12,000 Miles and 7 Weeks, Rhode Island to Alaska, the Barnetts drive across the top of North America

In 2005 my husband Roger and I drove the Alcan Highway, now usually known as the Alaska Highway, from start to finish, and it was a great trip. We left our home in Newport RI, drove to Montreal, and headed west and north across Canada. We drove 12,000 miles and took 7 weeks for the round trip.

The highways in Canada are excellent. For the most part they are 2 lane roads, but they are well paved and maintained. Traffic is very light except near the big cities, and the farther west you go the fewer of those there are! Most of the other vehicles on the road are RVs, and there are very few commercial trucks. They must drive at night. When we encountered construction for road repairs it was well marked and well attended.

The services along the highways are fine. There are enough small towns with places to stay and places to eat that one needn’t feel nervous. Gasoline is more expensive in Canada than in the US. Last year it was about $2 a gallon in the US and over $4 a gallon in Canada. Hard to imagine what it will be now. Another thing worth mentioning is the side of the road “rest stops.” These are well-marked roadside areas with well-maintained outhouses. I mean it! Outhouse technology has made lots of progress since I was a kid! There is no need to fear these stops. (Aside: the facilities in Alaska are not as well kept as those in Canada!)

A reference that no traveler should be without is The Milepost. This is available at Amazon.com and also at themilepost.com. This book follows the Alaska Highway and its tributaries from start to finish, with excellent narrative and maps. It is absolutely imperative to have, in my belief. I really wanted to have our copy bronzed when we returned. The book is updated every year, and in addition to road conditions, scenic attractions are listed, as are places to eat and stay. Don’t leave home without it!

After a week on the road from Montreal we arrived at Dawson Creek, BC. They make a lot about this town being “Mile 0” of the Alaska Highway. It is also where a lot of highway construction workers stay during the summer. We took pictures of the “Mile 0” signs, of course. From there we headed north to Fort Nelson. We stayed there two nights. They have a good museum on the construction of the highway, which we found to be worthwhile to visit. The town is sort of like a frontier town, but people were pleasant and the weather was lovely. We took a day trip to Fort Liard in the Northwest Territories, just so we could say we had been in the NWT. Ft. Liard is a small village with mostly Native American inhabitants. The road was paved in BC and dirt in NWT. We explored a little bit and came back to Ft. Nelson. We saw some bison and a bear on the way.

A word about wildlife: We really didn’t see much of it. A few moose and bison, some eagles, some caribou and one or two bears. Roger’s idea is that Alaska and northern Canada cover a LOT of territory. Comparatively speaking the area covered by roads is very small. For the most part the animals do not need to hang out near the roads.

From Ft. Nelson we headed on toward Watson Lake. On this stretch we passed Muncho Lake and Liard Hot springs. Both of these spots are lovely and worth a stop. Also this day we encountered our longest construction delay, in the vicinity of Liard Hot Springs. The road was one lane only so traffic had to take turns. We waited about 30 minutes.

At Watson Lake there is the famous signpost forest. It is quite impressive and fun to wander through. We finally found one sign from RI, and were sorry we didn’t bring one along to put up. (This is allowed.) Also in Watson Lake is the Northern Lights Center which has a terrific show about the northern lights. This is the drawback to doing this drive in the summer: Not enough darkness for northern lights.

At Watson Lake we are in Yukon Territory. Nothing changes except the road numbers. The road conditions are still good and there are plenty of places to stop along the way. We headed for Whitehorse, which is the biggest city in the Territory. Lots of tours come here, so of course there are plenty of restaurants and motels. Also, there is the “Frantic Follies” a stage show about the gold rush days, put on by one of the hotels every night. Plenty of other attractions there too. From here we headed to Dawson City. Technically we left the Alaska Highway here, but on our way south a month later we did the Fairbanks to Whitehorse leg. Dawson is a wild west town, has dirt roads, saloons, people in 19th century dress, buildings maintained as in gold rush days. It’s a pleasant place for a day or so of relaxing.

From Dawson one takes the free ferry across the Yukon River and begins to ascend the Top of the World Highway toward Alaska. We had been nervous about this but while in Whitehorse met folks who had just come over it from Alaska, and they assured it that the road was not scary. This turned out to be true and we were very glad we decided to take this route. It is a lovely, scenic 2 hour drive on a well-maintained road, with very little traffic (as always). We reached the Alaska border at Poker Creek, the northernmost land border station in the US. Sorry to say, both the road and the view deteriorated in the US. We headed on, stopping at Chicken, then to Tok to spend the night.

In Alaska, the roads are not as well maintained as in Canada but they are still good, and there is still no traffic outside of the cities. We spent 3 weeks wandering around, went all the way to Prudhoe Bay, and loved every minute of it. We recommend the trip to anybody who has the time, and the money to spend on gasoline!

While in Anchorage we stayed at Elmendorf AFB, in a DV suite for $36 a night {current rates are $43.25-$53.25}. Very nice, and the PX and commissary were easily accessible. Elmendorf is about a 20 minute drive from downtown Anchorage.

Perhaps you can tell that we really enjoyed this trip. I haven’t included anything about our adventures once we got to Alaska, but that was terrific too, as was our drive home via a different route. We are big fans of seeing the beauty of our country by car.

Keep up the good work with R&R Travel News. We look forward to reading every issue. – Roger and Sandy Barnett