Can you Drive to Alaska?

It is absolutely possible to drive to Alaska from the USA or Canada. While Alaska is in a remote location and a significant distance from the contiguous United States, it’s well connected by several all-season highways. It’s not an easy journey, but it’s one that can be undertaken by anyone with an adventurous spirit. You’ll need a reliable vehicle, plenty of time, and a whole lot of gas to successfully complete this epic journey. 

Most road traffic to Alaska travels there via the 1387-mile-long Alaskan Highway. This spectacular road links the town of Dawson Creek in British Columbia, Canada, with Delta Junction in Alaska. While this route is the most famous, it’s not the only one. In this guide, we’ll examine the different routes into Alaska and some of the practicalities of making the trip. We’ll also look at some of the best things to see on the way there. So strap in and read on to learn everything you need to know about driving to Alaska.

Where is Alaska Located?

First, let’s start by looking at where Alaska is located. Alaska is situated in the far northwest region of North America. Alaska shares its southern border with Canada’s province of British Columbia and its western border with the Russian Federation (across the Bering Strait). The state’s capital is Juneau, while its largest city is Anchorage.

Map showing location of Alaska

Can you Drive to Alaska Without Going Through Canada?

Unfortunately, it is impossible to drive to Alaska without first going through Canada. Alaska’s only land border is the 1450-mile-long eastern and southern border that it shares with Canada. All the other Alaskan borders are maritime, including the border with Russia in the west. This means traveling overland to Alaska without going through Canada is impossible.

One possible alternative option for travelers is the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry system. This network of ships connects ports in Washington with Alaskan communities throughout south-eastern and southern Alaska. See the ‘How to get to Alaska’ section below for further details. 

A snowy Alaska highway
The Alaska Highway stretches from Canada to Alaska and is a very scenic route

Driving Distances to Alaska

Alaska’s remote location means that any road trip from the Lower 48 will be a monumental undertaking. Even if you’re fortunate enough to travel from Seattle, the closest major city, it’s still a journey of over 2,000 miles. You can double this distance if traveling from the East Coast or the South.

Starting Point

Destination

Distance

Drive Time

New York

Fairbanks, Alaska

4,247 miles

69 hours

Chicago

Fairbanks, Alaska

3,459 miles

57 hours

Los Angeles

Fairbanks, Alaska

3,280 miles

56 hours

Houston

Fairbanks, Alaska

4,026 miles

66 hours 

Seattle

Fairbanks, Alaska

2,146 miles

39 hours

Different Routes to Alaska

There are four main road routes into Alaska from Canada. The first two routes take you into eastern Alaska, where you can travel extensively around the main Alaskan road network. The third and fourth crossing takes you into southeast Alaska. These routes take you to the cities of Haines and Skagway respectively where the roads end. From these cities, you’ll either need to retrace your journey or travel on the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry system to continue your onward journey.  

Alaska Highway (Alcan Highway)

The Alaska Highway is the most famous and well-traveled route to Alaska. It starts in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada, and stretches approximately 1,387 miles through the Yukon Territory before entering Alaska. This highway is paved for most of its length, but travelers should be prepared for some rough and gravel sections, especially in more remote areas. The Alaska Highway connects to the Richardson Highway in Alaska, which leads to major cities such as Fairbanks and Anchorage.

An alternative route and a more scenic detour from the Alaska Highway is the Cassiar Highway. Running parallel to the Alaska Highway to the west, it extends for around 450 miles. Starting in Kitwanga in British Columbia, it joins the Alaskan Highway near Watson Lake in the Yukon. The Cassiar Highway offers a more scenic and less-traveled route than the main Alaska Highway.

Taylor Highway & Top of the World Highway

For adventurous travelers to Alaska, you can consider taking the route via the Taylor Highway and the Top of the World Highway. This route runs north of the main Alaska Highway route and provides a more challenging, albeit more scenic route into Alaska. The route branches off from the main Alaska Highway just after the town of Whitehorse and passes through Carmacks, Yukon Crossing, and Stewart Crossing. It eventually reaches West Dawson from where it runs west for 79 miles into Alaska, joining with the Taylor Highway shortly after the border. The Taylor Highway runs southerly, re-joining the Alaska Highway at Tetlin Junction, just east of Tok. 

This route into Alaska certainly isn’t the quickest but it’s the most spectacular. The Top of the World Highway offers stunning views from its elevated position. You should be aware the road is impassable during the winter months and can even be a challenging drive during the summer months. The road is mainly unpaved with a gravel surface and some challenging sections.

