The moving truck took our stuff away two weeks ago, leaving us with our new Tacoma and a few boxes of essentials for the trip north to Alaska. We chose the Cassiar Highway route, the westernmost option. Here's a summary of our Al-Can Highway trip, a few pics, and our recommendations.
Our 8-Day Route Boise ID > Mazama WA > Bellingham WA > Prince George BC > Hyder AK > Watson Lake YT > Skagway AK > Haines AK > Tok AK > Anchorage AK.
The hatch is always on in northern British Columbia.
Only 4400 miles, 12 tanks of gas, 6 bakery stops, and one windshield until we reach Anchorage.
The Squamish Chief wall in the rain. There are big wall climbers suffering on port-a-ledges up there somewhere.
The long road down into Lillooet BC. Come for the gorges, stay for the terraces.
I really hope that textbook on Polar Bears shows up this week.
Rediscovering Budweiser in a can at The Bus in Hyder AK.
These DEET-soaked wipey things actually work. So does beer.
The bear viewing boardwalk at Fish Creek outside of Hyder AK. No bears today.
Ripley Creek Inn in Stewart AK hosts a loose collection of old buildings and mining equipment. And the Toaster Museum, currently closed for repairs (crumb fire).
The first thing I swore to buy upon moving to Alaska was a pair of XtraTuf professional fisherman boots. These are not them.
Downtown Stewart AK. Dr. Fleishman and Maggie just walked by.
The not-that-rough mine road up out of Hyder leads to some great views of the Salmon River and surrounding mountains.
Salmon Glacier is supposed to be the 5th largest glacier in the US. Whoever created that stat needs to visit the St. Elias Range.
Seracs at the terminus of the Salmon Glacier above Hyder AK. I wish someone would slick these trees off so we could see the geology better.
There are a handful of quirky scenes, like this tiny tugboat parked in someone's backyard, in Stewart's picturesque town square.
Some bears in Alaska eat people, but it can be difficult to determine which individuals are friendly and which are problematic. We decided that an observational, subpopulation-scale analysis was needed. For 5 days we observed both ursine and human subpopulations along roads at 35-60 mph. We observed no humans in the vicinity of large groups of bears. Likewise, we saw no bears when large groups of humans were present on the landscape. Therefor, we conclude that all humans that had been in close proximity to bear groups had been consumed prior to our arrival. Alternatively, consumption could have occured during daily Happy Hours (4-6 pm), when our field observations were temporarily suspended.
Black bear feeding on springtime clover (or a human femur) along the roadside in the Cassiar Mountains.
Jade City is my favorite place to stop along Hwy 37 between Iskut and Nugget City. There are huge boulders of jade strewn about the parking lot, huge jade chunks being wet-sawn and shaped into an incredible array of figures, and huge piles of jade on display in glass cases indoors. Do these guys know jade, or what? I asked the owner how jade is formed. "Heat and pressure. And magma. Mostly its the magma."
Hundreds of fragile jade polar bears, drowning one by one, as their tiny amethyst ice bergs degrade over the next 2.6 million years (assuming a constant pH of 5.6 and atomospheric temperatures). Please donate today to the Drowning Jade Polar Bear Fund. With your help, we can make a difference over geologic time. And remember to recycle your cans and newspapers!
Culture in The Yukon. You can find just about any street or town sign at the Signpost Museum in Watson Lake, YT.
Anyone can drive a Sprinter. But why count yourself with the masses? You're unique. Tok, AK.
The road through The Yukon can cause a man to confront his deepest fears. And his breakfast options.
Expertly crafted beaver totem at the Teslin Cultural Museum, Teslin, YT.
Fiberglass canoes have been used by First Nations peoples on Teslin Lake for 4000 years.
The high, granite landscape near Chilkoot Pass is breathtaking - a place to return to for hikes and pics.
The big open just before the big drop down into Skagway.
We crossed the border 4 times with a gun.
A real lunker! Skagway AK on a Monday with no less than 4 cruise ships in port.
I find these poke-your-head-through-for-a-photo displays endlessly funny. Sorry, not sorry.
Lucy + Halibut + Fries = Extraordinarily good behavior
"Its a chopper, baby." The manly-man's choice of motocycles for the Al-Can Hwy is a BMW Dakar. There are tons of them up here. Riders form a tight knit community. Each seems to love the freedom and efficiency that two-wheeled travel provides. We noticed that riders spend those extra hours gathered in groups, pointing out the various broken parts and pieces they have replaced along the way due to close scrapes with wild moose and grizzlies (or Walmart lightpoles).
Two hour wait for a 40 minute, $80 boat ride. Hilary maximizes efficiency by working deals by phone. Skagway dock awaiting the Alaska Ferry to Haines. Had a blast chatting with other travelers from all over the US.
View of the port from the Skagway fishing dock. People tie lines for crab pots off the railings. Each of the 50 or so lines is carefully labeled and knotted. I think I can see Gavin McLeod and Isaac on the Lido Deck at upper left.
No polar bears yet. Stupid old climate.
Historic buildings of decommissioned Fort Seward at Haines. Like Homer, Haines is remote, beautiful, and livable. Fresh donuts year 'round at the Chilkat Bakery.
Even the young kids know that snapping up a functional deck chair upon boarding an Alaska Ferry is the key to a good sailing.
The tidy marina at Haines AK. Haines is like a small Anacortes, but ringed with huge mountains draped with untold volumes of glacial ice. Unlike Anacortes, however, there are no "Karl Blau Tuesdays" down at the Brown Duck, nor is there an oil refinery, or street hippies. On second thought, Haines is nothing like Anacortes. I just feel the need to compare places to which I travel to parts of Skagit County.
Beach Road House cabins outside Haines.
There are jaw-dropping mountain views along the entire 6 hour traverse of the Tatshenshini-Alsek-Kluane Parks section of the Alaska Hwy. In fact, there exists only a single 1/2 mile stretch where the mind-boggling alpine vistas are obscured by trees. Guess where the UNESCO World Heritage Site sign is located.
Kluane Park is rock glacier capital of the world. Hike the short trails up to a few of them, or go big and climb Mt. Logan near Haines Junction if you go.
The Yukon has the worst roads and longest construction delays by a long shot. There are usually several flaggers standing around at each construction zone, mostly chatting with each other or scolding you to return to your vehicle. Curiously, through the most remote stretches we saw no flaggers and only these unmanned, red stoplights telling you to wait. There may indeed be a mileage limit to the jobs program that is the Canadian road maintenance authority.
While waiting for pilot cars, we were trying to recall what popular inventions have been made by Canadians. We came up with "Yukon Cornelius", the red-bearded miner from the claymation Christmas cartoon. And Sleemans beer. Canada: A huge country that nobody notices.
The cabins at Cleft in the Rock B&B (Tok, AK) have comfy beds and pretty fast wifi. Good breakfast, too. We ate reindeer sausage with couples from Spain and Iowa. While good lodging is not difficult to find, we suggest you buy a Mercedes Sprinter as of part of your move to Alaska.
The lumpy, scenic road between Tok and Palmer AK.
East face of the Chugach Mountains, upper Mat-Su drainage.
We thought we left the hot weather behind in Boise. Nope.
I don't shower much, nor do I coordinate my outfits carefully. I just drive, baby.
Our new place over the garage for 2 months. 164th off Goldenview Rd, Rabbit Creek area, Anchorage.
We saw 6 moose the other day while driving around looking for homes. Three were mooselings (moosepups? minimoose? moositos?).
We Recommend for the Al-Can Hwy
- A brand new Toyota Tacoma or a BMW Dakar bike or a Sprinter.
- North Coast Inn in Prince George BC.
- Halibut & chips at The Bus in Hyder AK.
- Short boardwalk hikes in both Stewart AK and Watson Lake YT (Wye Lake #1).
- Ripley Creek Inn in Stewart AK if you have kids.
- Village Bakery in Haines Junction.
- Signpost Museum in Watson Lake YT.
- Kathy's Kitchen in Watson Lake YT.
- Cleft in the Rock B&B cabins in Tok AK.
- Fast Eddies, a suprisingly good diner in Tok AK.
You Should Avoid
- Dragon Inn in Watson Lake YT, unless you have a pet and really, really need a room.
- Andrea's Restaurant in Watson Lake YT.
- Tim Horton's, unless you are feeling extra good and need to be knocked down a notch.
- Sea-to-Sky Highway (Vancouver to Whistler BC) when traffic is heavy.
- Ripley Creek Inn if you require a quiet room insulated from noisy families with kids.
- The Yukon's crappy, poorly maintained roadside rest stops. BC's are great.
- The Yukon's crappy roads. BC's are great.
- The Yukon's crappy towns, except for the gasoline. It's great. The gas, not the towns.
- Cycling any part of the Al-Can except for Tatshenshini-Alsek or Chilkoot-Skagway portion.
Things to Know
- Towns along the Al-Can are much, much smaller than the large dots on the map would have you believe.
- Book your lodging in advance if you can, or camp. Read online reviews. Remember: there will be bugs.
- You can drive about 70 mph for well over half the way. The remaining portion will be a mix of construction pace car following (35 mph) and frost heaved pavement (25-45 mph).
- Loose gravel roads under construction are much smoother/faster than unrepaired frost-heaved pavement.
- You will struggle to find good food in restaurants. Try grocery stores for unfried options.
- If you drive the Cassiar Hwy route (Vancouver to Anchorage), plan 5 days, not 4.