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The Alaska Highway, Your Route to Untamed Wilderness
The Alaska Highway heads north some 1,500 miles starting on the Yellowhead Highway at the British Columbia town of Prince George. It continues into the wild northern provinces of Canada before heading into America's northernmost state.
Built in the 1940s as a supply route to the northern outposts, the Alaska Highway is also known as the Alcan Highway. Whichever way you refer to it, the route welcomes intrepid
RVers looking to explore this untamed wilderness. While the Alaska Highway is no mere gravel road passing through valleys and mountains, it is also by no means a typical interstate. The highway is narrow at times, full of compromised shoulders, which combines to make for tricky traveling from time to time. However, the road is adequately maintained, with most of it paved throughout Canada and completely paved upon hitting Alaska. Be sure to stock up on plenty of supplies when you can, though. Checkpoints can be few and far between here and you might have to wait a while for AAA to reach you with a container of fuel.
The first stop after heading north from Prince George is the charming little village of Dawson's Creek, the official starting point of the Alaska Highway. You will find that the town boasts a small museum housing plenty of Alaska Highway memorabilia and historical artifacts -- a perfect way to get acquainted with your roadway host.
About fifty miles down the road, duffers will feel right at home in the town of Taylor. The city boasts a fantastic 18-hole golf course as well as a brilliant roadside attraction; the World's Largest Golf Ball, ready to tee off at the Lone Wolf Golf Club. How big, you ask? How does 12.89 meters and 37 tonnes strike you? Remember, we're using the metric system up here. Nearby, the town of Fort St. John's is a veritable metropolis in this neck of the woods. With a population of nearly 20,000, the town is home to British Columbia's largest oil and natural gas field and makes for a natural trading stop.
Before crossing into the Yukon, take a rest at the Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park outside Liard Village. The natural spring waters beckon travelers with their soothing temperatures capable of reaching well over 100(F. Sure beats a cold campground shower any day.
Celebrate the crossing into the Yukon Territory with a stop at Watson Lake, a popular stopover for road-weary travelers. Today, Watson Lake is home to the Sign Post Forest, with original signs going back to World War II. During the Alaska Highway's construction in 1942, homesick GIs working here began posting signs pointing to their hometowns complete with mileages. Some sixty years later, there are some 37,000 such signs, with travelers from around the world invited to bring their own hometown signs as well. The Northern Beaver Post, located just outside of Teslin, is the largest family-owned outpost on the Highway. It's also an excellent place to acquire such must-have items as Eskimo carvings, furs, and the elusive tufts of moose hair.
The town of Carcross boasts a unique natural environment in these parts, the Carcross Desert. It's very strange to find a desert this far into the Canadian wilderness, but here it is anyway. Winds from a local lake keep the sand moving, thus creating a curious landscape of tan desert sand peppered by the occasional lush pine. While in town, visit the Museum of Natural History, a giant heritage park that also is home to some of northern Canada's amazing wildlife.
The provincial capital of Whitehorse is a fantastic way to experience the northern cities. Take an enlightening tour of Yukon Transportation Museum and visit the Yukon past at this memorable facility. The museum is home to the Queen of the Yukon, the airship used by Charles Lindbergh. The museum is also home to all kinds of machines that helped bring the Yukon out of the wilderness and in to the modern era. And Whitehorse has even more to do, including the Beringia Interpretive Centre, showcasing life-size exhibits, an attempt to depict life during the last ice age. When was the last time you saw a Woolly mammoth? I rest my case. The city also hosts a charming park area that is set along the banks of the Yukon River. Take a stroll through rock and flower gardens or visit the impressive SS Klondike II, an enormous steam wheeler that also doubles as a registered National Historic Site.
From Whitehorse, the Alaska Highway divides; one route heads west towards Fairbanks, Alaska, and the other veers north toward Inuvik, which lies daringly close to the banks of the Arctic Ocean. If you head north, visit the town of Carmacks, a village that readily embraces its Klondike heritage. The little town of Dawson City should be your next pullover spot on this northern route. Dawson City was once the capital of the Yukon Territory. Its importance was enhanced by the discovery of gold, and stripped away when that gold vanished. However, the gold boom produced some impressive hotels, homes, and other unique specimens of north woods architecture. Today, many of these buildings have been gloriously restored and the town's rich history remains a compelling attraction.
Before leaving Canada and heading into Alaska, visit two small mining towns that today possess their own charms. Burwash Landing is home to the Kluane Museum, a world-class wildlife facility showcasing an impressive collection of local prehistoric finds. Next, visit the town of Beaver Creek and the historic marker at mile 1202 of the Alaska Highway. In October 1942, two sets of highway construction teams (one working from the east, the other from the west) met and completed the Alaska Highway.
