The Alaska Highway
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The Alcan:
The Alaskan Highway

History of the Alaska Highway

The one event which had the greatest impact on every aspect of the Upper Tanana region was the building of the Alaska Highway in 1942.

This 1,523 mile Canadian-Alaskan highway was roughed out by American Army engineers in just seven months from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to the already completed Richardson Highway at Delta Junction, Alaska.

It was built as a supply route to military forces in Alaska during World War II. The men worked tirelessly in lengthy shifts, sometimes in temperatures of -40░ F. A record temperature of -79░ F was set during construction. This major effort helped open Alaska to the rest of the world.

The project was then turned over to civilian contractors, who improved the road with paving, rerouting, straightening, etc. It is these improvements which causes the huge difference between actual miles between points and the historical mileposts used as addresses. Even worse, Canada uses the metric system, giving distances in kilometers (the distance from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks is usually given as 1,520 miles).

Distances given west of Dawson Creek are Historical Miles, which are still used as addresses. The popular guidebook "Milepost" gives the historical mileage at the Alaska Border Crossing as 1221.8, and the actual distance to Dawson Creek as 1189.8.

In 1971, customs moved from Tok to their present location at Mile 1221.8 Alaska Highway, 93 miles SE of Tok. Officials at this US border inspection station, Alcan, strongly suggest travelers obtain the pamphlet Know Before You Go before starting down the Alaska highway. Visitors going in either direction are required to have enough funds to defray the cost of their trip for the duration of their visit. If you have questions, call (907) 774-2252.

The highway is all paved, mostly with oil and stones, a concoction called "sealcoat". But no matter what summer you drive the highway, there are always areas of construction or repaving with loose, dusty gravel. Prepare for lots of dust. Major rerouting projects frequently tie up traffic and break windshields, sometimes lasting for years, especially on the Canadian portion.

Consult with someone knowledgeable about preparations you will want to make before you start driving the highway. These may include such things as bug screens for windows and lights (to protect from rocks, as well) and rubber padding to shield the gas tank. Signs when you start out will remind you to keep your lights on for the entire length of the highway, even in the middle of the day.

Before you drive the Alcan, you should call Yukon Community Transportation Services at (867) 667-3710 for a brochure giving construction areas, information and emergency phone numbers, as well as radio stations with weather and road information broadcasts. You may also want to stop at the Whitehorse Visitors' Center for an update.

There are many campgrounds along the highway, so you should have no trouble finding a place to stop and take a break. NOTE: Camping or overnight parking at rest areas is illegal in both British Columbia and Yukon Territory, as you will find posted. Turnouts are plentiful on the highway, but amenities are not. Overnight parking is allowed in Alaska unless posted.

We will be adding more information to this page later. In the meantime, you might be interested in a story written by a long time Alaskan who traveled the highway. Her story takes place at Stone Mountain. Just follow the story link above.

For more information on places to stop on the way up the highway to Fairbanks, check out this site, or pick up a copy of the "Milepost" magazine.

And finally, here are the phone numbers for recorded weather information:

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 Dawson Creek, BC, (250) 784-2244 (1488 miles from Fairbanks - but only 393 miles to Dawson City)

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 Fairbanks, (907) 452-3553

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 Fort St. John, BC, to Watson Lake, YT, (250) 774-6461

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Southeast Alaska, (907) 586-3997

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 Whitehorse, YT, (403) 668-6061 (593 miles from Fairbanks)

Trip Diary of the "Ohio Eskimos"

This is the fascinating and fun diary of a group of 11 Senior Citizens calling themselves the "Ohio Eskimos" who rode "Gold Wings" motorcycles up the Alaska Highway in the summer of 1998. 

Follow their adventures from Canton Ohio 6/13/98, until they arrive home on 8/5/98. In September 1998 they wrote,

"Several of our people are really considering returning to Alaska in the next several years, not on motorcycles, but either in motorhomes or with a 4-wheel drive vehicle, so that we can do the highways or roads that weren't for us this year. We do intend to go all the way to Prudhoe Bay the next time. We have talked with a man that even rode his Gold Wing up there and he didn't think it was that bad. We disagreed with his observation."

Trip Summary

This is an excellent shorter summary of the motorcycle trip by one of the participants.

Further Links:

Those who want to take a motorcycle tour, without having to buy their own motorcycles, will want to check out this link to Motorcycle Tours and Rental worldwide from MotoQuesttours.com.  They do not originate in Fairbanks, but often pass through, having begun as the Alaska Rider Tours.

| More Highway History | Crossing the Border | Road Reports | Road Conditions | Highway Length | Services & Sights | The "Inside Passage"| Distance Calculator |

Find information for the Canadian leg of your journey here:
Northern Rockies Alaska Highway Tourism Association

 

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