Tips for Driving The Alaska Highway

We receive frequent questions regarding driving the Alaska Highway.  How long will it take?  What route should we take?  What services are available?  These are just some of the most common questions.  Alaska Tour & Travel does not offer any lodging or tours along this highway but we thought we should steer those interested to the best travel guides to help with the trip! The Alaska Highway is commonly called the Alcan Highway as it begins in Canada and ends in Alaska.  It was constructed in 1942 to serve as a link between Alaska and the contiguous United States (known locally as the “Lower 48”).  The highway has seen vast improvements since its construction, not only in road conditions but in services provided for travelers.  Now the highway is somewhat of a tourist destination in and of itself, not just a way of getting to Alaska!  Alaska Highway travelers truly experience the vastness of Alaska and are amazed at the scenery and wildlife offered by the last great frontier.

The Alaska Highway starts in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, winds northwest through the Yukon Territory of Canada and officially ends in Delta Junction, Alaska 1,422 miles from Dawson Creek.  Delta Junction is at the junction of the Alaska Highway and the Richardson Highway.   When you leave the Alaska Highway, you have the option of traveling about 100 miles north on the Richardson Highway to get to Fairbanks or head south via the Richardson and Glenn Highways to get to Anchorage, a distance of about 335 miles.

For anyone planning on driving to or through Alaska we recommend that your first step is to purchase The Milepost.  This is a mile-by-mile guide to the roads and highway in Alaska and includes the Alaska Highway.  It is considered the “bible of North Country travel”!  It is an excellent guide and offers insight to service stations, lodging, restaurants, photo stops and even the history of towns and parks along the way.  I have lived in Alaska for over 30 years and I still use this guide when I travel to areas of Alaska new to me.  The Milepost is updated annually and can be purchased online or may be available in the travel section of your local bookstore.

A drive on the Alaska Highway can take anywhere from 60 hours to seven to ten days depending on what you are looking for.  College students traveling from Alaska to the Lower 48 have multiple drivers and drive straight through the night as the highway is simply the way of getting from point A to point B.  If you plan to really appreciate the Alaska Highway, I suggest taking a week to stop along the way and enjoy the sights.  The Milepost can help you decide on where to stop and help you with lodging options.

Generally, services such as food, lodging and fuel are about fifty miles apart.  Occasionally the distance between services may stretch to over 100 miles but there are signs alerting you to this fact.  Cell phone coverage, both on the Alaska Highway and on highways within Alaska, is spotty.  There will be long stretches where there is no cell phone service.  Cell phone coverage does improve when you are close to cities.  

Road conditions have improved a great deal over the years.  What started as a dirt road is now nearly paved in its entirety.  You will encounter frost heaves – breaks in the road caused by the freezing and thawing of the soil under the road – but usually there are flags or warning signs.  Summer is the season for road construction and repair so you may encounter minor delays along the way.  For the Canada portion of the highway visit 511 Yukon for current road conditions.  Once in Alaska, call 511 for up-to-date road conditions and construction information or visit the 511 Alaska site.

A great option for travelers who will be traveling both to and from Alaska by car is to drive the complete Alaska Highway one way and to travel by ferry the other.  The ferry is operated by the Alaska Marine Highway System.  This option gives you the opportunity to experience the Inside Passage and Southeast Alaska in addition to the Alaska Highway.  Bellingham, Washington is the southern terminus of the Alaska Marine Highway.   

With proper planning and a sense of adventure, a drive vacation on the Alaska Highway will be the experience of a lifetime!

Comments

  1. Matt
    April 6th, 2012 | 3:50 pm

    Nice idea for the ferry ride back, didn’t know about that. Looks like a great trip, would love to make it myself sometime!

  2. Jane
    April 12th, 2012 | 12:57 am

    Great Tips.
    Actually a Friend of mine told me that 3 days are enough. But I was a sure that 3 days will be only for travel and if we want to enjoy sightseeing than at-least it will take one week. So thanks for Confirming. I appreciate your effort to describe everything in details.

