June 3 – July 6, 2022.
There are lots of ways to get to Alaska. One of the most popular is to drive to Prince George, British Columbia in Canada, and then drive east on to Dawson Creek, BC. This is where the iconic and historical Alaska-Canadian Highway begins. There you can a snap quintessential pic of yourself in front of the World Famous Alaska Highway sign, hop on the ALCAN (Alaska-Canadian Highway), and follow it all the way to Alaska. But that isn’t the only way.
You can also drive to Prince George, and turn west to intersect with the Stewert-Cassier Highway. From there you’d head north to the ALCAN, hang a left on the ALCAN and head straight to Alaska. Or for a fun detour, you could hang a right on the ALCAN to go to Watson Lake, Yukon where you can snap a pic of yourself in the iconic Signpost Forest in front of a sign you just made (or brought with you) and posted with your name on it. After which you’d turn around, get back on the ALCAN and drive straight to Alaska.
There is also a water route. You can take a vehicle ferry from Washington all the way to Alaska. An Alaska State ferry leaves from Bellingham, Washington, and will take you all the way to Whittier, Alaska on the Kenai Peninsula. From Whittier, you can drive to anywhere in Alaska that is actually drivable to (lots of places are only accessible by plane or boat). This cost about $4000 for 2 people and a 20-foot vehicle. The trip takes about 4 1/2 days and if you don’t want to just pitch a tent and camp on deck, or sleep in a lounge chair, you can purchase a berth starting around $250 and up depending on how comfortable you want to be and whether you care about the view.
Also among many other options, you could also fly to Alaska and have your vehicle shipped but where is the adventure in that?
When we decided to go to Alaska we honestly didn’t know much about any of this. We had tried to purchase a copy of The Milepost, a well-known travel guide with highway logs to Alaska. But it was still on backorder when it was time for us to hit the road back in May when we were in Arizona. We had to cancel our order. About halfway into our journey to Alaska, we found an older used copy of the book and although tedious at times with mile-by-mile logs, it has been overall helpful. It gives suggestions on many different routes to and from Alaska. It might have been useful planning our route but I’m pretty happy with our current planning method which had been mostly letting other people make suggestions about where we should go.
The Blackball Ferry to Vancouver Island
Less than a couple of weeks before crossing the Canadian border we weren’t really sure where we’d cross or what route we’d take to the “Last Frontier.” We knew we wanted to visit Vancouver Island. We thought would involve taking a vehicle ferry from the city of Vancouver after we crossed into Canada. But then a friend suggested that we just take a ferry from Washington straight to the island. Excellent idea. In researching the ferry we’d have to take to get back off the island I stumbled upon the idea of taking a ferry from Vancouver Island through the inside passage of British Columbia to Prince Rupert. Prince Rupert is the last ferry stop on the northern coast of BC. From there we could drive the rest of the way to Alaska. This was much cheaper ($640) and shorter (only 18 hours) than the Alaska Ferry route and although it would cost more than driving I was excited about the possibility of seeing wildlife and experiencing some of the places we couldn’t drive to.
The BC Ferry to Prince Rupert
Traversing the Inside Passage
From Prince Rupert, we still had no definite route until we met a couple at a Boondockers Welcome site who told us that we needed to drive the Yellowhead Highway from Prince Rupert to Terrace where we could turn north onto the Nisga’a Highway which would eventually intersect with the Cassier Highway. This would be instead of driving past Terrance to Kitwanga to connect with the Cassiar like one normally would. Our Boondockers Welcome hosts told us we needed to stop in Terrace to look for rare white Kermode bears at the local trash dump. We were running late so unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the trash dump but we did take their advice and visited the Nisg̱a’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park. It was good advice.
Driving the Yellowhead & Nisga’a Highway
After the lava beds, we followed the Nisga’a Highway up to the Cassiar Highway and got on one of the usual routes to Alaska.
Driving the Cassiar Highway & the ALCAN
We made a few detours off the Cassiar and the ALCAN – one to the towns of Stewart and Hyder and one to the Carcross Desert. A lady at a visitor center told us about the Carcross Desert, and who knows, I might have come up with the idea to go to Stewart and Hyder on my own. I’ll tell you all about these side trips in future posts. We also made that right when we reached the ALCAN from the Cassiar for a little detour to post a sign with our names on it in the signpost forest in Watson Lake.
A few hazards along the way
The scenery driving these highways is stunning. There are long stretches in between towns or any kind of services. Snow topped mountains loom in the distance everywhere. We passed by and camped at many beautiful lakes. Wildflowers dotted the roads. And occasionally we saw wildlife. Towards the end of our journey, we were in a bit more of a hurry we zoomed past many places I want to return to.
The roads to Alaska were overall good (they would get much worse once we left Canada). Many stretches were being worked on and we’d often have to wait. Automated signs told us when we could go and how many more seconds we would have to wait. Roads were sometimes strewn with gravel. We now have a star crack in our windshield. Although we mostly saw tourists on these roads, these highways are also lifelines for the locals who live in these areas. The ALCAN washed out south of Lake Watson. This not only caused travelers to be delayed but trucks carrying food for all the major grocery stores.
Crossing the border to Alaska
The ALCAN finally brought us to Alaska. The border was a little backed up. I imagine it was due to an accident that stopped traffic for a while. But despite the wait, the crossing was easy. We made sure we didn’t have any excess alcohol (just half a bottle of tequila) or any forbidden fruits or vegetables. The border agent gave us our passports back and bid us “adios!” And we crossed into Alaska.
You know I like maps. So here is our route without all the detours: