Everything You Need To Know Before Attempting The Alcan Highway

Are you are planning an Alaska road trip and driving the Alcan Highway? There is only one road to Alaska, the Alcan Highway which is commonly known as the Alaska Highway.

Once you cross the Alcan Border into Alaska there are several roads in Alaska but no matter where your journey starts you’ll be driving on the Alcan Highway for a portion of your trip.

Driving The Alcan Highway

Before you hit the road you want to make sure your vehicle is ready to take on driving to Alaska and that the car is packed with these 12 essential items. We recently embarked on an epic Alaskan road trip driving from Milwaukee Wisconsin to Alaska in our DIY campervan.

Alcan Highway Map

The best Alcan highway map is in the Milepost Book, we purchased on Amazon before our trip. They update the book every year, it’s a very detailed book including every milepost and foldout maps. It’s worth every penny, get one for $24 on Amazon.

If you are planning on doing some camping in Alaska or driving an RV to Alaska a great resource is the “Traveler’s Guide to Alaskan Camping” you can get it on Amazon for under $10. It’s a great book that features over 500 campgrounds in Alaska and those along the way driving to Alaska. Complete campsite details with address, contact phone number, description, and more.

Alcan Highway FAQ

What is the Alcan Highway?

The Alcan Highway is the only road to Alaska. We drove up from Wisconsin but those driving to Alaska from California will also end up on the Alcan Highway too.

How long is the Alcan Highway?

The Alcan Highway is 1,387 miles long but the exact length varies year to year on road construction detours.

Where does the Alcan Highway Start and End?

Alaska Highway mile 0 is in Dawson Creek, British Colombia and the Alcan Highway officially ends at Delta Junction at the historic milepost 1422. However, the unofficial end of the highway is mile 1520 in Fairbanks Alaska, but the last 96 miles are on the Richardson Highway, not technically the Alcan Highway.

Is the entire Alaska Highway paved?

Yes, we drove in July 2017 and the entire road was paved. There are gravel patches where they are doing road construction. Do expect road construction during the summer months.

We found the road was in better condition driving back to Wisconsin from Alaska in July than when we drove to Alaska in June. We think they were filling potholes during our 2 weeks in Alaska.

When was the Alcan Highway Built?

Road construction started in March 1942 and was completed in October 1942 but the general public couldn’t drive on it until 1948.

Why was the Alcan Highway Built?

The Alaska Highway was originally built as a supply route during World War II for the US Army.

Is the Alaska Highway open year round?

Yes, the highway is open all year but there are very few services (gas, restaurants, lodging, etc) open during the winter months.

How long does it take to drive the Alcan Highway?

Driving the Alcan Highway could take only a few days or a few weeks. It took us 4.5 days to drive from Homer Alaska to Milwaukee Wisconsin but that including LONG drive days 16+ hours a day with minimal stops.

Where you are coming from also plays a huge factor on how long the drive to Alaska will be. We highly suggest giving yourself at least a week and adding a few days to explore Banff National Park and Jasper National Park while driving through Alberta. One of our highlights was taking a Banff helicopter tour of the park.

We highly suggest giving yourself at least a week and adding a few days to explore Banff National Park and Jasper National Park while driving through Alberta. On our drive up to Alaska, we spent 3 nights in the park.

Alaska Highway Road Trip

Cameprvan on the side of the road on the Icefields Parkway while Driving to Alaska

Alcan Highway Road Conditions

When researching for our Alaska trip we had read article after article saying how terrible the road is. We had prepared not on the car for the worst but also ourselves mentally.

The Alcan highway road conditions were much better than we had expected. There were definitely areas that were worse than others but for the most part, it wasn’t that bad at all. There were some stretches where it was pothole after pothole and you had to pick which one was better to hit than the other.

Once we crossed the border into Alaska the road was wavey, it felt like we were on a roller coaster for a few hours, definitely take this stretch slow because you can easily get airborne speaking from experience here…

The road conditions vary year to year and the weather plays a big factor in how it is the next year. Every year there is road construction along the Alcan Highway to keep it up to the best condition as possible.

Best Stops on an Alcan Highway Road Trip

It’s best to break-up the drive over a few days. There are some great stops along the Alcan Highway worth spending the night in. Most of the towns along the way with just have a gas station and maybe a restaurant.

