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.
Be sure to spend time in Edmonton to explore the Indigenous cultures in a variety of ways. Talking Rock Tours is the first tour company in Alberta that combines geology and Indigenous culture. Check out the Indigenous Peoples Experience at Fort Edmonton Park to understand the diversity of First Nations and Métis people in the Beaver Hills region of Alberta. View the creative work of Indigenous artists at ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lot 11, Edmonton’s Indigenous art park. Visit the Royal Alberta Museum to see thousands of Indigenous artifacts dating from the mid-1800s to present. And don’t miss picking up some food at the restaurant, Culina To Go, owned by Métis Chef Brad Lazarenko. Order an Indigenous lunch box for the road!
As you head into the Rockies, even more options lay ahead. Take a guided medicine walk with Mahikan Trails in Banff or Canmore. Get an Indigenous perspective on a guided hiking adventure with Buffalo Stone Woman. Experience the thrill of hiking on the surface of an ancient glacier with Zuc’min Guiding. 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.
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.
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. Sunshine Coast Air is now offering a flight tour of the Sechelt Peninsula. Visitors will experience storytelling, drumming and song describing the lives and lands of the Indigenous peoples as they fly over old growth forest, mountains and river. At the northern end of the island in Port Hardy, Kwa'lilas Gallery is a new Indigenous art gallery and gift shop in the Kwa'lilas Hotel.
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.
Stop in Pelly Crossing for several unique experiences with Tutchone Tours, such as a river boat tour to Fort Selkirk or a visit to an active Fish Camp run by an Indigenous family. Owner Teri-Lee Isaac, a Selkirk First Nation citizen, has a wealth of knowledge about the region’s culture and history.
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.
Take a detour to Tombstone Territorial Park on the Dempster Highway for stunning hiking opportunities on traditional lands. The area's Hän name Ddhäl Ch'èl Cha Nän means "ragged mountain land." Maintained trails give visitors a chance to connect with the local culture.
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, homeland of the Athabascan people, make time for the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center to learn more about their culture through several exhibits.
As you drive south, you’ll encounter Denali National Park and Preserve, home of Denali or the Great One, North America’s tallest peak. This park land has been lived on or used by Alaska Natives for thousands of years. Guests who want to experience its backcountry can stay at the Indigenous-owned Kantishna Roadhouse deep in the park.
Head further south to Anchorage to visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center, the only statewide cultural center that represents all Alaska Native peoples. Here, visitors can learn about Alaska’s Indigenous history and contemporary culture through exhibits, artist demonstrations, movies, and performances. Meet Alaska Native artists selling their work or demonstrating traditional games. The Gathering Place features Alaska Native dancing and singing.
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 Sitka, cultural tours of local attractions are offered by Sitka Tribal Tours. Guided walking tours of Sitka National Historical Park and traditional performances by Naa Kahídi dancers are engaging learning experiences.
In Juneau, visit the new Sealaska Heritage Institute Arts Campus for art, classes, exhibits and to view the first 360-degree totem pole. SHI is currently building a Totem Pole trail along the town’s waterfront, including new totem poles representing Lingít, Haida and Tsimshian cultures.
Learn more about Alaska Native cultures and cultural experiences.