Saturday, 1 August 2015

Driving the Alaska Highway: Dawson Creek to Whitehorse.

The Alaska Highway runs from Dawson Creek in British Columbia to just south of Fairbanks, Alaska. It was built by the US army during WWII to connect the lower 48 States with Alaska in the face of the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands in the far south-west of that state. Canada, through which much of the highway runs, agreed to the project on the basis that the US would pay for the road's construction and control it for the duration of the war. Once the war ended control of the Canadian section would be ceded to Canada.


Dawson Creek, British Columbia - Mile Zero


Dawson Creek is Mile Zero: the starting point of one of the great iconic drives in North America. From here the Alaska Highway stretches north-west for 2232 km (1387 mi). You might as well settle comfortably in your driving position because you have a long, long way to go, but don't be in too much of a rush to leave town because as you go north civilisation shrinks. Until you arrive in Whitehorse, 1,404 km (872 mi) away, Dawson Creek and its neighbour Fort St. John are the only two sizeable towns you will pass through. 


Strangely, there are two Mile Zero posts.  I suspect the second one (in the photograph at the beginning of this post)  was built to take the pressure off this one which is in the middle of an intersection . Maybe too many photographers got run over.

Dawson Creek has a lovely collection of street art. 







Don't miss: 

  • The Mile Zero markers. One is in the centre of 102 Ave and 10th Street and the other is in the carpark of the Visitor Center at 900 Alaska Ave.
  • The wonderful street art. Pick up a walking tour brochure with locations and descriptions of Dawson Creek's murals at the Visitor Center.
  • Probably not a 'don't miss' site but the Walter Wright Pioneer Village near the intersection of the Alaska Hwy and the John Hart Hwy is worth wandering around if you are interested in history. 
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Fort St. John, British Columbia - 75 km (46 mi) northwest of Dawson Creek.


With a population of 16,000 this is the big smoke. You won't find another large town until you reach Whitehorse so if you need supplies this is a good time to stock up.


This monument to soldiers who drowned when a barge sank in May 1942 has a beautiful setting beside Charlie Lake just north of Fort St John

Make sure you stop at some of the old mile markers. Many of them have storyboards with snippets of the highway's history. Don't miss Mile 148 which tells the story of Suicide Hill. The highway has since been re-routed but in its early days Suicide Hill was notoriously difficult to negotiate. A sign at the bottom declared "PREPARE TO MEET THY MAKER".


An old mile marker at Suicide Hill.

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Fort Nelson - 381 km (236 mi) north of Fort St John


Between Fort St John and Fort Nelson you start to get a feel for just how vast the country ahead is. There are long, long stretches of endless bitumen and pine trees. 

Our guide book described Fort Nelson as the largest town between Fort St John and the Yukon. Don't get too excited; it is still pretty small. We struck it on 1 July and had a great time watching the town prepare for a Canada Day parade. Parades, fairs and celebrations are always a lot of fun in small towns where you can enjoy the buzz without the traffic, stress and parking problems which go with these things in big cities. 


We woke up to a Canada Day (1 July) parade in Fort Nelson.


Get used to it! There is a lot of bitumen and millions of pine trees ahead.


We didn't actually see that many animals. I think the signs are put there to break the monotony.

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Summit Lake - 140 km (87 mi) west of Fort Nelson


You can't miss Summit Lake. It is right next to the road.  With its beautiful blue water it is well worth a stop.

An alpine creek draining into Summit Lake

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Muncho Lake - 99 km (61 mi) north-west of Summit Lake


Another beautiful alpine lake, Muncho Lake runs along beside the highway for 12 km (7.7 mi). It is one of the few places along the highway where you might find accommodation outside the towns. 

The stretch of highway between Muncho lake and Watson Lake is the only area where we saw much wildlife.  Here however we were treated to the sight of a herd of Bison calmly holding up traffic by standing in the middle of the road, wild sheep licking salt from a roadside quarry and fleeting glimpses of an animal which I think was a woodland caribou.


This is either Muncho Lake or Summit Lake - I'm not sure which. (Note to self: Label your photos!)

No-one really minds being held up by a bison.

These guys were right beside the road attracted by a natural mineral lick just north of Muncho Lake.

I'm fairly sure this is a woodland caribou.

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Liard River Hot Springs - 66 km (41 mi) north-west of Muncho Lake


I have included Liard River for the sake of completeness. Everyone we spoke to said 'don't miss it'. For reasons which I still don't understand we drove straight past. We knew it was there, we just didn't stop.

Sometimes long roads trips seem to take on a life of their own where you become mesmerised by the objective of reaching the next milestone and I think that is what happened to us at Liard River. We had a long way to go that day and even a quick look around felt like it would be too much of a break from the rhythm of our journey.


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Watson Lake, Yukon Territory - 206 km (128 mi) north-west of Liard River Hot Springs. 


966 km (600 mi) from Dawson Creek, Watson Lake is the first town you will reach in the Yukon. In 1942 a homesick G.I. added directions to his home town of Danville, Illinois to a local sign-post. It struck a chord and today there are 40,000 signs in the Signpost Forest. Don't miss it! We had a great time wandering around the forest reading the signs and searching for those to our own home town.







Home

I loved this one.
Watson Lake doesn't seem to have joined the rest of us in the 21st Century.

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Whitehorse, Yukon Territory - 438 km (272 mi) north-west of Watson lake.


1,404 km (872 mi) from Dawson Creek you will once again be in civilisation. Whitehorse was the northern most point in our journey. If you continue on you have another 794km ( 649 mi) to go before arriving at Delta Junction, Alaska where the highway ends. 

We spent several days exploring Whitehorse and its surrounds. You will find my blog post on it - here.  

Although I have written this post from south to north, if you have been following our journey you will know that we actually travelled the highway north to south, beginning at Whitehorse and ending at Dawson Creek. We reached Whitehorse from Haines where we had travelled from Seattle by car ferry on the Alaska Marine highway.

This is the last post in this series. 

For all my posts on the Alaska Marine Highway and our Alaska/Canada road trip click - here 

If you have travelled the Alaska Highway please leave a comment and say hello.





6 Sept 2015

50 comments:

  1. I have never been to Alaska or taken this road trip, but it looks so interesting. Love the bison and mountain goats. It's a shame you didn't see many animals.

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    1. We travelled during the heat of the day. If we had ventured out closer to dawn or dusk I am sure we would have seen more.

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  2. You covered a lot of territory. This is one of a lifetime trips. Love that you got the nod to Sydney in there. See, some people do know where we are.

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    1. It is always fun finding references to your home when you are a long way from it.

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  3. What an amazing trip! Although, I am glad they rerouted suicide hill! My brother drove all the way from Seattle to Homer, Alaska, and he said it was one of the most profound experiences of his life!

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    1. I just googled Homer. that must have been an amazing road trip.

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  4. I have to say you are a trooper for doing Alaska by land, Lyn. I just came back from there. If the weather is good you are lucky, but if you have a few days of rain like we did, Alaska is no fun at all. In fact it's so remote that it's depressing. Thanks for joining me for #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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    1. We had magnificent weather for the whole trip. I took one of those plastic rain ponchos with me and it is still in the packet, unopened, but I don't think Alaska is known for its great weather and there doesn't seem much point if you can't see the scenery for rain and mist.

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  5. I have been to Canada a few times and drove from Calgary up to Jasper through The Rockies and back down to Vancouver in 2004. Alaska really fascinates me and I love to do this trip. I love the scenery and the wildlife.

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    1. It is funny, everyone including me, keeps commenting on this post as if it was about Alaska when the Alaska Highway is in Canada for more than half its distance. The bit we drove through was all in Canada, although we did go north through Alaska via the panhandle.

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  6. I think it'd be so cool to see a bison cross the road! We love experiencing the different wildlife in each city we go to and this would be no exception! Whichever lake you captured, it is gorgeous ;)

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    1. Before we started travelling to the US I thought the bison were extinct. They are truly beautiful animals.

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  7. We're thinking of visiting Alaska next year, but I don't know if we're up for driving the Alaska Highway. It looks so interesting, though. I especially like that Signpost Forest. I'd be taking tons of photos. I'd also take my chances and try that Mile 0 marker in the middle of the intersection, ha ha. Thanks for linking up with #WkendTravelInspiration.

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    1. The Alaska Highway is a long way but hey we're Australians so we are used to long distances. I'm currently trying to talk D into driving from Sydney to Darwin - 4,300 kms ( 2700 mi). He's not too keen but I think I'll get there in the end.

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  8. What a spectacular drive. So much to see. We took a cruise from Anchorage to Vancouver and I see now we really missed a lot.

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    1. You probably saw other things that we didn't though. For example, we didn't get nearly as far north as Anchorage.

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  9. I love that another Aussie had already left his calling card on this incredible road trip! We do love a good road trip! It would be great to see bison and caribou instead of kangaroos and emus!

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  10. Hello Lyn,
    Nice to see your post on the Highway. I have driven it several times, I lived in Anchorage and Juneau for over 10 years. I think the last was in the early 1990s. It looks like things have changed a lot, many more signs at Watson Lake and overall much more modern.

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    1. The Signpost Forest was just amazing. Living in Alaska would have been such an adventure. We stayed in Juneau for four days and loved it.

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  11. Great post, Lyn! Checking in from #WeekendWanderlust. My parent's drove the Alaska Freeway shortly after they retired, and seemed to really enjoy the trip. It hasn't made it to my bucket list yet, but it's nice to learn more about it.

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    1. You have to like road trips to really enjoy it. Fortunately we love them.

