Have you ever wondered what it would be like to drive the Alaska Highway? Is it your dream to pile your kids in the car and head out on a road trip to Alaska? Are you curious what grand adventures await for you in The Last Frontier?
We’ve been traveling with our 5 kids in a 30 foot class C RV for the last 4 years and have seen most of the Western USA and a large part of British Columbia. We love sharp, jagged peaks, lush forests, and alpine lakes nestled under glaciers so naturally it was time to explore Alaska. For us it wasn’t a question of should we go there? but how should we get there?
I was so torn on whether we should drive our RV, which is in poor conditions to say the least, all the way up the Alaskan Highway or just fly to Alaska and rent an RV to explore Alaska.
The drive sounded extra daunting since our home base is San Diego, which meant over two thousand miles of driving before we even started the Alaskan Highway. Sure, Liard Hot Springs sounded amazing, but I’d never drive thousands of miles to visit it when Idaho is filled with epic hot springs that are way less crowded. I needed more of a reason to take on the challenge of driving 7000 miles round trip.
The Alaskan Highway Overview
First, some quick facts about driving the Alaskan Highway. If you don’t care about those details and want to know if the ALCAN is for you, skip to the next section.
Where the Alaska Highway Starts
Dawson Creek, BC is 700 miles north of the US/Canadian border. Don’t confuse this with Dawson City which is near Alaska and north of Whitehorse.
Where the Alaska Highway Ends
The Alaskan Highway ends at Delta Junction, AK, which is right before Fairbanks. But many people who aren’t visiting Fairbanks choose to take the Tok cutoff which takes you down to Anchorage.
Length of the Alaska Highway
1,390 miles one way from Dawson Creek to Delta Junction.
It’s Also Known as the Alcan Highway
Many people are confused when I tell we drove the Alcan highway but it’s the exact same highway as the Alaska Highway, just a different name. Psst, it stands for Alaska-Canada Highway….Al Can 🙂
Road Conditions on the Alaska Highway
The Alaskan Highway is a completely paved road and open all year, although you do need to carry chains from October through April.
Almost all of the Alaskan Highway through Canada was great. There are some short sections though that are under construction and may be dirt road or bumpy for a bit. There are also a lot of logging and semi trucks driving the highway in some sections and between the construction areas and since it’s a two lane highway, the big rigs would often spray up dirt and rocks making your vehicle/RV get very muddy and sometimes sending little rocks flying into the windshield. Not to worry though, finding RV washes along the way are easy and inexpensive and due to the common windshield cracking issue, there are a variety of places to get minor repairs down quickly.
The first part of the Alaskan Highway, after you cross the border into Alaska, is a bit rougher and if you take the Tok Cutoff to go towards Anchorage, the road gets VERY rough and bumpy so you’ll want to take it slower.
Cities Along the Alaska Highway
The Alaskan Highway passes through a few major cities but mostly through really small towns.
From south to north, it passes through:
- Dawson Creek (Major town)
- Fort St John (Major town)
- Fort Nelson
- Toad River
- Waston Lake
- Haines Junction
Fort St John and Whitehorse are the two biggest cities, both having Walmarts, in case you need to restock along the way, as well as many options for food and lodging.
Fort Nelson was much smaller with a few grocery, restaurant, and lodging options. While Watson Lake and Tok are very small (we’re talking one block long) but big enough to fuel up, grab a bite, and find a place to stay if needed.
Depending on how you get to Dawson Creek, the start of the highway, you will probably pass through the very large cities of Prince George or Calgary, which will be great places to stock up in.
You should always fill up in these major towns: Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, Watson Lake, Whitehorse, and Tok.
Distance between Gas Stations
One of people’s biggest fears when driving the Alaska Highway is running out of gas. The truth is, it would require a hell of a lot of recklessness to actually run out of gas. You fill up and towns, then you drive, and you never skip filling up in a major junction.
All of the big towns have gas stations and there are a few gas stations in between but they will cost a lot more.
Our RV can go about 400 miles on a full tank so topping off in each of the cities above plus in Teslin was perfect for us. (See the end of this blog for details on exact cost of fuel.)
Gyms along the Alaskan Highway
I had to throw this one in for anyone who is like my husband. While I drove this by myself with my kids, if Victor had been with us, he would’ve needed to find a gym along the way to get his swoll on (I couldn’t say it with a straight face).
There are actually a lot of recreation centers along the way, but not all of them were the best in terms of workout facilities. The larger the city, the better the fitness area tended to be.
Stopping at rec centers along the way was a great way to get my kids to burn energy swimming, gave us a chance to workout and stretch, broke up the monotony of the drive, and was very affordable, usually costing less than $20 CAD for the entire family.
Is the Alaska Highway Dangerous?
