North to Alaska - Hidden Gems Along the Way
It’s easy to get fixated on where you’re headed during a road trip and overlook the beauty that you pass along the way. But follow the many highways north through western Canada and onto Alaska, and you’ll never regret making extra stops.
The Alaska Highway driving routes (the Inside Passage, Rocky Mountain, or Gold Rush routes) are filled with small towns and off-the-beaten-path destinations that you might fail to notice when you first look at the map, but are well worth the extra time needed to explore. Read on and you’ll quickly find a number of smaller communities that become required visits on your itinerary, alongside the major destinations and attractions.
Whether you’re taking the Inside Passage, Gold Rush, or Rocky Mountain routes, you are bound to come across one of the many beautiful and lesser-visited destinations Alaska has to offer. Beyond the bigger cities and national parks, these three spots should rank high up on your must-visit list:
Driving along the Gold Rush route, stop just an hour or so north of Anchorage and you will find the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, Alaska’s agricultural center known for being rich in soil, sunlight and outdoor recreation opportunities. This area is home to the Alaska State Fair, where you’ll find record-setting vegetables grown locally, carnival games, 4-H shows, food competitions, concerts and fun, from mid-August to early September every year. But that’s not all. Be sure to explore the area’s glaciers and hiking trails and book a night at a backcountry lodge with helicopter adventures and so much more.
Traveling along the Inside Passage route by ferry, you are sure to encounter one of the most picturesque towns, Haines. This charming community offers hikers and backpackers the opportunity to explore several different trails including Battery Point Trail and Mount Ripinsky Trail. And if you’re traveling in the summer, Haines also hosts the Southeast Alaska State Fair, a festival that brings out the entire community for food, fun, and games.
Known as the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World,” the coastal town of Homer is the end point for the Rockies route. This artistic community provides visitors with numerous ways to make the most of their time in this picturesque locale. Meander through art galleries in town, go fishing on the ocean, or take a boat or plane over to explore Alaska’s first state park, Kachemak Bay State Park. Be sure to enjoy the day’s fresh catch at one of the many restaurants around town. With the endless activities available, you won’t want to leave anytime soon.
Discover more off-the-beaten-path destinations in Alaska at TravelAlaska.com.
Home to the tallest mountains in Canada and some impressive wildlife, the Yukon is no stranger to hidden treasures and beautiful landscapes. Accessible by the Gold Rush, Inside Passage, and Rocky Mountain routes, travelers are sure to uncover remarkable experiences in this region. Add the following areas to your driving itinerary:
Driving north from Skagway on the Inside Passage route or as a short side trip from Whitehorse, you’ll encounter Carcross. Make your first stop at the startling colors of Emerald Lake. A few minutes further up the road, experience Carcross Desert, affectionately known as “the world’s smallest desert.” Race down sand dune surrounded by snow-capped mountains. You have to see it to believe it! Carve out timefor this Carcross/Tagish First Nation community and be richly rewarded with surreal landscapes, a thriving arts scene, and an artisan marketplace.
At the height of the Klondike Gold Rush, Dawson City was home to some 40,000 residents – most seeking riches, some fame, and a few just happy to be caught up in the madness. Step back into those colorful, captivating days. Walk the rustic boardwalks past heritage buildings lining unpaved streets. Watch as characters of the Klondike come to life on a Parks Canada walking tour about town or a grand tour of the regal Palace Grand Theatre. And if all that gold rush ambience isn’t enough, get your fill of the region’s remarkable history at the Dawson City Museum.
Also along the Gold Rush route, you can drive the Silver Trail (Yukon Highway 11) through the heart of the Yukon and relive the pioneer journey to mining towns that time forgot. From Keno City, drive up Signpost Road to Keno Hill past old mining structures to take in top-of-the-world hiking and views. Don’t forget to stop in Mayo. A former silver mining town, this community became the center point of the “alternative” rush and rests at the confluence of two rivers in a beautiful wilderness setting.
Find even more lesser-visited gems in the Yukon at TravelYukon.com.
Home to the majestic peaks of the Rocky Mountains, it’s difficult to imagine that Alberta can offer more beauty than it already does. Considered to be one of the most diverse and scenic provinces in Canada, travelers who pass through Alberta along the Rockies route are in for a treat. Be sure to visit these communities on your drive north:
Part of the Canadian Rockies, Canmore and Kananaskis offer scenery as beautiful as Banff’s but with fewer crowds. Originally a coal mining town, Canmore is nestled within the stunning mountain region of Kananaskis. The area abounds with forests, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, glaciers, and seemingly endless paths and trails on which to explore it all. A playground of outdoor activities, from biking and camping to skiing and snowboarding, unique ventures await every season and skill level.
Found along the Canadian Rockies and north of Banff, Nordegg is a hub for outdoor exploration and the site of the Brazeau Collieries Mine National Heritage Site. In this region, you will encounter uncommon natural beauty, whether you’re hiking, whitewater rafting or riding an ATV on the trail systems. Animal lovers will want to be on the lookout for wildlife, especially sheep and grizzly bear. Rugged yet beautiful, this area is also rich with Indigenous culture and guides will take you on a medicine walk or teach navigation and animal tracking. The adventures are endless here.
If you have time for a side trip from Edmonton, art and culture meet rugged wilderness in Grande Prairie, the heart of Alberta’s Peace Region. It’s a lively city where numerous lakes, glaciers, and the picturesque Canadian Rockies offer accessible adventures. Explore the fossil-filled Pipestone Creek or the many trails of Muskoseepi Park. Take in art at Alberta’s second largest art gallery, the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie. Year-round, Grande Prairie delivers memorable experiences.
Learn more about the smaller towns in Alberta that you need to visit at TravelAlberta.com.
Set on the western edge of Canada, British Columbia is rich in natural beauty, history, and Indigenous culture. With all that this region has to offer, it’s not hard to veer off the beaten path and find unforgettable experiences in the smaller towns along the highway. Take the time to add a few stops in these cities:
If you’re looking for a stopover on your way up the coast from Vancouver Island’s Port Hardy along the Gold Rush route, you will love the hidden beauty of Prince Rupert, a fishing town known as the “City of Rainbows.” One of the largest communities on British Columbia’s north coast and located on the territory of the Coast Ts’msyen People, Prince Rupert is bursting with wildlife, Indigenous culture, and a vibrant arts scene. Visit the Museum of Northern BC to immerse yourself in the local Indigenous culture and end the day with a meal at Dolly’s Fish Market.
Just a minor detour east of Quesnel along the Gold Rush route, history enthusiasts will find Barkerville to be an exciting stop. Operating as a living history museum, you can explore more than 125 heritage buildings, period displays, satellite museums, restaurants, and shops. Learn about the town’s history from staff dressed in period costume and even take a horse-drawn carriage ride. If you’re traveling during the town’s main season, be sure to check out one of the performances put on at the local theater.
With 350 restored heritage buildings, Nelson is filled with historic architecture, local art, and charm. Located in the Selkirk Mountains and considered one of North America’s best ski towns, you will find yourself marveling at the diverse culture that the town has to offer. From exploring the shops, restaurants, and galleries along Baker Street to paddleboarding on Kootenay Lake, there is something in this town for everyone to enjoy.
Learn about even more places to add to your itinerary at HelloBC.com.