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Top of the World Highway

(Yukon Hwy 9)

Dawson City, Yukon to Jack Wade Junction, Alaska
127 km, 79 miles


Northern Highways - Alaska, the Yukon & northern British Columbia

Taylor Highway

Top of the World Highway Links


    It only takes a few miles climbing out of Dawson City to realize where the name of this road comes from. For much of the 127 kilometers (79 miles) between Dawson and the junction with the Taylor Highway, it wanders around the high points of a series of ridges far above treeline, and the views just go on and on forever.

The fall colors on the Top of the World Highway in Canada's Yukon Territory are a photographer's dream come true - and fall comes very early here!     The highway was all paved (chipsealed, actually) in the late 1990s, but the chipseal hasn't been maintained, so as of 2013, about half of it is gravel.

    The Top of the World puts on its finest show for photographers shortly after the first hard frosts arrive, usually in mid-August. The hills turn colours so brilliant that it seems almost unreal, as you can see to the right.

    There is only one campground on the Top of the World, right at the ferry landing in West Dawson. There are many large parking areas, though, where campers can "boondock". If you plan on overnighting in Chicken or Tok, the fairly short distance involved on this leg of your journey allows for a late start out of Dawson City, effectively giving an extra half-day for exploring "The City of Gold". Some people, however, continue on to Fairbanks, for a total day's mileage of 632 kilometers (393 miles).

    The Top of the World Highway is wide and has few steep drops, but that's not the case once you cross the border into Alaska. This is one of the routes where experience driving on mountain roads makes the difference between an easy and enjoyable journey and one that is memorable for other reasons. If narrow, winding mountain roads are all in a day's work for you, you're going to have a lot of fun! If you're not, just keep your speed down and make lots of stops to enjoy the views. There is very little traffic, but if someone comes up behind you, make whatever effort you can to let them by so everyone has a good trip.

    The photos below will give you some idea of what to expect along the Top of the World Highway - click on each to greatly enlarge it.

 

Ferry George Black at Dawson City, Yukon From the Dawson City end, the Top of the World Highway can only be accessed by crossing the Yukon River by ferry. The little George Black provides the service to travellers for free, running almost constantly as long as the river is reasonably free of ice.

The frozen Yukon River at Dawson City, Yukon When the river freezes, the ferry is hauled up out of the river. By this time the highway has already been closed for weeks - it closes as soon as the first heavy snow falls, typically in mid to late September. Once the ferry stops running, the people who live in West Dawson are cut off until the river freezes solid enough to drive across. The period when they can't get to Dawson and beyond can last several weeks in both Spring and Fall. You can see the dates when the ferry started and stopped operation each year here.

Ferry George Black at Dawson City, Yukon As you can see, the George Black can carry substantial loads - vehicles up to 83 feet long or 17 feet wide. Many fuel tankers use the highway and ferry to bring fuel in from Alaska, and they're brought across with no other vehicles on board even though there is room for others.

Ferry crossing at Dawson City, Yukon There can be substantial waits to get on the ferry in the morning when lots of RVs want to get on the road, but once you board, it's a very scenic ride across the river, taking 6-7 minutes.

Ferry landing at Dawson City, Yukon The water levels on the Yukon River can change rapidly and quite dramatically, so the loading ramps are constantly being bulldozed to match them to the ferry height. Adjustable wooden ramps aren't used because the ice breakup would destroy them every Spring - even the large boat docks on the Dawson side are pulled out of the water in the Fall.

The village of Moosehide, Yukon Looking across the Yukon River to the Tr'ondek Hwech'in First Nation village of Moosehide, which was created in 1897 when gold stampeders forced the people off their land at what became Dawson City. It was inhabited into the 1950s but gets only seasonal use now. On the near side of the river is the "sternwheeler graveyard", which is rapidly decaying beyond what most people will find interesting.
There is no pulloff to get this photo - you have to walk back a few hundred yards from a small gravel pit that affords parking.

Dawson City from the Top of the World Highway, Yukon About 4km from the ferry landing is a wide enough spot on the road to pull off and get a final look at Dawson City. Few people take advantage of it, perhaps they don't see it in time to stop (and it's not noted in The Milepost), but I love the view and always make the stop.

Dawson City from the Top of the World Highway, Yukon A telephoto shot of Dawson City from that spot. The large tent is set up for the Dawson City Music Festival, and to the left of it, a new hospital was being built when this photo was taken in July 2011. In front of the hospital are the museum buildings, the main one on the left and the train shed on the right.

The Klondike River from the Top of the World Highway, Yukon And looking up the Klondike River from that spot. In the foreground you can see the clearer water of the Klondike meeting the muddy waters of the Yukon River. The forested triangle to the right was the site of Klondike City or "Lousetown" in the years following the gold rush.

Top of the World Highway, Yukon Looking down on West Dawson, the land of farming and golfing. Historically, this was one of the 2 main areas that supplied vegetables to Dawson City, now production is quite limited because they can be trucked in easily.

Top of the World Highway, Yukon Heading up the hill on a lovely September day, at about Km 8.

Rest area on the Top of the World Highway, Yukon Although the reason isn't obvious from the highway or even the parking lot, this rest area at Km 14.3 is worth a stop. Only on rare occasions when the weather or visibility were exceptionally bad did I not stop with my tour bus.

The Yukon River from the Top of the World Highway, Yukon A short trail from the rest area above takes you to this view up the Yukon River. The viewing platform also has a couple of interpretive signs about caribou and Native people.

Grizzly bear along the Top of the World Highway Seeing grizzly bears along the Top of the World isn't a common occurrence, but I've had some wonderful encounters. While I was sitting watching this young fellow, several RVs went by at high speed, apparently without seeing the bear. These are the folks who will get home and tell people that they "spent 6 weeks in Alaska and never saw an animal"!

