Driving The Famous Dalton Highway In Alaska
I grew up watching episodes of “Ice road truckers” in which truck drivers drive across frozen lakes and rivers in the remote Arctic territories in Canada and Alaska. Ever since I heard about the remote “Dalton Highway” of Alaska, it made into my bucket list. In August of 2017, I got to finally check it OFF my list! 🙂
In this blog, I will be sharing our driving experience through the 414-mile stretch of the so called “loneliest road in the world”, camping on the Dalton, joyous moments of getting wet in the Arctic ocean (just the feet though :)), unfortunate car trouble and how we made out of it. Driving through Dalton highway was part of our one month roadtrip in our converted cargo trailer (you can find how we built video here) from Ohio to Alaska.
Before even reaching the start of “the dangerous Dalton” we had flat tire in our car “Nimo”(Nissan Murano) in the middle of the night somewhere around Destruction Bay in Yukon, Canada. Good thing was we had a full size spare tire. We were unable to find any tire repair shops in Beaver Creek, which was the last town before crossing the border to Alaska. No luck at Tok, Alaska too. We drove all the way to Fairbanks (430 miles) where we were able to get our tire replaced.
All the mechanics and locals we met on the way were very skeptical about our plans to drive on the Dalton Highway. “You cannot do it”, “It is not worth the risk” or “If I were you, I will not be driving my own car” were the common responses we got from the locals. Although this may be true, we just couldnt let this opportunity pass. After all we were 4000 miles from home and what bad could happen in another 400 miles?
We immediately jumped onto research mode and searched for alternate modes of transportation. But nothing seemed to be convincing to us. We worked so hard, built our own mobile home and were so excited for this trip. We would be so disappointed if we dint get to drive on that dream road of ours. Suddenly, our travel bug triggered us and pumped up our confidence form out of nowhere. Trusting our instincts we decided to leave our trailer behind at a campground at Nenana and left with on our Nimo in pursuit of one of our greatest adventures.
James W Dalton Highway or also known as the ‘Haul Road’ is the only Highway which connects to the drivable north most town on USA called Deadhorse. So, how remote is this town you might ask? Well, you need to cross the Arctic Circle to get there. As a matter of fact, there are only 2 highways in North America which crosses Arctic Circle – the Dalton and the Dempster Highway in Canada (this is on our bucket list!).
The complete highway is 414 miles (666 kms) long. There is a 240 mile (385 kms) stretch between Coldfoot to Deadhorse where there are no services whatsoever. Deadhorse is so remote that not many tourists drive on this road. Ofcourse, why would they? There are so many scenic (and touristy) places in Alaska that Deadhorse, Prudhoe Bay or Dalton Highway gets ignored. But not for us!! If you enjoy getting your feet wet (or even a polar bear plunge) in the Arctic Ocean, enjoy the pristine nature, love long drives without seeing another vehicle, take a cool picture crossing the Arctic Circle, meet and hear about experiences of people who work on the Prudhoe Bay oil fields and what is it like to face the challenging weather – this is the right trip for you.
Dalton Highway Road Condition (As of Aug 2017)
Condition : Road work for 20 miles outside of Deadhorse
Type: Mostly Gravel, 30% paved
56 miles / 90 kms from Elliott Highway Junction
An information station, diner, gas station and a motel is located here. You can get information about the current road condition, weather (remember cell phones do not work) etc. There are a few pit toilets available too.
They used to give out the Arctic Crossing Certificate in the Yukon Crossing station, but starting Aug 2017 you would have to drive till Coldfoot.
42 miles / 68 kms from Yukon Crossing
This is a pullout with plenty of parking space and a short hike to top of a hill where you can get a gorgeous panoramic view. There are pit toilets located here, so an ideal location for camping / boondocking. On top of the hill, you can see a finger shape rock formation.
17 miles / 27 kms from Finger Mountain
A few miles north of Finger mountain is one of the most famous place on the Dalton Highway stretch which has the iconic Arctic Circle sign board. A great photo opportunity.
