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The Signpost Forest at Watson Lake, Yukon

by Murray Lundberg

Click on each photo to enlarge it

    One of the most famous of the landmarks along the Alaska Highway was started by a homesick GI in 1942, and is now one of the attractions which make Watson Lake, at Kilometer 980 of the highway (Historic Mile 635), a must-stop. And you can even add your own sign to the over 72,000 already there!

Watson Lake's Signpost Forest, on the Alaska Highway
    In 1942, a simple signpost pointing out the distances to various points along the tote road being built was damaged by a bulldozer. Private Carl K. Lindley, serving with the 341st Engineers, was ordered to repair the sign, and decided to personalize the job by adding a sign pointing to his home town, Danville, Illinois. Several other people added directions to their home towns, and the idea has been snowballing ever since.

    The Signpost Forest takes up a couple of acres, with huge new panels being constantly added, snaking through the trees. There are street signs, there are "Welcome To..." signs, there are signatures on dinner plates, there are license plates from around the world - the variety is as broad as people's imagination. Reading the signs and messages can take you on a textual tour of the world for as long as you care to keep reading and walking. Like golf, only less frustrating!!

Watson Lake's Signpost Forest, on the Alaska Highway
    The size of some of the signs is amazing - how on earth do people get a 6x10-foot sign from the German autobahn to Watson Lake?? While many of the signs, including some wonderful examples of folk art, have obviously been created specially for the Forest, others are apparently on "long-term loan" to the Yukon!

    To say that posting signs has become popular with travelers is an understatement - in July 1990, sign number 10,000 was nailed up in a special ceremony by Olen and Anita Walker, of Bryan, Ohio. The official count of signs conducted by the staff at the Visitor Centre in September 2003 showed 51,842 signs, by September 2008 it had reached 65,164, and in 2015 the number of signs is over 72,000! Each year, an average of 1,000 new signs are being added to the collection.

    The photo to the left includes an official sign from Newton, in Surrey, British Columbia - although I lived there for a couple of decades, I didn't put the sign up! Back in the late 1990s, though, I put up a very cool "sign" for one of my tour guests - he thought that our tour went there, but it didn't. It was a licence plate from Tasmania (Australia), but unfortunately it seemed to have gotten stolen soon after I installed it.

    Watson Lake as it exists today is one of the Yukon's newest towns, as well as the third largest (after Whitehorse and Dawson), with a population of 1,469 as of June 2015. Not until the Alaska Highway was opened to public travel in 1948 did the town along the highway start to develop. Prior to that time, the main activity was related to the airport a couple of miles to the northwest.

    The Signpost Forest may be Watson Lake's most famous attraction, but there is lots more to see and do. The Visitor Centre has a good display describing the building of the Alaska Highway, and on a stand outside is a full-size replica of a Bell P-39 Airacobra, thousands of which were ferried through Watson Lake on their way to Russia. The Northern Lights Centre, located across the highway from the Signpost Forest, was the first theatre in the world to use a complex new type of "virtual reality" projection system. The display, projected on a 50-foot dome, brings the colour and motions of the Aurora Borealis to life for summer visitors.

    If you plan on spending some time in Watson Lake, there are several hotels and motels, an RV park, a large campground on Watson Lake itself, a great waterslide at Lucky Lake Park, and nature paths at Wye Lake Park.

    For further information, you can reach the Watson Lake Visitor Centre at 1-867-536-7469 during the summer. And, of course, you're always welcome to send questions or comments to me.

More photos of the Signpost Forest

Click on each to greatly enlarge it

The Signpost Forest on the Alaska Highway at Watson Lake, Yukon, in 1960
The signpost forest grew fairly slowly for many years after its 1942 start. This photo was taken in the 1960s by Bill Lythgoe.

This postcard was published for Earl E. Bartlett using one of his photos, probably in the late 1960s. The caption reads:
Sign boards, Watson Lake, Alaska Highway, Mile 635. Starting in 1942 with one post and three signs, travellers have added others each year, increasing the number to 700.

June 22, 2004

December 30, 2005

March 24, 2007

February 24, 2014

February 24, 2014