  3. Todd K
    July 21st, 2012 | 2:35 am

    When traveling the alasca hwy a tany time be fully aware of the abundence of wild life moose,deer pss tons of , be sure to stop at the Liard Hot springs,ps be aware of the bears, remember this is wilderness country. When you get close to Muncho Lake there is high wind gusts , and montain goats on the hwy,After you cross the Yukon border be higly aware of the frost hieves , they are whicked ,I hit one at 40 km and almost lost it on my bike ,Destruction Bay did”nt get its name for nothing ,Once north of there its preaty much smooth sailing , just watch for road const, take your time , and be sure to take a few roles of film

  4. Joyce
    November 26th, 2012 | 5:41 pm

    We traveled from Kansas City, Mo to Alaska via the Alcan Highway in June 2012. We took our time and enjoyed the beautiful scenery and wildlife along the way. The highway was in very good condition, just some frost heaves in places. It is said to be a “once in a lifetime experience” but we sure would like to do it again!!!

  5. Linda and Garry
    January 27th, 2013 | 2:23 pm

    We are going to travel the Alaska Highway for our third time. It is a long drive, pulling a 5th wheel; but the scenery and wildlife is outstanding. We plan on taking 10 days and starting early in the morning each day and ending sometime around 4 p.m. Laird Hot Springs is a MUST STOP!

  6. Kevin Molander
    March 22nd, 2013 | 11:41 am

    Hello,

    I will be driving the ALCAN soon – leaving on May 20th from California. I will be driving a small economy car (Toyota Yaris).

    I have heard the traffic can be pretty bad and RV’s are present in great numbers. One of my main motivations for doing the ALCAN is to get away from traffic!!

    Can you provide me with any input on what the traffic conditions might be like in late May/early June?

    Sincerely,
    Kevin Molander
    Martinez, CA

  7. March 25th, 2013 | 10:07 am

    Kevin – I think you’ll find that the traffic along the Alcan is not as significant as you are familiar with in California. Yes, there will be a number of RV’s that will be traveling the highway as well and they typically move at a slower pace than you might be driving. Still, it will be a great adventure for you. I would highly recommend picking up a copy of the Alaska MilePost to use both in planning the trip but also to have as a resource during the trip. You will find it very helpful.

    Steve

  8. Evan Lewis
    July 28th, 2013 | 11:46 pm

    Hi from New Zealand, We want to drive around the circuit from Anchourage, Valdez up to Fairbanks and back to Anchourage. We are allowing about 7 days and want to do it about the 20th May to then take a cruise ship at the end of May. Will it be ok to drive without any snow ice problems then Thanks Evan

  9. August 5th, 2013 | 6:30 am

    Evan – Yes, the 20th of May should be fine for “spring” weather road conditions. There are a few mountain passes along the routes you have mentioned that have the potential of having a late winter snow but that would be a unusually late winter storm.

  10. dan
    December 16th, 2013 | 9:51 am

    Planning on coming in September or 2014 or15. Is a 4 wheel drive required?
    Thinking on my Jetta tdi or maybe an Outback. Would either be acceptable?

  11. December 27th, 2013 | 10:13 am

    Generally speaking as long as your car is dependable you should be fine. Most of the highway is paved but the later you travel in September the more risk you are at running into winter conditions along the highway.

  12. February 27th, 2015 | 7:19 am

    It can vary depending on location but generally speaking late April and early May can be spring light conditions and snow shouldn’t be a factor.

  13. Margaret M
    March 27th, 2015 | 5:44 am

    I have sold my home and plan to move to Fairbanks in May! I have found lots of info on the do’s and don’ts for crossing the border pertaining to food/pets/firearms. I have not been successful in locating (nor have I recieved any response from Canada border agency, so far) pertaining to restrictions/allowances of common household items: cleaners, solvents, sprays, butane, etc. This would be helpful to know before I pack my tow-behind enclosed trailer and make the treck from Milwaukee, WI!
    Please, suggestions would be most welcome.

  14. April 4th, 2015 | 7:12 pm

    Hi, my name is roqueta and I am researching the right route from California to Alaska by driving. Can you please assist me with this route?, Thank you,
    roqueta

  15. April 30th, 2015 | 7:28 am

    Let us know how we can help.

