Don’t Drive the Alaska Highway

“You’re funny, sir.” 

This time I wasn’t thrilled to hear someone telling me I’m funny. The lady at the Watson Lake Visitor Center in Canada’s Yukon Territory wasn’t laughing, didn’t show a smile, not even a smirk.Justin Fricke on an unpaved section of the Alaska highway

I had been driving from Squamish in British Columbia Canada up to Fairbanks Alaska with my brother. This was day three of driving and by this point I was ready to be in Fairbanks and exploring Alaska. I had asked how much longer it’d take us to get to Fairbanks, I thought it’d take 10 or 11 hours. The lady at the visitor center, on the other hand, thought I was kidding and informed me that between swerving around potholes and slowing down for ice heaves, we also had to deal with road construction delays. And it’d realistically take another 20 hours.

She said it all in a tone like “You’re crazy for driving the Alaska Highway.” That’s not the first time I heard something like that. For about a year when I’d tell someone I’d be going to Alaska this year and driving the Alaska Highway it was always met with “I can’t believe you’re doing that!” and “How much spare gas are you taking?” and “I know some who did that a year or two ago. Had to replace all their tires, that road’s terrible!”

All those reactions from people made me wonder if Alaska was even feasible. That is, until Adam and I met Dennis in Texas this past February. Dennis is a retired man who drives an older Sprinter Van than ours around the country with his cat, Cathy, and rocks a license plate from South Dakota that reads U 4 JESUS. When we were done comparing build out notes, I asked him if he’d ever been to Alaska.

“Sure have, I love Alaska!” he said.

“And did you drive the Alaska Highway?” He looked at me with a little grin and said what I’d been waiting to hear.

“The Alaska Highway ain’t shit! Not since they paved the damn thing.”

The Alaska Highway is a highway like no other. It’s long days of dodging pot holes and getting a crash course in how to drive over something you never knew existed until a few hours beforehand, like an ice heave. But the reward for keeping your car on the road are beautiful sights, stopping to take pictures of bison, skating small bits of the deserted highway, listening to Harry Potter books on tape, and having conversations with your brother that you haven’t had in a long time.

The next day we rolled into Fairbanks. It didn’t take 20 hours, it only took 10 hours from Watson Lake. To be honest, it wasn’t really that bad at all.

We never came close to running out of gas. Gas didn’t come anywhere close to costing $6+/gallon. The drive wasn’t terribly boring and we didn’t die! It was fun.

Looking back on it all, I find it kind of funny that I worried about driving the Alaska Highway based on what others told me. All of whom had never driven the Alaska Highway themselves.

Take advice from someone who’s actually driven the Alaska Highway. Preferably more than once. If you’ve ever thought about driving to Alaska, go drive the Alaska Highway. That’s what Dennis told me in Texas and I’m glad I listened to him.

Comments

  1. Elke Hierl-Steinbauer says

    Seriously, both the Alaska Highway and the Cassiar Highway, which are in length about the same time to get to Alaska, are not in bad shape at all. Yes, there were a few wash-outs on the Alaska Highway last Spring, but as far as I am concerned … go. It is beautiful and it is fun. And if you inform yourself a bit ahead … there ARE “hidden” gems right by the highway, that you might want to try. E.g. the Liard Hot Springs. Or … if going the Cassiar … get “Hyderized” in Stewart/Canada adjoining to Hyder/Alaska …. Check out the Gold Mines and Ghost Towns and Salmon Hatcheries … or enjoy the beautiful Wilderness. North … to Alaska … don’t hesitate. It is BEAUTIFUL and well worth the while. There are plenty of rest stops and gas stations … so no worries. You’ll be just fine.

  2. Michelle says

    I’d recommend the Alaska highway to anyone! Best part of our honeymoon by far. I hope to drive it again with the little one once she’s a bit older. Glad you didn’t listen to them and kept going! Really enjoying following your trip! Enjoy!

    • The Weekend Warrior says

      Oh man, when you do that trip with your daughter, I’m sure that’ll be a road trip she’ll never forget!

  3. says

    My boyfriend and I drove from Denali to Philadelphia in 2007 and took the Alaska Highway as part of our trip. My little Toyota Corolla held up just fine, but I remember having to slam on the brakes for random frost heaves that were marked with tiny pink flags more than once! Such an incredible experience . And agree, anyone with the opportunity to do it should do it 🙂

    • The Weekend Warrior says

      Well you’ll be delighted to know the ice heave marking system hasn’t changed. After 9 years, they’re still marking those ice heaves and bumpy sections with little pink flags. They’ve also added some bump signs, so that was nice and gave us some room to hit the brakes.

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