Among the things to do in Alaska – planning an itinerary taking discovering its more suggestive and interesting places, at a landscape level as well historic and traditional – the chance to be able to cover at least in a small part one of the most famous and representative roads in Alaska – the Dalton Highway – cannot miss.
Very beautiful, rough, difficult, placed – rightly, I can say, after have gone through only the first wonderful part – among the 10 most dangerous roads in the world.
The Dalton Hwy is the symbol of another surprising Alaska.
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline one, arriving as far as the Arctic Sea, the magic Boreal Forest, the Northern Lights, the Yukon River, the Tundra, the landscapes at the end of the word and courageous men – considered downright Ice Road Truckers – who cross it by huge trucks daily and work in rough conditions to make it safer.
The James W. Dalton Highway – better known as Dalton Highway or Alaska Route 11 – is a highway 667km long which cuts Alaska literally into two parts – from the south to the north – leaving from the Elliot Hwy at about 135km to the north of Fairbanks as far as arriving to the small town of Deadhorse, Prudhoe Bay, on the Arctic Sea.
It was built in 1974 to help and provide for the necessary structures to build the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, a pipeline that today follows parallel the whole Dalton Hwy and then keep going southwards as far as Valdez Harbor. It carries 700thousands barrels of oil every day (the travel lasts about 11 days at 6km/h) from the Arctic Sea as far as the Gulf of Alaska.
Until the middle ‘90s the Dalton Highway was actually a private road, today it is opened to the free circulation even if it remains in fact linked to the pipeline maintenance.
Being able to cover at least the first trait – as far as reaching the Arctic Circle – enjoy its suggestive views, the very rich local flora and fauna (bears, elk, marmots, red foxes, eagles, et cetera…), and having the chance to admire the Northern Lights along its route in a precise period of the year – from early September until April – allows to enjoy a complex experience, very beautiful and exciting at the same time – with the necessary care.
Travelling along the Dalton Highway is not easy.
It’s a long road – not to say endless – not so large to allow a comfortable passage in both directions, mostly dirt road, often close to ravines and precipices with a slope that in some traits goes beyond 12% and with frequent fords and chasms caused by winter frost and rain, never ending is some periods of the year.
It develops along a path where it’s practically impossible to have any phone or internet connection and the only two gas pumps are really far and it’s impossible to cover the distance with only a single tank.
It’s heartily not recommended to tourists and travelers to cover it alone, unless you have a great driving familiarity with extreme conditions, a very good knowledge of the path and a valid preparation to be able to face it whole.
In this case the local authorities suggest – after have rented a car with the requisites required, you have to tell your destination to the Rent a Car you turn to – to leave with at least two drivers per vehicle, to take with you a walkie-talkie, two spare wheels, refrigerating liquid, at least two tanks and batteries in reserve, comforters, water, food, and commodities. Besides, you must travel with the lights on also by day.
My impartial tip is to turn to one of the local Tour Operator which offer this type of tour. Both in group and personalized, with stay overnight, as far as the Arctic Circle or also as far as Deadhorse.
Drivers – usually expert local guides – know very well the path and its dangers, the cross-country vehicles are equipped for any need – spare parts, walkie-talkie, food and hot drinks included – and all the stages of the path are included into the stops, with relative explanation.
As regards my personal experience, after an accurate selection I turned to 1st Alaska Tours, opting for a personalized tour from Fairbanks as far as the Arctic Circle with a night at the Yukon River Camp to admire the Northern Lights and come back the following day.
A very beautiful experience which allowed me to enjoy totally safely – thanks to the support of a specialized guide and above all with “my times” – unforgettable places, moments, encounters and landscapes.
Find down here my detailed itinerary, September 2018:
The complete path as far as Deadhorse provides for other 4 stops from Gobblers Knobb:.