Driving the Dalton Highway: A Comprehensive Guide

Driving the Dalton Highway, Alaska

Dalton Highway Alaska sign on the road Alaska highway 11
Driving the Dalton Highway, an unforgettable experience

 

 

Driving the Dalton Highway, one of the world’s most remote roads, is not for the faint of heart and can be challenging at times, but it is completely worth it!

 

 

If you are planning to take this incredible Alaska road trip, this means you are a serious adventure seeker!

 

 

Get ready for the road trip of a lifetime as you travel Alaska’s northernmost highway, leading through a raw, unforgiving wilderness. Come face to face with indigenous wildlife, vast, unfiltered landscapes and unforgettable, dynamic scenery.

 

 

 


DRIVING THE DALTON HIGHWAY: A COMPREHENSIVE ROAD TRIP GUIDE

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS


 

ROAD TRIP GUIDE OVERVIEW

Region of Alaska: Interior/Far North

Starting point: Fairbanks, AK

Ending point: Fairbanks, AK

Highlights: Scenic drive, wildlife, Arctic Circle, Aurora Borealis, National Park, Arctic Ocean, backcountry hiking, off-the-beaten-path

Main points along the Dalton Highway
Main points along the Dalton Highway

Time allotted for road trip: 10 days

Approximate miles/km to drive:

1,000 miles / 1,600 km

Highways to drive:

Elliot Highway (AK-2) – Fairbanks to Dalton Highway junction

Dalton Highway (AK-11) – Dalton Highway junction to Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay

Road Conditions:

Elliot Highway – Paved, 2-lane highway in good condition, suitable for all vehicles.

Dalton Highway: 75% gravel/dirt road and 25% paved. Some potholes, but mostly an even surface, although road conditions can vary. Flat tires are common (be sure to have a full-size spare tire). Expect a lot of truck traffic. You will be required to cross one mountain pass through the Brooks Range.

Best time to travel: May – September

Sites of interests: Dalton Highway, Trans-Alaska Pipeline, Yukon River Camp, Coldfoot Camp, Arctic Interagency Visitors Center, Arctic Circle, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Sukakpak Mountain, North Slope Borough, Brooks Range, Atigun Pass, Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay, Arctic Ocean

Adventure rating: 5 out of 5

What we enjoyed most: The off-the-beaten-path experience, the diversity of the landscape and the feeling of being completely isolated from the the world.

IMPORTANT NOTE: In order to be fully prepared for driving the Dalton Highway, we strongly recommend that you read this other post, where you will find tips to prepare for your road trip.

 

INTRODUCTION

The Dalton Highway runs 414 miles parallel to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and is not only the northernmost highway in Alaska, but it is the only highway in Far North Alaska. As you drive the Dalton Highway, you will venture through incessantly changing landscapes and unspoiled wilderness that make it impossible to look away. The highway passes boreal forests; the famous Yukon River; tors that date back to more than 100 million years ago; the Arctic Circle; over the Brooks Mountain Range and Atigun Pass; through rolling valleys of tundra; until you arrive at the industrial town of Deadhorse. Driving the Dalton Highway is the perfect example of a road trip being more about the journey and less about the destination. Deadhorse is an industrial complex with the only structures being oil wells and modular buildings; an oddity amid the stunning landscape that surrounds it.

The average person can drive the entirety of the Dalton Highway (both directions) in 3-4 days, but this amount of time does not allow much time for exploring. We have created this road trip guide to allow for plenty of time out of the car, to be able to confront nature in its wildest of forms. We want you to leave Alaska with the same feeling that we had- the feeling that you have not just driven that Dalton Highway, but that you have lived it!

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DAY 1 – ROUGH ROADS AND NOODLE SOUP

Start your Dalton Highway road trip adventure in Fairbanks where you will stock up on everything you need for driving the Dalton Highway. Fill up your tank before leaving Fairbanks and head north on Elliot Highway until you reach the Dalton Highway junction. Shortly after turning onto the Dalton Highway you will spot the legendary, “Welcome to the James Dalton Highway”- stop here for your trophy photo!

 

Gas station at Yukon River Camp
Gas station + muddy car at Yukon River Camp

Arriving at Yukon River Camp

Continue driving the Dalton Highway until milepost 56 where you will reach Yukon River Camp. The Yukon River Camp is a full service stop with food, lodging and fuel. The restaurant is amazing and something completely unexpected. It has the atmosphere of a truckers’ diner, but it is actually a noodle house that features Banh Mi sandwiches and noodle soups. Portions are generous and dessert is a must! I highly recommend the Sichuan beef noodle soup and one of their homemade pies served a-la-mode for dessert- a delicious start to your road trip!

