Length of stay: 4 days
Visited: August 2023
The Alaska Highway was constructed in 1942 to connect the contiguous United States with Alaska to provide defence support during World War II. It was initially 2,700km in length, but has been improved and paved over the years and currently stretches 2,232km. The highway starts in Dawson Creek, British Columbia and ends in Delta Junction, Alaska. It is considered one of the most scenic drives in North America and provides plenty of opportunities to enjoy the wilderness and wildlife.
Day 1: Start of the Alaska Highway
Our game plan was to fly into Edmonton and drive just over two-thirds of the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek, British Columbia to just north of Haines Junction, Yukon and back again, while making a few other excursions along the way.
We arrived in Edmonton in the early afternoon. Even though our flight was a bit delayed, we didn’t mind so much as our seats were upgraded. We were moved to the front of the plane so we had extra leg room and comfier seats. We also had priority boarding. But best of all, we received a complimentary lunch, appetizer, and premium drinks. Not a bad way to start our vacation.
We picked up our rental car, or rather our rental SUV. We decided to splurge for something bigger to fit our extra luggage. While we typically cram all our camping gear into one suitcase, this time we spared no expense for comfort and checked in a second suitcase. Plus we figured it might be nice to have extra space in case we needed to sleep in our vehicle overnight for whatever reason.
We picked up some groceries and supplies in the city and then hit the road. We were eager to leave Edmonton given the poor air quality from all the recent wildfires. From there we had about a six hour drive to reach Dawson Creek, which is where we’d be spending the night. It also marks the start of the Alaska Highway. By the time we arrived in Dawson Creek, it was just before 8pm and the sun was just starting to set in the hazy sky.
Day 2: Dawson Creek to Muncho Lake
The air quality got much worse overnight and we awoke to even hazier skies and a smoky smell outside. Good thing we’d mostly be in the car today as we had a long distance to cover to get to Muncho Lake Provincial Park (692km). We left our hotel just after 8:30am.
The first portion of the drive was rather uneventful. After passing through Fort Nelson, the last major town until Watson Lake, the rolling hills and farmlands gave way to the mountains. This is where it started to get scenic. The vegetation was just starting to change colour, which looked very picturesque in contrast to all the greenery. Thankfully, the smoky skies also faded away revealing some blue skies and sunshine.
We were initially going to camp at Stone Lake Provincial Park, but there was an advisory about a grizzly bear spotted in the campground and hiking trails, with one of the trails being closed for the remainder of the season “due to the presence of bears exhibiting problematic behaviour”. Were one of these bears the same as the one spotted in the campground!? No idea, but we weren’t going to stick around and find out. Instead we decided to drive another hour and a half to reach Muncho Lake Provincial Park where there were no bear warnings in effect.
This portion of the drive was by far the most scenic with towering mountains on either side of the highway. We also got our first glimpse of some of the wildlife commonly found in the area, including black bears, thinhorn sheep and caribou.
There are two small campgrounds at Muncho Lake, Strawberry Flats and MacDonald, where most of the sites are first come, first served. Both campgrounds were full by the time we rolled in, which was just before 6pm. We contemplated continuing onwards, but it was getting late in the day and we were getting hungry and tired. Instead we decided to just wild camp along the shore of Muncho Lake and found a somewhat secluded spot in the trees. We made dinner by the water, then went for a short walk along the pebbly beach to stretch our legs and enjoy the remaining warmth from the sun.
As soon as the sun dipped below the mountains, it started to cool down. We moved our suitcases to the front of the car and folded down the back seats. It was surprisingly quite spacious enough for us to fit our sleeping pads back there. We ended up going to bed pretty early as tomorrow would be another long day of driving.
Day 3: Muncho Lake to Teslin Lake
We surprisingly slept pretty well. After making breakfast, we rearranged our car and got ready to hit the road again. Even though we had another long day of driving to reach Teslin Lake (546km), we planned to make some detours along the way. The first one was just over an hour away at Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park. The hot springs here are the second largest known thermal complex in Canada.
The park is open year-round, contains a campground that’s fully enclosed with an electric fence, and provides access to the hot springs. From the day-use parking lot, there’s a boardwalk through the swamp and boreal forest that leads to the Alpha pool, the main hot spring that’s open to the public. It’s about a 10 minute walk to get to the change rooms and hot spring.
