The Alaska Highway serves as the gateway to the North. The world-famous highway traverses more than 1,000 miles through Canada before reaching its terminus in Interior Alaska.
Built during World War II by the military as a means of getting supplies to the strategic northern territory, the long highway was also meant to help connect the previously unconnected airfields used under the Lend-Lease Agreement to send planes and supplies over the Bering Strait into Russia to support the Eastern Front.
Though the highway stretches more than 1,300 miles today, fewer than 200 of those miles run through the state for which the highway is named.
Tok is the first town visitors drive through after crossing the border with Canada. Tok provides accommodations for RVs and campers.
The Tok visitor center provides a range of information on the region’s history and geography. Tok serves as the hub for the other villages in the eastern part of Alaska’s Interior, such as Dot Lake, Northway, Tetlin, Tanacross and Mentasta. It was built to serve as a roadwork camp during the construction of the Alaska Highway in the 1940s.
The highway ends in Delta Junction, where it converges with the Richardson Highway, 198 miles from the Alaska-Canada border.
The Richardson Highway winds 368 miles north from Valdez, the port city on Prince William Sound where tankers dock to load oil from the trans-Alaska pipeline. The highway and the pipeline meander north from Valdez, often running alongside each other. The Richardson meets up with the Alaska Highway at Delta Junction and branches off to the northwest, toward Fairbanks, as does the pipeline.
While the Richardson Highway ends in Fairbanks, the pipeline continues to the North Slope.
Delta Junction stands at the junction of the Alaska and Richardson highways. It is bordered by the Tanana and Delta rivers. Delta Junction’s museums, roadhouses and festivals inform visitors of the town and the region’s rich agricultural history.
• Big Delta State Historical Park is another main attraction near Delta, featuring Rika’s Roadhouse, which is operated by a private concessionaire. The park shares the history of the former owner, Rika Wallen, whose roadhouse played an interesting and significant role in Interior Alaska’s past. Rika’s Roadhouse rests on the banks of the Tanana River, where a trail once ran from Valdez in the south to the gold claims of Fairbanks in the north. Rika’s provided the trail’s travelers with a place to rest and recuperate from their journey before continuing. The Roadhouse is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with food and ice cream available.
Heading south from Delta Junction, Donnelly Dome rises high above the surrounding landscape. The dome rises nearly 4,000 feet in a wide valley, surrounded on two sides by towering peaks of the Alaska Range. The dome lies along a fault line that runs along the northern edge of the Alaska Range, which contributes to its expansive rise.
The dome is a popular hike for locals and visitors alike, as it provides sweeping views of the surrounding peaks to the southeast and southwest and the Delta River. The trans-Alaska oil pipeline can be seen winding alongside the river for miles from atop Donnelly Dome. A free permit is required to access the dome. It is available at the US Army Garrison Alaska iSportsman website: bit.ly/3gQfx22.
The hike can be done in half a day. Hikers should pack a jacket despite the weather, as the top of the dome is often windy. Access to the path up the dome starts at a pullout on the Richardson Highway about 248 Mile. From there, the trail winds up to the southern side of the dome and along its spine to the top.
The Lodge at Black Rapids sits across the Richardson Highway from its namesake. When the ice along the river breaks up in the spring, Black Rapids on the Delta River flow alongside the highway below the roadhouse.
The lodge can be seen along a ridge parallel to the highway. Views from the Richardson Highway, especially at the Black Rapids Roadhouse, include the river valley to the Black Rapids Glacier in the mountains to the west, and to the east, the looming peaks of the range that form the back of the lodge’s ridge. More information can be found by calling 877-825-9413 or going online to lodgeatblackrapids.com.
From Black Rapids, the Richardson Highway crosses the Alaska Range, topping out at Summit Lake, which feeds the mighty Copper River to the south, while waters exiting to the north eventually swirl into the Yukon River. A fish hatchery a few miles south of the lake offers a good look at spawning salmon in late summer.
The turnoff to the scenic 135-mile Denali Highway lies at the corner of the Richardson and the shuttered Paxson Lodge.
Continuing south, travelers get an expansive view of the Copper River Valley and the Chugach Mountains, which ring Prince William Sound. The town of Glennallen at the intersection of the Richardson and the Glenn Highway offers several options for food, fuel and lodging.
Continuing south, the change from the arid Interior to the lush greenery of the Chugach Mountains becomes plain. The highway weaves between emerald mountains and icy glaciers. As it ascends Thompson Pass, the Worthington Glacier appears on the right. Although it has retreated hundreds of feet in recent years, it is still easily accessible on foot.
Thompson Pass at 2,600 feet, is the snowiest place in Alaska, averaging 500 inches of snow annually. The highway drops steeply and winds through stunning Keystone Canyon with its myriad of waterfalls, before entering the town of Valdez.
Located near the head of a steep fjord in Prince William Sound, Valdez, population 4,025, is surrounded by mountains and glaciers and is a favorite fishing spot for Interior Alaskans. While restrictions are in place due to COVID-19, the fish are still biting and the annual halibut and salmon derbies are on, with social distancing conditions on charters.
Some other businesses, such as cruises, may not be not operating in 2020. However kayak and bike rentals are available, as are many fishing charters .
Check availability of amenities before traveling, as events may change over the season, but don’t forget to buy your derby ticket if you’re going fishing.