 

Yukon River Camp diner along the Dalton Highway
Driving the Dalton Highway entails some culinary surprises
Home made pie with ice cream at the Yukon River Camp, Dalton Highway
Homemade pie to charge your batteries for more driving

Head over to the BLM Yukon Crossing Visitor Contact Station and learn about the Yukon River area, as well as road and weather updates. If you prefer not to camp, the Yukon River Camp is your only option for reserving a room for the night. Before continuing north, be sure to fill up your tank at Yukon River Camp! The next opportunity for gas is at Coldfoot Camp, 119 miles from here.

Head to mile 60 BLM campground for the night

Drive 14  miles until you arrive at mile 60 BLM Campground via a loop road; this is where you will spend the night. Hot Spot Cafe is another option for food and is located right next to the campground. The cafe is only open during the summer months, but they are said to have the best burgers and barbecue in Alaska. Stop to eat here on your drive out and see if those burgers live up to their reputation!

By the end of day one, Jowday (our car) was completely covered in thick and unforgiving mud. Entering and exiting the car became a real challenge! If the road is muddy you can expect a mess of a car!

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DAY 2 – N 66°33′

Land of the midnight sun and polar night

Today you will officially cross over to Arctic Alaska! There is something so mysterious about the arctic, a part of the world so seemingly wild and untouchable. For those who dislike the cold, just the word “arctic” can sound intimidating! If you are driving the Dalton Highway from the end of November to mid January, don’t expect to see the sun! Comparatively, you can expect nearly uninterrupted sun from mid May until early August. We missed out on experiencing the midnight sun, and would have loved the chance to hike these incredible landscapes into the wee hours of the morning. However, I’m not so sure that we can say the same for polar nights, as twenty-four hours of darkness seems unfathomable!

The landscape becomes increasingly more beautiful as you head north

Before leaving the campground take advantage of the potable water that is available and replenish your water jugs. As you resume the drive north you will begin to notice a change in the vegetation. From this point the drive starts to get really beautiful! You will drive through an area of the Dalton Highway known as roller coaster road; an area of steep ups and downs. Take notice of the spectacular Castle Mountain that comes into view around mile 82. At mile 86 you will encounter a side road that spans one mile, arriving at an observation deck. Take in the great views of the landscape and read the informative panels about the Yukon Flats Wildlife Refuge.

Discovering an ancient landscape

At mile 98 you will reach a turn-off for a rest area that includes a trail with interpretive panels. Spend time exploring this fascinating area. The landscape was found to have numerous prehistoric hunting sites, as well as tors (rock formations) that date back to more than one hundred million years ago. The most famous tor in the area is Finger Mountain. As the name states, the tor is shaped like a finger and said to point south towards Fairbanks. Finger Mountain was used as a navigation landmark for early settlers. Venture off the interpretive trail and hike to Finger Mountain for an up close look at this peculiar rock formation. There are no official trails leading to Finger Mountain, but walking through unmarked terrain is accepted along the Dalton Highway.

Crossing over to Arctic Alaska

At mile 115 you will arrive in the Arctic Circle! As you continue driving the Dalton Highway you will officially be in the polar region of Alaska… bucket list worthy! Stop at the Arctic Circle sign for your legendary trophy photo and then head to the Arctic Circle BLM Wayside Campground. As far a bragging rights are considered, it is very important you are able to say that you spent the night in the Arctic Circle! Follow the road one half mile from the Arctic Circle sign to the campground. Both the campground and the prestige of staying the night in the Arctic Circle are free! If you aren’t prepared to camp, continue to drive the Dalton Highway an additional 60 miles to Coldfoot.

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DAY 3 – ALASKA: THE LAND OF INACCESSIBLE NATIONAL PARKS

Continue driving north on the Dalton Highway towards Coldfoot. At mile 132 you will arrive at Gobblers Knob Wayside. If you are someone who enjoys learning about the history of the place you are visiting, this spot is worth the stop. The interpretive panels contain engaging information about how the Dalton Highway was constructed, as well as the dangerous road existing prior to the construction.

