Visitors to Alaska often like to get off the beaten path, and there are few roads that provide that opportunity better than the Dalton and Elliott highways.
The Dalton Highway, which was built to support the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, is the farthest-north road in North America. Commonly called the “haul road,” it takes motorists past the Arctic Circle and farther north, almost to the Arctic Ocean.
The Elliott Highway, which intersects the Dalton en route to Manley Hot Springs, is a good option for travelers interested in remote adventure and hot springs.
They’re both long, remote, mostly unpaved roads, so planning ahead is important. Fill up on gas at the few stations along the 498 highway miles between Fairbanks and Deadhorse. Bring one or more spare tires. Watch out for big trucks.
A good resource on this and other Alaska road trips is “The Milepost,” a mile-by-mile guide to Alaska’s highways updated every year and available at most Alaska convenience stores and grocery stores.
If driving a rental car, check with the company before heading out. Many require customers sign agreements not to drive on gravel roads.
Several local businesses offer guided tours of the road, with various itineraries that may include overnight stays and plane rides. Check with the individual companies for any COVID-19 restrictions or other itinerary changes.
The Elliott Highway moves through rolling hills covered in birch trees as it begins in the community of Fox, where the highway splits from the Steese Highway. The last stop for gas for 100 miles is the Hilltop Truck Stop, a diner known for its pies and appearances on the reality show “Ice Road Truckers.”
At 84 Mile, the northbound Dalton Highway begins as the Elliott jogs west to the community of Manley Hot Springs. A junction at 109 Mile Elliott Highway leads south to the Athabascan village of Minto.
The small community of Manley Hot Springs offers a rustic and low-key experience for visitors. Four tubs are located in a greenhouse, and visitors can take a soak in the hot springs for a small fee surrounded by foliage such as grapes and flowers. Use of the greenhouse is restricted to one party at a time, so visitors are asked to call 907-672-3213 in advance.
The Manley Lodge (formerly Roadhouse), established in 1903, provides a cozy launching point for an Alaska adventure. The inn offers meals and lodging “with a pioneer flare.” For information, call 907-672-3161.
The Dalton Highway crosses the Yukon River and climbs the continent’s northernmost mountain range, the Brooks Range, before ending at a security fence just short of the Arctic Ocean. There are few populated places along the way. Here are a few landmarks:
• Yukon River Bridge: 56 Mile (from Elliott Highway junction). The only vehicle crossing in Alaska across the state’s largest river. Fuel, food and lodging are available at Yukon River Camp in the summer.
• Arctic Circle sign: 115 Mile. The sun does not rise on the winter solstice nor set on the summer solstice north of the Arctic Circle.
• Coldfoot: 175 Mile. A former pipeline construction camp. Amenities include gas, food, lodging and the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center (open only in the summer), the visitor center for Arctic federal lands, including Gates of the Arctic National Park.
• Wiseman: 189 Mile. Turnoff for Wiseman, a historic mining community three miles off the highway.
• Atigun Pass: 244 Mile. At 4,800 feet, this Brooks Range pass is the highest highway pass in Alaska.
• Deadhorse: 414 Mile. There is fuel and lodging at the community of Prudhoe Bay oilfield workers. Security fences block access to the Arctic Ocean, but Deadhorse Camp, which offers lodging for both oilfield workers and visitors, offers shuttles to the ocean. Shuttles leave twice per day in the summer and cost $69 per person. Lodging reservations can be made at 877-474-3565, with the shuttle available through www.deadhorsecamp.com.
The Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center in Fairbanks has specific information on the Dalton Highway and receives road condition updates from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.