Final Thoughts

Would I do it again?  Yes.  Emphatically, YES!  While this trip isn’t for everyone (and should probably be done over 60 days instead of 30 days), the trip itself is one of the last true road trip experiences in North America.  Sure there are plenty of things to go back and do, but that was expected.  Again, simply driving the Alaska Highway (and all other roads to get there and back) was the experience I was looking for – and found.

 

Sights that are forever imprinted in my memory:

  • Spruce trees from Edmonton all the way ‘round to Banff
  • Northern Rocky Mountains
  • Muncho Lake
  • Lake Kluane and the Kluane Ice Fields
  • Wild Wood Bison in the Liard River Vally
  • The Pease River Valley near Fort St. John, BC
  • Canadian Railroad Trestles
  • The Yukon River at Whitehorse
  • The towering peaks of British Columbia and Alaska
  • The many rivers of the north
  • The Matanuska Glacier along the Glenallen Highway in Alaska
  • Denali
  • Cattle Ranches and grain farms near Delta Junction, AK
  • The expansive grain fields of Montana and Alberta
  • Central Wyoming
  • The Missouri River south of Great Falls, MT
  • The Kenai River and the Stirling Highway

Places I want to go back to:

  • Calgary, AB just in general
  • Calgary Stampede Rodeo
  • Calgary Stampeders Football Game
  • Banff/Jasper/Lake Louise
  • British Columbia – the whole province is comparable to Alaska with better access
  • Muncho Lake, BC and the Northern Rockies Lodge – a longer stay to take in some of the fishing and flightseeing/wilderness opportunities
  • Whitehorse, YT and rafting the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Carmacks or Dawson City
  • Homer, AK
  • Western Montana
  • Wyoming (especially the Casper, Sheridan, Cody area)
  • Custer’s Battlefield and the Crow Agency
  • Rafting/fishing the Missouri River from Helena to Great Falls
  • Deadhorse, AK
  • Denali
  • Glacier National Park (US)
  • Salmon fishing on the Kenai Peninsula
  • Rafting/Fishing the Kenai River (although I don’t know when you could do this and it not be touristy)

 

Best Meals (after the chicken fried steak, in no particular order)

  • schnitzel with roasted vegetables and fresh bread at Northern Rockies Lodge in Muncho Lake, BC
  • chicken fried steak at Alice’s Champagne Palace in Homer, AK
  • double meat hamburger – two patties on a hoagie bun – at Fast Eddy’s in Tok, AK
  • spaghetti w/meat sauce at Rhodos Greek Restaurant in Prince Rupert
  • BBQ at the Copper Pig in Prince George
  • Cottage Pie at the Black Clover, also in Prince George
  • Fish and chips in Whitehorse at Klondike Rib & Salmon
  • Lillooet Roll (sushi) in Lillooet, BC at the Lillooet Inn Restaurant
  • Chicken Souvlaki at Dina’s Place Restaurant in Lillooet, BC
  • Fresh halibut/salmon on the Homer Spit

 

Best Local Beers (most of which we can’t get in Texas)

  • Yukon Gold (Whitehorse)
  • Red Truck Ale (Prince George, brewed in Vancouver)
  • Homer Redknot (Homer)
  • There was another Alaskan brew that I can’t remember the name of right now.
  • Krombacher Pils at Northern Rockies Lodge in Muncho Lake, BC (OK, not technically a local brew, but absolutely perfect with schnitzel)

 

Wild flora and fauna seen along the way:

  • Whitetail Deer
  • Mule Deer
  • Stone Sheep
  • Elk
  • Semi-wild horses near Whitehorse
  • Wood Bison
  • Elk
  • Moose
  • Black Bear
  • Grizzly Bear
  • Prairie Dogs
  • Chipmunks
  • Eagles
  • Yukon Sea Gulls
  • Alaska See Gulls
  • Aritic Lupines (basically bluebonnets) in the Yukon, Alaska, and British Columbia
  • Wild Whooper Swans
  • Wild ducks and geese

 

Things to avoid (in my opinion) if you can:

  • Driving more than 8 hours a day. This is LONG trip; pace yourself.
  • Grande Prairie, AB. This has become a somewhat dangerous place if you don’t know where you are at in town.  I recommend driving an extra hour to Dawson Creek.
  • Driving at night. Northern critters are big and mostly dark colored.  If you can’t figure it out, well…I hope you like moose hamburger and a headache.
  • Going in July. Everyone along the way told me the highway and everything on it goes nuts in July.

 

Things to help you along the way:

