7 Tips for an Epic, Rugged RV Trip Down the Alaska Highway

One of the first things my husband wanted to cross off his bucket list after we bought our first RV (a used 26-foot Telstar Class B from Firan) was driving the Alaska Highway. When we finished showing off our vehicle to our kids in Seattle, Boise, Denver, and Calgary, we were excited to drive to the one in Anchorage. Banff and Jasper National Parks, two of the four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Canadian Rockies, were right on our way, so we briefly explored them. And, after Jasper, we prepared for the bumpy ride, which my husband promised would be my first epic road trip in an RV.

bison resting along the Alaska highway.
A herd of bison lay peacefully by the roadside (Photo Credit: Carol Colborn)

1. Make her part of the family

By this time, he had started calling our new mobile mansion “Star.” She took us through the winding roads of northern British Columbia, giving me my first close encounters with North American wildlife that I had never seen before except at zoos. A herd of bison lay peacefully by the roadside, but one of them decided to walk toward Star. I huddled inside, and stayed there because soon a mother and baby bear appeared out of the grass and wildflowers. It was good that the big elk hiding in the bushes was at a distance. Following a small arrow sign, we come across a multitude of birds and insects by a river. I finally found the courage to get out of Star!

When we arrived in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, we couldn’t contain our excitement. The small town of about 13,000 people is Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway! His bragging rights were all over the place. I asked my husband to take a picture of me at the signs declaring the official start of the Alaska Highway and he wanted to mark the big milestone with Star.

Pro tip: My husband made sure that Star was fully prepared for the trip. His checklist included tires, generator, batteries, oil, roof, gray and black water tanks, etc. My job was to make sure the kitchen was fully stocked for a week.

Fort Nelson Heritage Museum, British Columbia.
Fort Nelson Heritage Museum (Photo Credit: Carol Colborn)

2. Familiarize yourself with the path

The next town was 5 hours away at Mile 300. Even smaller than Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson, British Columbia, the administrative center of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, had a population of about 3,500. It’s home to the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum, which explains how the Alaska Highway really got its start there, how the US and Canada cooperated on construction, and how maintenance is divided today. The 1,422-mile-long highway has connected Alaska to the lower 48, was militarily strategic in World War II, and is economically important now.

Pro tip: We were warned that there would be no milestones for the first 1,000 kilometers, crossing the British Columbia-Yukon border several times before reaching the first major city in the pristine, primitive Yukon province.

Whirlpool Canyon, Northern British Columbia.
Whirlpool Canyon (Photo Credit: Carol Colborn)

3. Learn about the services and some tricks

Along the way, we stumbled across “a highway service community,” those small towns that support travelers on the road. Toad River consisted solely of a gas station, a restaurant, and a country store. It was a place to enjoy local food and to fill Star. One section of the store was dedicated to thousands of hats, and my sentimental husband didn’t hesitate to leave what he had on.

About a hundred miles to the north, we saw another arrow that we could follow! He led us into Whirlpool Canyon with a river making a powerful eddy as it wound its way around a bend. A Canadian couple on their way to fish in Nunavut beyond the Arctic Circle taught us that we shouldn’t be shy about dumping gray water (from washing dishes and showers) almost anywhere, and that we could drink water from the creek if necessary. , as long as they were sure there was no beaver contamination.

Pro tip: Before you reach The Yukon, you’ll find The Summit, the highest point on the Alaska Highway, at 4,250 feet. The area is called the Serengeti of North America and is home to beautiful Stone Mountain, Muncho Lake, and Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Parks.

Signal Forest, Watson Lake, Yukon.
Signpost Forest (Photo Credit: Carol Colborn)

4. Give yourself rest and fun

Watson Lake, Yukon, was an even smaller town of about 800 people at milepost 635, and we loved a good night’s sleep at the Downtown RV Park. The next day, we thoroughly enjoyed being the 67,000th visitor to put up a sign (there are now over 80,000) at the unique Signpost Forest. We bought a plank of wood at a Home Builders Center in town and got the free paint from the Visitor Information Center. That’s also where we sign in as Yukon Gold Passport holders, which will give us 5, 10, or 20 troy ounces of gold if we collect 10, 20, or 30 tourist spot stamps.

