The Alaska Highway – also known as the Alcan – is a dream destination for any road tripper. This legendary 1,390 miles long road connects the Canadian town of Dawson Creek, British Columbia with Delta Junction in Alaska.
We love road trips and – fingers crossed – we hope to be driving this awesome road in 2017. In this post, I’m sharing my list of things to do and see along the Alaska Highway.
We did it! We drove from Los Angeles to Alaska, toured the state for three weeks and then drove back. I’m here to update this post with fresh content and change the dates too. I decided to go over it and add more about each spot I had here in my original list, sharing photos from our own visit as well as our impressions.
It’s time to change the cover image too. We actually had a GoPro doing a timelapse of the entire drive so I have literally tens of thousands of photos of the Alaska Highway to choose from… But I went with this one – the view from the Soldier’s Point trail in Kluane National Park. This is where the US army finished building the road in the 1940’s – the very last bit that connected Alaska with the Lower 48.
So, this is how this post is going to work. I won’t be deleting any of the information I put into it before our trip (back in 2016). I’ll add in italics my post-trip impressions so you can have both perspectives in the same post. From now on italics means a new addition to the post, so let’s dive right in!
Another Update: I added a post in this blog about driving to Alaska. It’s a mammoth post which covers a lot more than just what to see on the way. Do check it out if this is something you’re thinking of doing.
You can’t really talk about a road trip from the Lower 48 to Alaska without mentioning this book. Yes, I already bought our copy of the Milepost!
The Milepost is essentially a road atlas. It offers a detailed point-by-point description of the Alaska Highway and other roads in Alaska and the the way to Alaska.
Frankly, I am amazed that people still use a printed book as a road atlas in 2016. Yes, you can get the ebook edition but I once you take a look at the pages, it’s clear that this kind of small print needs to be read from the book. There is no convenient way in which you can condense the amount of information on each and every page into a small screen.
I’m going to start working on a possible itinerary soon. For now, I’m mapping out the places where we’ll want to stop for a while and do some sightseeing. My previous blog post was about our Alaska Bucket List and so this is a bit of our “Alaska Highway Bucket List”.
You can view the locations on the Google map I prepared. It’s embedded into this post towards the end. This list covers the Alaskan Highway, from Dawson Creek in the south (a very relative use of the word south here!), all the way to Delta Junction in Alaska.
So, did we end up using the Milepost?
We sure did! We had quite a battered copy in the car by the end of the trip. Granted, we didn’t rely on its mile-by-mile description all the time but it certainly came in handy when we were in the middle of nowhere, wondering when the next bathroom stop might be.
At least twice we used it to find accommodation. Driving through the Alcan in the late afternoon or evening, it was good to know how many miles we had before we get to the next point where we might be able to spend the night. Mind you, it’s still not a booking.com app. By that I mean, you can’t exactly use it to book accommodation in advance, or even read the full description of what’s available, let alone reviews. And I like reading reviews. Still, knowing there are people there who may be able to offer you a bed for the night does help.
Could you get by without the Milepost? IMO, yes. If you research online before you go, you can jot down the potential pit stops, points of interest and motels and you’ll do just fine. Do I regret getting it? Nope. It was nice to be able to read about the various places we were driving through. With no mobile connection or data, that alone was worth the price 😉
What to see and do along the Alaska Highway
1. Dawson Creek, British Columbia
This small British Columbia town of 11,500 inhabitants prides itself on being the place where the Alcan begins. You can have your photo taken next to the Mile Zero post in town. Dawson Creek is an overall pleasant town with hiking trails, parks, murals and even a farmers market.
A famous local attraction is Kiskatinaw Bridge – formerly a part of the original Alaskan Highway, it’s now a historic site.
For even more local history, you can visit the Alaska Highway House – a small museum about the road’s construction – or the Walter Wright Pioneer Village – a small historic park recounting the early days of Dawson Creek.
We actually drove up to Alaska via the Cassiar and back via the Alcan. Which meant that Dawson Creek was the last place we saw on the Alaska Highway. We took photos next to the Alaska Highway sign but for us that meant the end of that part of our road tip, rather than the beginning –
We didn’t stop in Dawson Creek for very long, so I don’t have a lot to report. We did drive through historic Kiskatinaw Bridge which made for a short detour. By the time we were there we knew so much about the Alaska Highway, it was actually quite exciting to see one of its original bridges.
