Driving to Alaska From the Lower 48

On February 18th we set off on what would soon become our greatest adventure, and challenge, yet. We left Colorado for Alaska by way of a two day detour to my favorite place, Utah, and then by way of the Alaskan Highway, also known as the Alcan.

Border crossings: Sweet Grass, Montana and Beaver Creek, Yukon.

alcansign

(Above: Dawson Creek, British Columbia. The official start of the Alaska Highway!)

Our side trip to Utah and just how much that meant to me will be shared in another post. For now, I’m going to write about the drive to Alaska. For time keeping and itinerary purposes I’m going to start our official trip to Alaska from Utah because our entire itinerary and drive really centered around the route directly from Utah to Alaska by way of Idaho, Montana, Alberta, British Columbia and Yukon.

Due to weather including snow, ice and dangerous conditions we ended up adding an extra night do our original plan.

Final Itinerary: Moab, Utah to Anchorage, Alaska February 20th – February 26th 2019

Traveling: 2 adults, 3 dogs including 1 large lab and 2 smaller dogs less than 35 lbs.

Vehicle information: Toyota Tacoma 4×4 + towing a Uhaul trailer 5×8. Carried battery warmer, come along pulley, long drive chains, extra fuel in a 5 gallon gas tank, extra oil, fix a flat, lithium battery portable vehicle jumper.

Snow Pack References: I refer to snow pack a few times in this write up. In reference to our drive and the conditions we experienced, the snow pack I’m referring to was 2 inches of hard as concrete and slick as ice snow pack. You can check driving conditions for the different provinces/territories on the Canadian government website. We expected about 1,000 miles of this. We got about 2,000 miles of this. Go slow. Drive in good weather. Drive in daylight. Brake only when necessary and slow before hills. Pay attention to the road signs. Know how to drive on snow and ice. Know your vehicle and how it reacts. This is manageable. Be smart, and you can do it. Stay safe. uhaultoalaska

  • Day 1: Moab, Utah to Helena, Montana. On the road at 7:30am – 8pm. Stopped at In N Out Burger for lunch outside of Provo, Utah. Otherwise, on the road consistently aside from gas and bathroom breaks.  Hotel: La Quinta Helena. Dogs stayed free.
  • Day 2: Helena, Montana to Whitecourt, Alberta. On the road at 7:40am – 11pm.  Very long day. Harsh conditions. Snow, ice, wind. We stopped for coffee at Folklore Coffee in Conrad, Montana (Very nice place but took a long time as they brew each coffee individually to order. Would not recommend unless you want to wait 20 minutes).  Border crossing took almost 2 hours due to the Canadian government giving us a hard time on the legal guns we were bringing over the border and searching our entire vehicle in a large warehouse/holding area while Ben, myself and the dogs waited inside a waiting room. Ben obsessed over bringing these guns over the border and filled out the necessary paperwork, received permission, etc. prior to us ever crossing the border. Of course, we were still flagged at the border and our long day of driving became even longer with this hold up.  Hotel: Quality Inn Whitecourt. Very friendly staff, nice accommodations, dog friendly! Dogs stayed free. *Tim Horton’s nearby!

montanasnow

(Above: Road in Montana to Alberta. Crappy! Poor visibility. VERY ICY.)

