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 you 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 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 $27 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 are 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. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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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26 thoughts on “Everything You Need To Know Before Attempting The Alcan Highway”

  1. Howdy, I have yet to make the trip, but would love to go sometime…..All the advice you have given is priceless…..I do have a friend in Palmer, just north of Anchorage who has made the trip twice…….Also reminds of when another friend made the trip from Victor, Idaho in a car that I wouldn’t have trusted outside city limits, ( a old Ford Pinto ),…..He made it, but somewhere along the way he made a wrong turn and went 200 miles to a deadend and of course had to turn around….This was quite a few years ago…….

    • It’s an awesome drive and worth every mile! I am sure the Alcan Highway has changed a bunch over the years, but it’s still a trip of a lifetime. While not an “easy” drive pretty much most vehicles that are mechanically sound can make it. Hope you make it someday soon! Let us know if you have questions or if you need some more motivation to make the trip!

  2. I am driving from San Francisco via Boise to Anchorage , female alone, the end of April 2019. Anything cautionary tips or comments? I will be in a BMW X3 and thought it would be fun a couple nights to sleep in the car in campgrounds… yeah, I am an adventurous one!
    Is the highway once you get into Alaska a direct to Anchorage? I’m still looking at the maps and trying to figure out the best routes.
    Thank you for your words of wisdom and all the valuable information!!


    • Hi Dyann – Sounds like a great trip! A few things to consider. In late April the chances are still good you have some winter weather along the way. It sounds like you have 4 wheel drive which will help. As far as sleeping in the car – sure you can do it, however you may not find a lot of campgrounds officially open since you are traveling before the season really starts. Another factor to consider is it’s going to be pretty cold yet with nighttime temps below freezing, which is totally doable – just bring enough blankets. You might not find a lot of hotel/motels/lodges open yet either. There will be some open, but traveling early in the season you really do need to plan better than the summer months.

      I would pick up some of the guides we recommend the Milepost book https://amzn.to/2LZHJQr and the camping guide http://amzn.to/2AXsUY7 if you want to camp along the way. If you are coming from Boise we would suggest going up through Montana into Canada driving through Banff and Jasper National Parks and then connecting to the Alacan highway which brings up to Alaska. If you have time a worthwhile detour is dipping into Glacier National Park. Even if you are tight on time it would be a mistake to miss Banff National Park either on the way up or on the return trip. Once you are past Dawson Creek you don’t have many choices in roads – there’s really only one. Hope that helps a bit. Happy planning!

    • Dyann,
      My wife and i just drove to Alaska from Chico CA last week. Roads were great and we only had to use the wipers for about 2 hrs as we struggled through the Seattle traffic (looks like your from SF so maybe the Seattle traffic wont bother you!). We crossed the border at Sumas WA instead of Blaine. We did the Alcan instead of the Cassier Hwy as we heard there were more services on that route. If you have time, bring a suit and towel and hit Liard Hot Springs on the way up. Be prepared for LONG stretches of nothing and $6.00/gal fuel in BC. Buy a copy of the Milepost as its your guide book on the way up!

  3. Hello,
    I am in the process of down-sizing disposing of of items collected over the years. Among those items are travel sections of local newspapers from anywhere but mostly the Montreal Gazette where I live. Before disposing those items I make it a point to read again. I came across of this article about Alaska Highway. The article is dated August 18, 1994. The writer described her trip as taking a Greyhound bus from Dawson Creek to Whitehorse in Yukon, then Alaska Direct coach to Fairbanks. My question: does this mode of travel still exists? About a year ago I tried to search info from Greyhound but I’m not getting any either by calling or online. Do you have any current info? I would appreciate it greatly. Despite my age driving the Alaska Highway is still in my bucket list. Thank you so much.

    • Hi Marcia – After a little bit of searching around it looks like there are still buses that run up to Alaska. However, it looks like it would be many connections across a few different bus lines. Honestly, this dosen’t seem like the most romantic way to get up to Alaska, while possible it probably won’t be super comfortable and probably less than pleasant at times. Have you considered taking the Alaska Marine Highway system? The ferries would do most of the driving, that might be worth looking into – plus there is some great scenery. You could get off at any point and drive from there.

  4. I am driving the Alcan this summer in a 2016 Dodge Ram. Is there cell phone reception along it at all? That’s my biggest concern incase of a breakdown, flat tire, etc.

  5. My hubby and I drove the ALCAN in 1969 to Ft. Richardson Army Post from Baltimore, MD for his 1st Military Assignment. Truly, it’s a trip you make once in a lifetime. I enjoyed reading your suggestions for others to follow and I suggest they do so. In those days it was a little battery transistor radio and a polar camera and we took the advice of folks who were extremely helpful and appeared along our journey. DO NOT drive at night, it will be a waste of time; ONLY daylight, we were told. You will not make better time or slip off the road. The View is Awesome. We had to use a rubber mat strapped on the gas tank for the gravel miles ahead and we needed an electric heater for the gas tank for the cold nights. Be sure to keep a FULL TANK. Keep your windshield clean with today’s BELOW temperature fluid cleaner. Good Luck to those driving in the Winter. We ate ham/cheese sandwiches all the way on Wonder Bread and drunk water from a thermos jug. It was the BEST Honeymoon. I will always remember the adventure, as a newly Army Wife. Thanks for reminding me; it’s our 50th Anniversary this year!

    • What a great experience and honeymoon! We would have loved to drive this road at that time, I am sure a lot has changed. Thanks for the good tips! Any plans for a return drive?

    • Loved your story. We drove it in 1968 for the same reason. Philadelphia to Anchorage. It was truly a beautiful experience even if I didn’t truly appreciate it as much at the time. Too much of a hurry to get there. Our return trip was different. Alcan to Haines and then the ferry and down thru Seattle. A great option to see different parts of the USA as well.

  6. I am going to Fairbanks for a job. Will be leaving from Seattle around mid February 2019, fingers crossed. I am driving my 2006 Honda Odyssey solo. Thanks for the information, good stuff.

  7. Great blog! Our plan is to head up there from Madison WI starting May 2019 in our Sprinter van. We will get a Sirius XM subscription, that was a great idea. Would you check your link to the Canadian Map atlas, or if you could just tell me the title? I too like to have a paper map. We have good USA maps but want to ensure that the Canadian atlas is good.

  8. Hi I plan to drive for the first time. This information is great I will take it and read and follow. Also, regarding the pot holes. I wanted to haul a cargo trailer 5X8 hitched on to a Toyota Tacoma V6. Whats your thoughts about that? Also in addition to a gasoline container, What about currancy? should I canadian currency to fill up on gas or a debit card like visa? Also what can I cross over into Canadian boarder? as far as garden items, packages of seeds, foods,things like that?

    • If the truck is rated for what you are hauling it should be fine. There are a few spots with grades, but nothing crazy on the main roads. Most places take credit card, but it would be smart to have some Canadian money, we took out about $100 CAD from an ATM when we entered into Canada, we didn’t spend much of it, but it was good to have and used it to fill up on the way out of Canada. I would clean all of your garden tools and also check the Canadian Government website for info on bringing seeds and food because there are restrictions on some items. Have a safe drive!

  9. We don’t use RV sites at all for the last year and a half traveling in our 23′ Sprinter van. Will there be enough of those pull off parking lots that you mention all the way up to Anchorage from Banff and then down to Prince Rupert? Does the MIlePost list these kind of spots to park or are they called something else? Great blog btw and we are finding very interesting viewpoints from you.

    • Along the Alcan there are lots of places to free camp, the Milepost helps find some of these, but they aren’t too hard to find along the side of the road too.

  10. Just getting ready for my second ALCAN trip in mid February. Indiana to Fairbanks in 7 days! Glad the XM got 75% coverage. Did you use the more expensive antenna or the basic antenna? BTW Toad River has killer omlets!

    • We just used the basic included antenna, which worked well for the majority of the ALCAN, it struggled to get a clean connection once we were (it seemed) a higher latitude. I just looked it up and it looks like they don’t have dedicated satellites for Alaska, but we got coverage way up into the Yukon and bits and pieces of Alaska. I am not sure a better antenna would help, but it sure wouldn’t hurt. Thanks for the recommendation in Toad River, I think we only gassed up there and were back on the road. Good luck on the trip, and safe driving!

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