilometers (625 miles) away, which will have you waiting quite a while and leave you with a massive bill. It’s best to come fully prepared with the tools and skills you need for quick fixes like a flat tire. It’s not a bad idea to keep a couple days’ worth of food in your car for the duration of the drive, just in case the weather turns. You should carry enough emergency supplies to last yourself one or two nights. The nearest tow truck can be 1000 km (621 mi) away. It is even more important to carry emergency supplies in winter to avoid hypothermia and death. At the very least, bring food, water, blankets, a first-aid kit, and spare tires. Wintertime temperatures can dive as low as -40 C / -40 F. Bug repellent may be very nice to have in the summer. Gas (petrol) stations in this part of Canada are frequently not 24 h, especially in winter, and most of them do not have a pay-at-the-pump mechanism. Many stations have very long distances between them. You should keep your tank as full as you can and be prepared to wait for a station to open if you arrive in the middle of the night. Cellphone coverage is very sparse, although every Yukon community along the highway has cell service in the vicinity. While availability of gasoline isn't the problem that it once was, there are a couple of things to remember. Gas prices can be substantially higher than in, say, Edmonton or Calgary. Although there's gas at most of the communities that appear on the road map, most close up early in the evening. You'll find 24-hour gas stations and plenty of motel rooms in the towns of Dawson City, Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, Watson Lake, and Whitehorse.
Is the Alaska Highway paved all the way?
Most of the ALCAN is paved, or at least is packed gravel with a tar layer underneath, but there is constant construction happening along the way. This construction can end in a long line of waiting cars, and often with a cracked windshield. Between Whitehorse and the Alaskan border, expect to hit slow conditions that can feel like an unwanted roller coaster. Speed limits stick around 50 km/h, but even that will feel fast when cruising along the warped road. In the winter, these roads get even more treacherous and we don’t suggest driving them any later than October. The conditions of the road were improved the last years. Now, almost all of the two-lane highway is surfaced with asphalt. In Canada, Alaska Highway is paved or packed gravel with a tar base. In Alaska, the road is entirely paved. Summer is the only opportunity to repair the road, so construction crews really go to it; depend on lengthy delays and some very rugged detours. All the road is currently paved, although highway improvement projects often mean driving a few miles of gravel road that are anywhere from a few feet to a few miles long—where road repairs are under way. The last section of original gravel road on the Alaska Highway was paved by 1992. Ever since the Alaska Highway was completed in the 1940’s, a continuous program of upgrading, widening and straightening has been underway. The Alaska Highway, once an emergency wartime road, has developed into a vital link between the giant industrial regions of the U.S. and Canada and the natural resources of the Alaska and Yukon. But, aside from the economic aspects of the highway, it also represents a permanent monument to the resilient and enduring friendship between both nations. The highway may be in various states of repair. Be prepared to wait long periods as road crews continue to maintain the road. Winter frost is extremely hard on the roads. Do not be surprised to see deep fissures across the highway.
When is the best time to drive the Alaska Highway?
The best times to drive the highway is June through August, and early September, when traffic is lighter. Try to be patient when driving the Alaska Highway. In high season, the entire route, from Edmonton to Fairbanks, is one long caravan of RVs. Many people have their car in tow, a boat on the roof, and several bicycles chained to the spare tire. Thus encumbered, they lumber up the highway; loath (or unable) to pass one another. These convoys of RVs stretch on forever, the slowest of the party setting the pace for all.