Alaska Highway

The Alaska Highway

An Adventure Any Time Of The Year

alaska highway

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 road stretching from Delta Junction, Alaska at its northwestern end to Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada at its southeastern end.

4 Important Tips

  • Keep an eye on your fuel level
  • Cell service is non-existent in many places
  • Beware of serious potholes in Canada
  • Buy The Milepost (without cell service the book is your only source of info.

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.

alaska highway map

Although the Alaska Highway was completed on October 28, 1942 and was celebrated at Soldier’s Summit on November 21st (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 Alaska Highway 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:

alaska road
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.

Alaska Highway 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:

Alcan Highway
Winter services are VERY limited, especially food and lodging. Many gas stations are automated so a credit card is needed. Service hours are short and after 5pm it is pretty much credit card only. HEED THIS ADVICE: Get gas when you are near half a tank since several towns are completely closed during the winter.

The Alaska Highway is plowed in the winter by both the Canadian and the Alaskan governments, so it is in good condition and driveable year-round. Keep in mind that some vehicles (especially older cars) have trouble starting in such cold weather.
alaska sign
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.
(Example: During a February 2012 trip, some gas stations were sold-out of fuel which made it 200 miles between fill-ups! It dropped to -54 F so screw-ups are not an option. Keep plenty of gas.)

Connects: Dawson Creek, BC, to Delta Junction, Alaska
Length: 1,387 miles
Road Surface: Paved (Mostly)
Season: Open all year
Highest Pass: Summit Lake, 4,250 feet

18 Comments

    1. Dennis

      You want me to write all of the addresses down for gas stations all along the nearly 1,400 mile Alaska Highway? You’re joking right? Buy “The Milepost”.

      Reply
  1. John Doty

    In February, I drove from Fairbanks to Haines (via Haines Junction) to catch the Ferry to Seattle. Only saw 15 cars. Road was completely snow-packed. Plenty of opportunities to get into trouble. Could not even find people on a CB radio. Fill up at every gas station and have full survivor gear.

    Reply
    1. Frank Polaskey

      Good luck with that. My son, his dog and I drove from Anchorage to Denver the second week in November, 2016. It was a tough trip. It took seven days, and three of the days, the roads were snow covered and slippery in many areas. We had 2, five gallon cans of gas we took with in case we needed them, but made sure to gas up when ever possible. Never let gas tank get below half full, and you may need to get a block heater installed and carry an extension cord. Have an updated “The Milepost” handy, since no cell service in many areas. Good luck with your trip.

      Reply
  2. Fred

    Michael, you’re foolish to try that drive in January/February. Especially pulling a 34 ft trailer! I made the drive during the last week of April 2014 in my F150 4×4 without a trailer. In Yukon and BC I hit 3 bad snow storms. The roads were not plowed and many of the curves with steep drop offs had no guardrails. Semi trucks chewed up the snow on the road during the day but the ruts froze at night. The frozen ruts destroyed all four of my tires and buying replacement tires in Canada cost over $900. The same tires in the states cost only $500. Luckily, I carried extra gas because some of the stations were still not open in April. Crossing into Canada from Alaska the frost heaves are terrible for many miles.

    Reply
  3. Randy Bearden

    Pulling a trailer in Jan or Feb is suicide.you will not make it,guaranteed.July or August,yes.if you try this trip in that time frame,tell your family and friends goodbye.

    Reply
  4. Ray Worsham

    Traveling to Fairbanks from Texas starting September 18th returning October 8, 2017. Ford f159 pulling 7x14ft enclosed trailer. Awaiting delivery of the Milepost. My daughter and son and law have made the trip x2 and are very nonchalant about driving that Alcan. My wife and I are more concerned. Any advice for us, number of spare tires to bring & so on.

    My wife says we have to update our will before we leave. . . :-)

    Reply
    1. Dennis

      One spare tire ought to be fine. It’s rainy season now so make sure your wipers are in decent shape and your fluid is topped off. It can freeze overnight starting mid-September up there so icy roads are possible in the mornings. Should be good fall colors along the way in the southern part of your trip, the North should still have a few leaves hanging on. Good luck!

      Reply
  5. Brenda murrey Holskey

    I drove the Alcan February 15, 2017 . Drove to Anchorage Alaska to visit my sister and go to the Iditarod . Most places were closed along the way . Every time we saw anything open we stopped . The area between Fort Nelson Liard Hot Springs to Watson Lake there was no phone service . The roads were bad totally covered in snow we had several snowstorms . We just drove slow and enjoyed the scenery . We had two flat tires . And found that it was better to pull over to the right and slow way down when passing trucks because they put sand and rocks on the road whenever it snows and it cracked our windshield . It was a long time between gas stations and finding restrooms was nonexistent for hours so we had to potty outside Several times . When driving in Canada in the winter it’s always good to check your head and make sure roads are open they do close roads in the winter due to snow on them and we got rerouted and it took us eight hours to drive a detour around Jasper Park. Because Ice Rd., Parkway was closed. We slept in our van. The coldest was 30 below zero. We had a full-size mattress in the back of the van and a 20 below sleeping bag and was very warm all night every night . We did run out of water between Fort Nelson and Watson lake because we slept in Liard Hot Springs and there’s no water there so we were always sure to have water after that . We melted snow while we are at Hot Springs . Lots of animals were on the road . I’m going to post some videos to YouTube about our trip it was amazing and I would do it again . Just another note there was no lines to follow the road because the road was snow-covered so you never know if you were on the right side of the road and the roads go straight up and down and sharp right and sharp loves like roller coasters it was so much fun driving them .

    Reply
  6. Jay

    I made the drive originally in July of 15 and it was beautiful. However this time Ill be making the drive end of October, 1st week of November. Still recommend not pulling a trailer at that time frame? Any other tips besides keep extra gas, and winter gear?

    Reply

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