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Coming Home: The Alaska Highway

We're coming home...just 3,200 miles to go. Texts were sent to (dearly missed) family and friends: On our way home! The fastest route is five days, see you soon! In the end it took us 17 days to travel from Delta Junction, Alaska to Evergreen, Colorado.

Tanana River (just north of Tok)

We tackled the Alaska Highway backwards from Delta Junction to Dawson Creek and then took the scenic route through the Canadian Rockies and U.S. mountain states. It all went something like this:
  • Delta Junction, AK (entering from the Richardson Highway): Delta State Campground
  • Near Beaver Creek, YT: Discovery Yukon
  • Whitehorse, YT: Caribou RV Park
  • Watson Lake, YT: Watson Lake Campground
  • Muncho Lake, BC: Northern Rockies Lodge (with a lovely stop at Liard Hot Springs)
  • Fort St. John, BC: Chateau Fort St. John (construction was nearly complete when we stayed)
  • Jasper National Park, AB: Wabsasso Campground
  • Golden, BC: Holiday Inn Express
  • Hope, ID: Sam Owen Campground
  • Bozeman, MT: Lark Hotel
  • Yellowstone National Park, WY: Mammoth Cabins
  • Teton National Park, WY: Colter Bay Campground
  • Winter Park, CO: Vintage Hotel

Delta Junction
At some point the Richardson Highway pulled out of the big mountains and away from the wide Delta River and dropped us into something like a wide, flat plain.  We passed multiple military installations before hitting the town of Delta Junction- the contested beginning of the Alaska Highway.  We rolled into Delta State Recreation Site at dinnertime and found many available camp spots. In 2019, Alaska and the Yukon had an unusually hot and dry summer (while BC and Alberta had an unusually wet summer with flooding along many parts of the Yellowhead Highway) which meant yellowy orange skies and smoke throughout the gigantic state. We watched airborne firefighters land and take off from the airport right next to our campground.

Delta Junction State Campground

If you've seen pictures of human-sized mosquito sculptures from trips along the Alaska Highway, those pictures were taken in Delta Junction. We took the required pictures and purchased gifts for family missed back at home and then set out on the Alaska Highway.

Delta Junction

The Alaska Highway crosses uncountable, intimidating, wide braided rivers: Johnson, Robertson, White, Tanana, Donjek, Liard, Tetsa, name a few. Construction of the highway in 1942 included 133 bridges and 8,000 culverts to accommodate seasonal flow, ice and snow. Crossing the wide, turbulent rivers on old metal bridges felt like driving on ice in our XC60 (with good, new tires by the way) with mighty, tiny trailer in tow. We took it SLOW!

Johnson River

White River

Tok to Haines Junction
We drove this (worst) portion of the Alaska Highway two times!  Heading North we spent an afternoon in Tok, walking through the Visitor's Center and shops, taking advantage of the (not-so-great) connectivity and resupplying at the big Three Bears Food Center. We did not hit Mukluk Land or have pancakes at Sourdough Campground, we did pick up smoothies and our afternoon fix at the Bohemian coffee truck. (Our kind of place!) We took a break from slow going, bumpy stressful driving at Tetlin NWR where we stayed to watch the movie, snap a few photos of the nearly 700,000 acre wildlife reserve, and explore the museum.

Tetlin NWR

Burning Boreal Forest

The Alcan winds through stunted black spruce forest, over rolling hills, surrounded by shallow ponds where tundra swans gracefully rejoice in the solitude.  The Yukon to Alaska gate (U.S. Customs, heading Northwest on the Alcan) is located right on the border while the Alaska to Yukon gate (Canadian Customs, heading Southeast on the Alcan) is in Beaver Creek.

Yukon-Alaska Border

Beaver Creek is another tiny town with gas, doritos and a visitor's center with nice, clean bathrooms, and friendly staff to answer all of your questions. Much of the Alcan between Beaver Creek (Discovery Yukon) and Tok, passes through more low, dense forests, over potholed, permafrost roads and through expanses of muskeg.

The Alcan (near Beaver Creek)

White River

We probably would have camped at Snag Junction campground after Delta Junction but it was closed due to fire.  Luckily we found Discovery Yukon, with its clean showers and nice landscaping, and stayed twice. We also stopped twice at Haines Junction because...treats at Village Bakery!, and mail and gas and the well-stocked Little Green Apple market.

Treats at the Village Bakery (Haines Junction)

Whitehorse to Watson Lake
Whitehorse had been calling our name for many months and it did not disappoint. We stayed three days and could have stayed many more.  Beyond Watson Lake we watched bears and moose through the car windows, stopped to fill up and eye delicious pies at the Yukon Motel and Restaurant and pulled into a local park for a soccer-basketball-work-lunch break in Teslin.  In case you need more, they also have a skate park, a stage and a big grassy field.  Lovely!

Wait! The tent rainfly is getting away. Quick! Grab it.  