We changed into our swimsuits. It was a bit chilly outside (around 15°C) so we were eager to get into the warm water. The temperature ranges from 42°C to 52°C, depending on which side of the pool you visit. The water was clean and clear, the bottom lined with pea gravel and there was seating around the edge of the pool. There is also a lower pool which is slightly cooler and more rustic. It even includes a narrow waterway that you could swim through.
We alternated between the warmer and cooler pools for about an hour until getting out. After changing out of our swimsuits, we planned to visit the hanging garden where moss, ferns and wildflowers are reputed to grow among the flowing water, but it was closed when we visited due to wildlife activity. We walked back along the boardwalk to the parking lot and decided to make some tea and eat a snack at the sheltered picnic area, which also gave us an opportunity to hang our towels and swimsuits up for a bit to dry.
Our next detour was located nearby at Smith River Falls. We followed a gravel road for a couple of kilometres to reach the trailhead. It’s a short hike (1.4km round trip) to reach a viewpoint of the falls. The trail consists of a bunch of steps that lead down through the forest before levelling out for a bit. There’s one more steep downhill section before reaching the river. The trail then follows the edge of the water to the falls.
Shortly after being back on the road, we saw a point of interest sign for Whirlpool Canyon. We liked the sound of the name and decided to check it out. From the parking lot, there’s a super short path that leads to a scenic overlook of the Liard River.
Since we had such good luck at the last scenic overlook, we decided to stop at the next one along the Alaska Highway. It did not disappoint.
Our next stop was at Watson Lake to get more gas and check out the famous Sign Post Forest. When the Alaska Highway was first constructed, it was common practice to put up directional posts to give a better sense of direction and distance to surrounding communities and other parts of the world. The Sign Post Forest began in 1942 when an American soldier was repairing a directional signpost and added his hometown sign of Danville, Illinois to the post. Soon after other visitors started to add their own signposts, licence plates and street signs from their hometowns. Today the collection contains nearly 100,000 signs hung in a maze of towering signposts and it’s still growing.
We were back in the car for another hour before stopping to stretch our legs at Rancheria Falls Recreation Site. There’s a short trail (1km round trip, rated easy) that winds through the forest along a boardwalk and contains a couple of viewpoints of the falls. Along the way there are two interpretive panels. One explains the benefits of forest fires while the other contains some information about the boreal forest and the types of trees and animals found in it.
It was getting late in the day and from here we made a beeline to Teslin Lake Campground where we planned to spend the night. The campground contains 27 sites which are all available on a first come, first served basis. We arrived just after 6pm and there were still a few sites available. We selected our site then registered using the campground permit envelopes provided at the entrance to the campground.
The campground itself was nice and quiet and situated along Teslin Lake. It’s also right off the highway so we could hear quite a bit of traffic from all the trucks passing by. After eating dinner, we walked down to the lake to check it out.
We set up our tent, stayed up for a bit to read, then hit the hay. Thankfully we didn’t have as much driving to do over the next few days.
Day 4: Teslin Lake to Haines Junction
We woke up to another beautiful day of blue skies and sunshine. After making breakfast, we packed up our tent and hit the road. The early morning is typically a great time for wildlife viewing. Shortly after heading out, we came across a golden eagle by the side of the road.
At this point in the drive I’ve gotten much better at taking pictures from inside the car. Either that or I’ve just gotten too lazy to get out for every nice viewpoint. Even though we covered a lot of distance over the last few days, the scenery continued to impress.
We stopped to explore Miles Canyon, located close to downtown Whitehorse. It was created nearly nine million years ago from lava flows, which left behind columnar jointing along the canyon walls. There’s a suspension bridge over the canyon, along with a few hiking trails. We walked along the rim of the upper and lower canyon.
From there we headed to downtown Whitehorse to pick up more groceries. The game plan was to spend the next few days in Kluane National Park and Reserve in southwestern Yukon, return to Whitehorse and then explore part of Alaska before heading back to Edmonton. But, we ended up making some modifications to our itinerary (more on this later).
And so our journey along the Alaska Highway ended just north of Haines Junction where the Thechàl Dhâl Visitor Centre, one of the visitor centres for Kluane, is located.
Overall we drove 1,649km (out of 2,232km) of the Alaska Highway.