Forget the fast pace of the Ice Road Truckers – you’ll want to take your time driving the Dalton Highway. The Dalton takes you through boreal forest, high alpine, and rolling tundra as you head nearly 500 miles north from Fairbanks to Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay on Alaska's North Slope. You’ll get bragging rights driving this remote road – the Dalton has the highest pass in Alaska, crosses the Arctic Circle and is the only highway to cross the Yukon River.
BE ADVISED: Not all rental car companies allow travel on gravel roads, so check in advance if you plan on renting a vehicle for this adventure. Also, cell service is limited along the Dalton Highway and services are limited. Be sure to bring extra gas – and perhaps an extra spare tire – just in case.
From Fairbanks, hop on the Elliot Highway approximately 70 miles past historic gold mines to Livengood, where you’ll pick up the start of the Dalton Highway. It’s a far cry from the original gravel access road built during the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, but you’ll still want to take it slow over the remaining gravel sections, frost heaves, and potholes. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to pull over to admire sweeping views of wild and scenic landscapes or camp overnight. Stop for selfies at the Start of the Dalton Highway sign, grab a bite to eat and refill your gas tank at the Yukon River Bridge, and cross the line between the Arctic and the Northern Temparate Zone at the sign marking the Arctic Circle at 66⁰ north latitude. Or, take a hike at Finger Mountain to explore the granite tors – eroded rocky outcroppings millions of years old that rise from the surrounding tundra. There are BLM campgrounds along the way, so you can take your time, or head toward Coldfoot and Wiseman for your first overnight. While it’s only about 175 miles from the Dalton/Elliot Highway Junction, Coldfoot is a convenient place to stop, get gas for your vehicle and a hot meal before continuing north toward Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay.
The Dalton Highway is bordered by millions of acres of public land, including Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge, Gates of the Arctic National Park, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Coldfoot is a great place to pick up useful information about area trails and local history before you continue the drive north. Wiseman is about 14 miles from Coldfoot, and this historic mining town is worth a stop before you continue along the Brooks Range toward Atigun Pass. At 4,800 feet, Atigun Pass is the highest highway pass in Alaska. Find a pullout if you want to stop for the views and to look for Dall sheep. Once you’re headed down to the north side of the Brooks Range, you’ll be rolling through endless tundra as you make your way to Deadhorse. This stretch of road is a great place to birdwatch – and look for musk ox and caribou! It’s approximately 250 miles from Coldfoot to Prudhoe Bay where you can overnight. RV and tent camping is limited in Deadhorse, and reservations are recommended at Prudhoe Bay’s few hotels.
Mostly surrounded by Alaska’s famed Prudhoe Bay oil fields, there are miles of roads to explore around Prudhoe Bay. Wildlife and birdlife abound, and it's not uncommon to have to stop for caribou crossing the road. If you want to dip your toes in the Arctic Ocean, however, you’ll need to make advanced tour reservations at least 24 hours in advance as you need to go through a secure area closed to public access.
Day 4 - 5
Start your trip south, back toward Coldfoot and Fairbanks. While you can do the roughly 500 miles in one day, it’s a LONG day. Take your time instead, overnight at the BLM’s Marion Creek Campground, and explore other trails and pullouts as you make your way back to Fairbanks.