Haines Highway

An alternative route into Alaska is to travel along the Haines Highway, also known as the Haines Cut-Off. The road stretches 160 miles from the Alaska Highway to the coastal city of Haines. To get onto the Haines Highway, you must turn off at the Haines Junction on the Alaska Highway. 

As the road network ends in Haines, the Haines Highway tends to be a side trip rather than the main route to traveling into Alaska. However, the city of Haines is a major seaport, and it’s possible to travel to other destinations using the Alaska Marine Highway Service, which regularly visits the city. 

The Klondike Highway to Skagway

The Klondike Highway, which runs from the Alaskan Panhandle to British Columbia in Canada, is the final major route into Alaska. Much like the Haines Highway, the road leads to a dead end. In this case, the city of Skagway is the final destination on the road. While Skagway is a great little destination in its own right, the only way to continue your onward journey from Skagway without retracing your steps is by taking a ferry to Haines. The limited options for onward travel make the Klondike Highway another enjoyable side trip rather than a meaningful way of reaching the wider Alaska region. 

How to get to Alaska

Despite Alaska’s remote location and distance from the Lower 48, there are plenty of ways to travel there. Below, we look at the options available for traveling to Alaska by land, sea, and air. 

Land

As detailed above, there are four major road routes into Alaska, all passing through Canada. The Alaska Highway is the easiest and most efficient route, but you can take some stunning detours and routes if you have the time and an appropriate vehicle. 

When traveling by land, there are unfortunately no public transport options available. There are no buses that make the journey between Alaska and Canada. Despite Alaska’s fairly extensive train infrastructure, there is also no train service between Alaska and Canada. 

Sea

Alaska is served by a network of ferries known as the Alaska Marine Highway System. This network of ferries connects coastal communities in the southwest, south, and southeast of Alaska with each other and the contiguous United States. Ferries, which carry passengers and vehicles, sail from Bellingham in Washington to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands in the far southwest of Alaska. Check out the Alaska Marine Highway website for information on sailing schedules, routes, and costs.

Air

Alaska is home to 3 international airports, which are located in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau. Anchorage is the busiest of these three airports and offers the most comprehensive range of flights. Major airlines such as Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and American Airlines offer regular flights to and from Alaska. These flights include numerous destinations in the Lower 48, as well as to other North American countries and even as far afield as Europe. The airports at Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau also serve as domestic hubs for flights to other smaller and remote locations throughout Alaska. 

Scenic Highway in Alaska
All roads lead to Fairbanks with it's central location in the interior of Alaska.

Do I Need a 4WD to Drive to Alaska?

Driving to Alaska without a 4WD is possible if you stick to the major highways and travel during the warmer summer months. However, travel outside of these parameters is often much more complicated.

The most significant factors in whether you’ll need a 4WD are the specific route you plan to take and the time of year you will travel. Without getting into the specifics of each road during each season, here are some considerations to help inform your decision:

  1. Main Highways: A regular two-wheel-drive vehicle is typically sufficient if you plan to drive on the main highways like the Alaska Highway (Alcan Highway) or the Cassiar Highway. These highways are generally well-maintained and paved, making them accessible to most vehicles. Many travelers drive these routes with standard sedans, SUVs, or minivans.

  2. Side Roads and Off-the-Beaten-Path Routes: If you intend to explore more remote areas or venture onto unpaved and rough roads, having a 4WD vehicle can be essential. Some areas in Alaska, especially in less populated regions, may have gravel or dirt roads, which can be challenging for standard cars. Where possible, follow local advice on the suitability of your vehicle. 

  3. Weather Conditions: Consider the time of year you’ll be traveling. The main highways are generally clear of snow and ice during the summer. However, weather conditions can be much more unpredictable in the shoulder seasons (spring and fall) and winter. Having a 4WD vehicle with better traction can be essential. There’s a reason everyone who lives in Alaska owns a 4WD!

  4. Adventure Activities: If you plan to engage in specific adventure activities like backcountry exploration, off-road adventures, or accessing remote camping spots, a 4WD vehicle would be far more suitable for such endeavors.

  5. Personal Preference: Some travelers prefer the added confidence and capability of a 4WD vehicle, especially when exploring less traveled areas. Having a 4WD certainly gives you more options on the open road. 

