The Dalton Highway is the road to take if you simply want to drive as far north as possible in Alaska. Unfortunately for RVers, it's a bumpy, washboard, gravel highway that many may find too rough to travel comfortably. Still. . . for some RVers, it may be worth it -- but only in summer.
From its starting point at the Elliott Highway, it continues for more than 400 miles until nearly reaching the shores of the Arctic Ocean in Deadhorse after crossing the Arctic Circle. Deadhorse is the village that serves the North Slope oilfield, with several hotels, a store and gas station. The community is a superlative of sorts: it is as far north as you can go on Alaska's primary road system, and it is worth exploring, especially if your goal is to dip your toe in the Arctic Ocean.
THE DALTON HIGHWAY BEGINS
85 miles north of Fairbanks and is perhaps one of the roughest roads in Alaska. It was constructed in the mid-1970s to haul freight to and from construction camps and workers building the 800-mile long trans-Alaska oil pipeline that stretches from Prudhoe Bay in the north all the way to the ice-free port of Valdez in Prince William Sound. The road offers relatively little in the way of modern conveniences. The washboards are many, the grades can be steep (as much as 10 and 12 percent in some places) and the big rigs delivering to Prudhoe Bay along the "haul road," as it's called by the locals, can make for uncomfortable traveling companions.
Not all car and RV rental companies allow their vehicles on the Dalton, so check ahead of time and be prepared for this road trip. Carry two spare tires, a jack, tool kit, emergency flares, extra gasoline, oil, wiper fluid and a first aid kit. Bring drinking water and plenty of food. A CB radio is also not a bad idea (monitor channel 19). Travel services are almost nonexistent. The 244-mile stretch north of Coldfoot is the longest service-free stretch of highway in North America.
So, why go to all this bother? Consider the scenery, which includes views of the mighty Yukon River, Atigun Pass (at the crest of the Continental Divide), the caribou of the north slope tundra, 375-million year-old limestone-filled Sukakpak Mountain (elevation 4,459 feet at Mile 203.5) and any number of sweeping mountain vistas opening into the Brooks Range, Gates of the Arctic National Park or Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Another trip highlight is crossing the Arctic Circle just past mile 115.
Deadhorse is a company town and not much else. It's several miles from the Arctic Ocean. An oil company road leads north from town, but permits are required to travel on the road. A better way to go is to sign up for a guided tour of the oil fields and the Arctic Coast. They are available in Deadhorse from Tour Arctic at (907-659-2368).
In Deadhorse, a good place to stay is at the Arctic Caribou Inn and RV camp. PLANNING A TRIP TO ALASKA? Find the best selection of books and DVDs at RVbookstore.com.