Driving through Alaska

Guest post by Shady Grove Oliver, a journalist in Homer, Alaska.

10. Bring your passport, pet info, and leave some guns behind if you plan on crossing the border

Haines, Alaska. Photo by the author.

Haines, Alaska. Photo by the author.

Despite having a good working relationship, Alaska and Canada are two different places. There are border crossings on the Alaska Highway and you’ll be expected to show ID, pet immunizations, and may not be allowed to carry certain firearms across. Always check updated crossing info before setting out. Also, let your bank know so you don’t get a hold placed on any credit cards in Canada.

9. Bring a spare tire and tools

You’re guaranteed to hit some bad road conditions and services can be many miles away. Bring what you need and make sure you know how to use it.

8. Have plenty of water and snacks

There’s a lot of construction on Alaskan roads in the summer because it’s light for so long and there’s not too much snow! Rest stops can be a hundred miles apart so make sure you have munchies on hand.

7. Don’t be deceived by daylight

In British Columbia on the Alaska highway, driving from Southern California to Alaska. Photo by the author.

In British Columbia on the Alaska highway, driving from Southern California to Alaska. Photo by the author.

You can drive in sunshine for 20 hours straight if you’re not careful. Make sure you check the time and get enough sleep. Just because it’s still light out, doesn’t mean it’s not bedtime.

6. Make sure you have a gas tank’s worth of cash on hand

Yes, we use credit cards and modern technology in Alaska. But…at some out of the way road stops, it’s common for ATMs and card readers to be out of service. You won’t need much cash, but bring enough to make sure you can get to the next place.

5. Watch for frost heaves and cracks in the road

Extreme weather and temperature differences in the winter and summer in much of Alaska wreak havoc on blacktop. Roads here often crack when the seasons change. There are usually signs, but always be on the lookout for dips, splits, large potholes, and bumps.

4. Mind your mammals

You’ll see signs reading: “Elk, next 200 miles.” And they’re totally serious. Depending on where you are, you can see everything from muskoxen to moose, to bears and wolves. Watch your speed and stay alert. Always stop for herds, but if you pull over, make sure you’re out of traffic. Don’t harass animals by getting too close or lingering too long.

3. Bring paper maps and The Milepost

The Milepost is the go-to guide for driving Alaska. It has roadhouses, attractions, gas stations, emergency services, and more. Old-school maps are handy as cell service is super spotty around the state.

2. Plan to pull over for photos and hiking

A rest stop in Yukon territory. Photo by the author.

A rest stop in Yukon territory. Photo by the author.

It’s good to have a plan before you head out, particularly if you’re traveling a long way. But there’s a ton of quirky and awesome stuff to do here, so budget time to stop. Roadside trails are common, too, so watch for pathways at rest stops. They often lead to great lookout points.

1. If you’re pulled over in a remote spot, don’t be surprised if someone comes to check on you

Yeah, most roads here have a lot of cars on them. But when you’re out on the highways, especially in the shoulder seasons, you can sometimes drive for hours without seeing another vehicle. If you pull over, other drivers–especially Alaskans–often stop to make sure you’re okay. It’s also a courtesy if you spot someone on the side of the road. You could be the only person they see all day! Also, don’t pee in plain sight. Find some bushes or go behind your car.

Safe and happy driving!

Posted by Shady Grove Oliver