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.

Day 26 – Bozeman, MT to Fort Lupton, CO

Miles Today:  687

Total Miles:  9,109

Longer drive today (longest of the trip), but it was all interstate – I90 to I94/I90 junction, continued on I-90 to I-25, and then I-25 to Cheyenne, Wyoming.  Because I was going to hit rush hour traffic in the Fort Collins/Denver area, I chose to complete the trip on US85.

The scenery is open and majestic – like much of the rest of the trip.  The highlight, for me anyway, was a stop in Kaycee, WY at the Chris Ledoux Memorial Park.

Not much else today, but I’d like to add a thought from yesterday (that occurred to me today).  Yesterday I mentioned that I followed the Missouri River south from Great Falls to the Continental Divide.  What is amazing is that the water from this area of Montana eventually ends up in the Gulf of Mexico.  I guess I always knew this, but I have a different perspective given I drove through the source and realized how far away from the Gulf of Mexico I actually was.

Day 25 – Calgary, AB to Butte, MT to Bozeman, MT

Miles Today:  551

Total Miles:  8,422

Longer travel day, but its that time to really start thinking about getting home.  Fortunately, the majority of the day was exclusively I-15 and then I-90 in Montana.  The only minor delay was “winning the lottery” and getting to spend another 15 minutes at border control in secondary inspection.  As I told the border guard: “not the lottery I wanted to win.”

Don’t misunderstand, border control has a job to do and everyone is subject to the secondary inspection – today it was me.  Like I said, everyone was professional and courteous.  I did get to see a “border control” issue when some idiot “forgot” he had a gun in his vehicle trying to enter Canada.  Really and truly, not the best idea in the world.  For anyone going north of our border, Canada is a great place (and I’m planning to go back often), but, it is ANOTHER COUNTRY.  While many of the laws are similar, there are many that are different and the punishments are often times much harsher than ours.  In other words – “DON’T BE STUPID”.

The only thing different along the way was that much of the wheat that was just starting to grow in early June was now heading out and the crops that I couldn’t identify turned out to be canola.  Here are a couple of pictures of blooming canola and an old-fashioned grain elevator along the road.

After re-entering the USA, I-15 head south through Great Falls and then on to Helena (the capital) and Butte.  Once again I was reminded that there are majestic, scenic, open spaces in this country as well.  I-15 basically follows the Missouri River south out of Great Falls to it source in the “Big Belt” Mountains.  Crossing the Continental Divide (I was wrong, I wasn’t through with steep grades quite yet), you make your way into Butte.  Unfortunately, Butte’s majesty is being destroyed by open pit mining which, while necessary for our lifestyles, does take away from a pretty area.

Taking I-90 east out of Butte, you once again climb into the mountain and re-cross the Continental Divide (I think for the last time) and drive through some more scenic, twisty, mountainous terrain.  As you come out of the mountains, you follow several rivers, including the Gallatin, and on in to Bozeman.

Bozeman is the home of Montana State University and is a picturesque town in its own right.

Tomorrow its on to Denver – another 550 miles or so.  I’ll stay a day or so at my sister’s and then drive home from there.  Hopefully, home on Thursday.

Day 24 – Calgary, AB

Miles today: 15

Total Miles: 7,871

As I said in the last post, today was a true rest day.

For all practical purposes, the rest of the trip is heading home and there’s really no new sights that I anticipate.  Of course, if I see anything that I consider interesting, I’ll take a photo and post it.

If you’ve ever travelled, especially by car, there’s always the point where you are just headed home.  That’s me right now.

Day 23 – Lillooet, BC to Calgary, AB

Miles Today:  533

Total Miles:  7,856

Longer drive today as I have another “rest” day tomorrow here in Calgary.

The drive today retraced my route along BC99 to BC97 and I then turned south and east towards Cache Creek, BC.  In Cache Creek I turned onto Canada Hwy 1 (on the the trans-Canadian highways) and headed east.  Next was Kamloops and several impressive lakes (along with developments and golf courses) and lots of steep grades (up to 10%).

From Kamloops, the next major town of note was Salmon Arm which is built on a lake and its sawmill “floats” delivered logs to the mill.  Really neat to see in person.

In Golden, BC, CAN1 jags into the Canadian Mountains National Parks.  This is a series of national parks and preserves that rival or outclass anything in the US.  I crossed the Continental Divide somewhere between Golden and Banff and then headed into the plains towards Calgary.  Here are a couple of pictures of some of the peaks in and around Banff.

Maybe not the best pictures, but, with very few exceptions, all the pictures  I posted were taken inside or just outside my truck.

Another milestone on this trip occurred today, this is the last time I will cross a major mountain chain.  All of the roads and highways from here to home are on the east side of all the mountain ranges in the western US and Canada.

Day 22 – Lillooet, BC

Miles today: 10

Total Miles: 7,323

Spent the day with River Monster Adventures and Guide Dylan Harder.  I had a blast and would recommend the trip to anyone.  It is done catch-and-release only as the white sturgeon is protected (both US and Canada), but each fish is tagged and then tracked for statistical purposes.

So, here are some pictures of the fish I caught today.

 

This is the largest, a tad under 8 feet long and about 275 lbs (or more, we didn’t weigh it).  The unique thing about this fish is that it had never been caught before.  At likely more than 100 years old, and the fishing pressure on the river, that is amazing to me.

 

Here is a picture of the river and surrounding mountains (yes the sky was that blue).

Here’s a snapshot of downtown Lillooet, BC.

Tomorrow, its back to Calgary, AB and another rest day on Saturday.

Day 21 – Prince George, BC to Lillooet, BC

Miles Today: 323

Total Miles: 7,313

Again, not a lot of pictures today (well one of a logging truck that I got stuck behind for about 45 minutes) that would be of any interest to anyone but me most likely.

Today was a shorter drive, only 330 miles, and the first 290 or so were pretty ordinary as far as this trip has gone.  Prince George is a little bit larger town and had a good “vibe” to it.  Make no mistake, its an industrial town, but the town feels comfortable and modern.

Traveling along the “Caribou Highway”, or BC97, you snake yourself south towards Vancouver.  Plenty of ups and downs but nothing to severe. That was, until I turned onto BC99 which is the “Scenic Byway” to Vancouver through Whistler (think winter olympics).

BC99 is another road that I feel (my opinion) everyone should drive.  While I followed the Fraser River most of the day, BC99 follows the Fraser River Canyon which is a spectacular, “Oh My God!” type road.  The highway itself is a couple thousand feet above the river, and you can’t see it for most of the drive into Lillooet, but it is stunningly amazing.  To see hay fields and pastures on the terraces above the cliffs down to the river makes you wonder who thought to do that.

The only caution is for those that get claustrophobic or have a fear of heights.  They will both get you.  Also, if you have problems driving on steep grades (9% and greater), this is not the road for you.  The first sign you see states:  “The speed limit is 100km/h, but whose your own good sense on how fast to drive.”  I don’t think I got over 80km/h for the 40 or so miles that I drove.  Again, WOW!

Tomorrow is a white sturgeon fishing trip on the Fraser River (catch and release only), so I’ll update either tomorrow or on Friday when I get to Calgary, AB.