  • Buy a copy of “Milepost”. Published every year, it has multiple route options and an almost mile-by-mile itinerary of each route.  Since not a lot changes along the actual Alaska Highway portion of the trip, versions that are a year or two old should work just as well as a new one.  The biggest help I found was locating places to stop.
  • While some of the road is impossible not to re-drive, take a slightly different route back than the way you go. Even detouring a little can bring major surprises.
  • Talk to people and don’t act like an American. If you’ve travelled, then you know what this means.  If not, there is a reason Americans are derided when they travel.
  • Canada is big, really big, and most of the trip is through this great country. Realize this before you set out and want to stop after 4 hours – it may simply not be possible.
  • Try to book your stops at least two days ahead. If travelling by RV, this may not be possible and there are plenty of pull-outs, RV parks, and B&B’s along the way if you need a rest (this applies to vehicles as well).
  • Are you comfortable sleeping on the side of the road? If so, you can save a ton of money but always make sure you have plenty of fuel.  Fuel stops can often be 80 to 100 miles apart.  Do not rely on the Milepost or your GPS to locate gas.  Fuel stops open and close without warning or notice.
  • Meals are going to be expensive if you eat out every day and want something other than fast food. My advice is to plan ahead and eat snacks for lunch and have a big meal at night.  Also, find local restaurants and try new stuff.  Hell, I had sushi in Lillooet, BC and it was pretty good (didn’t kill me anyway).  Every local town has standard menu items, but you might be surprised where you find an excellent meal.
  • It can get hot, really hot, anywhere along the trip. It can also get really cold (at least for Texans) even into late June north of Calgary.  Be prepared.  This doesn’t mean packing a full winter set of clothing, but have a jacket that will keep you warm if the temperatures drop into the low 30’s (F).  Also have clothes you are comfortable wearing if the temperatures climb into the mid-90’s (F).
  • Many older hotels do not have A/C in the upper parts of the trip. Be warned.  It was 95 (F) on the day of my first stop in Whitehorse – unusual, yes, but not unheard of.
  • It can snow in late June in Alaska, the Yukon, and anywhere at elevation. While you probably don’t need winter tires, there can be road closures.
  • Have your passport. While not technically needed to enter Canada, you must have a passport to re-enter the US.  THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL.  I like Canada and will spend more time there, but if you want to come back to the US, you gotta follow the rules.
  • If you need oil changes or other vehicle maintenance; almost all major US auto brands are sold in Canada. Just be sure to plan ahead.  Country Hills Toyota in Calgary had an express oil change that required no appointment and they willingly helped me out with oil changes (going and coming back).  Its also about 2000 miles from home and 5000 mile roundtrip from Alaska.

 

Border Crossings

  • As mentioned above, GET YOUR PASSPORT AND CARRY IT WITH YOU.
  • Whether entering Canada or the US, you are subject to a search. My advice is to comply and take it in stride and be honest.  If you make an ass out of yourself, it will be much worse than if you cooperate.  If you lie and are caught – good luck.
  • Canada is a different country with its own laws, rules, and regulations. You must comply – being an American offers no privilege.  Same applies re-entering the US – being a US citizen offers no privilege.  Either going or coming, you are crossing a border the US & Canadian agents have a job to do – protect their respective countries.  They do their jobs well.
  • Canada, while accepting of firearms, is very strict about their firearms laws. DO NOT try to sneak a gun across the border; it will end badly for you.
  • Whether entering the US or Canada, know what foods and items you can/cannot bring. Those items not allowed will be confiscated and destroyed – you do not get them back.
  • Secondary Inspections at the border are randomly selected. I know, I won the Secondary Inspection Lottery.  Again, nothing to do but cooperate and be truthful.  Declare everything, even if you don’t think you need to.  If searched, the officers will find it and you then face even more scrutiny if you lied.
  • If going to work in Canada (as a US citizen), you need a work permit to do so. Don’t lie about this.  If you are simply on vacation, then no permit is needed and you can stay for up to 6 months, although this is solely at the discretion of Canada Border Control.  If you have questions, i.e. working remotely for a US company, be careful, the work may not need a permit but you may end up owing Canadian income taxes on the money earned while in Canada.
  • Many driving infractions in Canada are “photo” enforced. I’m not sure how this works but your best to obey speed limits and traffic signals/signs.

 

The Metric System

  • OK, the subject Americans hate to consider – a different measurement system. As soon as you cross the Canadian border, all measurements will be stated in the Metric system.  In other words, kilometers instead of miles; KPH instead of MPH; liters instead of gallons; Celsius (C) instead of Fahrenheit (F).  Most modern vehicles with electronic dashboards may offer the ability to change a setting and convert for you; but, if like me and you only have needle gauges, you’ll need to either, 1) print out equivalencies; or, 2) remember conversions.
  • I left my truck in the US Imperial system and got used to the differences. Also, I left my GPS in miles so I could kind of determine how far I could go on fuel.

 

Money

  • While both countries use the $ as their currencies, the US dollar and Canadian dollar are completely different currencies. My suggestion is to convert some US funds to Canadian funds before you leave.  You can do this in Canada, but save yourself the hassle and do it before you leave.  If your bank doesn’t charge a transaction fee for the conversion, you can also secure funds from an ATM if your card has a “chip”.
  • Visa and Mastercard are accepted just about everywhere. Discover and Amex, not so much.
  • Be sure to contact your credit card company to alert them to your travels (if required – Captial One no longer has this requirement). With the current exchange rate, you are better off paying a transaction fee than carrying a huge amount of cash.
  • Almost all gas stations use “chip-reader” technology (you will also see “card lock”). All purchases at the pump require a pre-authorization against the card but you can set the amount to spend.
  • I do not recommend using cash to purchase fuel. It is a pretty big hassle but may be necessary as some of the more remote/isolated fuel stops.
  • I also recommend having at least one Capital One card. They charge no transaction fees; convert the Canadian dollars into US dollars at the point of purchase, and are accepted almost everywhere.
  • Debit Cards, even if used as a Credit Card, are frowned upon in Canada because the pre-authorization amount may trip your daily transaction limit.
  • Notify your local bank that you are travelling in case you need money from an ATM.

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