North to Alaska, the Mother of All Road Trips
Moose and Dall sheep and bears, oh my! A road trip up the Alaska-Canadian Highway, known as the Alcan, will thrill your kids, making memories they'll pass on to their own children years from now. Think of the car trip as an epic adventure rather than a method of getting from point A to point B—and you'll discover how true it is that the journey really is the destination.
Read, Set, Go
The big chunk of the Alcan that passes through Canada was once gravel, but it's paved today. The asphalt surfacing isn't always perfect, but it's passable except during occasional winter storms. You'll want to go in spring, summer or fall for the best possible time. A lot of businesses along the Alcan open in May and close in September.
Still, be sure to get your car tuned up and take a spare tire or two. From mile 0 of the Alcan in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada to its end in Delta Junction, Alaska, you'll cover 1,387 miles.
You could whiz through this drive in under a week if you had to, but plan on taking more time. You can book hotels or motels along the way from home if you want, but camping makes for more of an adventure.
Pack books or sketchbooks for the kids since you'll lose connectivity and cell phone service for great parts of the road. You'll want cameras for everyone, given the quirky communities, towering mountains and gorgeous, wildlife-packed wilderness. And pick up a copy of the Milepost, a roadtrip guide that covers every mile of the Alcan, telling you what to see, where to stop, where to get gas and what to do along the way.
The weather will be warm during the day and chilly at night, so be sure to pack accordingly with plenty of layering options. But don't forget swim suits and sun screen. They don't call Alaska the Land of the Midnight Sun for nothing.
Where to Stop
Every stop can be memorable, you can catch sightings of a bear and her cubs, a bull moose with enormous antlers or a procession of Dall sheep with huge horns like commas. So be spontaneous and go with the flow.
But here are a few must-see wonders along the way:
- Liard River Hot Springs (497 Alaska Highway, Muncho Lake, British Columbia, CN) are the second largest in Canada, and the kids will love to soak after a long day of driving. In the quiet of a boreal spruce forest, the Provincial Park housing them is a great place to view wildlife. The campground is popular so reserve a spot in advance.
- Dawson City where the Alcan begins is worth a visit. It's an old gold-rush town at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers. Modern Dawson City echoes this past with dirt streets, boardwalks and historical building, like the Robert Service Cabin (602 Eighth Ave., Dawson, Yukon, CN) where the poet wrote his most famous work.
Summit Pass (Historic Milepost 392, Alaska Highway) near Summit Lake, British Columbia
is the highest pass on the Alcan, rising to 4,250 feet just past Summit Lake in British Columbia.
* Watson Lake
in Canada's Yukon Territory, is beautiful in and of itself, but the kids will love the Sign Post Forest (Historic Milepost 635, Alaska Highway, Watson Lake, Yukon, CN), where more than 72,000 signs from around the globe have been posted, and you can post your own.
* Whitehorse, right on the Yukon River, is the capital of Yukon Territory and makes a good stop. Take the kids to the S.S. Klondike National Historic Site (10 Robert Service Way, Whitehorse, Yukon, CN)
to tour the elegant old stern-wheeler.
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. World traveler, professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.