2. Fort Nelson, British Columbia
This small town of 4,000 people is a natural stop between Dawson Creek and Watson Lake. Other than stores and motels, you can find a great information center in town and The Fort Nelson Heritage Museum. Not surprisingly, this museum also focuses on the history of the Alaska Highway.
We did stop in Fort Nelson for a day. The visitors center was quite good. Spacious and well-designed it offered both free WiFi and help from the local staff. We decided to stop for the night to try and catch the Northern Lights because there was a good aurora forecast. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any light action that night.
Can’t complain though as we did get to see the Northern Lights elsewhere on the Alaska Highway. It was purely by chance, as we weren’t even following forecasts at the time. We stopped for the night at the tiny Canadian town of Beaver Creek and just happened to notice the green lights in the sky through the window! It was just 11PM and we could easily see them even with the lights on in the room, so we quickly hopped out of the beds and into the car, drove for a couple of minutes to get away from the town lights and had 15 minutes of a beautiful northern lights display –
This photo was taken using my phone, so you can imagine just how impressive it was to see. One of the most memorable experiences of our entire trip.
3. Muncho Lake, British Columbia
A beautiful jade-colored lake where you can stay at a local campground and hike the trails. The park and campgrounds close on September 8th.
Muncho Lake was indeed very pretty. The entire area is a National Park and you can tell you’re leaving the Yukon and entering the Canadian Rockies. Very pretty and we made a few stops to take pictures –
4. Liard Hot Springs, British Columbia
Steaming hot pools right in the middle of the Alaska Highway, how cool is that? No wonder it’s such a popular place. This is part of the Canadian Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park and a must-do item on any traveler’s list.
Here’s a short clip about the recent renovations in the area –
Nothing to report about Liard Springs, alas. We weren’t in the mood for a change of clothes and soaking in hot springs, sorry. Maybe next time!
5. Watson Lake, Yukon
This small community is strategically placed near Mile 635 on the Alaska Highway. This means everyone stops here. In fact, travelers from all over the world are the ones who created the town’s most famous attraction: The Sign Post Forest. Just what it sounds like, it’s a small forest made of signposts from all over the world.
We ended up stopping in Watson Lake for the night and visiting the Sign Post Forest in the morning. It was a fun little attraction. The place is HUGE. Much large than I had expected. As it turns out, the number of signs has been growing quite nicely over the years. This exhibit in the Visitors Center shows the number of sign posts counted in various years –
If you visited Watson Lake in the 1980’s you probably only saw 30-40 thousand signs. Today it’s more than double that.
Bonus stop: Rancheria Falls
We hadn’t planned on this stop so it was missing from my original post. Adding it now as #5.5! You’ll find Rancheria Falls in the middle of the way between Watson Lake and Teslin. A short decked trail takes you through the forest to see the falls –
Rancheria Falls makes for a really cute stop. It’s a lovely short family hike with great views of the Rancheria River and the falls. There are also bathrooms – always good when you’re on a long road trip. To find them, just use Google maps and look for Rancheria Falls, Yukon. In advance, from home. There is no cell reception whatsoever in these areas, let alone data coverage.
6. Teslin, Yukon
This small village of the Tlingit nation has less than 150 inhabitants but that’s enough to make it one of the largest First Nation settlements in the Yukon. There are actually three small museums at Teslin which are recommended by travelers: The Teslin Tlingit Heritage Centre, the Northern Wildlife Museum and the George Johnston Museum.
We ended up visiting the George Johnston Museum and it was really nice. We spend about an hour there and it was educational and fun. The museum tells the pretty amazing story of George Johnston, a local Tlingit Native who bought a car and brought it to Teslin in 1913. There were no roads in the Yukon back then but that did not stop Johnston from working as a very busy taxi driver in the area. He simply drove on the lake! You can see his car in the museum and also learn a lot about native Tlingit heritage.
7. Whitehorse, Yukon
With a population of more than 23,000, Whitehorse is the largest town in the entire territory. It’s a great place for a longish stopover. It has everything you need in a town, plus several sightseeing attractions. These include –
- Miles Canyon – Trails that take you through a beautiful canyon and some historic sites. Read more.
- The SS Klondike – A former gold rush ship turned into a national historic park and museum. Read more.
- The Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center – A small museum that explores the ice age land bridge between North America and Asia. Read more.
- The MacBride Museum of Yukon History – Another small museum covering local history, including natural history. Read more.
- Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre – A cultural center for the Kwanlin Dün First Nation people. Read more.
