Travel the Dalton Highway

The allure of leaving the rest of the world behind and losing yourself (hopefully not literally) in the middle of nowhere is what draws many people to Alaska.  Not everyone however, is cut out for back country hiking and camping in the untamed wilderness. There is another option to see the Alaskan wilderness and that is by car. Sure you can see a sliver of Alaska from well traveled roads, like the Parks Highway and the Seward Highway.  These roads have more towns that offer services along the way. The Dalton Highway, or sometimes referred to as the ‘Haul Road,’ is more of a rugged challenge.

The Dalton Highway snakes its way through the Brooks Mountain Range.
The Dalton Highway snakes its way through the Brooks Mountain Range.

The Dalton Highway is remote and there are really only three places long the 414 mile road to fill up your gas tank: the Yukon River Camp, Coldfoot, and Deadhorse. I know, the last two are pretty ominous names for a town. None of these places are actually proper towns, though people do live there if only seasonally.  The Yukon River Camp and Coldfoot are operated by Northern Alaska Tour Company, and it is the only place along the road where you can get a bite to eat, fill up your gas tank, rent a room for the evening, and even pick up a souvenir or two.  Accommodations are comprised of the ever versatile atco unit.  It may be rustic, but it sure beats sleeping outside with the mosquitoes!

Just north of Coldfoot is an established community called, Wiseman.  You can find actual log built rooms here if you want more charm than an atco unit, but the town is exactly what you’d expect for the location. This quite, rustic, and remote town didn’t even connect to the main road until 1990’s and in the 2010 census had a total population of 14.  If you want to relax in a piece of real Alaska, this is the place to do it.

The General Store in Wiseman, Alaska.
The General Store in Wiseman, Alaska.

The Dalton Highway is always in some state of construction during the summer time.  Many pieces of the highway are still just gravel with extremely soft shoulders.  It is advisable that you carry at least two spare tires with you if you venture down the road, and a CB radio is a good idea as well.  This road is first and foremost for the truckers.  Carrying supplies up to the North Slope for the oil workers is their job, and some aren’t too thrilled with slow moving tourists getting in their way, especially on some of the more steep and dangerous passes that can only safely allow one vehicle going up or down at a time. Listening to the radio chatter is not only entertaining, it will keep you safe and in one piece.

If your rental car isn’t up to the challenge of the Dalton Highway (and most likely it isn’t since most car rental agencies forbid the use of their cars on any gravel roads), there is one company you can rent a fully outfitted car complete with spares and a radio.  Or you can always let someone else do the driving for you on a Dalton Highway shuttle.  Think of it as a glorified taxi service in the middle of nowhere.  Use your bathroom stops wisely, there aren’t many available!

The final destination of most Dalton Highway travelers is Deadhorse.  This is the temporary oil worker town set up in Prudhoe Bay, which is also made up of atco units, easy to break down and move when the oil runs out. There isn’t much to do here, but the big draw is seeing the Arctic Ocean.  Of course you can’t actually see the Arctic Ocean without a booked tour, given you have to cross the oil fields to get there and security is kind of tight. But dipping your toe into an ocean many people never get to see, is well worth the adventure!

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