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The Alaska Highway

An Adventure Any Time Of The Year

Before you start planning your trip down the Alaska Highway, get "The Milepost". It is an invaluable 768 page book that documents the entire trip including every gas station and motel along the way. The Alaska Highway (also called the ALCAN Highway) is a long 1,390 mile (2,237 km) road stretching from Delta Junction, Alaska at its northwestern end to Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada at its southeastern end.

Alaska Highway


Alaska Highway History and Facts:
The road was originally built mostly by the US Army as a supply route during World War II. There were four main thrusts in building the route: southeast from Delta Junction, Alaska toward a linkup at Beaver Creek, Yukon; north then west from Dawson Creek (an advance group started from Fort Nelson, British Columbia after traveling on winter roads on frozen marshland from railway stations on the Northern Alberta Railways); both east and west from Whitehorse after being ferried in via the White Pass and Yukon Route railway. The U.S. Army commandeered equipment of all kinds, including local riverboats, railway locomotives, and housing originally meant for use in southern California.

Alcan Highway

Although it was completed on October 28, 1942 and its completion was celebrated at Soldier's Summit on November 21 (and broadcast by radio, the exact outdoor temperature censored due to wartime concerns), the "highway" was not usable by general vehicles until 1943. Even then, there were many steep grades, a poor surface, switchbacks to gain and descend hills, and few or no guardrails. Bridges, which progressed during 1942 from pontoon bridges to temporary log bridges, were replaced with steel bridges where necessary only. One old log bridge can still be seen at the Aishihik river crossing. The easing of the Japanese invasion threat resulted in no more contracts being given to private contractors for upgrading of specific sections.

In particular, some 100 miles of route between Burwash Landing and Koidern, Yukon, became virtually impassable in May and June of 1943, as the permafrost melted, no longer protected by a layer of delicate vegetation. A corduroy road was built to restore the route, and corduroy still underlays old sections of highway in the area. Modern construction methods do not allow the permafrost to melt, either by building a gravel berm on top or replacing the vegetation and soil immediately with gravel. However, the Burwash-Koidern section is still a problem, as the new highway built there in the late 1990s continues to experience frost heave.


Road Signs:
In Alaska, the distances and signs are posted in miles and miles per hour. However, Canada uses the metric system, so signs will be in kilometers (km) per hour. One mile = 1.6 kilometers. Also, gas in Alaska is measured in gallons, and in Canada, in liters. One gallon = 3.79 liters. In general, you should expect to pay around 15 - 20% more for gas along the ALCAN. American debit and credit cards are accepted everywhere along both the Canadian and the Alaskan portions of the highway, so you needn't worry about exchanging currency.

Services during the summer:
During the summer, gas, food, and lodging are available about every 20 to 50 miles. Hotels, motels, campsites, and RV sites are open from May until September.

Alaska Highway During The Winter:
Winter services are VERY limited, especially food and lodging. Many gas stations are automated so a credit card is needed. HEED THIS ADVICE: Get gas everytime you are near half a tank since several towns are completely closed during the winter. (Twice during a February 2007 trip I took, some gas stations were sold-out of fuel which made it 200 miles between fill-ups! It reached -54 F so screw-ups are not an option. Keep plenty of gas.) The highway is plowed in the winter by both the Canadian and the Alaskan governments, so it is in good condition and driveable year-round. Some vehicles (especially older cars) have trouble starting in such cold weather. There is a 40-mile section of road along Kluane Lake in Canada that seems to be perpetually under construction in the summer, so expect to be slowed down along that segment of the route.

It is also important to note that many of the businesses (including gas stations and motels) along the highway close for the winter. So if you're planning on stopping at motels on the way, call before your trip to verify that they will be open. In the winter, there's a business open around every 100 miles or so.







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