Driving to Alaska is officially the ultimate road trip. Travelers looking to take the scenic route had best be ready for the journey of a lifetime.
Along the way, plan on seeing some of the most spectacular scenery on earth. This once uncomfortable dirt road is now a modern-day highway system, and it’s one smooth ride!
16 Things to Know Before Driving to Alaska – ALCAN Highway
There are plenty of gas stations, accommodations, food stops, and visitor amenities all along the 1,500-mile journey. Honestly, the only thing you may have to worry about is some light construction along the way that may cause some minor delays.
COVID-19 Update Fall 2023 Can You Cross the US-Canada Border?
Latest Update 10.1.22
After mounting pressure, the Government of Canada has updated the country’s Covid-19 entry requirements. As of October 1, 2023, Canada has lifted all Covid entry requirements for both citizens and noncitizens. According to multiple sources, the ArriveCan app, random testing, quarantine measures, vaccine passports, and mask-wearing on public transportation have all been scrapped. As of October 1, 2023, there will be no Covid19 restrictions in effect for all travel across Canada.
Unfortunately, the U.S. currently still requires vaccine passports for noncitizens entering the country. The Biden Administration has offered no guidance on if and when these mandates will end.
Alaska Marine Highway System
If flying from the mainland to Alaska is just not an option for you, there is an alternative option, however, it is very expensive. The Alaska Marine Highway System is a ferry service that covers 3,500 miles of the Pacific coastline. It stretches from Bellingham, Washington to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Island Chain. Therefore, you can ferry your vehicle from Washington State to Alaska, bypassing Canada by remaining on the ship.
A one-way trip can cost from $2,000 and up so this is not the most budget-savvy option. Additionally, it is important to ensure that your car insurance will cover the ferry service in case of any mishaps.
Adjusting to Life Without Stuff
For many Americans, one of the hardest aspects of driving to Alaska is not having everyday things right at their fingertips. With an Alaskan road trip, travelers need to strategically plan out their day a bit more than in the lower 48.
For example, you won’t come across gas stations and other facilities that are open 24 hours. Internet access and cell phone coverage are limited.
For most people, it may take a few days before they adjust to this pace. Additionally, if your GPS isn’t working because there isn’t a signal, you’ll have to rely on physical maps, we prefer the latest Rand McNally Road Atlas.
Budget Tip: Before you depart, make sure to purchase low-cost travel health insurance (we use Insubuy) for days traveling through Canada. As one of the most expensive countries in the world for health insurance, you don’t want to leave yourself susceptible to an expensive emergency procedure. Especially, when travel health insurance only costs a few dollars per day.
Dawson’s Creek Marks the Start of the ALCAN
Dawson Creek, British Columbia marks the spot where the Alaska Highway (also called the ALCAN Highway or Alaska-Canada Highway) officially begins. To reach “Mile Zero,” from the West Coast you’ll drive north on Highway 97. From the Midwest, you’ll most likely travel through Edmonton, if you’re in a hurry.
If you’re not in a rush, you should take a detour through Calgary to visit Banff and Jasper National Park. They’re part of the Canadian Rockies and they are breathtaking! The route from Banff to Jasper is known as the Icefields Parkway and is considered to be one of the most impressive drives in the world.
Driving can be challenging here. Just try to keep your eyes on the road and drive slowly. For example, we had a huge bear jump over the guardrail and run right in front of our vehicle as it darted across the highway!
By the way, if you’re looking to rent a car, make sure to use Discover Cars for car rentals, we just used them on a trip down to Key West and saved a small fortune.
The route ends in Delta Junction, Alaska. However, the adventure will be far from over once you arrive. Soak it all in. Don’t rush.
There’s no other journey like it in the world. It’s a good thing to have your own wheels to sightsee at your own pace.
16 Things to Know Before Driving to Alaska
The trip is not as remote and dangerous as you probably would first think but it is still important to take the proper precautions. You should know these 16 things before driving to Alaska:
- During the summer, you should come across gas stations, food options, and accommodations about every 20 to 50 miles.
- Bring a credit card as many gas stations are automated and don’t have a clerk.
- Plan on filling up your gas tank between 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. to make sure you have access to gasoline. Save money on fuel by making sure your tires are always properly inflated. We bought this awesome, compact, and strong digital tire compressor which shuts off automatically and can fill an empty 17-inch tire in two minutes!
- Canada uses the metric system so signs will look different. The speed limit will be in kilometers per hour (KPH), where 1 mile = 1.61 kilometers. Gas stations will sell by the liter, where one gallon = 3.79 liters.
- Expect to pay about 20% more for gasoline along the route.
- Much of the road will be a two-lane paved asphalt highway with a gravel shoulder wide enough for the typical vehicle.
- Pay attention to weather forecasts.
- Drive with your headlights on.
- Radar detectors are illegal.
- If you want to enjoy the trip plan on traveling at least four weeks roundtrip.
- Whitehorse is the Yukon’s territorial capital and the largest community along the route.
- If you’re caught speeding at more than 40 kph or 25 mph over the speed limit in British Columbia, you’re likely to have your car impounded.
- It’s a good idea to verify your specific situation with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police before attempting to cross the border with any kind of weapon, including sprays.
- Check with your cell phone provider about the coverage they supply along the route. You may be surprised that it won’t cost you anything additional. However, if it’s lacking, it may be worthwhile to look into purchasing a satellite phone. Make sure to keep your phones charged in case of emergency. We recently bought this 3.0 Port 36W/6A Fast Car Charger and it charges are phone 3x as fast, it’s amazing!