Arriving at the Arctic Interagency Visitors Center

At mile 174 you will spot a sign for the turn off to Coldfoot Camp and the Arctic Interagency Visitors Center. Be sure to visit the Arctic Interagency Visitors Center (open during summer months only), deemed the best visitors center in Alaska! The staff is incredibly helpful and the exhibits are phenomenal. Spend some time walking the nearby trails and learning about Arctic Alaska. Talk to the staff about overnight back-country options that are available from the highway and register for your back-country permit.

Gates of the Arctic National Park

Driving the Dalton Highway places you right on the doorstep of Gates of the Arctic National Park. The National Park is located alongside a portion of the Dalton Highway and can be accessed by foot; this is the most affordable option for accessing the park. Be aware that there are no established trails, roads or campsites within the boundary of the National Park- you are completely on your own! It is essential that you are able to read a topographic map, navigate with a compass and be completely self sufficient in the wilderness. If you want to complete a backpacking trip without a guide, it is best that you do plenty of research before your trip to pinpoint the area you want to explore.

Arrigtech peaks landscapes at Gates of the Arctic National Park
Arrigetch Peaks of the Brooks Range- A popular area for backpacking Gates of the Arctic National Park

Coyote Air is an air service in Coldfoot offering custom charters. The air charter will drop you off and pick you up in an area of the park that you choose to backpack. This is an alternative to accessing the park by foot. A common starting point for backpacking Gates of the Arctic National Park is the Alaskan bush town of Bettles (only accessible by air). The Arrigetch Peaks of the Brooks Range is one of the more popular backpacking areas within the park. If you are confident in your wilderness survival skills and are craving adventure beyond driving the Dalton Highway, make arrangements with Coyote Air when you arrive in Coldfoot. If you prefer to experience Gate of the Arctic from above, Coyote Air also offers flight-seeing excursions over the Brooks Range.

Choose your arctic adventure in Coldfoot

Road sign for Coldfoot and the Dalton HIghway
Turn off to Coldfoot or resume driving the Dalton Highway

After checking out the visitors center, head over to Coldfoot Camp to replenish your gas tank and your stomach. Coldfoot Camp is a full-service stop that offers food, fuel and lodging. Eat at The Trucker’s Cafe or have a drink at the Frozen Foot Saloon. Check out the Arctic adventures that are offered in Coldfoot. The most recommended day excursion is a trip via bush plane to the Native Alaskan Eskimo village of Anaktuvuk Pass, located within the boundaries of Gates of the Arctic National Park. A close second is a rafting trip down Koyukuk River. We didn’t end up doing any of the excursion ourselves, but we were told that they are quite a unique experience. Spend the night in Coldfoot, camp in the backcountry, or drive to mile 179 where you will find Marion Creek BLM Campground.

Arriving to Coldfoot, information sign, 53 miles north to the Arctic Circle
Coldfoot camp sign, 58 miles north of the Arctic Circle
Trucker's Cafe in Coldfoot Pedro looking at the menu
Pedro browsing the menu at Trucker’s Cafe in Coldfoot

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DAY 4 – CHEATING YOUR WAY INTO GATES OF THE ARCTIC NATIONAL PARK

If you spent the night in the backcountry or signed up for an excursion, you already have the day planned for you. For those on a tight budget, or those who aren’t confident in their wilderness survival skills, we are going to reveal a secret way into Gates of the Arctic National Park that is neither difficult nor expensive!

Discovering Wiseman

From Marion Creek Campground you will find Marion Creek Falls trail head. Hike this short trail, which brings you to a lovely waterfall. The waterfall makes for a nice place to have a picnic before heading back.  Return to your car, fill up your water jugs with the potable water source available at the campground, and continue driving the Dalton Highway towards Wiseman. You will spot a turnoff for the Wiseman access road at mile 189. There are a couple of nice bed and breakfast options in Wiseman. If your budget allows, you may want to take a break from camping and stay in a cozy cabin for the night. Family owned Arctic Getaway Cabin and Breakfast is a favorite. Visit the Koyukuk Miners Museum and the old post office in town. Near the museum and post office you will find a trail to the Wiseman Cemetery.

