Alaska’s infamous James W. Dalton Highway has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous roads in the world.
The Dalton Highway was originally constructed to bring supplies and manpower North to Prudhoe Bay, AK while during the construction of the Alaskan Oil Pipeline, earning it the nickname, “The Haul Road”. Construction began in April of 1974, and it was complete in an impressive 5 months.
Today the Dalton is still mainly used for its original purposes in support of pipeline operations and maintenance. 24 hours a day, 360 days a year 18 wheelers loaded down with supplies and goods make the 414- mile journey to the Arctic Circle. Although this road is primarily a commercial trucking road, it is open for public use, and can be one heck of a road trip adventure for anyone looking to get a little mud on their tires!
We’re usually pretty good about committing to or not committing to an adventure, usually once we decide to do, or not do something that’s where it ends. When it comes to driving up the infamous Dalton Highway we couldn’t make a clear decision, we went back and forth on, to go or not to go dozens of times, until a friend said the magic words to us, “How many chances are you going to get in your life to drive to the Arctic Circle”? Sold.
After having made the trip, we still feel a little conflicted about the experience. On one hand, it’s an experience we’ll never forget, on the other neither of us feels like it was a trip we would have made if we had to give up some other adventure in order to make it happen.
What You Need To Know About Driving The Dalton Highway
If there was one word that best describes the Dalton Highway, it’s “remote”. For a trip like this, preparation is key. Hop on in, and let’s go for a ride! Taking a little time to throw a few extra things into your car before hitting the road could go a long way to saving you a whole lot of stress and worry.
Fuel- Not only is fuel on the Dalton Highway incredibly expensive (think over $5.00 a gallon) it’s also equally hard to come by; a cruel irony considering the Alaska Pipeline parallels the road for most of the drive. Start your adventure with a full tank, carry some extra fuel in jerry cans, and when the opportunity arises to get fuel, make sure you stop and fill up.
Food- Just like fuel, food is equally sparse. You won’t find a McDonalds out here, so pack some snacks, and then pack some more! And don’t forget to pack water and drinks!
Tires- No matter where you travel tire preparation is always a good idea, but its an even better idea when you’re heading out into the middle of nowhere. Make sure your tires are in good condition before you leave. Carry a tire plug kit, and an air pump with you, and hope you don’t need it. In addition to having tire repair kit you’re going to want to be sure that you’ve got a spare tire too; and even more important than having it, knowing how to mount it could save you big time.
Mosquitos- Have you watched the video yet? If you have then you know what we’re talking about. Without a breeze, the mosquitos and black flies can be unbearable. A small can of bug spray is worth its weight in gold out on the tundra.
Windshield Repairs- On the Dalton, it’s not a matter of if but more an issue of when you’re going to get a crack in your windshield. It happens to everyone. On the advice of a mechanic friend e always carry a clear roll of tape to cover any rock cracks to keep dirt and dust out of them until they can be properly repaired.
The most important thing to keep in mind while driving the Dalton Highway is that the “haul road” as its also known, is a commercial road, built to carry supplies from the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks, this is not a scenic drive. The truckers that make this 414-mile trek, take their jobs very seriously. When you’re driving on the Dalton, you are in their workplace, be respectful, and always give them the right of way.
Our Adventure On The Haul Road
Looking back on our adventure up the Dalton, if we had the chance to do it again, we probably would have done things a bit differently. Had we made the decision sooner rather than later, we would have most likely taken the time to pick a spot to overnight in advance of our trip north, and extended the journey into two full days rather than just one.
We packed our tent, sleeping bags, bear spray, lots of food, water and warm clothes with the idea that we honestly had no idea if we would spend the night out in the arctic tundra. Our adventure took us 244 miles to Atigun Pass, where we stood in awe of the mighty Brooks Range and turned around and started to make our way back to Fairbanks. Along the way we saw, our fair share of permafrost stopped at the Gates of The Arctic Visitor’s Center (snagged our very own Arctic Circle certificate) and had a chance encounter with the biggest wolf either of us has ever seen.
Why Didn’t We Drive To Prudhoe Bay?
We get asked this question, a lot. The answer is pretty simple because we didn’t see a point in it. While on one hand, driving all the way to the Arctic Ocean comes with an epic set of bragging rights, that’s not really our style of travel. After doing a quick bit of research the reality of driving all the way from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay boils down to, a very long 2-day drive, a very expensive stay in a trucking motel, and another very expensive escorted bus ride to the Arctic Ocean through the oil fields to jump into freezing cold water, and then another 2-day drive home. The one and the only way we think this would be a worthwhile adventure is if we had, had the time or money to tack on a side trip to the remote village of Barrow, Alaska. Which unfortunately for this adventure we had neither.
All of that however comes with the disclaimer- we are all different. We value different experiences in our travels, and no two of us are created the same. If driving to Prudhoe sounds like the adventure of a lifetime to you, then you should do it! Do a little research, put together your plan, and go for it. Our reasons for not going are just that, our reasons, blaze your own trail, then come back here and tell us all about it!