Do you love road trips, but hate traffic? Is your ideal road the one whose end is not seen, which crosses boundless spaces surrounded by nature? Then the Dalton Highway it should be your next destination! Mind you though, this is not about making the romantic Route 66, or simply crossing a state on four wheels.
To travel the Dalton in Alaska you need a good preparation, both of yourself and of the car with which you intend to reach the deep north. In this article I will try to summarize the main characteristics of what it is one of the most isolated roads in North America.
- The Dalton Highway: history and length of the route
- How to get to the Dalton Highway
- When and how soon can you travel the Dalton Highway?
- Useful information to prepare for the trip
- On the Dalton step by step
- Where to sleep along the Dalton Highway
- Organized tour along the Dalton Highway
The Dalton Highway: history and length of the route
The Dalton Highway does not pass through large cities and ends nowhere, forcing those on it to turn around once it reaches its end. There are no monuments to photograph or activities and entertainment to take part in. Calling it 'Highway' is a gamble, being one dirt track for most of the way. Then the question arises: why should you waste a few days of your life on the Dalton Highway? You can find the motivation in yourself, if you are constantly looking for a journey that puts you to the test, where you can test your skills and get up in the morning to go towards the unknown.
We are talking about a street of 662 km, which connects the Alaskan road network (precisely the Elliot Highway) with the industrial site of Deadhorse, in Prudhoe Bay, a stone's throw from the Arctic Ocean. The reason for existing of this track that furrows the wild nature of the north is the oil.
In 1968, precisely during the energy crisis facing the US, black gold was discovered in Prudhoe Bay, far and disconnected from any American city. To tap into this boon that would solve many problems, an oil pipeline was needed: a tube of 1290 km which had to be built quickly, in one of the areas where the Alaskan climate made it more complicated.
The road parallel to the pipeline was initially named Haul Road (loot road), because it was used to transport that precious loot discovered in the far north. It assumed its current name in 1981, dedicated to James B. Dalton: an Alaskan expert in arctic engineering involved in exploration. In the same year, the road was opened to public traffic in its first section, while only in 1994 was access to Deadhorse allowed. This also means that the pipeline will be your main travel companion all the while, perpetually running parallel to the road.
Today more and more travelers put themselves to the test by crossing these lands, perhaps taking the opportunity to venture into nature to walk, hunt or fish. Crossing the Arctic Circle is already a goal in itself, rewarded in the summer with the opportunity to attend the midnight Sun.
The road does not lead to the sea
Looking at the map, one is under the illusion that the road reaches the Arctic Ocean and it may come to mind to drive to the coast and boldly dip your feet in the frozen waters of the north. Unfortunately, the route is closed 13km before the coast. The only way to see the Arctic Ocean is by booking the shuttle at least 24 hours in advance, which for the expensive figure of $ 69 takes rare visitors from Deadhorse to the coast.
How to get to the Dalton Highway
I have already pointed out that the Dalton Highway is one of the most isolated roads in the world: this means that there are not many alternatives to take it. The starting point is only one: Livengood. Not a metropolis with airports, stations and highways, but a village that also struggles to be called such. The 2000 census gave 29 residents, divided into 13 dwellings. In fact, this handful of houses only have the merit of being exactly where the Elliot Highway (the road from Fairbanks to Manley Hot Springs) branches off the Dalton Highway.
Then a the real question is: how can you get to Livengood? The only option is to already own a car, which you can rent at least in three different locations, depending on how much time you have.
- Fairbanks rental. If your days are tight, reach Fairbanks by plane or train from Anchorage. From Fairbanks you will have to travel 127km (allow approximately 2 hours) on the Elliot Highway to get to Livengood.
- Rental in Anchorage. If your plane lands in Anchorage and you're not in a hurry, rather than hop on a train to Fairbanks, you can rent your car here. There are 580km between the two cities and you need to consider driving over 6 hours on the scenic Parks Highway. In this case, however, the best choice is undoubtedly to make an intermediate stop at Denali National Park, spending at least one night in the surroundings of the park.
- Rental in Canada, Seattle or Juneau. If you are a real fan of endless road trips, the great north offers one of the best itineraries you could wish for. You must have many days to spare, but you will not regret it and above all you will have a great option of intermediate stops, both Canadian and Alaskane. Seattle and Vancouver (just 200km from each other) are the two best-served airports, but you may find good flights to other Canadian destinations as well. From Vancouver you have to travel over 1100 km to reach Dawson Creek, not that of the show but the town from which the famous one starts Alaska Highway, which crosses western Canada and eastern Alaska to Fairbanks. Other Canadian airports closest to Dawson Creek are Kamloops (900km), Calgary (840km) or Edmonton (580km). Da Dawson Creek a Fairbanks you have to consider almost 30 hours by car, but you can count on numerous stops along the way and divide the itinerary into the number of days you prefer. By adding about ten hours, it is possible to make a detour in Southeast Alaskano, a Juneau (also consider flying into Juneau and renting your car here instead of Canada). Finally, to cut the trip in half, there is also an airport along the Alaska Highway route Whitehorse, just a 10-hour drive from Fairbanks.
Note: some car rental companies forbid you to go along the Dalton Highway, check the rental conditions carefully! Read also our advice on how to rent a car in the USA to know the conditions and necessary documentation, and also for some advice on portals where to book.
When and how soon can you travel the Dalton Highway?
Winter in the far north of Alaska, where the ground is composed of permafrost, is not a pleasant season to take a road trip, especially on a dirt road. Temperatures can drop below -50 ° and in any case it is quite normal for them to be below -20 °. This implies snow and ice everywhere and the situation therefore becomes much more dangerous than it is in the summer. Even if you are an experienced traveler, therefore, my advice is to embark on this journey in the height of summer.
The duration is variable. It all depends on how many hours you are able to drive each day, how many stops you intend to make and how much you will be fascinated by the boundless landscapes by getting out of the vehicle to take pictures or simply look at the horizon for an indefinite number of consecutive minutes. All this, if there are no hitches due to bad weather or road conditions.
These are approximate travel times from Fairbanks, without considering stops:
- Yukon River: 3 ore
- Arctic circle: 5 hours
- Coldfoot: 6 ore
- Atigun Pass: 8 ore
- Deadhorse: 13-14 ore
My advice is to dedicate at least 4 days on the return journey, so as not to be in a hurry and to be able to enjoy every detail of the journey to the fullest.
Useful information to prepare for the trip
Be prepared to be self-sufficient in everything and equip yourself so that your car is too. Between Fairbanks and Deadhorse, a journey of almost 800 km, there are only two petrol stations (here are the coordinates for both: Yukon River Camp and Coldfoot Fuel Pump). Running out of petrol or water, puncturing a tire and not being able to repair or change it can be very unpleasant situations. Along the route between Fairbanks and Deadhorse there are no medical services, so it is good to bring a first aid kit with you, there are no banks or ATMs and it is therefore good to carry cash with you, you will not find shops in which to buy food or other goods: then leave with everything you need for the days you will be away.
Also consider that for a good part of the journey telephone and internet will be unusable. A trick? Use the radio! Truck drivers and road workers use channel 19 on the radio. If you get a short-range radio, you can communicate with them in an emergency. THE major unforeseen events on the route are given by the weather (in summer water bombs are common, which can flood the road and make traveling dangerous), fires and wild animals.
On the Dalton step by step
Along the way, everyone chooses where to stop based on the scenarios that attract them most. Here I try to make a list of the main points of interest to be able to scan the long journey. Distances are measured from the start of the Dalton Highway, near Livengood.
- Bridge over the Yukon River (90 km): The Yukon River is the first stop on the journey. Here during the summer some volunteers keep a wooden shed open (usually from 9 to 18), which serves as an information base for visitors. Alaska's longest river is worth a look in this area, on one of the few bridges that crosses it. There you find the before the two petrol pumps.
- Mile 60 (96,5 km) - The sixtieth mile is the first camping area (there are 6 in total) where it is possible to stay overnight along the Dalton. Even if you don't stay overnight, consider a stop: there is an artesian well that provides drinking water.
- Finger Mountain Wayside (158km): in addition to being a good vantage point, here a large rock looks like a finger sticking out of the ground. Certainly one of the most photographed spots in Dalton.
- Arctic Circle (185 km): even if the parallel line is imaginary, here a sign indicates its passage. If you happen to be here at lunch or dinner time, the picnic area is ideal for a longer stop. Not far away, on the hill, is the second camping area, where however there is no drinking water.
- Gobblers Knob (212 km): On sunny summer nights, get out of the car and drive up the hill looking east to see the midnight Sun.
- Grayling Lake Wayside (241 km): the superficial lake visible today is the remnant of the ancient glacier that formed this valley. In these shallow waters it is easy to see grazing moose and other animals.
- Coldfoot (282 km): here once stood the town of Coldfoot, born as a base for prospectors during the gold rush. By 1902 it had two farms, two shops, a post office, a gambling hall, and seven saloons. Today, open from late May to mid-September, there is the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center, where you can stop and learn about the Arctic lands. The third camping area and the second petrol pump.
- Marion Creek Campground (290 km): fourth camping area along the route, it is equipped with a source of drinking water. A walk of about 3 km leads to a beautiful waterfall with a drop of 6 m.
- Wiseman (304 km): Immediately after the Middle Fork Koyoukuk Bridge, you can deviate from the route and follow the signs that in 5 km will take you to the ancient village of Wiseman. Even today some people live here, basing their survival on hunting. Visitors are usually eagerly awaited.
- Sukakpak Mountain (328 km): it is one of the most suggestive mountains that can be photographed in Alaska. Although it is only 1338m high, its particular shape does not leave you indifferent.
- Atigun Pass (393 km): this mountain pass, at an altitude of 1422 km, allows you to cross the Brooks mountain range.
- Galbraith lake (443 km): this lake is all that remains of the immense glacier that occupied the entire Atigun valley in past centuries. From here, towards the east, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge opens up. The fifth camping area is located 6,4 km on a secondary road.
- Toolik Lake (457 km): This lake is home to a research station at the University of Fairbanks. It is not possible to access the station.
- H (538 km): This is a great place to take a long layover. There is easy access to the Sagavanirktok River and the possibility of camping.
- Franklin Bluffs (683 km): the iron-rich soil has caused these colorful, very interesting cliffs to form along the river.
Where to sleep along the Dalton Highway
As you may have guessed, it's not easy to find places to stay overnight along the Dalton Highway. Most travelers choose camping. It is possible to camp in 5 spots along the path, which I described in the previous paragraph. The two best I'm the one at Mile 60 And that of Marion Creek, as they are equipped with a source of drinking water and waste containers.
It's possible sleep in a bed in 3 places along the way, in addition to Deadhorse. THE lodge are located respectively: near the bridge over the Yukon (Yukon River Camp), Coldfoot (Coldfoot Camp) and Wiseman (Arctic Getaway).
Instead, you will have a considerable choice as regards the city of Fairbanks which, as we have seen, is practically an almost obligatory point of support for embarking on an itinerary along the Dalton Highway. You can check the available hotels by clicking on the link below.
Search for accommodation in Fairbanks
Organized tour along the Dalton Highway
If you don't want to worry too much about the preparation of the trip you can rely on a tour operator, at the link below you will find an organized tour that allows you to travel a part of the Dalton Highway by minibus, with the guided commentary of the driver.
Arctic Circle Tour