A DIY adventure into Gates of the Arctic National Park

Locate an offline map application and get ready to navigate your way into Gates of the Arctic National Park. Follow Wiseman Road until you reach the junction with Nolan Road. The road may not be labeled on your map-app, but zoom in around Wiseman and you should be able to see a line distinguishing a small road that runs along Nolan Creek. Follow Nolan Road until you reach the area that is closest to the boundaries of the National Park, or drive to the end of the road. Find Nolan Creek Lake on your map and let that serve as a guide for the general area that you want to be in. If you don’t have access to a map, ask for directions to Nolan Road, follow the road all the way back towards the gold mine and start hiking west.

 

Gates of the Arctic National Park breathtaking valley
Aerial view of Gates of the Arctic National Park

Bushwhacking and crossing soggy tundra is required

There are no trails so you will have to plan your route according to the weather and condition of the vegetation. Walking through soggy tundra (a very pleasant walking experience-BTW) and bushwhacking is required. Without a map it will be difficult to know when you have crossed over to the National Park, but you can assume that walking west for 2-3 miles will get you there! If you reach Nolan Creek Lake you are just outside the boundary of the park. A little farther and you have officially crossed over to the seemingly unreachable Gates of the Arctic! Stepping foot inside a National Park for the sake of saying “we’ve been there,” is not our ideal way to visit a National Park, but sometimes a quick, DIY option is all that one can do!

Spend the night at the unofficial camping area in Wiseman, located on the sandbars near the Koyukuk River bridge. 

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DAY 5 – WELCOME TO NORTH SLOPE BOROUGH

Sukakpak Mountain: The postcard image of the Dalton Highway

We found today’s drive to be the most scenic section of the Dalton Highway. Shortly after leaving Wiseman, Sukakpak Mountain will come into view. Sukakpak Mountain is one of the most recognizable peaks that you will see while driving the Dalton Highway. Sukakpak Mountain is often referred to as the postcard image of the highway. There are no established trails, but we learned that a hike to the summit can be achieved with lots of rock scrambling and bush whacking. Hiking to the summit is somewhat of an earned prestige for locals, but it is no easy task and shouldn’t be attempted on a whim.

Sukukpak Mountain, the postcard of the Dalton Highway
Sukukpak Mountain, the postcard image of the Dalton Highway

Mile 203, 204 and 205 all have turnoff areas with great views of Sukakpak Mountain. Middle Fork Koyukuk River at mile 204 has restrooms, access to the riverbank and a primitive camping area; you will stay here on your drive out. For a different perspective of Sukakpak Mountain, and in our opinion the most beautiful, pull over at Dietrich River Bridge (mile 207). Dietrich River Bridge marks the halfway point of your road trip along the Dalton Highway and is a great place to stop and explore the area. Walk down to Bettles River and take photos with the stunning Sukakpak Mountain as the backdrop. The other remarkable mountain you will see from here is Dillon Mountain.

Mount Dillon view along the Dalton Highway
A view of Dillon Mountain to the left

Crossing Atigun Pass

If mountainous terrain is your idea of beauty, you will be impressed with the drive to come! We found ourselves enthralled by the landscape, stopping at every available turnoff, destined not to get anywhere fast! Mile 235 marks the entrance to North Slope Borough- famous for being the largest land municipality in the US. It was at this point where we welcomed the pleasant surprise of snow! The surrounding landscape became increasingly inundated by fresh powder as we made our way closer to Atigun Pass. Despite snowfall, the highway remains in good driving condition, thanks to the diligent workers maintaining the road. Pull over at mile 237 for excellent views of Table Mountain to the south.

Mile 242 marks the entrance into Atigun Pass of the Brooks Range. You will be driving over one of Alaska’s most remote and untraveled mountain ranges. The Brooks Range is the northernmost extension of the Rocky Mountains and is the world’s highest mountain range within the Arctic Circle (Britannica.com). Depending on the weather, crossing Atigun Pass may pose a challenge. If feasible, stop at the turnoff  to your right shortly after you begin to ascend the pass. The turnoff offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.

Ascending Atigun Pass, view of the valley floor below
Ascending Atigun Pass, view of the valley floor

The highest highway pass in Alaska

At mile 245 you will reach the top of the Atigun Pass, situated at 4,800 feet. Atigun Pass is the highest highway pass in Alaska! Before starting the descent, stop here to admire the incredible view in front of you. Stay alert for Dall Sheep that frequent this area. A parking area is located just after you descend the pass; this serves as a good spot to sit and admire the rugged, arctic landscape.

Atigun Pass, highest highway pass in Alaska
Top of Atigun Pass, highest highway pass in Alaska

 The landscape features several lakes, streams and hills that are present throughout this stretch of highway. The pipeline continues to be visible as it runs parallel to the highway. We drove the Dalton Highway in late September and noticed some of the smaller streams and lakes beginning to freeze at their surface, depicting the image of a winter wonderland. Around mile 272 Galbraith Lake will come into view. Look for a gravel road leading west around mile 274. The gravel road travels approximately 4 miles to Galbraith Lake Campground; this is where you will spend the night.

Witnessing the Aurora Borealis: An Arctic phenomenon

Galbraith Lake was our favorite camping spot along the Dalton Highway. We spent 2 nights here and had the campground to ourselves. This is a great place to feel isolated amid the beautiful arctic landscape. The nights were well below freezing and snow completely covered the ground, but all of this made for an even more spectacular experience. A clear sky meant the possibility of witnessing the Aurora Borealis! We stayed up late, patiently awaiting the transcendent lights and doing all we could to stay warm. Just as we were about to give up, the lights appeared from the horizon and began their dance across the night sky! Observing the Northern Lights in the incredible setting of Arctic Alaska was nothing short of spectacular. September through April are the best months for viewing the Aurora Borealis, as the summer months pose too much daylight for the lights to be visible.

Northern Lights at Galbraith Campground Arctic Circle Alaska
Northern Lights at Galbraith Lake Campground

 

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DAY 6 – AN AVERAGE DAY IN THE ARCTIC… NO BIG DEAL…

Galbraith Lake camprgound covered in snow
Galbraith Lake campground blanketed in snow

Spend the day at Galbraith Lake and take a break from driving the Dalton Highway. Hike around and explore the sloping hillsides that surround the campsite. Take a walk down to Galbraith Lake and if you are brave, go for a swim! Galbraith Lake was the only spot along the highway that we were able to get cell service (other than the camps). The access road to the campground passes an airstrip and this seemed to be the best spot for getting a strong signal. Check in with your friends and family, letting them know that you are camping in the Arctic Alaska! Of course, this will make you sound fantastically adventurous!

Visiting the Arctic Coast

If you intend on visiting the Arctic Ocean (technically speaking the Beaufort Sea) be sure to reserve a spot on the Arctic Ocean Shuttle at least 24 hours in advance. You can make the reservation online through Deadhorse Camp. Unfortunately, the only way to be able to visit the Arctic Ocean is via the shuttle service from Deadhorse, at the hefty rate of $69 per person!

During all our road trip through Alaska, we lived out of our DIY converted camper SUV. Learn how we built it!

 

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Day 7 – WHAT KIND OF NAME IS DEADHORSE?

Today you will drive the remainder of the Dalton Highway and finally arrive in Deadhorse. If you are like us, you are probably wondering how the name Deadhorse came to be. The official name is Prudhoe Bay, but Deadhorse is so widely used that you will hear locals refer to the latter. Apparently, there are a lot of versions of how the name Deadhorse came to be- pick the version that you like best!

Entrance of the Toolik field station Dalton highway
Entrance of the Toolik field station- expect lots of wildlife around this area!

Continue driving the Dalton Highway until you reach mile 284, then take the side road to Toolik Field Station. The field station is run by the University of Alaska and hosts researchers studying the ecology of the Arctic and the impact of climate change. Unfortunately, the research area is gated off and doesn’t allow public access, but the area around the field station is worth exploring. We saw a myriad of wildlife tracks imprinted in the snow around Toolik Lake and hoped we would finally get our first wildlife sighting along the highway… no such luck!

Mile 286 provides an outstanding panoramic view of Toolik Lake, the Brooks Range (south and east) and Smith Mountains to the west. Take the access road at mile 301 and stop for views of Slope Mountain to the west. As you head north of mile 305 the pipeline begins to run underground and will no longer be visible from the road.

Dalton Highway view with Brooks Mountain Range in the background
Driving north along the Dalton Highway with the Brooks Range seen in the distance

From mountainous terrain to arctic coastal tundra

As you drive along the Dalton Highway, you will start to notice a drastic change in scenery the closer you get to Deadhorse. The mountainous landscape changes to flat, arctic coastal tundra, which in our opinion was the least photogenic portion of the highway. In any case, the landscape is unique and beautiful in its own right. At mile 312 the highway begins to run parallel to the Sag River and wildlife is often seen near the riverbank.

