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alcan highway drive

How To Drive To Alaska

Whether you are moving to Alaska to start a new life or finally taking that road trip you have been planning to drive to Alaska is not as complicated as most people assume.

However, before you start the journey, it is good to know what to expect on the road for appropriate planning.

Covered below is what you need to know before hitting the roads.

How Long Does It Take?

There are factors that will contribute to how long it takes to drive to Alaska, including:

  • Where you are starting from.
  • How long you plan to spend on the road in a day. If you plan to spend 8 hours in the car driving, you can give yourself an average of 11 hours a day, including lunch breaks, restroom breaks, and gas refills.
  • Are you making any stops along the way? If you are on a road trip, then you want to explore the fantastic sceneries along the way. That means you have probably planned to take like one or half a day exploring, which means your journey will be longer in the end.
  • Winter- If you are driving in the winter, you will take a longer time on the road
  • Your Vehicle- How prepared is your vehicle for a long trip? Most cars will do just fine for that journey, but note that you will not be near any mechanic for a significant part of the trip. Therefore, ensure the vehicle is in great shape before driving it.

If you are an upstanding citizen obeying the speed limit, it can take you about 16 hrs to drive from one border to the next.

That is assuming there are no roadworks ahead or unexpected traffic and you are making very shortstops.  

Below you can also find the average time it takes from major US cities.

  • From Seattle- 2233 miles, around a 42-hour drive
  • From New York- 4345 miles, around  a 72-hour drive
  • From Miami- 4932 miles, about a 78-hour drive
  • From Dallas- 3865 miles, about a 59-hour drive
  • From Dallas- 3865 miles, about a 59-hour drive
  • From Boston- 4539 miles, around a 74-hour drive
  • From Chicago-3548 miles- around a 60-hour drive
  • From Los Angeles 3357 miles, about a 59-hour drive

Since the trip is long, be prepared and take the time to enjoy your surroundings as you drive.

It will make those long miles feel less tedious.

Can I Drive To Alaska Without a Passport?

No, you cannot drive to Alaska without a passport.

That is because you will be crossing the US-Canada border twice, to and from.

Carry a valid and updated passport with you as you will need it for the border crossing.

You can also get a passport card, which is also a valid passport but without pages inside.

There is also the Nexus card, which is a special card used when one is entering Canada.

Can you get to Alaska by car without going through Canada?

No, anyone driving through Alaska needs to go through Canada.

There is no alternative route unless you are flying.

A big part of the drive will be in Canada, including the Yukon and British Columbia, and if you are coming from the further east, Alberta.

Therefore, as you plan your trip, there are essential Canadian rules you need to research on like:

  • What items you cannot cross the border with including fresh produce and alcohol.
  • If your pet accompanies you, carry an updated health certificate, including proof that your pet has received a rabies vaccine.
  • If you have several convictions, including driving under the influence, your entry to Canada may be denied.
  • If you are traveling with a child where both parents are not present, you may need a letter from the other parent stating it is acceptable for the child to cross the border.
  • Note that in Canada, prices are in Canadian Dollars. Most places take American money, but you can stop at a Canadian ATM for Canadian cash if you do not want to risk it.
  • Speed limits are not in miles per hour but kilometers per hour, and gas is in liters and not gallons.
  • Between Canada and Alaska, there is an hour time change.
  • You can also check with your insurance company if you will be covered when driving in Canada.

Is it Dangerous  to Drive to Alaska?

Driving to Alaska is safe with paved and well-taken care of roads along the way.

This makes driving easier. The challenge that you may encounter is accessing amenities.

You will experience a long stretch before running into a gas station or a place where you can rest.

Therefore, pack enough food and have your car serviced prior to the road trip.

There are a few mostly empty road sections, with a few vehicles passing once in a while.

Therefore, large animals are likely to be near the roads feeding grass, which means you have to be careful.

Below are a few tips to help when driving to Alaska.