- Yukon Wildlife Preserve – A conservation and research center where you can see many types of local wildlife.
We spent 4 days in Whitehorse and it’s totally worth its own blog post (coming soon! Or as soon as I find the time – there’s so much to blog about yet!) We visited the SS Klondike, The Beringia Interpretive Center, the Yukon Wildlife Preserve and Miles Canyon. It was also a great place to just stop for awhile and rest from the road.
8. Haines Junction & Kluane Lake
A small town of just over 500 people near the beautiful Kluane Lake and the Kluane National Park and Reserve.
Ha, that was a short entry for a really big place! Kluane National Park is simply HUGE and very impressive. We drove the Alaska Highway through the park going both ways there was more to see than just Kluane Lake.
We stopped at the Park’s Visitors Center which was large and beautifully designed –
They also had WiFi. It’s amazing to see how thirsty for WiFi you become while driving the Alaska Highway. Our kids treated Visitors Centers like oases in the middle of a desert!
Kluane National Park covers the Canadian Side of the Wrangell St. Elias mountain range. Which means it’s a huge and beautiful pristine wilderness. Just like Wrangell-St. Elias National Park on the American side of the border, it is also mostly inaccessible. Unless you take an expensive flight over the park or take a long wilderness hike, your views of Kluane National Park will be limited to what you can see from the Alaska Highway as you drive through.
Fortunately, that’s quite a lot of beautiful mountain views to take in!
I hope to write an entire separate post about Kluane National Park, but for now just sharing another couple of photos –
And one of my favorite photos of our rental SUV near Kluane Lake –
Bonus Point: The border crossing!
The border between Canada and Alaska was a nice stop in its own right. The empty spaces in this region are so vast, that there are actually a full 15 miles separating the Canadian border station from the American one. Driving into Alaska, we had gone through the Canadian border checkpoint and drove for another 20 minutes before we actually crossed the border into Alaska. The border itself is neatly marked with a sign –
And a large stone border post –
With no border control personnel for miles in either direction, you can hop from one country to the other all you want! It’s a big heavy post too. We tried moving it to see if we could change the regional balance of power. Nothing happened and so a huge international crisis has been averted. Whew!
Not much to do at Tok itself, but it’s where you can stop and consider if you’re going to continue up north towards Fairbanks, or take a left turn for Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula. There are several motels and a good visitors center if you want to hang around for a day before you decide.
Indeed, not much to do in Tok. We continued onward to Fairbanks and then drove back through Tok again. Wasn’t much to do there the second time around. There are several gas stations, a few restaurants and motels. That’s it.
10. Delta Junction
At last! Your last stop on the Alaska Highway! About 1000 people live here and there’s actually a bit of local history to check out before you continue on your way up north to Fairbanks. You can stroll around the Big Delta State Historical Park for a taste of the early days of Alaska’s pioneers and visit the Sullivan Roadhouse Historical Museum, the oldest roadhouse in Alaska.
It was raining when we were driving through this section, and we really wanted to get to Fairbanks, so we skipped a visit here. Saving it for our next drive along the Alaska Highway!
Here’s an interactive map of the places originally mentioned in this post. You can zoom in and out, or click on the icon on the top left corner to see the names of the various destinations and get additional information.
So, what was driving the Alaska Highway like?
We loved it! The infrastructure was surprisingly good. We drove into Alaska in August and back south in September. On our way in, we did come across a section of the road that wasn’t properly paved and had frost heaves and major potholes. That was right before crossing into Alaska. It felt as if the Canadians didn’t feel like fixing the road so close to the US side. This is what our vehicle looked like by the time we reached the border –
Not too bad though. No scratches or damage to the windshield. Except for that section of the road, the rest of the Alaska Highway was surprisingly easy to drive with excellent road quality. The further up north you go, the fewer people around you. Traffic was super easy outside towns (and just regular easy inside them).
North of Fort Nelson, we couldn’t get any cell reception whatsoever even in towns, so keep that in mind too. And don’t rely on WiFi in roadside motels. They don’t have it in these areas, or if they do, you just may be able to check your mail, nothing more. The exception would be in Whitehorse and Watson Lake where we had semi-decent Wifi (as decent as that of an average motel, which isn’t much). Outside of these towns, WiFi is extremely rare.
So, what do you think? Have you ever driven along the Alaska Highway? Or is it on your own private Bucket List for a future trip? Let me know in the comments!