Tok is Alaska’s official welcoming committee as the first major community across the Canadian border for Alaska Highway travelers. With highways leading away from Tok in all directions, the friendly hub community still offers plenty of reasons to stay a while.
Tok is 93 miles from the Canadian border and is at the major junction between the Alaska Highway and the Tok Cutoff, an extension of the Glenn Highway, which heads west toward Palmer and Anchorage. In Tok, most newly-arrived visitors get out of their vehicles wide-eyed, still not believing they made it this far north, and then load up on brochures, maps and travel information for the rest of their journey.
The town has been a trade and services center for travelers ever since its beginnings as a construction camp in the 1940s. From Tok, you can drive south 254 miles to Valdez and Prince William Sound, head west 328 miles to Anchorage or continue northwest 206 miles on the Alaska Highway to Fairbanks. Additionally, the Taylor Highway heads north to Chicken, Eagle and the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.
For most visitors, the first stop is the Tok Mainstreet Visitors Center, a massive, 7,000-square-foot lodge that is said to be Alaska's largest log structure. The center features racks of brochures for travel in and around the state as well as displays on wildlife, gold panning and the construction of the Alaska Highway. Nearby is the Alaska Public Lands Information Center with additional information on Alaska's parks and outdoor activities, exhibits and a large picture window that often frames the Alaska Range.
Tok is known as the "Sled Dog Capital of Alaska," and many of its residents are involved in some way with dogs and dog mushing. Sled dog pups provide education and interaction during the summer season while sprint races steal the show between late November and March. The town’s biggest event is the Race of Champions, a sled dog race in late March that features the largest field of any sprint race in Alaska.
The origin of the town’s name is still a lively debate in Alaska. Some believe it is named after the nearby Tokai River, which in 1901 was recorded as the Tok River by the U.S. Geological Survey. The town was founded in 1942 as a construction camp for the Alaska Highway and those working on the highway spent so much money in the camp’s construction and maintenance that it earned the name “Million Dollar Camp.” Others believe it was first called Tokyo Camp until anti-Japanese sentiment caused locals to shorten it to Tok. And, still some believe it was named after a husky pup that belonged to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in charge of building this section of the Alaska Highway.
Things to do
Tok is an outdoorsperson’s paradise: In all directions, wild lands teeming with birds, mammals and fish beckon. The world-famous Forty Mile Country, which inspired the likes of Jack London, lie to the north, while the Mentasta and Wrangell mountains lie to the south. Residents embrace a real frontier lifestyle, and there’s plenty of bird watching, camping, hiking, fishing, float trips and other exploring to be done in the area. In town, attractions include gold panning, museums, restaurants, shops, horseback riding and even a little golf.