Experience Indigenous Cultures on your Drive North to Alaska
Driving the Alaska Highway, it’s impossible not to think about the stewardship of the Indigenous Peoples of Alaska and Canada, who have lived here for thousands of years.
We are grateful to live, work and play on the traditional lands of our First Nations and Alaska Native neighbors. We acknowledge the Indigenous Peoples whose land we inhabit, and we hope you visit so that you can learn about not just the history of these people, but also their living cultures.
Choose an Alaska Highway driving route (the Inside Passage, Rockies, or Gold Rush routes) through western Canada and Alaska to visit their homelands and gain a better understanding of their culture. Here are some of the Indigenous culture experiences you can have along your drive.
Alberta is home to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people, speaking at least 11 different languages across the province. If you’re driving through on the Rockies Route, plan to spend time in Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, where Blackfoot warriors came on vision quests. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can view First Nation petroglyphs (rock carvings) and pictographs (rock paintings). “Whether you’re a spiritual person or not, as soon as you step off your vehicle, you’re immersed in this landscape, you feel that energy and it means different things to different people, but everybody feels that connection,” says Parks Canada Guide Interpreter Camina Weasel Moccassin.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site in traditional Blackfoot territory lies ahead. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump preserves the hunting grounds, where Indigenous peoples would kill prey by chasing them over the natural cliffs. You can hike trails above and below the cliffs, visit the onsite museum or learn more about the history from interpretive programs.
Make at least one more stop in Jasper National Park to meet the Warrior Women, a mother-daughter duo who share their Cree culture around the campfire or on a medicine walk. For more ways to experience Indigenous cultures in Alberta, on the road or off, visit Indigenous Tourism Alberta.
Whether you’re following the Inside Passage Route along British Columbia’s coast or driving through Interior British Columbia on the Gold Rush Route, First Nations culture is all around.
Set aside a day to go wine tasting in South Okanagan region, while also learning about the Indigenous peoples of this area, the Nlaka’pamux, Syilx, and Secwepemc Nations. Visit Indigenous-owned vineyards and restaurants, stop at Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, and learn from Secwepemc guides and storytellers at Quaaout Lodge. Spend more time in Kamloops to visit the Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park or paddle a canoe down a traditional water route to Tkemlups.
On Vancouver Island, you’ll find wildlife viewing experiences, First Nations-owned resorts, Indigenous art galleries, and more. In Nanaimo, visit Saysutshun Newcastle Island, a special place of physical and spiritual healing for the Snuneymuxw. From Tofino, travel in a traditional Indigenous dugout canoe to Meares Island, one of the homes of the Ahousat people. And in Vancouver, take a Talking Trees walking tour through what is now Stanley Park. Vancouver is the traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, and the city offers a multitude of ways to learn more about the cultures, through museums, galleries, Indigenous cuisine, and guided First Nations interpretive tours.
For more ways to experience Indigenous cultures in British Columbia, on the road or off, visit Indigenous Tourism BC.
Each of the Yukon’s 14 First Nations has its own special places and cultures to share and can be explored on any of the three Alaska Highway routes. A few stops to consider include the Teslin Tlingit Heritage Centre along Teslin Lake and Carcross Commons, where you can watch master carvers and artisans make poles, masks and regalia.
Kluane National Park and Reserve, which joins three other parks to form the largest UNESCO World Heritage Site in the world, lies within the traditional territory of the Champagne & Aishihik and Kluane First Nations. From the Alaska Highway, visit Klukshu Village and the Da Kų Cultural Centre to learn more about their culture, traditions, artwork, and language.
In other areas of the highway, for example the traditional territory of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation around Whitehorse or the White River First Nation at Beaver Creek, keep your eyes on the landscape. Generations ago, their ancestors’ foot paths were merged into the Alaska Highway and other roadways and their peoples’ connection to the land remains strong.
For more ways to experience Indigenous culture in the Yukon, visit the Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association.
As the final destination on the Alaska Highway no matter which route you travel, Alaska is home to 229 federally recognized tribes and 11 distinct Alaska Native cultures. With more than 60 museums and cultural centers and even more cultural tours and experiences to offer, you will find a way to connect to Alaska’s Indigenous cultures no matter where you travel.
If you travel inland through Fairbanks and Anchorage, homeland of the Athabascan people, make time for the Alaska Native Heritage Center and the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center to watch Alaska Native dance performances and games, listen to Alaska Native stories, view films, and more.
Traveling by the Alaska Marine Highway ferry instead? Southeast Alaska is home to the Tlingit, Tsmishian, Haida, and Eyak peoples. Stop in Ketchikan to view some of the world’s oldest totem poles at Totem Heritage Center; tour Saxman Native Village, and also meet Alaska Native artists alongside Where the Eagle Walks owner Joe Williams. In Juneau, visit the Sealaska Heritage Institute for performances, cultural exhibits and art.
Learn more about Alaska Native cultures and cultural experiences.