(The "Haul Road")
The James Dalton Highway is a 414-mile gravel road.
It heads straight north from the
Livengood turnoff of the Elliott Highway (which is 70 miles north of Fairbanks), through
arctic tundra to the farthest north reaches of Alaska.
Alyeska built the 360-mile haul road, now known as the Dalton Highway, from
the Yukon River to Prudhoe Bay, for $150 million to supply the oil facilities on the North
Slope. The pipeline bridge across the 1,875 mile Yukon River is
the only span across that river in Alaska.
The road's northern 360 miles, beginning at the Yukon River, were built in
just five months in 1974 using 32 million cubic yards of gravel. The pipeline
parallels the highway most of the trip north.
But this is not a road for the faint of heart, or those
with a brand-new vehicle! It is still the main supply route for the Prudhoe
Bay oilfields, and you will be sharing the road with large tractor-trailers. Windshields
and headlights are easy targets of flying rocks. Most rental companies will not allow you
to drive their cars on the Dalton. Trucks speeding along the slippery gravel track kick up
thick clouds of dust or mud, reducing visibility to absolute zero; potholes take a heavy
toll on cars and services, gas, and repairs are practically nonexistent. Don't even
consider driving the Dalton unless you have 4-wheel drive, a CB radio, extra
fuel, food, tires, and a trunk filled with
supplies. This is grizzly country, so when camping, keep a clean campsite,
storing food at least a quarter mile from where you sleep.
Driving Haul Road Yourself
Permits to travel north were once required, but have not been since
If you do decide to travel the road yourself, be aware that semi-truck drivers
can't stop their rigs quickly and often must accelerate downhill to gain momentum. Yield
to these big rigs at all times, especially going over narrow bridges that often only
accommodate one vehicle at a time. Also, you need to keep your lights on, avoid stopping
or slowing suddenly if a semi-truck is nearby and keep the CB--if you have one--turned to
Channel 19 (that's the frequency used by Dalton truckers and motorcoach drivers.)
Roadside services are few and far between. Once you leave Fairbanks, there are
only two spots to buy gas -- the Yukon River crossing and Coldfoot. You will need to bring
extra gasoline, a couple of spare tires, basic tools, food and drink, warm clothing,
first aid supplies and bug repellant.
The Bureau of Land Management staffs a log cabin visitor center (mile 56) at the Yukon
River (the fifth largest river in North America) , open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Its official name if the Yukon Crossing Visitor Contact Station. The staff can fill advise you on
camping, wildlife and road condition information. Gas, bathrooms, restaurant and hotel are
available at Yukon Ventures.
Yukon River Tours, phone (907) 452-7162, on the north bank of the river,
offers riverboat trips three times a day--morning, mid-day and late afternoon--for $20 per
person. Reservations are not needed, but you may have to wait a few minutes. The
excursions will take you to an operating Athabaskan fish camp, as well as provide
opportunities to see wildlife.
At mile 86, there is a scenic overlook with a view of the oil pipeline
500 feet below. The road crosses the Arctic Circle
at mile 115. This marks the latitude at which the sun just fails to rise on the year's
shortest day and just fails to set on the year's longest day. There are picnic tables,
barbecue pits, outhouses and camping spots here.
The northern-most truck stop in the world is at your half-way point, mile 175,
Sourdough Fuel at Coldfoot.
Editors note: In 2009, we got an email from a Norwegian trucker who had
this to say:
Been driving trucks in Norwegian
northern and mountain regions and when you claim that Coldfoot has the
worlds northernmost Truck stop it doesn't make sense. We drive regularly
up to 71 degrees north and have truck-stops almost all the way. Climate
is maybe less harsh, but none the less I doubt one could claim to have
the worlds northernmost truckstop at 67 Degrees.
Coldfoot reportedly got its name in 1900, when a few gold
stampeders came north up the Koyukuk River but got cold feet and turned back at Slate
Creek, the settlement's original name. There is a 24-hour cafe, a 50-room inn,
a complete tire shop with limited mechanical and towing service, a post office, gift shop,
groceries, and RV park with plug-ins and dump station.
Reservations are suggested at the hotel, called Slate Creek Inn. In addition
to the 50 rooms with private baths, there is a 28-room annex with shared bath facilities.
Call (907) 678-5224. The cafe number is (907) 678-5201.
Coldfoot is a popular stopover for companies offering bus tours to Prudhoe
Bay, and it is a jumping off point to the Gates of the Arctic National Park, which has no
road access. UPDATE, 2002:
Alyeska is considering shutting down access to Prudhoe Bay and the
ocean - they say for security concerns since Sept. 11. If they succeed,
tours will have to stop here.
A visitor center in Coldfoot is run jointly by the Bureau of Land Management,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. It is open from 10 a.m. to
10 p.m. daily, and features information on recreation, natural history and visitor
services along the Dalton. The center also features nightly slide presentations. Call
(907) 678-5209 for more information.
Beyond Coldfoot, the Dalton climbs into the Brooks Range, a northern spur of
the Rocky Mountains. Marion Creek, mile 179, has a campground with outhouses, fire pits
The trees become sparser until they disappear entirely at Mile 235. A few
miles later, the road crests Atigun Pass, Alaska's highest divide, elevation 4,800 feet.
No services are available at Atigun Pass.
The road then drops steeply to the flat, marshy North Slope. Mile 414, Prudhoe
Bay is the end of the road. All services are available here, but private vehicles are
restricted from entering the Prudhoe Bay oilfield, which provides access to the Arctic
Ocean. The only way you will be allowed to enter these areas would be as part of an
For more information on driving the Dalton, and wonderful pictures taken on
the way, visit the BLM's Dalton Highway site and take their picture tour. There
is also a lot of good information on their Question and Answer
Touring the Dalton
If you value your car, or want to actually reach the Arctic Ocean, you may want to
take a professional Tour, as an alternative
to driving the Dalton yourself. Besides being safer, their tour guides will provide
welcome, informative commentary, lunch, and photo stops when the area's abundant wildlife
(caribou, moose, bears, fox, eagles and wolves) are seen from the road or even crossing in
front of you. If you do want to drive the highway yourself, see our
car rental page for companies that
allow their cars on the Dalton.
You can call any of these companies - they offer a wide variety of
itineraries, some turning back at the Arctic Circle,
and others offering tours of Prudhoe bay, or a chance to "dip your toe in the Arctic