Stop at the turnout at mile 355 for great views of the arctic coastal plain that completely engulfs the surrounding landscape. There are birds from around the world that occupy this area during the summer. This makes the Dalton Highway an excellent spot for bird watching enthusiasts. Around mile 386 there is a good spot to turn off and photograph the uniquely colored Franklin Bluffs.

Dalton highway Franklin bluffs alaska
Franklin Bluffs seen alongside the Dalton Highway

The highway follows along the arctic coastal terrain until you reach the industrial town of Deadhorse. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of the Arctic Ocean, or maybe even commit to a full-on Polar Bear Dash! As it turns out, the Arctic Ocean is still about 10 miles from town and public access is restricted due to its proximity to the oil field. Consequently, we didn’t make it to the Arctic Ocean.

Arriving in Deadhorse, Alaska, end of the Dalton Highway

Sign for end of the Dalton Highway in Deadhorse Prudhoe Bay
Official proof: we completed the entire Dalton Highway!

Deadhorse is a full-service stop offering food, fuel and lodging. Most of the lodging that is available caters to the oil field workers. Your best bet is to reserve a room ahead of time at Deadhorse Camp. Keep in mind that “camp” style lodging means modular, prefabricated buildings. Deadhorse Camp serves as the unofficial visitors center and offers shuttle services to the Arctic Ocean twice per day (summer months only). You must reserve a spot on the shuttle 24 hours in advance.

In order to officially complete the Dalton Highway, one must drive the loop around Lake Colleen. As you drive through town be sure to stop at Brooks Range Supply. This is the only place in town that you will find a sign to take the legendary trophy photo. Right outside the store there is a small sign that reads, “Welcome to Deadhorse, Alaska, end of the Dalton Highway.”

Eating in Deadhorse

There are no formal restaurants in Deadhorse, but you can purchase cafeteria meals at the various “hotels” offered in town. The meals are served buffet style and are offered only during specific times of the day. Upon our arrival in Deadhorse, we ate dinner at Prudhoe Bay Hotel. We were the only tourists in a cafeteria full of truckers and oil field workers. The food reminded us of hospital cafeteria food, but we enjoyed the experience nonetheless.

If you plan to camp, drive out of Deadhorse and back to mile 407 where you will find informal camping spots along the Sag River. The next morning we woke up to the coldest morning of our entire trip. Howling wind and fog so thick that we couldn’t see five feet in front of us. The Arctic Coastal region is known for its extreme weather, so be prepared!

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DAY 8 – TO ARCTIC OCEAN, OR NOT TO ARCTIC OCEAN…?

Footprints in the snow in Alaska's Arctic
Exploring Arctic Alaska

Assuming that you want to visit the Arctic Ocean after driving the entirety of the Dalton Highway, take the morning shuttle and dip your feet (or whole body) into the Arctic Ocean. Rumor has it that the shuttle service offers towels and warm drinks to those brave enough the venture into the frigid sea!

If you have a flexible budget, another option for visiting the Arctic Ocean without a guide is taking the quick flight from Deadhorse to the Native Alaskan town of Barrow (now called Utqiagvik) via Alaska Airlines. Utqiagvik is the northernmost town in the United States and one of the northernmost towns in the world. We debated visiting Utqiagvik, but in the end it didn’t make sense for our budget.

Before driving south on the Dalton Highway be sure to fill up with gas. There are two locations in Deadhorse to get gas: Tesoro and NANA. The cost of fuel at NANA was significantly cheaper than Tesoro, so be sure to check there first. NANA is not easy to recognize, as it doesn’t appear like a typical gas station. The fuel is obtained from oil barrels and the payment station is inside the small building next to the pump.

Same road but a new perspective

Begin driving the Dalton Highway back towards Fairbanks. The perspective of the landscape completely changes as you drive from north to south. We didn’t find the drive to be repetitive or mundane at any point; in fact, it seemed to be even more beautiful. Drive south until you reach your camping spot at mile 204, Middle Fork Koyukuk River. You will need to drive to Wiseman or Coldfoot if you prefer a lodging establishment.

Driving the Dalton Highway- a unique road trip experience
Driving the Dalton Highway- a unique road trip experience

 

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DAY 9 – DALTON HIGHWAY BATTLE WOUNDS

Welcome to the James Dalton Highway sign
Dalton Highway battle wounds

Congratulations, today is the day that you will complete driving the Dalton Highway and return to civilization! The drive from here to Fairbanks is approximately 6.5 hours, so plan your day accordingly. If time allows, explore the area around the campsite before heading south.