Fireweed along the Top of the World Highway, Yukon The fields of fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) along the upper sections of the highway can be wonderful in July.

Sixty Mile Road, Yukon At Km 86.7, the 60 Mile Road leads down to the vast 60 Mile (or "Sixtymile") placer gold mining district, and a seemingly endless maze of roads in conditions ranging from good gravel to impassable. In September 1999 I was in there doing some research for the move of a historic gold dredge to Skagway as a tourist attraction (no dredge ever operated at Skagway) - you can read about that in my story "The Sixtymile Gold Dredge".

Placer gold mine in the Yukon This is one of the many active placer mines that were operating in the 60 Mile in 1999 - I think this one was on Big Gold Creek. This has been an active gold mining area for well over a century.

Side road off the Top of the World Highway, Yukon I went exploring on the way out from my job in the Sixtymile, and after getting through some pretty tough and very steep spots thanks to 4 wheel drive, ended up on this road that took me right to the summit of the Top of the World Highway.

Arctic cotton grass along the Top of the World Highway, Yukon On a saddle near the summit are some large fields of Arctic cotton grass (genus Eriophorum, 25 species). A type of sedge also seen as cottongrass, cotton-grass and cottonsedge, it's a very common plant in the Arctic tundra, not so much in southern circumpolar regions where we find it in marshy areas, along ditches and in similar very wet areas.

Arctic cotton grass along the Top of the World Highway, Yukon A closer look at Eriophorum. I always found it to be a very popular subject for the photographers and gardeners in my groups.

Top of the World Highway, Yukon Fall colours along the highway in September.

Top of the World Highway, Yukon Fall colours along the highway in September.

Top of the World Highway, Yukon Visitors can play in patches of snow until early July some years - this was shot in mid-June. Though fun for some, a heavy snow year can also delay opening the highway by weeks, especially in a year when the Highways Department has budget challenges. On average, it opens in mid-May.

The summit of the Top of the World Highway, Yukon This is the view from the highway summit at Km 104.5, looking back towards Dawson City. The elevation at this point is 1,376 meters (4,515 feet). The road that climbs off to the right is old an mining exploration road that is no longer passable.

The summit of the Top of the World Highway, Yukon This is a 3-image stitched panorama of the view to the west from the cairn above the highway summit. The buildings in the centre are the US and Canadian border posts, called Poker Creek and Little Gold Creek respectively.

The summit of the Top of the World Highway, Yukon The view to the south from the cairn above the highway summit. The road that leads off into the distance is a little-used 4x4 road that goes down into the Sixtymile gold mining district.

Caribou along the Top of the World Highway, Yukon I've had some excellent wildlife encounters along the highway - this herd of caribou right at the summit was one of the better ones (this photo shows about half of them).

Top of the World Highway, Yukon This photo shows travellers entering Canada at at the Customs post known as Little Gold Creek, Yukon. This structure was built in about 2000, and houses both the American and Canadian posts - it was built as a single facility primarily to lower servicing costs, with each side of the building having a different post name. Canada Border Services Agency personnel are normally posted here from mid-May until mid-September, and they open the border from 9:00 to 21:00 7 days a week.

Top of the World Highway, Yukon This is what the Little Gold Creek Customs post looked like in 1999.

Top of the World Highway, Yukon This is the door used by travellers who need secondary services such as visas when entering the United States at Poker Creek, Alaska.

Top of the World Highway, Yukon In 2000, secondary services were still being processed in this cabin while the new facilities were being built.

Border crossing closed for the night - Top of the World Highway, Yukon On July 24, 2005, I got delayed by 7 hours when the Taylor Highway was closed by a forest fire south of Eagle. When I reached the border to get back into Canada a couple of hours after getting through the fire, it was closed so I had to spend the night (10 hours) in the bus at 35 degrees F. Luckily, my tour group was on a boat trip, headed for our next stop, Dawson City.

Welcome to Alaska sign on the Top of the World Highway The Top of the World Highway ends at the Yukon/Alaska border, and becomes the Boundary Spur Road for the 24 kilometers (15 miles) from there to the junction with the Taylor Highway. Just a few hundred yards west of the border is the Davis Dome Wayside, where this "Welcome to Alaska" sign is located.

Top of the World Highway, Yukon A lovely September day at the Davis Dome Wayside. The low clouds are hanging above the Yukon River about halfway between Dawson City and Eagle. The elevation of the wayside is about 4,050 feet.

Boundary, Alaska The view to the west along the Boundary Spur Road at Boundary, Alaska, as it was in 1999. The Boundary airport runs diagonally across the middle of the photo. Today, the airport is in very poor condition (the marked useable part of the runway has been getting smaller and smaller every few years) and the lodge is gone. Boundary was a real community in the early 1900s, with many services for the miners working the Walker Fork, Cherry Creek and Canyon Creek drainages.

Boundary, Alaska This interesting old tracked tractor, probably built out here using parts salvaged from other equipment, used to mark your approach to the Boundary Lodge from the east.

Boundary Lodge - Boundary, Alaska In 2004 when this photo was shot, the Boundary Lodge had been cleaned up by new owners and seemed to be doing fairly well. This is part of the original lodge that was built in 1926. While the major travel guides all say that Boundary Lodge was "one of the first roadhouses in Alaska", by 1926 many hundreds of roadhouses/lodges had been built. There were even a couple at Boundary some 30 years before that.

Boundary Lodge - Boundary, Alaska The interior of Boundary Lodge in 2004. A few years later it started deteriorating again, and over the winter of 2011, it burned to the ground.






Top of the World Highway Links

Dawson City, Yukon
A guide to the community's history, attractions and services.



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