Driving the Dalton Highway- Fairbanks to Coldfoot

My previous post covered all the pre-trip considerations that needed to be given to drive Alaska’s Dalton Highway. These next two posts will cover the highway and it’s sights and points of interest.

The Dalton Highway actually does not start in Fairbanks, but at a crossroads named Livengood, 84 miles north of Fairbanks via the Elliott & Steese Highways. The first 11 miles, to the tiny hamlet of Fox, are on the Steese Highway, before the Elliott Highway carries the traveler the next 73 miles to the start of the Dalton Highway.

8.5 miles outside of Fairbanks is a turnout for viewing the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. This is a good place to learn about this engineering marvel that is in sight of the road almost all the way to Prudhoe Bay.

The last chance to get gas & services is 5.5 miles north of Fox. The next place to fill up is 124 miles north at Yukon River Crossing. While there are not a lot of places to stop along the Elliott Highway, this stretch of road is a good warmup for the Dalton Highway. Although it is paved all the way to Livengood, there are multiple stretches of potholes and a number of prominent frost heaves.

Once reaching the beginning of the Dalton Highway, there are a number of signs worth stopping to take pictures of. The first is at the junction of the Elliott and Dalton Highways, where the Elliott turns west to head 77 miles toward Manly Hot Springs. The sign here is elevated, indicating it was probably a popular target of thieves previously. There is not am official turnout here, so make sure the car is completely off the road and out of the way of traffic before stopping here.

At mile marker 1.1, there are more signs worth stopping to photograph. The famous “Welcome to the Dalton Highway” sign, as well as a mileage sign giving distances to Yukon River, Coldfoot & Deadhorse. There is also an information board on the road’s namesake, early Alaskan surveyor James W. Dalton.

The next 20 miles after leaving the turnout for the signs is another good introduction to what to expect on the road. The surface is unpaved, and there are some sharp turns and steep inclines to go over. The overlook for Hess Creek is at mile marker 21, and gives a sweeping view of Hess Creek and fire damage from the 1991 & 2003 fires that ravaged this area.

The up and down road continues as the road makes it’s way to the Yukon River. At mile marker 55 is the impressive Yukon River Bridge and just past that, at mile marker 56, is Yukon River Camp.

Yukon River Camp has a restaurant, small store and fuel, as well as lodging.

On the opposite side of the highway, there is the BLM Yukon Crossing Visitor Contact Station. This is an excellent place to gather information on the condition of the road further north.

A short trail leads to the overlook for the river and the bridge. Information boards along the way give facts about the Yukon River, one of the continent’s major river systems.

Roughly twenty miles past Yukon River Crossing, the road begins a stretch called the ‘Roller Coaster’ because of its steep ascent & descents.

The turnoff for the Finger Mountain Wayside is next, just after mile marker 98. There is a larger rock formation a short hike north of the turnout, which allows for views for the northbound road as well the distant peaks of the Brooks Range. Finger Mountain, one of the road’s most distinct features is in the distance to the south.

Seventeen miles beyond Finger Mountain is another well signposted wayside, this one for the Arctic Circle. Many solo travelers as well as tour companies only make it this far. There is a good sign to get a picture with, but this is also one of the most famously buggy places and one of the only places on the road we still encountered mosquitoes in September.

The turnout at Gobbler’s Knob has signposts on the building of the road, as well as views of the road to the north as it begins some steep descents toward Prospect Creek.

One of the road’s more popular wildlife viewing spots is at mile marker 150, Grayling Lake. This lake was one of the territorial divides between the Inupiat tribe to the north and the Athabascans to the south. Archaeological evidences around the lake shows human activity there as far back as 3,000 years.

Finally, at mile marker 175, Coldfoot is the last place to get services before Prudhoe Bay. On the east side of the road is a turnoff for Coldfoot Camp, with gas, as small cafe & bar, and a very basic hotel.

On the west side of the road is the excellent Arctic Interagency Visitor Center, with tons of displays and educational materials on the tundra ecosystem. It is also an excellent place to stop and check on the condition of the road as it heads north. Coldfoot’s tiny airport is also located a short drive west of the Dalton on a side road. Flights further into the interior are available here.

The next post will be the northern half of the Dalton Highway, from Coldfoot all the way to Deadhorse on Prudhoe Bay.



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