The Dalton Highway is the only road in the USA to reach the Arctic Ocean. If you go during summer, the sun may never set the entire time! The Dalton Highway is the only road for miles and miles, and my favorite roadtrip ever.
The Dalton Highway was created in 1974 in order to construct a vast pipeline from the rich oilfields of the Arctic shore. Fitting for such a sick road, the Dalton is 666 kilometers long ?. It’s southern end is near Fairbanks, Alaska, although the pipeline travels much farther to Valdez, Alaska. In Valdez, the oil is loaded onto tankers, that usually don’t crash on their way South.
One of the first landmarks along the Dalton is the Yukon river. As with other glacial-fed rivers, the Yukon is a massive, swift and strong body of water in the summer. Crossing the Yukon, the pipeline follows underneath the wooden roadway of the bridge.
Although the road’s mission is to create fuel, the gas prices are shockingly high. That’s because the oil must travel far South to refineries, before being trucked back to fill up your rig.
On our trip, we were fortunate to convoy the length of the highway with some friendly Canadians we had just met. Many people bring spare tires, extra fuel, and other safety accessories, but having each other made us all feel safer.
Since then, we’ve met up with them at various times, and have become fast friends. The endpoint of the Dalton is actually just the beginning of the Panamerican Highway, and we continue to try to persuade Scott and Chelsea into joining us along the road, down to Argentina.
The actual road surface is not as terrible as the isolated road may sound. Most of the time your tires sail on hardpack dirt and gravel. Still, this is a road that demands constant attention: jagged potholes, winding passes, washboard, and unforgiving shoulders are common. We even met some travelers later whose roadtrip ended when they lost control and fell off a corner, flipping their minivan. When the road is repaired, huge sections turn to mud, where hopefully you’ll not have to stop. After one of these sections, the vans were majestically coated in mud — a badass look. Regardless, two wheel drive is enough to drive the Dalton.
Don’t forget that the huge trucks own the road, and you should yield as they barrel past. Slowing down and nearly stopping can save your windshield. As the roadway is necessary for business, it’s not as rough as the Denali highway. Some sections are even paved, but any transition to and from (or during) pavement can hide “not to be hit” potholes. The paved portion through the scenic and remote Brooks Range was my favorite part.
A subtle madness washes over you while getting used to the constant presence of the sun. Night time does get dimmer, but the sun will still be low in the sky if not behind nearby peaks. We had a headlight out for three weeks, and didn’t bother to repair it! You can drive at any time day or night, and I even caught a fish at 1:30 AM. Speaking as a night owl and frequent insomniac: it was lit!
After the Brooks Range, the Arctic Tundra spreads across the horizon into grim flatness. The ice of the permafrost can reach over 2000 feet deep, and the constant freezing of the ground creates huge cracks in the earth. These cracks make shapes called Icefield Polygons, as well as other ice formations like hills called pingos. We were there June 24th, and it was still cold enough that there were no mosquitoes.
Unfortunately, the Dalton doesn’t reach the shore of the Arctic Ocean, but stops in Deadhorse (also called Prudhoe Bay). Deadhorse is an industrial, ugly place, and to cross the oilfields you must take a $50 shuttle.
The tour somehow convinces everyone that after going through such lengths to reach the Arctic, you should swim in the frigid waters. A good time for sure, and it’s definitely worth a laugh.
Afterward, all that’s left is to gas up, head South, and find a place to get lost free camping.
No where else has felt as remote. An entire mountain range crossed by only one road! I highly recommend the drive, and hope you’ll enjoy it too one day. If you want to see some more of the scenery, check out our drone video, and follow us on da gram to check out our drive down the Panamerican Highway!