Along the road between Watson Lake and Whitehorse there were rock embankments (between Upper Liard and Rancheria) used to place rocks in letters commemorating passers-by. We originally thought we could spell our names, but realized how difficult the task was and ended up with just the two letters of our names: BC. On the way back to the continental United States, the cards were still there!

Pro tip: You might want to stop going to the Northern Lights Center at Watson Lake. Even with displays about the Northern Lights, it was actually a short video of the lights recreated on the dome roof for an effect that was not worth the time or money.

SS Klondike at Whitehorse, Yukon.
SS Klondike (Photo credit: Carol Colborn)

5. Give it a good control midway

At mile 918 we reach Whitehorse, the largest city in the Yukon with a population of about 25,000. Many places, including the world’s largest fish ladder, were already closed for the season. But our main goal here was to give Star a full mid-ride checkup for the shorter but more difficult second half of Alaska Highway.

We were fascinated to find the largest weather vane in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records: a DC3 plane! Smith House in LePage Park gave us two Whitehorse souvenir pins. And we had the opportunity to board one of the only remaining steamboats transporting precious metals on the Yukon River at the SS Klondike National Historic Site.

Pro tip: This is the only place on the road where you can dine at a branch of Tim Horton’s, Canada’s favorite coffee chain. Get a bowl of chili!

Permafrost damage on the Alaska Highway.
Permafrost damage on the Alaska Highway (Photo Credit: Carol Colborn)

6. Go slow for two reasons

From Whitehorse, smoke from 50 fires around the Yukon (because that summer had been so hot and dry) obscured all of the beautiful scenery. We could barely see anything beyond Star’s nose! In fact, Burwash Landing (population just over 70), including most of its wildlife exhibits and artifacts, was nearly wiped out by a major wildfire caused by camping humans (although lightning is the most common cause). ).

Another unfortunate thing is road damage caused by permafrost effects, especially after Destruction Bay. There were many cracks in the road and small ponds in the fields along its sides. The road had a roller-coaster feel to it, and the evergreens in the nearby fields couldn’t grow more than a few feet. Orange flags were everywhere, designating areas damaged by permafrost. The cost of maintaining these roads must be high, and they charged Star a toll.

Pro tip: You’ll come across White River, named for its whitish color due to volcanic ash from two pyroclastic eruptions of Mount Churchill in the Wrangell Range in 1890 and 1950. Unfortunately, the ecology could not be restored; the river can no longer be used for navigation.

the first church on the Alaska Highway, a Quonset hut built in 1944.
Quonset Hut, the first church on the Alaska Highway, built in 1944 (Photo Credit: Carol Colborn)

7. Don’t succumb to “Get-There-Itis”

We finally made it to Yukon’s Haines Junction at milepost 1016, but it wasn’t what we expected. We were supposed to get a glimpse of the Juneau glaciers and the highest mountain peak in Canada. We couldn’t because of all the smoke. We decided to spend the day at the Kluane RV Park.

The town, with a population of just over 600, is to the east of the Kluane National Park and Reserve. We are looking for a good hiking trail. We thought so, but had to rush back to Star after discovering the mosquitoes were so big and hungry. But it was good that we found a quaint Quonset hut that also served as a church for about 30 people. There we hoped for a clearer tomorrow.

The next day it was clearer and we resumed our walk. We passed Mile 1202 in Beaver Creek, Yukon with a small population of almost a hundred. Then we come to Delta Junction, Alaska, with a population of almost a thousand people, the official end of the Alaska Highway. The sign at the Visitor Center said it all. From mile 0 at Dawson Creek to mile 1422 at Delta Junction, we completed the Alaska Highway in 7 days. It was the unique and bumpy ride that my husband promised, this former “desk jockey’s” unforgettable and epic first VR experience.

Pro tip: Built at a total cost of $115 million in approximately 9 months, at its peak the project used 7 Army regiments and 77 contractors with 15,000 employees and 11,000 pieces of road construction equipment. Two crews, one from Dawson Creek and one from Delta Junction, completed the highway when they met at Soldiers’ Summit on Lake Kluane in the Yukon in November 1942.

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