If you want to load up on groceries and a big dinner you’ll need to map out your stops in advance or just push on driving. Here are our favorite stops along the Alaska Highway.

  • Muncho Lake
  • Whitehorse – Here you’ll find a Walmart, full-service grocery stores, Starbucks
  • Sign Post Forest Watson Lake
  • Tetlin Junction Bridge
  • Alaska Canada Border at Milepost 1221

Suggested Cities Along the Alaska Highway to Spend the Night

You will go 100’s of miles without going through a town and when you finally do you could blink and miss the “town.” There aren’t a ton of lodging options along the way, there is a bunch of pull off parking lots where you can park for the night, this is perfect for RV’s and campervans.

There are a good amount of RV parks on the Alcan Highway and several of them have rooms available for rent. Here are a few places to consider spending the night and breaking up the drive to Alaska.

The milepost listed below is coming from Dawson Creek driving to Alaska.

Alcan Highway Essentials Things To Pack

1. Spare Tire

Driving down the Alcan Highway there is no shortage of potholes that are sure to eat your tire (or some may swallow your car whole). We suggest traveling with a full-size spare tire. It could easily be several hundred miles from the next town with an auto body shop.

Once in said town you might have to wait a few days for the shop to get your tire in. We called local junkyards in Milwaukee (our hometown) to find a cheap full-size spare tire and rim. Our van didn’t have a good place for the tire so we built our own tire rack that extended off the back.

2. Gas Can

There are stretches along the Alcan Highway where there are no gas stations for 200+ miles. Make sure to have a full gas can for emergencies. We bought this 5-gallon gas can on Amazon and it fits perfectly in the middle of our spare tire.

We filled up at every gas station we saw and thankfully didn’t have to break into our emergency gas. However, some of the gas stations we stopped at did close later in the evening so had we rolled into town later we maybe would have had to.

3. Power Inverter

Not all electronics can be charged off your car’s 12-volt outlet/cigarette lighter port. Having a power inverter is a must especially for charging computers and camera batteries.

We have a 1500 watt inverter, which charged a computer and camera battery at the same time. If you plan on charging several larger electronics at once you’ll want at least this much or higher.

4. Battery Starter car jumper

If your car dies at home you more than likely will call a friend to come to jump you…well that isn’t an option on the Alcan Highway. You’ll want a battery starter which doesn’t rely on another car.

There are several on the market we went with this car starter which also comes with a compressor. Which is super useful if you have any low tires.

NOTE: Make sure to charge the battery starter before driving to Alaska.

5. Tire Jack

Most cars come with a tire jack, but before you start your drive to Alaska make sure your’s is still there. Next, make sure it isn’t all rusty and actually works to raise your car high enough to change a tire.

Lastly learn how to use it, check the owners manual and find out where you should place the jack safely so you don’t damage anything. If your jack is missing, you really do need one, or if you don’t like the cheap little one that’s in your trunk find a small lightweight tire jack on Amazon that is rated for your car’s weight.

Also, don’t forget to check for a lug wrench or tire iron as they are commonly called to loosen and tighten the bolts on your tires. Knowing these skills can save you an expensive roadside service bill and lots of time if you happen to get a flat tire on the Alcan Highway.

6. Satellite Phone

If you are driving to Alaska alone or have a loved one that is and you want some peace of mind you might want to consider getting a satellite phone. Satellite phones have been cheaper over the years and wouldn’t be a bad idea to have.

7. Multiple USB Car Charger

Drive days are long and passengers in the car are most likely going to be on some sort of electronic. Make sure to pick up a multi-port USB car charger so you multiple things can charge at once.

We have a 5 port USB car charger because we often need to charge GoPro’s, phones, and power banks all at the same time.

8. Road Atlas Map

A good map is a must. Don’t plan on having data on a majority of the Alcan Highway except in cities. We love our Rand McNally road atlas, it has great detailed maps and points out campgrounds which are great for finding a place to pull over for the night.

The Canada section in road atlas is okay, but if you’d like more Canada detail you really need to pick up this map which includes a map of every Canadian province.

9. Alaska Milepost

Alaskan’s refer to the Milepost book as “the bible to Alaska”. This book has a ton of Alaska information and Alaska maps. It gives by mile description of every highway including accommodation, camping, gas, restaurants, attractions, viewpoints, etc.

It goes through every driving to Alaska route so you can decide which route you want to take. You can buy one here on Amazon, they update it every year.

10. Music

Make sure you have Sirus XM radio or a long playlist. No joke there were days where there wasn’t a single radio station available. Our 2006 Honda Odyssey wasn’t set up for Sirus XM so we had to buy this XM car kit. We got a good deal online for $30 for 6 months of Sirus XM online. We had coverage for 75% of the time on the Alcan Highway.

11. Snacks

I still remember the day I asked a shop owner where the nearest fast food place was and he told me 10 hours that way (pointing to Alaska) or 4 hours that way (where I just came from)…So yeah make sure you have plenty of snacks in the car. There are sit-down restaurants along the way but if you are like us and you want the drive to Alaska to be over then sitting down for an hour meal isn’t an option.

We typically drove 12-16 hour days on the Alcan highway and went through a fast food drive thru’s when we say them and then had plenty of snacks in the car until then. We had a ton of RXBARS with us or those days with not many options.

12. Water

It’s always good to have a few gallons of water just in case your car breaks down. Very few of the designated campsites had water pumps and the ones that we did use we used for cooking & dishes but didn’t drink it.

13. Toilet Paper/Baby wipes

If there are no gas stations for 200+ miles that also means no bathrooms…so it’s best to have a roll of toilet paper or baby wipes in the car. There are plenty of areas to pull over and do what you go to do but DON’T litter. Make sure to bring your tissue with you and throw it away at the next available garbage can.

Driving the Alcan Highway is a road trip of a lifetime not many can say they have done. If you make sure to have the above 12 items packed you’ll get to Alaska without an issue. 

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46 thoughts on “Everything You Need To Know Before Attempting The Alcan Highway”

  1. Drove the AlCan in July / August 2014 with a Tesla Model S85. Starting planning to do it again July 2020 in a Tesla Model 3 or Model X. Both have electric ranges over 300 miles.

    Any interesting changes since 2014?

    Also, Liard Hot Springs was incredible.

  2. My friend and I, plus my 3 month old Chesapeake/Golden Retriever, hitchhiked from Sacramento to L.A. to Anchorage in June 1973. We were 19 year old coeds. What an epic journey. It took us 2 weeks. At that time, only 60 miles were paved near Dawson Creek. Luckily, most rides went to a town, and the towns were about a day apart.

    Only once did we spend the night in the wilderness alone. We had nabbed a ride with a Canadian forest ranger. He turned off up into the mountains…left us to spend the night near a Native American burial ground. All we had were tube tents that we strung a rope through. It let loose with an early summer Canadian Rocky rain storm and we were soaked. Talk about tears. HAA!!

    One thing you didn’t mention – mosquitoes. They are the size of humming birds and they are everywhere. In the olden days, they stopped searching for lost people after 3 days because they would have died from mosquito bites. Take the strongest bug spray you can find. Lots of it.

    I enjoyed your travel recommendations. At least these days you poor folks have a fully paved highway.

  3. Headed from Texas to Kenai in August/September. Would it be best to go ahead and exchange some USD to Canadian for fuel/etc. for the trip?

    • We would suggest getting some Canadian dollars for the trip for the rare places that won’t take card. We had about $100 CAD on our last trip up. We didn’t use much but it’s smart to have some. On the way back home we bought food and other things with it to use it up. You can get some from a bank at home, or change it in Canada, or get some from the ATMs in Canada. Have a great drive up to Alaska it’s a trip of a lifetime!

  4. I’m planning on Riding my 2017 Harley Tri Glide in the summer of 2021! What are the road conditions? I’m planning on about a month to do the trip!! Is that enough time!! Leaving from Toronto! Coming back through the US!!

    • The road conditions change fairly dramatically after each winter. It’s best to check on road conditions about a month in advance of the trip. We suggest a minimum of a month for this trip because it involves around 10 days of travel depending on your pace and you really want at least two full weeks in Alaska, but you could easily spend a lot more time. Happy planning!

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