Can you drive to Alaska?
Update: A good friend of mine just reminded me that you now have to have a passport to drive through Canada. That was important! Thanks John!
If you are asking that question, you are potentially in for the road trip of your life!
Yes! You can drive to Alaska. In fact, I’d be the first to argue that you should drive the Alaska Highway at least once in your lifetime. It is also known as the ALCAN. And, if you choose to take on this epic scenic trip, you will encounter some of the most beautiful mountains, lakes and wildlife in the entire world. And all in a single trip. If you’re going to the “Last Frontier” anyway, why not do it in style. Buckle up, grab your camera and purchase your copy of the Milepost (you’ll need it.) You are about to be blown away!
My Experience Driving the Alaska Highway
I drove the Alaska Highway in 1996. I’m sure things have changed a bit since that week-long adventure with 2 buddies from college. But, the scenery, wildlife, and friendly people along ALCAN will never change too much.
My epic road trip began in north Alabama in an old worn-out Ford Bronco with over 200,000 miles on the odometer. We logged 9,774 miles across the lower 48, into eastern Canada and on to Anchorage via the Glenn Highway.
The three of us had no idea what we were in for as we left our sweet home in Alabama. In fact, when we arrived at the Canadian border exiting Montana, the border authorities let us know that. After a half hour of questions and examining our luggage, they informed us that we were literally about half way to Anchorage!
I was blown away. When you look at a map in the Atlas, Canada looks pretty small. Later I learned that Canada and Alaska are significantly shrunk on a map in order to fit it on the page!
What?!? Only halfway? It was hard to believe, but we’d come too far to turn back. It was worth the risk for three young cocky adventurous college students. We continued on.
I’m glad we did!
The Legendary Starting Point of the Alaska Highway
If you are going to get one “souvenir” photo of the Alaska Highway, it’s got to be the official origin point at Mile 0 in Dawson Creek, British Columbia.
The Alaska Highway was constructed during World War II in order to connect Alaska with the “lower 48.” The fear instilled in the American people at the attack on Pearl Harbor increased the urgency to get the passageway open. The road was opened to increase military presence in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. On June 3rd of 1942 the urgency heightened when Japan bombed Dutch Harbor on the Aleutians.
The highway starts at Dawson Creek and continues to Delta Junction, Alaska. Another great shot if you travel the entire ALCAN is found at mile 1422 at Delta Junction at the end of the epic route.
Wildlife On the Alaska Highway
If you decide to take the plunge and drive the Alaska Highway, you will most certainly see your fair share of wildlife. When I drove it in 1996, I saw just about every form of wildlife that you’d expect to see in Alaska and Northwest Canada.
List of Wildlife You will Likely Encounter on the Alaska Highway
- Black Bear
- Brown Bear
- Mountain Goat
- Mule Deer
Tips for Having a Better Viewing Experience with Wildlife on the Alaska Highway
- Always try to be as quiet as possible (but at a close distance) when viewing Alaska wildlife.
- Keep your movments small and slow as you view wildlife on the Alaska Highway.
- Never approach an animal too closely. Look for signs that he is uncomfortable with your proximity and follow his lead.
- Keep an eye open for wildlife in the mornings and late evenings.
- When spotting wildlife, always stay alert for movement first.
Some of My Favorite Spots Along the Alaska Highway
Here are just a few of the “Don’t Miss It” spots that I enjoyed on my trip along the ALCAN.
Liard Hot Springs in British Columbia
This is a great spot to stop and take a dip in the famous hot springs of the Liard River. The Liard Hot Springs are the second largest hot springs in Canada. After a long day of driving, they offer a ridiculously relaxing evening. The water in the Springs ranges in temperature from 107 to 125 degrees. The section called the Alpha pool is open to the public year round. The plant life is almost tropical here due the the warmth of the water along the river. Catwalks are provided and visitors are required to stay on them to protect the unusual ecosystem.
Watson Lake Sign Post Forest
This is such a fun stop for folks traveling the Alaska Highway. Look for this little town at mile marker 635. In the village of Watson Lake there is a forest full of signs from around the world. Travelers bring their signs to mark their hometown and leave them in the forest for future visitors to enjoy. There are currently about 77,000 signs in the sign post forest! Stop in and leave your mark. And don’t forget to get an awesome photo standing among the signs in the sign forest.
The first person to post a sign at Watson Lake was a US Army soldier named Carl K. Lindley. He planted a sign from his hometown of Danville, Illinois. Allow some time to search for signs from your home town. It’s a ton of fun!
Kluane National Park and Kluane Lake
Before entering into Alaska you come upon the Kluane Mt. Range and Lake Kluane. Long before you get the the crossroads at Haines Junction, you see the Kluanes on the horizon. The legendary Mt. Logan is ahead of you and towers 19,551 feet into the sky. Mt. Logan is the second tallest mountain in North America (behind “The Great One” Denali) and the highest point in Alaska. Kluane lake seems to go on forever as you are skirting between the mountains and the lake for almost 50 miles! This is the place that changed my life forever when I drove the Alaska Highway. I felt like a grain of sand and realized that I am inherently insignificant in the scope of creation.
Dangers Along the Alaska Highway
I will say that driving to Alaska has it’s challenges.
Depending on the time of year and the weather conditions, you may find a huge variety of pitfalls. Make sure you have a fresh copy of the Milepost. It is legendary for tracking your journey to and through Alaska. Don’t leave without it.
Recommendations for driving the Alaska Highway
- Carry plenty of water in the car.
- Be strategic about stopping for gas. The Milepost will help you determine best stops.
- Carry 2 spare tires with you at all times. The road conditions can be tough on tires!
- Don’t approach wild animals too closely.
- Know the emergency numbers along each section of the highway. (511 in Yukon, 911 in Alaska, etc…)
- Plan your stops and stays in advance, don’t wait until you are on the highway!
- Be cautious when exploring mountains, water, glaciers and other geological features.
I would be the last to tell you to stoke out the fires of excitement, however, as you experience your epic journey, use caution to protect yourself from your adventure becoming your worst nightmare.
Can You Drive to Alaska? Now you know!
There are many other amazing sights to see along the highway! Whether you rent an RV or take our old beat up Ford Bronco II with 250,000 miles on it, you’ll have an adventure! You will not regret your choice to take the road less traveled and drive to Alaska in style.
Have you driven the Alaska Highway?
If so, please comment below with your favorite stop along the ALCAN.