Though camping or boondocking is not allowed in the viewing area, there is a primitive free campground behind the viewing area. The access road was unmaintained with major potholes and seemed to be passable only with a high clearance four wheel drive vehicle due to the recent rain.
Arctic Interagency Visitor Center – Coldfoot
60 miles / 97 kms from Arctic Circle
Coldfoot is the only other large town on Dalton where you can find a gas station, restaurant, RV campground with services, a motel and a modern visitor center with full service restrooms. You can get your Arctic Circle crossing certificate here. We had a burger and sandwich at the restaurant and it tasted good.
This is the last place to fill up, so please do. There are no services for the next 240 miles (385 kms)! I had read somewhere that this is the longest stretch in the United States with no services in between. Be ready to pay a premium price for gas – about $2 more per gallon compared to Fairbanks. So, how do I look happy on the picture below? I had to fill in only half a tank and we were not pulling our camper trailer (We had left it at a campground at Nenana after many people discouraged us from driving on the Dalton altogether).
71 miles / 115 kms from Coldfoot
Atigun Pass is the highest pass in Alaska with a peak elevation of 4739 feet (1444 m). It is also a continental divide where the rivers north of the pass drains into the Arctic Ocean. The climb is pretty steep with grades ranging from 10 to 12%. There are a couple of pullouts to stop and take in the breathtaking views. I have compiled a montage of clips of our drive through the Atigun Pass.
Nature Cooking @ Last Chance Wayside
109 miles / 175 kms from Atigun Pass
We had planned to camp out for the night at the Galbraith Lake campground, but we were too tired to drive on. Galbraith is a few miles drive from the highway on a smaller road. We found a small wayside with no facilities (GPS – 68.450540, -149.372674) and stayed here for the night.
The next morning we drove for a few hours and stopped for brunch at an amazing primitive rest stop kind of setup. Since there are no fast food / restaurants on the Dalton after crossing Colfoot, we had to cook our food ourselves. But, I dont think anyone could have complained if their kitchen is surrounded by such a beautiful view! (even though we were cooking only ramen) 😛
End of the Road
170 miles / 275 kms from Last Chance Wayside
The Dalton Highway ends at the town of Deadhorse. To read more about Deadhorse, the accommodation available and Arctic Ocean tour – Alaska Arctic Ocean Tour | Prudhoe Bay Hotel
After effects of driving the Dalton
Our overall trip was fun. The stay at Prudhoe Bay hotel was surprisingly comfortable. There were no major problems except our car battery went dead because I was charging my Drone batteries just for a few mins without the car running. We had to wait for a couple of hours at the Last Chance Wayside on our return trip before a friendly family helped us out by jump starting our car. Other than this we did not have any problems – no cracked windshield, no flats, the truck drivers were great too – they slowed down and moved to the end of the road when passing us.
We have never seen our Nimo (our car Murano) completely covered with mud. We had to wash the underbody 5 times!! I also had to remove the tires and clean up all the mud which was struck on the rims. It was causing the wheels to be out of balance causing the car to vibrate on highway speed.
How to prepare for the drive?
It is recommended to be self sufficient for the complete trip. This includes food, water, basic survival gear / camping gear, cash (cards are accepted in general though), blankets, proper winter clothing (even in summer months), car repair tools. In addition to these, here are a few other key items:
- Atleast 1 full size backup tire mounted on wheel
- Tire repair kit
- Spare Fuel (minimum 5 gallons)
- Battery jumper cable
- Tire pressure gauge
- Portable Tire inflator
- Insect Repellent
- The Milepost – Alaska travel guide – This helped us very much to plan our entire trip.
We also lower our tire pressure from 35 psi to around 25 psi when we are about to drive on rough / gravel road. This makes the ride comfortable and reduces the risk of tire blowout. And remember trucks have the right of way. Be courteous on the road. Slow down or pull over to let the trucks pass you. Be safe and dont forget to enjoy the drive. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity for most!