ExploreNorth, your resource center for exploring the circumpolar North

Return to the Home Page The ExploreNorth Blog Arctic & Northern Books About ExploreNorth Contact ExploreNorth

Search ExploreNorth




How to Drive to Alaska in the Summer


The thought of making a trip to "The Last Frontier" scares many people, but all it takes to have fun is planning and caution. Here's how.

Difficulty Level: easy

Time Required: varies


Here's How:

  1. Decide whether Alaska and the Yukon are the places you would like to visit.
  2. Look at travel options - do you want to go by cruise ship, tour bus, or drive yourself? Don't pay too much attention to the horror stories about the Alaska Highway - with very few exceptions, they are just stories.
  3. Decide whether driving a car, camper truck or motorhome are most appropriate to your plans. Flying north and then renting a vehicle is a good option for some people.
  4. Decide on the dates you want to go. The peak summer season is from about June 25 until August 6. During that period, reserve ahead or stop early each day.
  5. When planning your itinerary, allow as much extra time as possible for new opportunities that arise along the way (or for the possibility of problems). Plan a "circle trip" when possible instead of driving the same road twice.
  6. Prepare your vehicle well - tune-up, oil change and a full safety check. Ensure that your tires are in excellent condition.
  7. Carry some spare parts. Depending on your vehicle, that may be as little as a fan belt, or a more elaborate kit if your vehicle is not common. While repair service is available at many places, you may have to wait for parts.
  8. Carry at least a good map, preferably a detailed highway guide. "The Milepost" is the undisputed king of Alaska-Yukon highway guides, and is available everywhere.
  9. Pack for a huge variety of weather. Depending on your specific itinerary, you may get anything imaginable (don't forget the possibility of glacier tours which could take you into near-winter conditions).
  10. Summer is the road-construction season - be prepared for it. Depending upon your specific route, you can generally expect about 100 miles of gravel roads.
  11. Consider carrying some food and water. Eating facilities may not be exactly where you want them, and having a snack during a road delay can be very relaxing.
  12. Talk to the locals - many travelers don't, and so never discover the real North. Northerners have solid advice (and often good stories) to share with people who are interested.
  13. Don't believe stories about gas being cheaper in the larger communities - the best prices are often at remote lodges looking to get people to stop. Keep track of prices as you go along, for the return trip.
  14. Be open to possible "oddities" in the Northern lifestyle - people here are generally very open, and very independent.
  15. For travel in Canada, using your credit card will get you the best exchange rate. Visa is accepted almost everywhere, Mastercard is common, others you won't be able to use at many places.

Tips:

  1. Think border-crossing - do not bring a gun! If you must have one for some reason, you need to buy a permit at the border crossing for $25. You can speed things up by having the forms filled out - but don't sign them until you're with the Customs officer. Full information and the necessary forms can be found at the Canadian Firearms Registry site.
  2. Summer is very short here - plan your dates accordingly.
  3. Be prepared to have the trip of a lifetime - don't rush!

Related Features:


The Alaska Highway at Christmas Creek, Yukon