If you didn’t have the chance to stop at Hotspot Cafe (mile 60) on the drive in, plan to grab a bite on your way out. We made our second stop at the Yukon River Camp and feasted over the noodle soup and homemade dessert. We still reminisce about that noodle soup to this day!

Fill your tank just enough to make it back to Fairbanks (where gas is a lot cheaper) and continue driving the last stretch of the Dalton Highway. Before exiting the highway, take an “after” photo of your car in front of the highway sign to document the acquired battle wounds from your adventure into the great north.

We survived the Dalton Highway!

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DAY 10 – ADJUSTING TO CIVILIZATION AND EATING THAI FOOD

Once you are back in Fairbanks, be sure to stop at a car wash! Jowday was so caked in mud that she was completely unrecognizable. We stopped at Bentley Car Wash (a self-serve car wash) to hose her off  after the drive, but apparently we didn’t do a good enough job. It wasn’t until one month later that we started having severe complications while driving, and the culprit turned out to be the hardened mud in our wheel wells that we acquired while driving the Dalton Highway! All four tires had to be removed and the mud meticulously scraped off.

Spend your last day exploring Fairbanks- take a walk around Pioneer Park, visit University of Alaska Museum of the North, and have a farewell beer at Hoodoo Brewing Company. If you love Thai food like we do, be sure to eat at one of the many Thai food restaurants before leaving Fairbanks. Believe it or not, Fairbanks is known for having great Thai food! There are approximately 25 Thai food restaurants in this relatively small Alaskan town. And it’s not only Fairbanks… we were shocked by all of the roadside Thai food establishments that we passed during our 2 month road trip through Alaska. In the end, we actually ate more Thai food than seafood… and it was GREAT Thai food.

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Do you want to know where we slept every night while driving the Dalton Highway? In freezing temperatures, under the Northern Lights, in the Arctic Circle…

Yes, in our camper SUV! Check out this post to find out how we converted our SUV into a home on wheels!

 

MORE OPTIONS FOR ADVENTURE IN ALASKA

Be sure to check out our other comprehensive Alaska travel guides!

KENAI PENINSULA COMPREHENSIVE ROAD TRIP GUIDE

HOW TO PREPARE YOUR DALTON HIGHWAY ROAD TRIP

WATCH OUR INFORMATIVE VIDEOS ABOUT HOW TO CONVERT YOUR VEHICLE INTO A CAMPER

Share your experience

Have you driven the Dalton Highway? Do you have any Dalton Highway stories to share? We would love to hear about them in the comments section!

 

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4 comments

  1. Living out of your SUV in remote areas I am real curious what you ate every day. What (in your experience/opinion) were you glad you brought and/or wish you had. I’m sure you were limited. What worked? Thanks

    1. Hi MicEsco, great question! The biggest challenge we faced was the weather. We started our Alaska road trip in mid-August when the weather was still warm, but by early September the mornings and evenings would drop below freezing. We kept it simple- pasta and rice dishes, soups, sandwiches, etc. By October, it got to the point where we dreaded cooking because of the cold! If we were to do it again we would definitely bring a portable heater! As far as food availability in remote Alaska, we would stock up on everything we needed at the nearest town before venturing out.

  2. Hey Guys, great blog! I read your post on Kenai and this one. I read everywhere that we need to book accommodation 2months in advance. What about camping? Did you have any trouble with staying at specific campground? we are planning to road trip in Alaska for one month in June with our converted SUV. Just want to be sure Im not gonna end at a pricey hotel. Thanks

    1. Hi Isabelle – You are going to love Alaska! We never had any trouble finding campsites, but we started our road trip in August so I am not sure if June is a busier month for camping. What I can tell you is that most of the campgrounds work on a first come first serve basis. We mainly used 2 different apps for finding campsites in Alaska: iOverlander and Allstays Camp & RV (iOverlander is especially helpful for “wild camping” in the event that you find campgrounds to be full). Another great resource is The Milepost, which is indispensable if you are road tripping through Alaska. The only place that you may want to look for camping ahead of time is Denali National Park- some of the campgrounds within the park can be reserved ahead of time, but again, there are also first come first serve options. We had nothing planned beforehand and it worked out for us just fine! Good luck with everything and let us know if you have any other questions about Alaska! 🙂

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