The Drive of a Lifetime
There may be no better drive in the world than the fabled Alaska Highway. Officially stretching more than 1,350 miles from Canada to the heart of Alaska, the Alaska Highway--also referred to as the ALCAN Highway--is simply one of those experiences that people talk about for years after their trip...and immediately start talking about when they can drive it again!
The history of the Alaska Highway is as fascinating as the actual drive. In fact, 2012 marks the 70th anniversary of the official opening of the highway connecting the Lower 48, Canada, and Alaska by roadway.
Though the concept of the Alaska Highway had always been a possibility, it took the attack on Pearl Harbor and World War II to put possible plans into action. This was because the United States desperately needed a supply route to Alaska as part of the Pacific Theater war effort.
Once funding was approved by Congress, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the U.S. Army in February, 1942, construction of the Alaska Highway by the Army occurred incredibly quickly. Road work in wilderness conditions officially began in early-March near what is now Historical Milepost 0 in Canada's Dawson Creek, British Columbia, with construction at the other end in Alaska's Delta Junction proceeding at a swift pace as well.
The crews met in late-September at Historical Mile 588 (now Contact Creek) near Canada's British Columbia-Yukon border and the Alaska Highway was officially completed in late-October. It was dedicated on November 20, 1942 at Soldiers Summit (Historical Milepost 1061).
In its early years, the Alaska Highway was mainly used by the military and a few intrepid travelers. The initial publication of The MILEPOST (see "Must-Have" sidebar) in 1949--and still published annually today--exposed many more people to the possibility of driving the legendary highway. Because of road straightening and other changes over the years, Historical Milepost numbers don't relate to actual mileages--yet another reason to buy and use The MILEPOST!
Driving the Alaska Highway during those early years meant lots of gravel, frost heave, and long drives with no or limited services (extra gas cans and tires were the norm). Today, it's 100 percent paved (except for road work maintenance) and it's generally like driving any secondary road in North America--except for many more awe-inspiring views, wildlife, and experiences per mile.
Historical Milepost 0 in Dawson Creek is the start of about 610 miles through beautiful British Columbia (BC Highway 97 North). Then, it's about 575 miles on Yukon Highway 1 through the Yukon Territory to the Alaska border. It's another 200 miles to the official end of the drive at Delta Junction, but many consider the true end of the Alaska Highway to be in Fairbanks, another 100 stunning miles to the northwest.
All those miles may make RVers worry about their gas budget, but MILEPOST Editor Kris Valencia says travelling the Alaska Highway is worth the price and the memories are worth the mileage. "Although we cover some 14,000 miles of road for The MILEPOST each year, the bulk of my annual mileage can be attributed to commuting around Anchorage," she says. "There are economies in long road trips."
Valencia recommends planning itineraries ahead of time to save on wasted miles. RVers with tow vehicles or those pulling trailers will find extended parking available if they want to leave the big rig behind for a side trip or a memorable wilderness lodge stay. She also says RVers can consider other forms of travel in the North Country--like the ferry and rail routes found in both Alaska and Canada.
The economies of an Alaska Highway road trip also include lots of facilities along the way catering to RVers. There are many classic places to camp along the way (including the excellent park systems in both Canada and Alaska), but there are also some great lodges and more that welcome RVers looking for something different. The possibilities include: Dawson Creek's Aurora Park Inn; Northern Rockies Lodge (owned by a bush pilot who also offers flightseeing, remote cabins, an RV park, and more) in Muncho Lake; Muktuk Adventures & Guest Ranch, a working sled dog ranch near Whitehorse; Kluane Bed & Breakfast (with great cabins), adjacent to Kluane National Park and Reserve near Haines Junction; Tok's Burnt Paw & Cabins Outback (home of Alaska sled dogs); historic Log Cabin Wilderness Lodge south of Tok; and Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge and River's Edge Resort in Fairbanks.
Along with world-class wildlife viewing possibilities (from bird watching to bears to bison and much more), Alaska Highway highlights have to include Dawson Creek (Milepost 0 and the Alaska Highway House); Fort Nelson; Liard River Hotsprings; Watson Lake's Signpost Forest (a collection of 70,000-plus signs left by Alaska Highway travelers); Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon Territory; Haines Junction, near Kluane National Park and Reserve and Mount Logan, Canada's highest peak; Alaska's fascinating Tok and Delta Junction (the official end of the Alaska Highway); and, though technically not part of the Alaska Highway, Fairbanks...a great base for many more Alaska adventures!
For further information about driving the Alaska Highway and more, visit: British Columbia's www.hellobc.com; the Yukon Territory's www.travelyukon.com; and Alaska's www.travelalaska.com.
A North Country & Alaskan Highway 'Must-Have'
First published in 1949 and better than ever on an annual basis, The MILEPOST (www.themilepost.com; 800-726-4707) is simply a 'must-have' when it comes to driving the Alaska Highway--and practically anywhere else in the North Country. The 2012 64th edition contains 784 info-packed pages and features 100-plus maps, their famed "Plan-A-Trip" map, 60 side trips, ferry travel information, and detailed coverage of 30 major routes in all (including more than 100 pages on the Alaska Highway alone). Long-time and loyal Thousand Trails members Vern and Beth Pich of Brantford, Ontario, Canada recently drove the Alaska Highway (a gift from their children to celebrate their 50th anniversary) and Vern says, "We found The MILEPOST book to be invaluable because it provides a mile by mile detail of the Highway with wayside stops, communities, service centres, campgrounds, attractions, and even rough spots in the road."
The road warrior editors (like Milepost editor Kris Valencia) also maintain a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/TheMilepost) and blog about their travels and research on the website. In addition, a free digital edition of The Milepost is available to those who purchase the print edition!
Editor's Note: Frequent TrailBlazer contributors Lynn and Cele Seldon are driving the Alaska Highway in its entirety this summer and will file a full report of their experiences for a future issue.