10 Reasons the Alaska Highway is the Ultimate North American Road Trip

grizzlies in Fishing Branch River

Driving the Alaska Highway is the ultimate North American Road Trip. A visual delight at every curve, it never ceases to amaze. The Alaska Highway (also called the ALCAN Highway) also turns 75 this year and with all the birthday celebrations ahead, now is the time to jump in that Airstream, RV or vehicle of choice and make the iconic drive this summer.

Here are the top ten reasons 2017 is the year to drive the ALCAN.


    Ask most veterans of the drive and they will say their favorite part, hands down, is the wildlife. It's a "free zoo," or more accurately, an unguided North American safari. Get the camera ready because the animals are picture perfect. Black bears, grizzly bears, moose, marmots, coyotes, bison, mountain sheep, caribou, elk, eagles, mule deer, timber wolves, magpies, beavers, lynx and the list goes on.


    Movie-worthy backdrops pave the route as powerful scenery guides drivers the entire way; sometimes so vast and layered it seems impossible that it's real. Highlights include Canada's highest mountain, Mount Logan, located within Kluane National Park and the St. Elias Mountains, which feature a breathtaking 17 peaks over 14,000 feet. In British Columbia, the Highway runs very close to the perimeter of one of the biggest, wildest parks—the Muskwa-Kechika. A short hike reveals spectacular geological formations, lakes, rivers and waterfalls. Muncho Lake Provincial Park between Fort Nelson and Watson Lake forces drivers to slow down with its natural beauty, and these are just the beginning.


    The Alaska Highway wouldn't be such a legendary road trip without such a weird and wonderful variety of detours. Travelers find many reasons to turn their wheels off the highway and onto spontaneity. From Mile 0 is a short drive to Tumbler Ridge, BC, which brings people face-to-face with impressive dinosaur remains. The Haines Highway takes drivers by the St. Elias Mountains to Kathleen Lake campground then continues to Klukshu Village, a seasonal traditional fishing village of the Southern Tutchone First Nations, ending at the aptly named Million Dollar Falls. For Wild West enthusiasts go to Lethbridge, Alberta, which got its start as a whiskey trading post nicknamed “Fort Whoop-Up.” Highway #11 beckons with time travel down the Silver Trail; its mining history rivals that of the Klondike.


    The ALCAN turns 75 this year! The creation of the Alaska Highway was an engineering feat not attempted since the Panama Canal. History buffs can visit many historical stops along the way including Kiskatinaw Bridge, the Signpost Forest and Whitehorse—a town that gained its notoriety during this boom. Courageous and sometimes overlooked men built the Alaska Highway. In 1942 the USA and Canada united for a cause. Workers descended onto the Canadian Northwest on a scale not experienced since the Klondike Gold Rush. The work was hard and the conditions often brutal. Black soldiers, barred from most combat situations, contributed greatly to the construction of the Alaska Highway. William E. Griggs was the official photographer of the all black US Army's 97th Engineers Battalion, taking over 1,000 images of the construction of the Highway.


    The drive to Alaska is chock full of festivals to explore while heading north. Check out the Great Okanagan Beer Festival in Kelowna BC, the Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival in Banff, Calgary's FunnyFest or Sled Island Music & Arts Festival and the Radical Reels Tour in Whitehorse Yukon Territory. Two "must-sees" this summer are The Adaeka Cultural Festival at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Center in Whitehorse celebrating the creative spirit of Yukon First Nations people and the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival at Haines Junction, Yukon.


    First Nations culture is rich and abundant throughout Canada and Alaska. View artwork, carvings and totem poles at galleries and museums or even standing in their original, historic locations. British Columbia has more than 50 First Nations in more than 200 communities. The Nk'Mip resort, cellars, campground and desert cultural center has something for all tastes. The Teslin Tlingit Heritage Center at Haines Junction has impressive clan poles on display, Kluane's Southern Tutchone heritage is fascinating and MacBride Museum offers excellent historical displays on Yukon First Nations people. Of note to interested travelers—Peace River, Alberta will host a pow wow this June.


    There is a certain mystique to this drive; those who have accomplished it wear it as a badge of honor. The Alaska Highway was a rugged, unfinished and difficult road when it was built in 1947. Paul Seddicum, US Consul in Edmonton, said of the highway then, "I may be prejudiced but I feel strongly that there is no attraction connected with the Highway great enough to make the discomfort and possible danger worth the effort." Therein lies the attraction. Today is a different story, and the road to Alaska has never been in better condition. But bragging rights still apply, and the proud drivers who finish the journey are in a class of their own.


    People make travel come alive. The Alaska Highway is notorious for its cast of characters along the route—like the Visionary Award-winning Marl Brown, curator of the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum. The former mechanic's collection of vintage cars was the inspiration for the museum. Others make their living by selling baked goods, souvenirs or art near the highway. There are also a large number of cool, adventurous people of all ages who make the drive each year. They help each other out with tips, repairs, even the occasional impromptu cocktail party.


    The ALCAN has more than enough challenges and thrills to keep the outdoor enthusiast busy: kayaking, fishing, hiking, biking, swimming, rock climbing, canoeing, dog mushing, skateboarding and more. It's fitting that the world’s longest annual canoe and kayak race takes place nearby—the Yukon River Quest stretches 444.3 miles from Whitehorse to Dawson City, Yukon. And for the true adrenaline seekers, try hang gliding over the Rocky Mountains of Canada.


    There are many ways to get to the Alaska Highway and most people drive up one way and back another. The Rocky Mountain route weaves past parks and profound natural beauty, and this year all of Canada's national parks have free admission. The Inside Passage route connects travelers to the marine culture, bringing the ocean into the journey. The Gold Rush route is the path of the pioneers with a focal point being Klondike Gold Rush boomtown Dawson City, Yukon. Highway 97 nearby leads wine lovers and foodies through the Okanagan Valley.