  • Be alert- Just because there are a few vehicles on the road or you do not see any, do not let your guard down. If you start feeling tired, pull over and rest or freshen up.
  • If you do not have a clear line of sight, slow down. There might be an animal around the next curve, and you will not be able to slow down in time.
  • As you drive, be on the look for orange flags. They are put there to warn drivers of potholes ahead.
  • If you can, avoid driving in the dark. The roads are almost empty at night, and animals may be on the road to enjoy the warmth of the asphalt.
  • Check the weather forecast before taking the trip, especially in spring and fall. You are likely to run into fresh snowfall along the highway, and if the temperatures drop, the road can be icy.
  • In short, just drive carefully.

What is the Best Route to Take?

There are several routes you can take to Alaska, as listed below.

Cassiar Highway

This is the shortest route to drive from either Portland or Seattle.

It is somehow remote, making it ideal for anyone who wants to get away from everything. 

If you are taking this route, start in Seattle, then follow the Trans-Canada Highway up to Cache Creek.

From there, continue north using highway 97 till you get to Prince George.

Take highway 16 or the Yellowhead Highway west to Price Rupert.

The Cassiar Highway exits to the right as Highway 37 between Terrace and Smithers.

You will enjoy fantastic scenery using this route, including amazing wildlife.

However, note that, since the road is a bit remote, gas stations and motels are sparse as well.

Ensure you get enough food and refill your tank before embarking on this route.

The Alaska Canada Highway

This is one of the popular routes you can take to Alaska from the US.

alcan highway drive

It is also known as the Alcan Highway or Alaska Highway.

It starts from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, ending in Delta Junction, Alaska.

The west access route to the Alcan Highway is ideal for anyone driving from the West Coast.

There is also the East access route through Calgary or the Canadian Rockies for anyone driving from the Midwest, Rocky Mountain West, or the East Coast.

Between Cassiar Highways and the Alaska Highway, the latter is more popular, and therefore, you are likely to encounter more amenities on the road. T

he Cassiar highway lacks most amenities, but you can be sure you will enjoy many incredible sights.

Is there Cell Phone Service On the Drive to Alaska?

A significant part of the drive to Alaska is out of cell coverage unless you are in a town.

Also, some small towns may lack cell phone service.

Something else you need to know is that, since a big part of your drive is in Canada, you should consult your cell phone provider to know what it will cost you to use your cell phone there.

You may get a short-term international plan, but you have to plan for it earlier.

Many hotels, visitor centers, campgrounds, coffee shops, and libraries have access to plug-in Internet access and Wi-Fi.

However, you can also rent a satellite phone that is network-accessible.

Satellite phones are ideal for such trips as an emergency can happen anytime.

You can also get a Spot Satellite Messenger that regularly sends GPS updates and comes with an emergency GPS connection to rescue or emergency services.

You can learn how the device works as part of your planning before taking the trip.

How Much Does It Cost To Drive to Alaska?

The cost to drive to Alaska varies depending on several factors such as;

  • The type of car you are using plus its gas mileage. However, carry a spare tire if you get a flat tire in the middle of the highway and cannot access a mechanic.
  • Whether you will be staying in hotels along the way, camp, or do both. On the Alaska highway, you will find various camping grounds as well as private RV parks. You will also find six provincial parks offering camping grounds in British Columbia and eight in Yukon. During peak season, you need to get there early to find a good spot. Also, most campgrounds are usually closed during winter, so if you travel during that season, you are likely to spend most nights in hotels, which will be costly.
  • Will you be sightseeing? You need to pay to enjoy the recreational facilities along the way, from national parks to kayaking and skiing.
  • The current exchange rate between the US and the Canadian Dollar.

Be prepared to spend more on gas in Canada than in the US and even more in remote areas.

If you are in a remote part of British Columbia, you can pay about 20 to 50 % more for gas.

Unlike in the US, where gas is sold in gallons, it is sold in liters in Canada, and you will be using Canadian dollars to pay for services.

With the change in currency, be careful about how you budget for amenities, as it can be confusing for you to figure out the amount you are spending.

Another factor to consider is how long you will be in Alaska.