  • Day 3: Whitecourt, Alberta to Fort St. John, British Columbia.  On the road 10am-5pm.  We were exhausted and bad weather was moving in and we could not wait to get to the hotel early and relax. Temperatures were changing and we were at 8 degrees at 5pm and 1 degree at 8am.  Hotel: Holiday Inn Express. Dogs stayed with a small pet fee only charged at checkout. Excellent hotel! So clean, safe, laundry room, indoor pool.  Within walking distance to restaurants, Walmart if needed. We got delivery from Olio’s Pizzeria and the pizza was absolutely delicious! I did some laundry. The dogs were exhausted and really enjoyed running around the large room. Excellent stay– would recommend! *Tim Horton’s nearby!
  • Day 4: Fort St. John to Muncho Lake, British Columbia. On the road 9:50am to 7:45pm.  Snow and iced pack roads. Very cold. Negative degrees. Long day of driving at slow speeds through the northern Rockies.  Upon arrival to the lodge it was -5 degrees outside but would quickly fall to -20 degrees.  A battery warmer for the vehicle was a must and the lodge has plugins in the parking lot. Hotel: Northern Rockies Lodge. Ben had been really looking forward to our stop at this lodge. Not many options at all around this area so be sure to call ahead and book prior to arrival! We booked the night before but had been watching the availability online. They only allow 2 dogs but when Ben called and explained our situation they made an exception.  Dinner at the lodge is served until 9pm in winter and we were able to leave our dogs in our room to enjoy a nice dinner which was much needed after such a long and stressful day of driving in snow and on ice. Ben earned that whiskey and I earned my glass of wine! Dinner for Ben was steak, schnitzel for me. It was delicious. We also shared a dessert. The lodge is so homey and I really loved our short time there. This was an expensive stop, but we factored that in.  We can only imagine how expensive it is to run this lodge in the middle of the Canadian rockies, with nothing around! We learned their internet alone costs $2,000/month! What a treat it was to stay at the lodge. Would recommend!
  • Day 5: Muncho Lake, British Columbia to Whitehorse, Yukon. On the road from 10:10am to approximately 9pm.  Snow packed roads. LOTS OF BISON! We did stop for a bit of an extended break in Watson Lake, Yukon to explore the Sign Post Forest (Click Here) and to have grilled cheese sandwiches made at the gas station/restaurant on our way out of town (excellent grilled cheese!). The gas station is also a store and has a grill and laundry mat and nice bathrooms. It is across from the sign post forest on the right side on your way out of town. I have heard Watson Lake is a questionable crime area — be aware of your surroundings! After our break, we continued to Whitehorse.  Hotel: Westmark Whitehorse Hotel & Conference Center.  Nice hotel, has restaurant on site. Rooms were clean. Area was questionable and parking was limited but they allowed 3 dogs and didn’t charge a pet fee. Did charge a small deposit which was returned to me. Overall, would recommend. *Tim Horton’s nearby!
  • Day 6: Are we there yet? Almost! Whitehorse, Yukon to Glennallen, Alaska. On road from 8:15am to 8:30pm.  This drive is absolutely gorgeous and you DO NOT WANT TO DRIVE IT AT NIGHT! It’s that beautiful. Don’t miss it. Gorgeous. Easy border crossing. Snow packed roads. Saw 1 wolf, 4 moose and 6 caribou. WATCH FOR ANIMALS ON ROAD! Hotel: Caribou Hotel. Friendly staff. Not the cleanest hotel, but decent and one of (if not the) only options around. Dirty tap water due to sediment after earthquake. Waived our pet fee after room inspection at checkout. -18 degrees that night– plugged truck into outlets in the parking lot.  Hotel restaurant closed early that night. We picked up sandwiches from the grocery store in town which also was set to close at 9pm.

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(Above: Sunset over Alaska! We made it ❤ ) 

  • Day 7:  Glennallen, Alaska to Anchorage, Alaska. 3 hours 15 minutes driving time. WE MADE IT! Sunny and 30’s in Anchorage. Warmest temperatures since Utah.

Tips For Driving the Alaskan Highway in Winter

— Do not solely rely on information from people who have done this drive in the summer. This drive in winter is likely very different from driving this route in the summer months. Seriously, I read so much advice from people who had done it in the summer and threw most of that advice out the window once we realized what we were experiencing was very different. Driving in the winter to Alaska from the lower 48 is completely different than anything I’ve ever experienced and I’ve been living and visiting “rural” areas of Colorado for the past 10 years and have driven to/from the east coast twice in the winter. I have never seen true rural driving until the Yukon.

— Do not underestimate this drive. Weather is harsh. The road is bumpy and may be snow packed and/or icy. Do not attempt to drive long distances in the dark or during a storm. You do not want to get stranded out there. Bring supplies in case you do get stranded. Sleeping bags. Warm gloves. Blankets. Etc.

— Choose your vehicle wisely…. I’ve heard success stories of cars with front wheel drive making this drive in winter. I would at least recommend snow tires. I wouldn’t dare drive this drive, in the conditions we had, without snow tires if I was in a FWD vehicle.  I’ve heard at times the road is dry! It was ice and snow pack for us for 2,000+ miles. The Tacoma was in 4×4 intermittently from Dawson Creek and pretty much constantly from Fort St John. There were steep hills with grades of 8-10%. I will say- up until the Yukon- we always knew when a hill was coming. Very good road signs.

— Allow for more time than you think you need. Plan accordingly. Add in extra time if it’s going to storm. Plan to drive lower than the speed you think you’ll drive. After Dawson Creek I imagine we averaged no more than 50mph daily. We were pulling a trailer and were going slower than others, however, we also ended up passing and being passed and then passing vehicles who were also driving to Alaska! I kept thinking “I wish we were in that sedan!” or “I wish we were in that jeep!” and “I wish we didn’t have the Uhaul!” And then two days later we were still at equal stops with that sedan and that jeep.

You will be going long distances without gas availability! Most gas stations, stops, etc. are closed during the winter. Plan accordingly! We went 105 miles, not kilometers, without a gas option TWICE.

— It’s cold. Very, very cold. Each night we had to take everything into the hotel that we didn’t want sitting out in negative temperatures. This meant our most important electronics, medications, guns (can withstand cold temps, but handguns are required to be with their person by law when traveling through Canada), etc. Basically, whatever we didn’t want to sit in 32 degree and much, much colder temperatures, we took inside. Each night upon arrival to our hotel Ben would make at least 5 trips to/from the vehicle to carry in suitcase, totes, etc. Soaps/Bathroom supplies/glade plug ins that we had packed in a tote in the trailer– I made sure to separate ANYTHING that could freeze and ruin– freezed and ruined.

muncholaketemperature

— Stop at the Tim Horton’s throughout Canada! Excellent coffees/donuts/bagels/pastries/breakfast sandwiches/lunch! Quite a treat. And that coffee saved us on long days!!!

— Watch for animals! We so saw many!

  • Deer (Utah)
  • Rams (Utah)
  • Elk (Montana)
  • Vultures (Idaho)
  • Bald Eagles (Idaho)
  • Bison (British Columbia)
  • Moose (Alberta)
  • Caribou (Yukon)
  • Wolf, Moose, Caribou, Bald Eagles, Ravens (Alaska) *Moose were in the middle of the road in Alaska! Be careful!

— Consider checking out the Liard Hot Springs! About 45 minutes North of Muncho Lake. We couldn’t because it was -10 outside that morning and they don’t allow dogs. But, we wished we could have!!! We’ve heard nothing but great things. I believe they have a lodge across the street if you’re interested in staying there.

— Be mindful of timing! Out in Canada and in Alaska places close earlier than in the lower 48. Watch your arrival timing later in the evenings.

— Don’t let this write up scare you. This all may seem intimidating, but its honestly what I wish I would have read prior because I personally could have been more prepared. Even if just mentally! Ben was prepared (I’m lucky to have him!) but even he wasn’t prepared for everything we encountered. We are so thankful we were able to add in extra driving time because we really, really needed it. We were so thankful to be able to find dog friendly places to sleep. Finding a place for 2 dogs? Moderately easy. Finding a place for 3 dogs? Very difficult. We were thankful we didn’t hit any more snow storms after Alberta. The visibility is crap out there when it gets dark and the snow sure blows when you’re in the middle of no where. Watch weather closely.

— Take in the sights! Take lots of pictures! Enjoy the drive from Whitehorse, Yukon to Alaska — that drive included some of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen. Just breathtaking! Remember: you’re seeing things that most people will never see in their lives! It’s a big challenge to drive to Alaska, but its an even bigger adventure. Go slow, be safe and enjoy. 

Lastly and really, really, really important. GET THE MILEPOST BOOK! Do not do this drive without it. 

milepost

For any specific questions, feel free to send me an email. My email address is listed at the top of my blog home page. 

1 thought on “Driving to Alaska From the Lower 48

  1. carolbaci@comcast.net March 5, 2019 — 2:17 pm

    You definitely are a gypsy but what a life you’re having!!!! Hope all turns out well for you and Ben in Anchorage; Alaska definitely is different but SO beautiful. Our family in Manteca is missing out on so much in this country; glad your parents have had some of those adventures with you! We’re cruising to Alaska for the 4th time in May; we love it! Bless you and Ben. XOXO Aunt Carol

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