At mile 1221 (from Dawson's Creek), you're required to make a quick stop at U.S. Customs and Immigration. And don't forget to turn your lights on! State law requires that you to drive with headlights on at all times in Alaska. Oh, and welcome to Alaska, everyone! As you enter the state along the Alaska Highway, the broad terrain seems to stretch on forever and it pretty much does. Hours can go by in-between destinations here, so stock up on your supplies before venturing into this wonderful wilderness.
At the border you'll also find a unique roadside attraction. If you look on any map you'll notice the border between the Yukon Territory and Alaska is one amazingly straight and long line. And it's true, as evidenced by a quick look in both directions. A straight line is cut between the trees heading due north and south and some even say it's the longest straight line in the world.
If that straight line didn't hold your attention for long, then your first official Alaska diversion should be the town of Wrangell, home to the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. Here, nearly one million acres of Alaskan wildlife hosts just about every form of northern creature one can imagine. The land was originally set aside to protect nesting waterfowl and today hosts one of the continent's biggest populations of waterfowl. Some 100,000 ducklings are born here each year. Birdwatchers might need to log some overtime hours cataloging the refugee's nearly 200 species of birds. It's also hard to ignore the large populations of native moose and caribou in the area. Don't pass up the opportunity for a unique wildlife adventure. While Alaska is home to many impressive wildlife refuges, Tetlin is one of the very few that are accessible by road.
Heading further into Alaska, visit the town of Tok and the Tok River State Recreation Site. This is a dog sledding capital of Alaska and if you're lucky to be visiting the area in March, you absolutely shouldn't miss the annual Tok Race of Champions Sled Dog Race. Beyond Tok lies the Alaska Range; an impressive set of peaks you must pass though before entering the state's wondrous interior.
Once you've gone further into the Alaskan interior, make a stop at the town of Delta Junction and "Alaska's Friendly Frontier." If you're visiting around the time of the vernal or autumnal equinoxes, Delta Junction is a terrific outpost from which you can gaze at the Northern Lights, a truly spectacular natural display unique to the Alaskan wilderness. Speaking of wilderness, the nearby Delta River and surrounding areas are home to many of Alaska's famous feathered and furred creatures, including grouse, moose, bison and coyote. And just down the road a-piece is Denali National Park, possibly the most impressive park in all of the Alaskan landscape.
Fairbanks is the final destination - and arguably the most compelling - along the Alaska Highway. For all intents and purposes, Fairbanks is both cosmopolitan and rustic, a perfect example of Last Frontier life in the 21st century. The Alaska Range looms just south of town while historic buildings decorate the town's interior. However, these historic structures don't define this bustling hub in the Alaskan landscape. The city is bursting with culture and continues to attract many artists and writers who relish the city life embedded in the northern woods. Art museums, a symphony orchestra, a zoo, and a major college are just some of the components that make Fairbanks, the state's second-largest city, a worthwhile discovery.
Alaska's Seward Highway is one of the most impressive stretches of road in North America. The highway runs for a modest 127 miles, connecting Anchorage to the town of Seward, along the banks of the Gulf of Alaska. This byway is so impressive it has earned not one, but three distinguished designations: an Alaska Scenic Byway, a USDA Forest Service Scenic Byway, and "All-American Road" status. That's not bad, considering that its isolated location in the "Last Frontier" doesn't encourage many travelers to come up and see it. For those eager for the trip, we suggest having your camera at the ready for each of these 127 miles. Along the way you'll pass ice-blue bays, fantastic glaciers, and alpine valleys.
Begin your tour of the Seward Highway in Anchorage, the City of Lights. You'll pass right by the Anchorage Alaska Zoo on the way out of town. But if you're looking for wild creatures, Potter Marsh offers the real thing, compliments of the 2,300-acre Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge. Make time for the nearby Beluga Point Interpretive Center, which provide binoculars to help you spot the native beluga whales.
Portage Glacier Recreation Area is the home to one of Alaska's most popular and easily-reached glaciers. This park and its surrounding area are a recommended stop for any RVers traveling on the Seward Highway. Mile 90 brings us to the town of Girdwood and world-class skiing at the Alyeska Resort. Caution: keep those fuel tanks topped off (a good idea and thing to remember when
) since there are no gas stations between Girdwood and Seward.
Be sure to make time for the Carter Lake Trail, which can be used to access prime fishing spots to catch the native Dolly Varden species. Furthermore, the nearby Trail Lakes Fish Hatchery is a fun and informative place for visitors to take in a tour.
From there, either continue on to the town of Seward, or take a scenic detour west along Route 1. The western route winds around the peninsula and through parts of the grand Kenai Fjords National Park, a remarkable protected area jammed with breathtaking scenery that only southern Alaska can produce.
to stay at on your next visit.