Whereas between Whitehorse and Teslin we followed multi-mile lakes and the huge Teslin River, Teslin to Watson Lake traversed forest which gradually changed from short black spruce to a mix of deciduous and pine. I'd compare the scenery to some parts of the Black Hills, maybe around Pactola Lake.  This part of the Alaska highway, in the Yukon, is beautiful, quiet and remote (you know how Alaska is just full of people everywhere, with so much traffic and zero beautiful vistas...kidding!)  After Teslin, the highway dips into British Columbia and then makes one last traverse through the Yukon including Watson Lake.

Watson Lake Campground is perfect for boating and has very nice, private campsites which are also home to a number of pesky bugs.  These bugs are escapable at first but, undoubtedly, they will hunt you down and fly around your head, in your ears and eyes until you run like a mad woman with your hands in the air wishing you just didn't care...but you do!  Bla! Toilets at Watson Lake Campground are primitive and water needs to be boiled but that's nothing new.

Morning coffee at the Sign Post Forest.

Watson Lake is best known for the Sign Post Forest. We tried very hard to find a breakfast joint but ended up pulling out our mobile kitchen in the Sign Post Forest parking lot.  Of course the trailer, in its mighty, tiny glory next to the Sign Post Forest was a magnet for fellow travelers. We spent about two hours drinking coffee, eating gas station cinnamon rolls and chatting with friendly Alaska Highway adventurers.  Really, this type of stop is the quintessence of our eight weeks on the road, especially along the Alaska Highway.  People tend to make a deliberate, affirmative effort to explore the Alaska Highway; to mindfully see this remote and unique part of the world. And, there is so much to learn from others. It starts with where you're from, then where you're headed, then maybe a discussion about the mode of travel (van, tent, RV, hotels, etc.) and then why. We were at the end of our journey, homesick and making our way back; but others were just getting started, anxious to see more and full of excitement and energy.  


Liard Hot Springs and Muncho Lake
Goodbye Yukon Territory!  Thank you for sharing your rebellious magnitude and unconquerable wild. We'll be back, somehow, someday, for more. Not far past the final entrance of the Alaska Highway into British Columbia is Liard Hot Springs. I don't know how a person could dislike Liard Hot Springs. For us, it was just what the doctor ordered.  Even the short walk to the hot springs held majesty. 

Liard Hot Springs

Ripples from tiny, slow drops of rain.

Solitary Sandpiper

We did not stay in the Liard Hot Springs Campground. Instead we threw our wet swimsuits and towels in the trailer and headed a few miles down the road to a luxurious cabin on Muncho Lake. We spent two nights at the Northern Rockies Lodge in comfy beds with fluffy down comforters and a hot shower just steps away. We drank German brews in the Lodge Lounge and devoured as much homemade spatzli and schnitzel as we could fit into our hungry bellies. The kids wouldn't leave their cushy beds for the first day. Kris tackled work without much connectivity and presented a webinar from the lodge payphone. Oh the stories! Type 3 fun.

Payphone Presentation

Our luxe stay at the Northern Rockies Lodge 

Paddleboarding Muncho Lake

It was solitary paddling on massive Muncho Lake. Just me and the loons. MacDonald Campground is right next to the Northern Rockies Lodge with nice, wooded and private campsites on the lakeshore. I paddled along the campground "beach," thinking it would have been just fine to camp here but glad to have a hot shower and wood walls. Alas, I think the kids would have abandoned me on the side of the Alaska Highway in the remotest part of the Yukon had I asked them sleep one more night in the tent. And so we didn't...(until Jasper).

Muncho Lake to Dawson Creek
This was the cinnamon roll leg of the Alaska Highway (for us), and it was a beauty; following the meandering Toad River through mountain valleys and then tracing the Racing River and MacDonald Creek through tall, canyon-like, rocky mountains. We stopped in Toad River for gas but couldn't help but pick up soft, gooey cinnamon rolls (with raisins). A stretch and a stroll around Summit Lake helped make the tiniest bit of room for another round of world-famous cinnamon rolls at Tetsa River Lodge.  

Tetsa River Lodge Cinnamon Rolls!

Yuuuum! (Good coffee, too. But styrofoam? Should have brought our own plates.) 

We crawled back into the car, full of cinnamon roll contentment, and set out for the long, hilly and flattening road to Fort St. John.  The road descends the Northern Rockies and then cuts through dense forest...up and down, up and down.  Don't get me wrong, this is beautiful country: rivers and forests abound.  We used the outhouse at Buckinghorse River Campground which would have been a very nice place to stay and explore but, for us, it was time to get home! 

The beginning of the end in Dawson Creek, B.C.

I heard that all who tackle the Alaska Highway must take a photo in Dawson Creek at the sign that says: "You are now entering the World Famous Alaska Highway."  So we did! Even though we were really leaving the Highway. Then, stopped at appropriately named Faking Sanity for a coffee, to stock up on books and to say our final goodbyes to the biggest, most memorable portion of our big family adventure. 1,800 miles left...more than halfway still to go.  Yep.