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Summer Roadtrips Part 3: British Columbia/Yukon’s Alaska Highway


Looking for a great summer roadtrip in The Yukon-British Columbia? Here’s Part 3 of my three-part series on Great Summer Roadtrips – The Alaska Highway (Hwy 1 – Partial)

In This Roadtrip Article You Will Discover:

  • Directions for the North-South Canadian Alaska Highway
  • Sights to See Along the Way
  • Travel Advice & Stops to Make
  • And More

The Alaska Highway (Highway 1, Partial)

Start Point: Whitehorse, YT

End Point: Fort Nelson, BC

Length: 950 km

View Alaska Highway (Partial) in a larger map

The Alaska Highway is one of the most storied stretches of road in all of North America. Originally called the Al-Can, and built by the US army in 1942 as a military traffic route devised in response to a perceived threat of Japanese invasion on Alaska, it is the preferred thoroughfare for traffic headed north. Hence, at more than 2,000 km in total length — leading from Mile 0 in Dawson Creek, BC, to Delta Junction, Alaska — it can take Road Warriors from the open plains of BC’s Peace River Valley to the glaciers of a foreign country without missing a beat. For this trip, however, we will focus on the most scenic section in Canada — Whitehorse to Fort Nelson. (North-south, since you’ll be heading back home from points north after following the route of Summer Roadtrip PART 1 and Summer Roadtrip PART 2 by this time.)

The expanses of wilderness on the Al-Can are mind-boggling. Stunted, crooked boreal trees roll into mountains that blot out the horizon. In the southern Yukon portion, the drive itself can be Prairie-straight and empty, but you can pass the time with a fun game of “Spot the Black Bears.” Take a calculator to keep track. Although fuel is much more plentiful than on the Dempster or Cassiar, at times you will be taxed to go more than 250 km between stops, so it’s always a good idea to gas up where you can — especially since service stations in the territories have a nasty habit of keeping irregular hours or simply closing up shop without notice.

Teslin, about 250 km southeast of Whitehorse, has motels and campgrounds, along with nice recreation areas along the Teslin River. (Breakfasts are big and hearty at the Yukon Motel.) Watson Lake, another 250 km or so away, is a scruffy town with one redeeming quality — the Signpost Forest. This photo-op consists of a cacophony of signs nailed on a forest of posts by passers-by. Bring your own sign if you like, and add your own personal touch to Watson Lake’s one-of-a-kind roadside attraction.

As you head towards the British Columbia border, you’ll notice a bit more traffic on the road — in the form of lumbering wood bison. Bigger than a Smartcar but lacking any notion of good sense, these wild beasts are notorious for waltzing onto the road without warning, or even taking a mid-highway nap on the backside of a blind corner. Slow down, and look out!

If heaven truly is a place on Earth, it can be found roughly 130 km south of the BC-Yukon border. Locals call it Liard River Hotsprings. A steamy oasis in the middle of a vast wilderness, Liard River Hotsprings will relax even the most frantic-minded of us into a Buddha-like state of meditation. Rather than funneled into a manmade spa, Liard Hot Springs is totally in its natural state — a soothingly-hot freestone river hidden among overgrown poplars.

At the upstream end of the wading-depth main pool, scalding water bubbles up from the Earth’s core, then cools as it flows downstream and spills over a metre-tall tepid waterfall. A second, lukewarm pool can be found even further upstream if you care to take a deepwater swim in murky, mineral rich H2O. As if in the Land of the Lotus Eaters, one could while away one’s remaining days soaking at Liard.

Heaven’s little brother, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, shows up 40 km south of Liard River Hotsprings. To get a picture of Muncho’s beauty, roll up Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise into one — shake out the development and tourist hoards — and you’re getting the idea. Emerald water encased by the jagged and desolate Northern Rockies makes it near-impossible to keep your eyes on the road. (But try, as the highway becomes narrow and twisty.)

Leaving Muncho behind, you’ll ascend further into the Rockies. From alpine vantage points along northern edge of beautiful BC, it seems as though you can look out over the entire province — from North 60 degrees all the way to the 49th parallel. Breathe it all in. Your Great Northern Road Trip is coming to an end.

Fort Nelson awaits about 265 km past Muncho Lake. With that, the plains of the Peace River Valley lead BC’ers south and Prairie folk east. Congratulations — you’ve experienced the True North, and you’re stronger and freer for it.

Did You Miss Parts 1 & 2? Here they are: roadtrip

Article Originally Published In Cottage Magazine , May/June 2011

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About the author: David Webb is a Vancouver, BC-based travel writer, photographer and magazine editor.

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