  16. April 30th, 2015 | 7:30 am

    As far as we are aware none of the common house hold items would be confiscated.

  17. Mike
    May 28th, 2015 | 8:28 am

    I am planning on a trip from Spokane to Fairbanks (RT) in July. I will be pulling a 44′ 5th wheel. I assume there is a good amount truck traffic on the road so height and length restrictions will not be an issue. Do you have any suggestions for the travel (how many spare tires to carry, best practices for photo ops with a long trailer, average price of diesel, etc.)?
    Are there rest areas and can we stay overnight in any?

  18. Ann
    June 4th, 2015 | 4:30 pm

    Is it safe for 2 20 year old girls to drive the AlCAN alone?

  19. Larry Keehne
    June 27th, 2015 | 3:53 pm

    Ok… this might be a reduntant question but here goes.

    Can I travel into Canada with a hand gun, as long as I declare it? What are the conditions to having a firearm? I’m not selling or leaving the firearm in Canada.
    I normally carry in while traveling but I know that Canada is particular which is totally understandable.

    Thanks, Larry

  20. Ken
    July 11th, 2015 | 6:48 pm

    I’m trying to carefully plan my trip from San Jose,ca to Anchorage. What I’m finding difficult is making lodging arrangements since I don’t know how far they are apart. Once I can get a start time out of Vancouver it may be easier. How did anyone out there plan this?

  21. August 19th, 2015 | 3:00 pm

    It typically takes about 55-60 hours of actual driving time from Seattle to Anchorage. So add the additional time from the Bay area. We recommend picking up a copy of the Alaska Milepost to help you plan your trip.

  22. August 19th, 2015 | 3:04 pm

    It really depends on the condition of your vehicle but yes, its been done before. Many college students from Alaska have done that trip together. Just like in any city, practice the same safety measures you would do where ever you go and be prepared for breakdowns, etc. Buy an Alaska MilePost!

  23. troy
    January 18th, 2016 | 7:56 pm

    whats a good ball park figure for gas in a mini van? We are thinking June 2016

  24. January 23rd, 2016 | 12:00 pm

    Troy, it really depends on where you are starting from and where your destination is in Alaska. I’d suggest reaching out to the folks at the MilePost for help on planning a self-drive trip up the Alaska Highway.

  25. Glenn and Mary
    February 28th, 2016 | 10:55 am

    North 2016. Retired and excited to finally travel to Yukon from Alberta for 3 weeks with new travel trailer and vehicle. Plan on taking our time sightseeing, camping, long summer nights and meeting new people. With a disability we won’t hike far; So camping is our main enjoyment. Looking for many active campgrounds dry camping but not all full hookups, potable water and sewer dumps along highway and any advise on attractions. First stop will be Dawson Creek information center and buy a map.

  26. April 4th, 2016 | 11:06 am

    Glenn, be sure to purchase an Alaska MilePost. It has terrific information on the Yukon Territory as well!

  27. Denise
    April 8th, 2016 | 4:18 pm

    Steve, I plan on driving from Arizona to visit friends in Anchorage departing May/Jun 2017. I am retired and plan to take 6 months if the urge hits me 🙂 I would also like to be spontaneous during the driving portion to Anchorage (would like to take marine ferry on return). I plan to car camp, maybe tent camp at campsites along the way. Stay in hotels when available at reasonable rate and when I am need of a bed 🙂 Does spontaneity sound reasonable for overnight stays at campsites or do they require reservations? Are their rest stops for overnight car camp? Yes, I will purchase the milepost, any other words of wisdom for me?

  28. April 12th, 2016 | 7:13 pm

    Hi Denise – You’ll find that in Alaska camping can be done both in campgrounds and along the highways and pull outs. We don’t like to discourage folks from stopping and resting if they need to do so. Our campgrounds are a mixture of Forest Service, National Park, and State Park campgrounds…along with a few private ones in some of the towns. National Park campgrounds are generally limited to Wrangell-St. Elias and Denali National Park. The Forest Service campgrounds tend to be in better condition than State Park campgrounds but there are some state park campgrounds you won’t want to miss. May and June are still early for the most part so you shouldn’t have too much problem with being able to drive in and select a spot. It gets more difficult on the Kenai Peninsula and Mat-Su area during salmon runs…particularly on weekends when Anchorage residents head out for a quick camping trip. So…for the most part spontaneous works! Feel free to send more specific questions to me at my email steve@alaskatravel.com. Most definitely get a MilePost! Happy to help.

  29. Joe Dinkel
    September 6th, 2016 | 9:56 am

    Hi Steve,

    My wife Evelyn and I are planning a trip in spring of 2017 from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Alaska. Time is not really an issue since I recently retired. I too am interested in the issues of transporting fire arms through Canada. Can you please provide some guidance? I really appreciate reading your Blog.

    Joe

  30. September 8th, 2016 | 6:46 am

    Joe,

    This is a good article on transporting your guns across the Canadian border from the United States…

    http://bit.ly/2cscqNC

  31. Linda Kurth
    September 16th, 2016 | 4:52 am

    We were thinking about upgrading our fifth wheel to one that is closer to 40 feet in length. Is it better or perhaps easier to take a shorter fifth wheel to Alaska? We have had a couple of people mention this and was wondering if we should stay with a shorter fifth wheel(under 30 feet) for that trip.Thanks

  32. September 27th, 2016 | 12:49 pm

    Linda, There are areas along the Alaska Highway that have fairly significant frost heaves that create result in some significant pavement rollercoaster affects particularly as you near the Alaska – Canada border (on both sides). In addition, having a shorter fifth wheel will give you more flexibility on campground parking particularly in Alaska State Park’s which tend to have smaller campspots versus the National Forest campgrounds.

  33. October 2nd, 2016 | 1:40 pm

    Planning an Alaska trip summer of 2017, June thru early August.

    Plans are for this trip to be a fishing trip. I want to spend a few days at each viable fishing area where there are motels, etc.

    Are there any publications catering to this type of travel?

    Plan to end up in Anchorage in early August and take the boat ferry back. Is it possible to make stopovers on the boat ferry? Want to visit Sitka where my folks married in 1928.

    Thanks for the help,

    Lars

  34. October 7th, 2016 | 7:12 am

    Lars, I think you’ll have to combine resources for planning. Pick up a copy of the Alaska Milepost (for planning meals, motels, essential needs) as well as the Alaska Roadside Anglers Guide. That should generally do the trick.

  35. Heather Ellsworth Riney
    February 12th, 2017 | 7:17 am

    Hello, we are planning a trip Alaska this spring, pulling a 30ft trailer. Can you advise me of the earliest month we can go without meeting icy/snowy roads? I have looked at maps with road conditions but can not find one that gives estimates of a good month to travel. Thanks you kindly.

  36. February 17th, 2017 | 1:05 pm

    Hi Heather, mid-May should be fairly safe but you could possibly still run into a very late snow storm in Eastern Alaska or in the Yukon Territory.

  37. Dale patrick
    March 5th, 2017 | 5:05 pm

    Hello

    We are moving south and leaving Anchorage about March 24. How is the road during that time? Will we need chains? I’ve pulled the toy hauler all over the state in winter, but don’t know the Yukon road conditions. Ive never driven out in the winter. I’ll be in a 1 ton dually and pulling a 31′ toy hauler. Any advice is appreciate.

  38. March 7th, 2017 | 9:33 am

    I would monitor this site: http://www.511yukon.ca/en/

  39. Sara
    April 11th, 2017 | 8:09 pm

    Hello Steve! I am planning to drive from Anchorage to southern California starting in mid-May 2017. Do I need snow tires? I currently have snow tires on my vehicle. I would like to give them away if I don’t need them, but I’ll keep them for the trip if there might be snow.

  40. April 20th, 2017 | 8:15 am

    Sara, generally speaking you should be fine by mid-May. Snow tires are actually illegal in Alaska from May 1st through the fall.

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