Regardless of the type of vehicle you choose, it’s essential to ensure your vehicle is in good working condition and equipped for long-distance travel. This includes carrying essential supplies, spare tires, tools, and emergency equipment. This is especially relevant if you plan to travel through more remote areas.

Can you Drive to Alaska in Winter?

It is still possible to drive to Alaska in winter. However, going to Alaska during the winter months presents additional challenges. It also requires extra preparation due to the harsher weather conditions and the reduced daylight hours.

The following are the most important factors to consider when planning to drive to Alaska in winter:

  1. Weather Conditions: Winter weather in Alaska can be severe, with heavy snowfall, icy roads, and sub-zero temperatures. You should always check weather forecasts and road conditions before and during your journey. You’ll need to be prepared for changing weather and potential road closures.

  2. Vehicle Preparation: Ensure your vehicle is well-maintained and equipped for winter driving. It would be best to change to winter tires with good traction, ensure your battery is fully charged and your brakes and heating system are in top condition.

  3. Winter Driving Skills: Driving in icy and snowy conditions is an acquired skill. Ensure you’re familiar with winter driving techniques and apply common sense to your driving. If you brake gently, accelerate slowly, watch your speed, and maintain a safe following distance, you can’t go too far wrong.

  4. Daylight Hours: In winter, Alaska experiences significantly shorter daylight hours, especially in the northern regions. Plan your drive accordingly and be cautious during low-light conditions. You should never drive at night during the winter months in Alaska.

  5. Road Services and Amenities: Some areas of Alaska may have limited road services, gas stations, and accommodations during the winter months. Plan your route ahead of time and anticipate long distances between stops.

  6. Emergency Supplies: Be sure to carry an emergency kit in your vehicle, including blankets, extra warm clothing, food, water, a flashlight, and a first-aid kit. These supplies might make the difference in unexpected delays or emergencies.

Do I Need a Passport to Drive to Alaska?

If you drive to Alaska from the contiguous United States, you will need a passport. You require a valid passport to cross into Canada and to re-enter the United States afterward. This is because you’ll pass through Canadian territory when driving to Alaska via the Alaska Highway or any other route to Alaska. It isn’t possible to drive to Alaska without going through Canada.

However, if you’re planning to fly or use the Alaska Marine Highway System to reach Alaska, you can travel without a passport. However, you will still need to produce an acceptable form of identification to complete your travels. The difference in approach is that travel by air and ferry doesn’t necessitate entry into Canada. If you do not intend to disembark in Canada, you can travel by sea or air on the same basis as any other domestic trip between two states.   

Best Things to see and do Along the Alaska Highway

While the Alaska Highway is primarily known for its spectacular scenery, there are plenty of exciting stops along the way. We’ve included 10 of the best things to see and do along the Alaska Highway below. 

Liard River Hot Springs

Located in Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park in British Columbia, these natural hot springs provide a relaxing and rejuvenating experience. You can dip in the warm waters surrounded by the beautiful boreal forest.

Northern Rockies Lodge

Located near Muncho Lake in British Columbia, the Northern Rockies Lodge offers excellent fishing opportunities, wildlife viewing, and hiking. The scenic Muncho Lake is also perfect for kayaking or canoeing; try not to fall into the icy waters!

Watson Lake

Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory is a popular destination, sitting at the Alaska Highway and the Cassiar Highway crossroads. It’s best known for its famous Sign Post Forest, where visitors to the area leave signs from their hometowns. It’s a unique and ever-growing collection of signs from all over the world.

Teslin Tlingit Heritage Centre

The Teslin Tlingit Heritage Centre is a cultural institution in Teslin, Yukon, Canada. It serves as a hub for preserving, celebrating, and sharing the cultural heritage and traditions of the Tlingit Indigenous people. The center is dedicated to showcasing the rich history, art, language, and way of life of the Teslin Tlingit First Nation. The Heritage Centre features a variety of exhibits and displays that highlight the Tlingit people’s traditional practices, including their distinctive artwork, crafts, and ceremonial regalia.

Carmacks

Many visitors stop in Carmacks in the Yukon for its natural beauty, outdoor adventures along the Yukon River, and rich Indigenous heritage. It’s a great location to witness the Northern Lights while you can also explore hiking trails and immerse yourself in the tranquil charm of this gateway to the northern wilderness.

Kluane National Park and Reserve

A UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Yukon, Kluane National Park is known for its massive glaciers, towering mountains, and diverse wildlife. The park is best seen from above, so consider taking a flightseeing tour, which includes Mount Logan, Canada’s highest peak.

Whitehorse

The capital of the Yukon, Whitehorse, offers various cultural attractions, historical sites, and plenty of outdoor activities. Popular attractions include the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, the SS Klondike National Historic Site, and the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. It’s a great place to stay overnight and break up your journey north.

Carcross

This small community on the shores of Bennett Lake is famous for its stunning scenery and rich indigenous heritage. One of the most popular activities is to take a scenic train ride on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad. You should also check out the Carcross Desert, the world’s smallest desert.

Skagway

While technically off the Alaska Highway, Skagway is a popular cruise port and a historical town with well-preserved buildings from the Klondike Gold Rush era. If you’ve got the time and don’t mind the extra mileage, it’s well worth visiting.  

Haines

Haines, Alaska, is another picturesque town and a nature lover’s paradise. A not insignificant distance off the Alaska Highway, it’s nestled between the mountains and the sea. Haines offers some exceptional wildlife viewing, including bald eagles and grizzly bears. You can also immerse yourself in plentiful outdoor activities such as kayaking, hiking, and fishing while enjoying the small-town charm and cultural richness of this scenic destination.

The harbourside at Skagway with yacht and a large cruiseship in the background
Skagway is a popular detour off the Alaska Highway

Best Time to Drive to Alaska

Generally speaking, the summer months are the best time to drive to Alaska. The warmer, more consistent weather and better driving conditions make the journey far easier and more enjoyable. There are also significantly more hours of daylight, allowing you to make the most of your time. On the flip side, it’s also the busiest time to travel to Alaska with more traffic on the road. You might also find that hotels are more expensive and lack availability. 

While the summer months are typically accepted as the best time to visit Alaska, there’s still merit in visiting at other times of the year. Alaska experiences distinct seasons, with each offering its own advantages and considerations. Here’s a summary of what to expect during each season:

Summer (June to August)

  • Summer is the most popular time for travelers to drive to Alaska. The weather is generally milder, and many outdoor activities and attractions are accessible.
  • The days are long, with the famous “midnight sun” phenomenon occurring in the northern parts of the state. This allows for extended daylight hours for driving and exploration.
  • Most campgrounds, lodges, and visitor centers are open, providing ample accommodation and services.
  • Wildlife is abundant, and you can see animals like bears, moose, and eagles during your journey.
  • However, summer is also the peak tourist season so popular destinations can be crowded, and accommodations may fill up quickly. It’s advisable to book in advance during this time.

Spring (April to May) and Fall (September to October)

  • Spring and fall offer the advantage of fewer crowds and a quieter experience on the roads and at attractions.
  • The landscapes may be covered with snow in early spring, but you can witness the arrival of spring blooms and migrating birds.
  • In the fall, you’ll experience beautiful autumn foliage as the leaves change color. Remember that some services and attractions may have limited hours or be closed during the shoulder seasons.

Winter (November to March)

  • Driving to Alaska in winter can be a unique and adventurous experience but requires careful planning and preparation.
  • Winter landscapes are stunning, with snow-covered mountains and frozen lakes.
  • However, winter weather can be harsh, with icy roads and sub-zero temperatures. Traveling during this time requires winter driving skills, appropriate gear, and awareness of road conditions.
  • Some areas may have limited road services and accommodations, and some attractions may be closed during winter.

Ultimately, the best time to drive to Alaska depends on your interests, comfort level with weather conditions, and desired travel experiences. Many travelers opt for the summer months for the milder weather and extended daylight, but each season offers unique charms and exploration opportunities. 

Related Content

Can you Drive to Juneau in Alaska?

Best National Parks to Visit in June

Best National Parks in Utah

Can you Drive to Sitka in Alaska?

Vancouver to Cabo

Blog Posts

Can you Drive to Morocco?

You can drive to Morocco from the neighboring countries of Spain and Mauritania, but not Algeria, despite a nearly 2000 km long border between the two countries. Travel between Morocco and any of its neighbors comes with its fair share of challenges. At first glance, you could be mistaken for

10 Best National Parks in Western Australia

If you love solitude, amazing landscapes, and vast open spaces, you’re going to love Western Australia. This amazing land, and the northwest in particular, is often referred to as the ‘Last Frontier’. It’s a land of endless remote possibilities and nowhere showcases this better than the amazing array of national

Mastodon