Since you will need accommodation, you can save by camping on some days and using a hotel on others.

Setting up a daily camp may take a lot of time, affecting the overall time spent on the road.

When is the Best Time to Drive to Alaska?

You can plan for your road trip to Alaska any time of the year as the highway is open throughout.

However, during winter, your trip is likely to take longer as the roads have snow.

The weather is also extremely cold, which you need to be prepared for.

During winter, most services, including restaurants, hotels, or even gas stations, usually shut down because tourism is down.

If you are traveling in that period, check what services are open to avoid inconveniences.

Summer from June to August and the shoulder season, which falls mid-April to May or September, are usually excellent times to travel.

You may also find ice or snow, even as late as mid-May or early September.

Therefore, be prepared during that period. It is hard to avoid construction as it often happens throughout summer and the shoulder season.

In June and July, there are a lot of bugs, but you may run into them earlier in summer or later, depending on how cold and dry the late summer is.

Carry a bug repellent to keep them away from you and your family.

Also, during those two months, there is plenty of daylight, meaning you can enjoy extra-long days for fishing, hiking, driving, and sightseeing.

If you intend to see the Northern Lights during your drive, plan your trip for late August or September.

When it gets dark enough, you will see them.

In May, June, July, and August, most of Alaska, Northern BC, and the Yukon do not get dark during the night.

However, the further you go south, the more darkness you will find.  

What are the Road Conditions Like?

Both the Cassiar Highway and the Alcan Highway are paved, making the overall driving conditions okay.

You may run into small parts of the roads with gravel breaks and older patched pavement, but those are short distances.

Some sections were upgraded recently, offering suitable surfacing.

However, routes on the Cassiar Highway are slightly narrower than on the Alcan, which can affect traffic.

You can enjoy a large stretch of straight road about the first 300 miles of the road, between Dawson Creek and Fort Nelson.

Is it Worth It?

Driving to Alaska is worth it for anyone who loves and enjoys road trips.

The road has amazing views with great things to do along the way, such as:

  • Sea to Sky Highway- You can get there using the West Access Route. This road stretching from Vancouver, BC to Whistler, BC has beautiful views, including a waterfall.
  • The Hell’s Gate Tram in the Fraser Canyon- Located on the Trans Canada Highway. Get out of the car for a breather and enjoy the beautiful scenery from above.
  • British Columbia Wineries- You can take a break and enjoy some wine tasting. You will also find great farmers’ markets and where you can try delicious local produce.
  • Icefields parkway- A drive with incredible scenery between Jasper National Parks in Canada and Banff.
  • Miette Hot Springs- Located in Jasper National Park, enjoy some hot springs, and if you go there during the morning hours, it will be less crowded.
  • Muncho Lake- This lake comes with many recreational activities, and you can also camp here for the night.
  • Liard River Hot Springs- Located between Muncho Lake and Watson Lake. The hot springs are beautiful, and you can either camp there or book a roadhouse for the night.
  • Watson Lake Sign Post Forest- Located in Watson Lake Town in the Yukon, travelers can see a vast collection of colorful signposts that people bring from their cities.
  • Atlin- Located in the northern part of British Columbia, visitors can fish, hike, and camp, among other activities, in this beautiful place.
  • Mount Edziza Provincial Park- Mount Edziza is not a mountain per se but a volcano eruption from more than 10000 years ago. The volcanic landscape is a breathtaking view with a few trails you can explore and spot some wildlife.
  • Boya Lake Provincial Park- The lake is warm enough to swim in, and you can also enjoy kayaking.

A drive to Alaska is an adventure. Also, note that a significant part of your drive will be in Canada, and so, if you love Canada, you will find the trip worth it.

Even with proper planning, things may not go as expected.

For instance, you may think your road trip will take four days, only for it to take a week. You, therefore, need to prepare for surprises.

Also, is your driving part of the trip, or do you have other things to do in Alaska?

If your goal is to enjoy the journey while you view the amazing scenery, the drive is definitely worth it.

However, if you are going for work or other errands, you may find the drive long and tedious.

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