If you asked me this when we finished driving it, I’d say no. There were many other RVers on the road and you never felt like you’d be waiting too long for someone to stop and help you. Unfortunately though, there was a horrible incident only a month after we finished our trip where some people who had broke down on the side of the road were murdered. This is very sad but it is a singular case and I don’t think it is a fair representation of whether the Alcan is safe or not.
One thing I do tell friends when they ask me about if I felt safe driving the Alaskan Highway is that some of the smaller towns felt very poor and run down and as always, you should let your instincts guide you. When we pulled into Watson Lake we were exhausted and ready to stop for the day, but I didn’t like the vibe there and so we drove on to an area where I felt safer.
Another time I didn’t like the vibe was when we were parked across the street from Liard Hot Springs. I didn’t realize there was plenty of RV parking near the Springs and there was a huge dirt parking area where other RV’s were camped for the day in order to ride ATVs in the surrounding trails. While we were eating lunch, a couple in the RV next to us started getting in a very loud altercation and it took less than a minute for us to grab our belongings and get the heck outta there. It might’ve turned into nothing but better safe than sorry.
How Long It Takes To Drive The Alaskan Highway
It really depends on your style of travel and what you are driving. For us, when we are on long road trips in our motorhome, we tend to average only 80kph (50mph). For the most part, the roads are good enough that a car can average 105 kph (65 mph).
While there are places you can stop along the way, the Alaskan Highway section only took us a total of 5 driving days, but this doesn’t include the detour we took driving the Golden Circle and to Valdez, plus, 3 of those were only half days of driving. Without those detours, I could’ve easily done it in 3 days–Dawson Creek to Muncho Lake, Muncho to Whitehorse, and Whitehorse to Delta Junction. I know there are some people who could probably even do it in 2 days.
When we drove back, even though it was via the Cassiar and Yellowhead Highways, it only took us three days of driving–Anchorage to Whitehorse, Whitehorse to Dease Lake, and Dease Lake to Prince George.
When I was planning our trip I thought I didn’t want to drive more than 250 miles per day, which would be about 5 hours a day, and therefore figured it would take me 6 days of driving. I mapped out where we could stop and researched things to do each day to make it a perfectly balanced trip but…it took me about 5 minutes of driving the Alaskan Highway to realize that was a dumb idea.
Even though there are places you can stop along the way, there’s nothing that’s that really worth stopping for plus, the hikes and bike rides I planned on doing weren’t going to be fun because it was raining on and off most days.
In the end, I basically saw the forecast for Whitehorse, sunny and seventy, and hightailed it there. (See my detailed itinerary at the end of this blog.)
Where to Sleep Along the Alaskan Highway
There are plenty of motels, campgrounds, and free camping opportunities all along the Alaskan Highway. If you like to drive during the day and stop in a campground or motel at night, you’re covered. We like to boondock as much as possible because not only does it save money, but it allows us to do more adventures during the day and get our driving done later in the evening, which worked really well for us on this trip.
With the exception of the Yukon, where there are signs that explicitly say “No Overnight Camping”, there were plenty of dirt pullouts and rest areas to sleep at. The only two places we got a campground along the Alaskan Highway was Strawberry Flats Campground on Muncho Lake and High Country RV Park in Whitehorse both of which I highly recommend.
Strawberry Flats Campground: This is definitely one of the most scenic campgrounds on the entire Alaska Highway. There are pit toilets and well water but not much else for amenities. Here, you’re coming for the beautiful lakeside sites.
High Country RV: I loved this campground and that is really saying something because I rarely stay in campgrounds. I liked that it was reasonably priced, the showers were hot and free, there was a little store in the reception area that sold beer, and there was a dishwashing station.
Recommended Stops Along the Alaska Highway
You could easily drive the Alaska Highway straight through and just go have a blast in Alaska, but chances are you’ll need to stop occasionally to sleep or stretch your legs so here are the top 5 places I’d plan on doing that:
1 | Chill at Muncho Lake
The mountains surrounding Muncho Lake are jaw dropping gorgeous, although so are most of the mountains in Alaska. Camping at Strawberry Flats campground, which is at mile market 437 when driving from Dawson Creek, was certainly a highlight for us mountain lovers.
2 | Swim at Liard Hot Springs
Liard Hot Springs is a gorgeous and relaxing as all the hype makes it out to be and it’s extra fantastic when you think about how few other things there are to do along the highway nearby. I would highly recommend trying to go early or late and camp at the campground adjacent to the hot springs.
3 | Eat Cinnamon Rolls at Tetsa River Lodge
While you don’t necessarily need to stay the night here, you absolutely must stop to try one of the cinnamon rolls, which the owner bakes fresh daily. They were out of this world delicious! And if you like knives, the store has a rad collection of knives for sale.
4 | Camp or Hike at Summit Lake
This was high on my list of places I wanted to camp and hike but it had too much snow in May so we had to skip it. The campground here is really pretty and a great place to stop for a night if it’s later in the season (or you have warmer blankets than we had).
5 | Explore Whitehorse
Whitehorse in itself is a great destination. While some of the towns on the Alaskan Highway are good to stretch your legs for a few hours, Whitehorse is a place you should plan on staying in for a few days. Detouring from here to the Golden Circle was a really nice change of scenery for us.
Related Blog: Golden Circle: Guide to Whitehorse, Skagway, and Haines
Recommended Detours off of the Alaska Highway
While there isn’t a lot to see and do on the Alaskan Highway, if you detour less than a hundred miles off it in many directions you can find epic adventures. Here are a few detours you should consider when planning your Alaska road trip itinerary.
1 | Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is one of our all-time favorite national parks for a good reason. There is a little bit of everything here. You can
- Stay at the lodge on Lake Mac Donald and enjoy gorgeous sunrises, sunsets, and boating.
- Ride the free shuttle to Logan Pass and enjoy the dramatic views of the mountains and wildlife.
- Do one of the many short hikes to glacier fed lakes or past meadows filled with wildflowers.
- Photograph wildlife and wildflowers
- Take a backpacking trip and sleep beneath glaciers.
- Embark on an epic day hike to the most incredible glacier views.
2 | Banff, Jasper + Icefields Parkway
Driving through the Canadian Rockies is almost as incredible as Alaska itself and again, highly recommended if you can fit it into your itinerary. Banff, Lake Louise, Icefields Parkway, and Jasper are incredible but can be crowded and overwhelming. Take some time to plan out this section of the trip if you do go.
At the bare minimum, you should allot 3 days for this area. If you are looking to explore more of the Canadian Rockies, click here to read our Canada National Parks Road Trip Itinerary.
You can easily explore Lake Louise in one day and if you do, click here to get details on the best hike at Lake Louise. Next, take at least one full day to drive Icefields Parkway. There are many great overlooks and hikes to do along the road or click here to sign up for the Colombia Icefields Tour and do the Glacier Skywalk. Last, spend one day in Jasper National Park.
3 | Sea To Sky Highway
This is one of the best adventure destinations in the world. There is seriously a lifetime’s worth of hiking, climbing, off roading, and mountain biking in these mountains. Plus, you have the rad town of Squamish and the hip town of Whistler, both of which you could spend days exploring and eating your way through.
4 | The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle refers to the area of Whitehorse, Carcross, and Haines Junction in the Yukon, and Skagway and Haines in Alaska. You can combine all 5 towns into a great road trip and see the world’s smallest desert, go over the White Pass, which could easily be one of the world’s best mountain passes, and immerse yourself in gold rush history. There is so much hiking, mountain and road biking, fishing, and adventures at sea that this could fill weeks of your travel.
5 | Dempster Highway + Dawson City
While Dawson City just felt a bit too touristy for me, I was bummed that we weren’t prepared to drive the Dempster Highway. We hadn’t alloted enough days in our schedule and honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to drive our Class C on this just in case it did break down but I know I missed out on one epic adventure.
The Dempster Highway starts near Dawson City and in 736 km it takes you to Inuvik, which is only 100 km from the Arctic Ocean. Seriously off grid! And at least 12 to 16 hours of driving each way. But if you’re brave and prepared, it could be an adventure of a lifetime.
Getting To The Alaskan Highway
The Alaskan Highway doesn’t start at the US/Canadian border. There are four main routes that you can take to get to the start of the Alaskan Highway:
West Access Route: The West Access Route takes you from Seattle through Vancouver BC, Cache Creek, Williams Lake, and Prince George BC. I highly recommend you take the detour on The Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Cache Creek.
East Access Route: This is the most direct route from Great Falls, Montana, through Calgary, AB and Edmonton, AB.
Central Access Route: This route starts in Ellensburg, WA and will take you through Kamloops. Probably the least scenic way in my opinion.
Canadian Rockies Route: We chose to get to the Alaskan Highway via the Canadian Rockies Route which starts in Couer d’Alene. If you are driving here through Idaho, click here for some inspiration on where to go on a Idaho Road Trip.
Alternate Routes: Driving the Cassiar Highway
We chose to drive the Alaskan Highway on the way up and the Cassiar to the Yellowhead to the West Access and Sea to Sky Highway on the way back and I can’t say enough how perfect this itinerary was.
You can combine the Yellowhead and Cassiar Highways instead of the Alaskan Highway to get through Canada on your way to Alaska. The Yellowhead Highway runs east-west and starts in Edmonton and ends at Prince Rupert. Right before you get to Prince Rupert you can turn onto highway 37, which is the Cassiar Highway. The Cassiar runs north-south and connects the Yellowhead Highway with the Alaskan Highway near Watson Lake.