- The best time to drive the route is from May through September.
- There are not that many plush accommodations along the way so it’s a good idea to make reservations as soon as possible. See the best lodging options along the way below.
7 Best Stops Along the Way
Along the way, you’ll be passing through some of the best-untouched wilderness in the world. This drive is incredibly popular for independent travelers seeking outstanding scenery, unique cultural attractions, adventurous tours, and unforgettable experiences.
There are numerous things to see and do in the towns of Whitehorse and Haines Junction. Therefore, it’s probably worth spending a couple of days in each town. Besides those two towns, there are seven highlights to visit, from south to north, along the Alaska Highway, including:
- Sikanni Chief Falls Protected Areas: 100-ft waterfall
- Stone Mountain Provincial Park: Hiking and wildlife viewing
- Muncho Lake Provincial Park: Serenity and seclusion
- Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park: Natural setting for stress relief
- Sign Post Forest near Watson Lake: The most unique stop along the way
- Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge: Scenic overlooks, wild animals, beautiful birds
- Muklukland: Unusual exhibits and fun activities
Best Places to Stay Along the Way
Below are the best places to stay, south to north, from Dawson Creek to Delta Junction.
(A) Dawson Creek: Stonebridge Hotel Dawson Creek (pool, hot tub, fitness center)
(B) Fort St. John: Northern Grand Hotel (clean and modern)
(C) Fort Nelson: Woodlands Inn & Suites (laundry facilities)
(D) Toad River: Stone Mountain Safaris Bed and Breakfast (hot tub)
(E) Muncho Lake: Double G Service (serves American cuisine)
(F) Watson Lake: A Nicer Motel (charming motel with kitchenettes)
(G) Tagish: Little Atlin Lodge (boat rentals and fishing on site)
(H) Marsh Lake: Inn On The Lake (fitness center, hot tub, and sauna)
(I) Whitehorse: Edgewater Hotel (probably the nicest hotel along the way) or Historical Guest House (B&B)
(J) Haines Junction: Parkside Inn (breakfast includes eggs, muffins, and fruit)
(K) Tok: A Hyde Away Inn B&B (balconies with mountain views)
(L) Delta Junction: Kelly’s Alaska Country Inn (kitchenette)
Willing to choose the places to stay by yourself or in case getting a bit off the route? Try Trivago: a service comparing the best prices.
Highway 37 Stewart-Cassiar Scenic Route
When you decide to return back to the lower 48, instead of returning on the ALCAN, you may consider taking Highway 37, the Stewart-Cassiar Scenic Route. Whether you take highway 37 or 97, from Watson Lake to Prince George, the driving time is about the same, so why not take a different avenue?
While it may not be as picturesque as highway 97, highway 37 has its own perks. For instance, it’s much less congested, enjoys smoother pavement, more wildlife opportunities, and has a few highlights of its own including several lakes and provincial parks.
From Watson Lake to Kitwanga, there is limited cell service along highway 37. Therefore, it’s important that you make your lodging accommodation in advance. There’s only one inn along the way, Northway Motor Inn in Dease Lake, and if you don’t overnight there it may take another 6+ hours to reach Highway 16 in Kitwanga. Once on Highway 16, a great place to stay is the LDR Lodge – Last Dollar Ranch.
What to Do to Prepare Your Vehicle For Driving to Alaska
Pretty much any vehicle is capable of making the trip to Alaska— even a motorcycle! The trip is about 48 hours nonstop, so you must take a vehicle that you trust and feel safe in. However, we recommend taking at least a week so that you can enjoy a few sites along the way.
Before departing, plan on taking reasonable precautions with your vehicle such as making sure you’re up to on scheduled maintenance and topping off fluids. Also, you should verify that you have the appropriate parts, in good working order, to change a flat tire. Here are a few more tips on things you should bring along the journey:
- Roll of duct tape for blown hoses, amongst other things
- A couple of microfiber towels and reusable rags
- Spare key—kept in purse or wallet
- Flashlight—Harry’s favorite everyday flashlight—or use this high-powered flashlight to spot wildlife at night (both USB charging)
- Extra drive belt
- Bottled water and snacks in case of an emergency
- Cheap jumper cables
- Tire gauge and compressor
- Funnel to add fluids
- Bucket—it can be used to store the above items and could come in handy
What’s the Best Guidebook For Driving to Alaska
A carefully planned journey offers the opportunity to experience a world before development, where wild animals still roam a landscape covered with glaciers, tundra, mountains, lakes, streams, and forests. The only downfall to all of this fresh air and wide-open space is that there are only a few roads and limited tourist infrastructure.
The Milepost 2023 travel planner is a 700-page, mile-by-mile description of more than 15,000 miles of road in Alberta, British Columbia, Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Alaska.
The Milepost travel planner will assist you in finding accommodations, gas stations, restaurants, sightseeing opportunities, stores, and attractions. These facilities may be few and far between and separated by highly variable weather.
What is available tends to fill up quickly, especially during the summer. Planning is a good way to ensure your experience meets or exceeds your comfort levels. The Milepost is a great travel planning book that most visitors will need. You know it’s good when even the locals tend to carry a copy with them.
Did this article help you prepare for your journey? Have you driven the route before? If so, make to leave a comment below!