The Dalton Highway: Journey to the Top of North America
The Dalton Highway: Journey to the Top of North America
Tips for RVing this iconic route, where to camp, and top highlights.
By: Peter & Kathy Holcombe
The Dalton Highway is the northernmost road that you can drive in North America, stretching about 59 miles further north than its Canadian counterpart, the Dempster Highway. Technically the Dalton Highway begins in Livingood, AK, which is about 80 miles north of Fairbanks (but most people consider Fairbanks the starting point). It continues north for 420 miles to the small, industrial village of Deadhorse, AK.
The road is about 40% paved and 60% gravel, but don’t let the pavement lull you into a false sense of complacency. It is riddled with frost heaves, bottomless potholes, and fissures that cleave the highway and threaten to calve off the entire edge of the road. The gravel portion of the road is certainly smoother, but is incredibly dusty, often reducing visibility to less than 20 feet when passing one of the 250 trucks that traverse the highway each day.
In an effort to tamp down the dust, construction crews regularly apply a slurry of calcium chloride to the road, which unfortunately can create slippery conditions when it rains. While the road is heavily travelled by truckers, it is extremely remote with only a handful of services scattered along its 500-mile span. There is a substantial amount of industrial infrastructure and debris displayed along the entire length of the Dalton Highway, which is quite a contrast to the remote and rugged landscape that serves as the backdrop.
In spite of the road hazards and the industrial impact, or possibly because of it, the Dalton Highway unquestionably sits at the top of the list as one of North America’s favorite overland adventures.
How to Get to the Dalton Highway
There are a couple of routes that you can take to reach the Dalton Highway. One option is to take the Alaska Highway (otherwise known as the Alcan) from Dawson Creek, BC, to Fairbanks, AK. This is a great option to experience just how vast the Canadian Wilderness actually is.
Be sure to stop for a night at the Laird Hot Springs Provincial Park for a soak in the hot pool. The sign forest in Watson Lake is definitely worth a stop as well. Be sure to bring a sign of your own to leave in the forest!
One of our favorite routes is to take an Alaska Marine Highway System ferry all the way to Haines, AK. Be sure to stop for a day or two at one of the many towns along the way (our favorite stops are Sitka and Juneau). Haines is renowned for its grizzly bear population. Just follow the road out to Chilkoot State Recreation Site and keep an eye on the Chilkoot River on your right. We have seen bears with cubs every single time we have driven this stretch of road.
From Haines, the Haines Highway connects to the Alaska Highway (or Alcan) which will take you all the way to Fairbanks, AK. From there, Highway 2 will take you to Livingood, AK, and the beginning of the Dalton Highway.
NOTE: You will cross into Canada for a portion of this drive, so make sure you have your passport and anything else that you need to travel through Canada.
Bring Everything with You (Limited Stops Along the Way)
The Dalton Highway exists solely to transport supplies to and from Deadhorse, AK, which houses the oil industry on the Northern Slope. As such, services are few and far between and are dedicated to serving the needs of the oil industry. You can find (limited) food, fuel, and lodging at Yukon River Camp (mile 56) and at Coldfoot (mile 175), and that’s the extent of services until you reach Deadhorse at mile 420.
The Deadhorse Camp (mile 412) is the only business in town that caters to tourists, and is where you can buy tickets to take the bus to the Arctic Ocean ($69/person). There is fuel available in town but be prepared to pay a premium price for it. In August of 2023, we paid $7.49/gallon for diesel. Also, there is one general store in Deadhorse that has a well-stocked Napa Auto Parts, cold weather clothing, tourist t-shirts and trinkets, and a few snacks and beverages.
There is no grocery store in Deadhorse and no place to fill or dump RV tanks. The Aurora Hotel offers lodging as well as buffet-stye food service with limited hours throughout the day. The entire town serves the oil industrial complex in Prudhoe Bay, and tourism is not catered-to in any way.
Lastly, make sure that you have at least one full-sized spare tire and a patch kit. The road is long and rough, and a flat is likely. Also, be sure to bring a comprehensive tool kit and some basic know-how to repair your vehicle. There is only one repair shop in Deadhorse, and they are booked solid for at least three weeks. You must be completely self-sufficient for the duration of your journey.
Camping Along the Dalton Highway
There are five campgrounds along the Dalton Highway:
- Milepost 60 Campground (mile 60)
- Arctic Circle (mile 115.5)
- Coldfoot RV Park (mile 175)
- Marion Creek (mile 180)
- Galbraith Lake (mile 274.7)
Beyond the formal campgrounds, there are endless pullouts on the side of the road where you can park for the night. NOTE: It is illegal to camp on pipeline access roads.
Best Time to Go
The Dalton Highway is open for year-round travel. There are pros and cons to traveling in all seasons.
During the window around the winter solstice, you will experience 24 hours of darkness, which is perfect for viewing Northern Lights, but it is brutally cold and you are unlikely to enjoy the beautiful scenery or see much wildlife.
Spring on the Northern Slope is a time of rebirth. The snow is melting and new life is being born on the tundra. This is when you may have the opportunity to take in both the striking scenery as well as the northern lights.
Summer provides 24 hours of daylight which is great to take in all the views and provides somewhat of a manic experience where you are bursting with energy and it is hard to fall asleep, but you will miss out on the aurora borealis.
Fall is hunting season, and when the great herds of caribou gather together on the tundra. Many people travel the Dalton Highway during the summer/winter solstice to experience either 24 hours of daylight or darkness.
Dalton Highway Highlights
There were two highlights for us on this adventure. The first was experiencing first-hand the engineering marvel of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline that spans 800 miles across Alaska from Deadhorse to Valdez.
The pipeline is extraordinary because of the extreme temperatures that it must endure as well as the rugged and remote terrain that it crosses. The pipeline is visible along most of the Dalton highway as are some of the pump-stations that help propel the oil to its final destination in Valdez.
Atigun Pass is the highest pass in Alaska topping out at 4,800 feet. This stretch of the Dalton Highway, though the Brooks Range, is a spectacular backdrop of scenery and well worth the drive. It is also where Gates of the Arctic National Park and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) converge near Galbraith Lake (mile 275).
This area was spectacularly beautiful and our favorite of the entire trip. It’s definitely worth a layover day (or two) to explore.
The Dalton Highway proved to be one of the most difficult and most rewarding overland adventures for us to date. We suffered catastrophic axle damage in the town of Deadhorse, AK, as far away from civilization as you can get in North America. But we were well prepared and managed to fix it ourselves in a gravel lot on the side of the road.
You can watch the entirety of our epic misadventures on the Dalton Highway here.
Was it one of the most difficult weeks of RVing in almost 10 years of full-time travel? Yes. Would we do it all over again? ABSOLUTELY!
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