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Driving to Alaska Guide

September 4th, 2018 - 2:27 PM

How to plan a road trip to Alaska

No matter how experienced a road tripper you are, the drive to Alaska is a unique adventure. You’ll be crossing two international borders, traveling through some remote areas, dealing with different types of currency, and facing potential extreme weather. But you’ll also see some amazing views and have once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Ready to start planning? We’ve got tips to help you drive the Alaska Highway, cross the border and decide your stops. 

entrance to the Alaska highway in Dawson's Creek

Driving the Alaska Highway

While you could take a more complicated route through Prince George, BC, most people want to travel the historic Alaska Highway — also known as the ALCAN Highway or Alaska-Canadian Highway. Here are a few things to note about this road:

  • It’s around 2,000 miles long, going from Dawson Creek, BC to Delta Junction, AK
  • It utilizes several different roads including BC-97, Yukon 1 and AK-2
  • Sections vary from fairly straight to very winding roads through the Rocky Mountains 

The most important part of preparing to drive is making sure you have a map and a plan. The Milepost® is a trip planner for highway travel along this route, and it is very helpful to read beforehand and keep with you when driving. In some areas, you could be looking at 100-150 miles without anywhere to stop, so take advantage of rest, food and fuel when they’re available. 

How long does the trip take?

The total drive from the Canadian border to the Alaskan border is around 37 hours. Remember to add the time it takes to get to the Canadian border and to destination in Alaska to determine how long your trip will be in total.

What are road conditions like?

In general, road conditions are fair to good, but there are some difficult spots. Like most roads, you’ll encounter bumps and holes. In some areas, curvy roads are without guardrails or shoulders, so drive carefully. Construction can happen at any time, causing stretches to be gravel-covered or have limited or no shoulder.

Most vehicles can make the trip, especially during mild summer conditions. You’ll see everything from small personal cars to large RVs on the road. The road will be cleared in the winter, so it’s possible to make the trip as long as the vehicle can withstand snowy conditions and you feel OK to drive. Check current road conditions for Canada and Alaska online for more information.

Alaskan highway road with mountains in the background

How will the weather be?

Winter lasts a lot longer up there, so be prepared to see at least some snow and ice if traveling from September to May. Snowstorms and icy lakes are common, even in the spring and fall. Summer months (June through August) can be wet, so make sure to have good wipers installed. 

What’s the best time to drive to Alaska?

Conditions will likely be best in the late spring and summer. To maximize great driving conditions and optimal sightseeing, plan for a June or July trip. Some businesses along the highway are seasonal, but most are open during the summer.

If you’re traveling as part of a household goods move, check out this Alaska moving guide

Driving to Alaska tips

Follow these tips to help the trip go smoothly.

Prepare the car 

Along with making sure the vehicle is in good working condition and ready for a long drive, experts recommend keeping a spare tire, tow strap, emergency lights, printed maps, jumper cables, blankets and food and water with you. Keep in mind that your GPS may not work the entire time, so be sure and have a backup. If you plan on driving with a caravan of multiple vehicles, consider taking two-way radios, as cell service can be spotty. 

There are studded tire guidelines to follow, depending on the time of year. Explore British Columbia and Alaska’s guidelines; there are currently no restrictions in Yukon. 

Talk with your cell phone provider

Phones may not work in Canada without an international plan, and roaming charges may apply for connecting in Alaska. If phone data won’t work, most hotels and campgrounds will have some form of internet, either Wi-Fi or wired service.

Watch your speed

Speeds in Canada are posted in kilometers-per-hour, so switch the speedometer (check the vehicle manual for directions). 

Have the proper currency

Many locations in Canada will take U.S. dollars, but you’ll likely get change back in Canadian dollars. Most places will accept major credit cards, but not all. The easiest thing to do is to exchange for Canadian money before crossing the border. There will be some ATMs in larger towns, but there may be fees for using them with U.S. cards or from different banks.

Understand the mile markers and directions

Distances in Canada are measured in kilometers, and road markers will appear (typically) every 2 kilometers. Over the years, the ALCAN highway has been recalibrated and straightened with construction, so in some places, markers are not representative of actual driving distances, and in some cases, older, historic markers are still there but may seem out of numbered order.

Take things inside during winter

If traveling in the winter, don’t leave anything in the car overnight (or for extended periods) that would be damaged by the cold. Bring in plants, electronics, food and water containers.

Plan for fuel stops

Gas is measured and priced per liter, which is around ¼ of a gallon. In British Columbia, all pumps are pre-paid, so make sure to correctly calculate how much fuel you’ll need to avoid overpaying. 

For more tips, check out this road trip planning resource

Marker and flags at the of Alaskan highway

Crossing the borders

An important component of the journey to Alaska is crossing the border into Canada and then back into the United States. You’ll need to be prepared with the proper documentation to make this process go smoothly. Things to note:

  • Documentation is required for those 16 and older: a passport, Trusted Traveler Card, Military ID, Enhanced Driver’s License, American Indian Card or Enhanced Tribal Card.  
  • Those 15 and under need a certified birth certificate. 
  • You can bring all personal effects, personal vehicles and household goods duty-free (with some exceptions for alcohol and tobacco). 
  • Have a written prescription or statement from your doctor on hand for prescription drugs. 
  • Declare any plants for inspection. 
  • Pets require a health certificate and rabies vaccine. 

Read more about crossing the border in Canada.

Where to stop along the route 

Along with necessary stops for fuel, rest and food, there are some interesting things to check out as a part of the road trip to Alaska. If time allows, check out these sites:

Muncho Lake Provincial Park
If you’re tired of sitting in the car, Muncho Lake is the perfect spot to stop and explore. It is home to lush mountains, beautiful wildflowers, pristine lakes and abundant wildlife. 

Watson Lake, Yukon
At the 635 mile marker, you’ll find “Yukon’s Gateway” which is home to an interesting Visitor’s Center and the Sign Post Forest, with over 77,000 signs on display (Bring your own to add to the collection). 

Whitehorse, Yukon
The capital of Yukon was once home to Klondike gold rush settlers, and it is now home to exciting landmarks like the SS Klondike National Historic Site (a historic stern-wheeler ship) and the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center, where visitors can learn about the Ice Age in the Yukon. 

Tok, Alaska
This town, whose name rhymes with “poke,” is a center for transportation, being one of the first towns you’ll come to after crossing the border. It’s often called Mainstreet Alaska for its abundance of services and gift shops. If you brought a bike or fishing poles, there are bike trails and walk-in fishing lakes, giving a welcome break from the drive. 

Any questions about driving the Alaska Highway?

If you need help planning the drive to Alaska, leave a comment below. We’re here to help!
 

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