The Alaska Highway stretches 1,387 miles, starting at Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and ending at Delta Junction, Alaska. From the contiguous U.S. to Alaska, it seems like there would be a more direct route than from Dawson Creek, which is practically to Alberta and considerably north of the Canadian border.
When the highway was created in the 1940s, it was done so for military reasons after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which made a land supply route pertinent. Much of the roadway’s purpose was to connect air bases between Edmonton, Alberta, and Fairbanks, Alaska.
Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, plans had been drafted to build a connecting route between Alaska and the contiguous U.S., but Canada didn’t see much benefit to investing in such a highway. After Pearl Harbor, however, Canada was more willing. The U.S. agreed to pay for the construction of the highway and turn over the Canadian portion to Canada six months after the end of the war.
Construction commenced in 1942 and took eight months and 27,000 workers to complete. The roadway didn’t become public until 1948. Today, it carries approximately 300,000 travelers a year.
Dawson Creek, British Columbia
Dawson Creek marked the end of the Northern Alberta Railway in 1942, so that’s where American troops and supplies arrived to begin the great construction project. Because they started there, Dawson Creek is the official starting point for the journey of a lifetime, signified by a world-famous cairn and sign. The sign is flanked by an iconic landmark labeled Alberta Pool Elevators Ltd. Dawson Creek, which houses an art gallery now.
In the same complex stands the visitor center, featuring a museum of the Northern Alberta Railway Station, Dawson Creek souvenirs, and super friendly staff who eagerly share valuable information. The visitor center also showcases a replica of the original mile 0 post, which can be found just down the street in the middle of an intersection.
Dawson Creek is a great place to spend a few days to wrap up preparations for a days-long journey on the Alaska Highway. We spent a week at the Mile 0 Campground (actually at mile 1.86) for that very reason. We fueled up, restocked our supplies (with three grocery stores to choose from), did laundry, and took care of maintenance.
We took Tagalong, our fifth wheel, to United Spring & Brake Ltd. to check our grease-neglected suspension. The trustworthy guys there gave the complete suspension system a thorough examination. They replaced and greased all the wet bolts and brash bushings. And they reversed the zerks, or grease fittings, so that they face the underside of the trailer, making future grease jobs easy endeavors. We’ll no longer have to remove the tires for that.
The workers also discovered one of the trailer’s leaf spring hangers had partially broken. Since they didn’t have a replacement in stock, they welded it to strengthen and secure it. All that work took only 3.5 hours and was a very reasonable price. We highly recommend any RVer visit United Spring & Brake before driving the Alaska Highway.
Starting on the Alaska Highway
With all of those things done, we were ready to set out on our Alaska adventure. Our trip got off to a smoky start, thanks to a wildfire burning about 47 miles away. We trudged through with limited visibility for about 1.5 hours before the smoke finally cleared to reveal blue sky.
Unlike widely accepted rumors about treacherous driving conditions, we found the road to be in great shape. The highway had a reputation in the 1950s as being a “hazardous journey.” That belief has largely proliferated and is the reason you likely hear more about camper vans, truck campers, and class C motorhomes as the prominent vehicles traveling the highway.
Believing those rumors, we considered downsizing from our 42-foot-long, 13.25-foot-tall fifth wheel to a truck camper to make the trek. But it wouldn’t be the same without Tagalong with us. We decided to take the risk, and our home, on the journey. Having traveled about half of the Alaska Highway in our fifth wheel, we can say with confidence those commonly held beliefs are indeed rumors. After all, semi-trucks, many with double trailers, regularly navigate the highway.
The road is completely paved (and has been since the 1960s), other than a few short stretches of gravel where construction is underway. The highway is extremely well maintained. Bumpy areas are clearly marked, and white circles outline problem areas that need to be filled. We found the highway to be in better condition than many of the roads we’ve traveled in the contiguous United States.
With lots of time passing and hardly seeing any other vehicles, we felt like the road was made just for us.
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This is the travel blog of full-time RVers Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong.