Inspiration: Big Trip

Country guide: Alaska

The best roads and top locations

Thinking about heading to Alaska? Read on to find out about the best roads, places to visit and top tips on riding in America’s coldest state.

At a glance

Culture shock 4/10. Reindeer sausage and the gun supermarket may surprise you, but at least you’ll understand the lingo. Go to Gwennies in Anchorage for a huge Alaskan breakfast, including reindeer sausage. You’ll be ready for the road after that.

Road conditions 6/10 Paved roads are normally in good condition but there’s plenty of opportunity to go off the beaten track on gravel/dirt. If you do, watch out for wildlife – bears and caribou abound.

Experience level Low/intermediate – if you stick to the black stuff, Alaska is easy riding, but the dirt roads should not be taken lightly. The Dalton Highway especially can be tricky.

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Why you should go

Alaska feels like the last wild frontier. Heading north to Prudhoe Bay is some of the most remote riding in the world. The scenery is stunning, the roads are deserted, it’s truly ‘out there’. One of the huge attractions of Alaska is to ride the Dalton Highway and to get to the most northern part of the American continent reachable by road. You may know it from watching Ice Road Truckers.

Must see

Ride the Dalton Highway to the most northern point on the Americas continent reachable by road. Do that and you can:

  • Cross the Arctic Circle – another one off the bucket list
  • Get your picture taken at Gobblers Knob – a silly sign!
  • Pan for gold at the near ghost town of Wiseman
  • Get ‘hyderised’ in the most southern Alaskan town – Hyder (reached via Stewart, Canada). Hyder is popular with long-distance motorcycle riders who want to complete the 49-state ride – a challenge called the 49 Plus by the Iron Butt Association
  • Visit Denali National Park, home to Mount McKinley, the highest point in North America.

What’s it like to ride there?

The driving standards are good. If travelling from Europe, there are a few differences in road rules, for example, you are not allowed to filter (lane-split) in Alaska. However, turning right on a red light is accepted practice, provided that you have properly checked for oncoming traffic. Once you are outside of residential areas and on the open road, the general speed limit is 65mph, but always check signage. Alaska State Law is that you must wear a helmet.

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Riding the Dalton

The Dalton Highway (or locally called the Haul Road) stretches 414 miles north from Fairbanks and ends at Deadhorse near the Arctic Ocean and the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. Originally built as a supply road to support the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, the majority of it remains a dirt road. If you are riding the full length of the Americas, the Dalton represents the final northern stretch of road, so it’s a must. Riding the Dalton is not to be taken lightly and needs good preparation.

Here are some tips:

  • Watch out for extreme inclines and descents; the road was not constructed to meet standard public highway specifications for inclines
  • Beware of mounds of gravel on corners, which build up over time
  • Look out for changes in road surface which switch from asphalt and dirt in various sections without warning
  • Avoid massive trucks, a constant challenge as they throw up huge clouds of dust and grit on dry days
  • Expect roadworks as the routes are continually being maintained – beware freshly watered or newly graded surfaces
  • Watch out for the edges of the road which can be treacherous as they are softer and less compact
  • When the road surface is wet, it forms a top layer of slick mud due to the use of calcium chloride.

The route

Leaving from Fairbanks, you cross the Yukon River about 135 miles out, where there is a good coffee and fuel stop. Another 55 miles north is the Arctic Circle and you can get a good night’s rest at Coldfoot Camp (that’s about a 255-mile day to this point). Resting here is essential.

Coldfoot is the last stop for fuel before reaching the most northern point. You have 240 miles ahead of you when you leave, with no facilities or services en route. On the final ride to the top of the continent, you can quickly look into the ghost town of Wiseman and then see if you spot the most northerly spruce tree (it’s on the right, just before you cross the Brooks Range).

On the run into Deadhorse, look out for the Muskox – a weird-looking shaggy animal with huge horns that looks like it featured in Star Wars. And remember there is no big rush. As you are riding when there is midnight sun, you’ll always get to where you are going before dark.

Navigation

Alaska is vast. It’s the largest state in the US, over twice the size of Texas, at 586,412 square miles and the least populated, with half of the people living in Anchorage. There are long distances between settlements in Alaska, so don’t just ride by fuel stops. You need to have enough fuel to ride 240 miles if you are heading north up the Dalton. If you use GPS, then you can buy mapping from Garmin (North America) or download free maps from OpenStreetMap (openstreetmap.org, available for use under its open licence).

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Where to stay

Be careful of wild camping out in remote areas. It is not an urban myth that campers are attacked by bears. Camping will keep your costs down as accommodation in Anchorage is super-expensive in the high season. Or try some of the budget motels, such as Super 8 or Econolodge. If you want to stay in a reasonable hotel, don’t be surprised to pay more than US $200 per night.

When to go

It is often said Alaska has four seasons, June, July, August and winter. So it is a short window of opportunity to ride there. Even in what would be consider to be peak summer, snowfall is not unheard of. If you are riding to the Arctic Circle and beyond, be prepared as you may experience snow and freezing temperatures or warm weather and bright sunshine. Take kit and clothing for every eventuality.

FTR worked with GlobeBusters to bring you these travel tips. Founded in 2004 by double Guinness World Record holders Kevin and Julia Sanders, GlobeBusters is one of the world’s leading motorcycle expedition operators, operating extraordinary long distance routes through the Americas, Africa and Asia. For more, visit their website.