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  12. What a great trip, and I was amazed to see how much wildlife you encountered. Those long empty roads with just pine trees were not just long empty roads with pine trees! You've made me keen to get to Alaska one of these days.

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    1. I'm a wildlife tragic. Promise me an animal in the wild and I will go just about anywhere - lol.

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  13. Stunning photos....I really like the sign post forest.Great theme for a tourist attraction....

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    1. I wasn't begun as a tourist attraction but it has definitely become a great one.

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  14. Great shots, all.
    I love the last sign - remind me not to move there or the population of raving lunatics would double!

    Thanks for linking up at http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2015/09/allium-glorious.html

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  15. Wow - what a long drive! I'm someone with a 2 year old car that doesn't have 7,000 miles on it because I fall asleep driving on highways so I will only have this Alaska Highway experience vicariously through you! I haven't ever had Alaska very high on my "to do" list and if I went I'd probably want to be on water at least as much as on land. But the lake with the "iffy" label and the bison and the signposts all would be a real treat to see!

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    1. If you fall asleep driving on highways then, you're probably right, the Alaska Highway is not for you - lol. We did the panhandle by car ferry on more or less the same route as the cruise boats and that was pretty good too.

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  16. Wow Lyn, I love your recount of this long long drive along the Alaska Highway. Beautiful photos. Thanks for introducing us to this fascinating journey :-)

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  17. Wow. 1,404 km with just two towns? I bet drivers are happy to see Fort Nelson! It does look like a fascinating place - and I love the Signpost Forest.

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    1. It reminded me of crossing the Nullabor years ago. Day after day at the back of beyond.

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  18. Lyn,
    What a wonderful ride! I enjoyed your pictures and account. A little bit surprised of all the kitsch and kooky stops. I guess those are a must for an iconic drive.

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    1. Haha - I love kitsch and kooky. One day I am going to put together a post on all the weird things we have come across on our road trips.

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  19. I love road trips (just back from a big one in Poland/Germany) and "kitsch & kooky" just add to them! I'd love to explore Alaska, it's high on my bucket list but probably won't happen for many years, so until then I just have to do the virtual route with other travellers. Thanks for this one! #wednesdaywanderlust

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    1. It is great to hear that someone apart from me still loves road trips in the modern aeroplane age. I don't just want to see my destination, I want to see all the places in between where I am and where I am headed.

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  20. What an epic drive, I'm exhausted just looking at how far it is that you have to sit on your bum for. Though it looks like there is a lot to stop for. Wouldn't want to upset that bison!
    Thanks for joining in #wednesdaywanderlust this week

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    1. You have hit the nail on the head. There is a lot of just sitting when it comes to road trips so its terrible for the waistline. That's one of the reason D and I often take our bicycles with us, just so we can get a bit of exercise. On this trip we bought a couple of cheap bikes in Calgary but by then I had increased a dress size - lol.

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    2. I'd love to explore the Alaska Highway some day! I think I'd want to do it more slowly and approach it more as a camping trip than as a road trip. I'd spread it out over more days and drive less in any one day. It sounds like those longer drives got pretty dull!

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    3. I imagine that is why so many people take camper vans, so they don't always have to get to a town to stop overnight. There were some lovely camping spots along the way, especially near the lakes.

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  21. So much information all in one post I hardly know where to begin. Loved the wall artwork and the wild foreign animals. That sign with the one lunatic had me giggling, because it's so true, there's always at least one. Suicide hill sounds like it was an interesting drive in it's day unlike the Wildlife corridor stretch of road, we've certainly got our fair share of both here in Australia too. I can only imagine how bitter sweet coming across a signpost for home was when you were so far away.

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    1. There was a photo of an old car going up Suicide Hill. It was on an information board at the site of the old hill. I didn't publish it because I was concerned about the copyright implications, but it was just staggering. I don't know how people managed to drive the Highway and survive in one piece in the early days.

      The wildlife was just great. I love seeing wildlife, although kangaroos can be a bit dicey when they decide to hop out in front of you.

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  22. That Summit Lake looks beautiful! I would definitely stop by this place! Great post, I love taking road trips and stopping at cool places along the way!

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    1. It was lovely - a great break from all the pine trees - lol.

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  23. Great post. Not sure I would ever do this drive, but I now know what to expect. On our site we are in Patagonia at the moment and I am surprised to see the distances are similar to the distance between places in Southern Patagonia (Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales). If you drive you have to go from Chile to Argentina and back again- no road in Chile. It is probably just as remote. So a mirror image at the end of the continent!

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    1. We have done a couple of road trips in Chile and Argentina. Alaska is a lot easier.

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  24. Whilst it sounds like a very long drive, it by no means sounds that boring; actually littered with great snippets of history and interesting quirky towns. Loving your Alaska series Lyn.

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    1. I still have a couple of Alaska posts to go but may not get them written up for a while.

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