The Denali Highway and the Dalton Highway are two highways that lead to different destinations in Alaska. The Denali Highway is south of Fairbanks and connects Richardson Highway and Parks Highway, just miles away from the Denali National Park. The Dalton highway heads north from Fairbanks and is known as the ‘haul road’ and made famous by the show Ice Road Truckers. Even though these roads have different sight seeing opportunities and different destinations, there are enough similarities and rules to follow when traveling each to have a safe and enjoyable journey.
The Denali Highway is a dirt highway that connects Richardson Highway at Paxson to Parks Highway at Cantwell. This road is closed from October to May due to no winter road maintenance, but is used every so often by tourists and Alaskans. The Denali Highway is a 135 mile road that winds through mountain ranges and taiga and offers great photo opportunities of mountains and wildlife. There is an archeological site, many glaciers, and various points of interest to stop and check out. Maclaren Summit seems to be one of the most popular at 4,086 feet high. There are sites to camp for the night all along the road, but the Brushkana Creek Campground is the only one that offers bathroom facilities and has marked campgrounds. The Denali Highway is best when done in two days- a loop trip from Fairbanks will put 436 miles on your odometer.
The Dalton Highway is also a dirt highway that heads north from Fairbanks. It is best known as the ‘haul road’ seen on Ice Road Truckers. It is 498 miles to the town Deadhorse, at which point you would have to turn around and head back home. While it seem pointless to drive a 498 mile road that ends, there are a lot of points of interest to take in and most people just driving the road don’t go all 498 miles. Along the way, many tour buses will stop at the Yukon Crossing on the Yukon River, Finger Mountain, and the Arctic Circle. The landscape is different than the Denali Highway- it is a hilly, curvy road that showcases fields of wildflowers instead of mountains. It is not advised that you take this road during the winter months, but it is not closed.
Keeping Safe On The Denali and Dalton Highways
Whichever highway you decide to take, there are similar rules, reminders, and regulations that the BLM of Alaska has put in place to keep people safe:
-Before you leave Fairbanks make sure you have a full tank of gas, your tires are inflated, and all the car’s fluids are in check. Service is limited on both of these roads, so get gas and do a quick check of your car whenever you do come across a gas station. Make sure your camera batteries are charged along with anything else that may need to be charged or have batteries replaced.
-Take extra supplies with you. Pack food, water, extra blankets, hand sanitizer, insect repellent, make sure your have good spare tires and a jack, and clothing for cold and wet weather. In case you do have a problem with the vehicle, you’ll want to be prepared for anything. The weather can change instantly when you’re in the interior of Alaska- it may be 90 degrees during the day, but it can turn into a very cold night. Especially if you’re not prepared.
-There will be no cellphone coverage once you’re outside of Fairbanks. If traveling up Dalton Highway, it won’t come back until you’re in Fairbanks. If traveling the Denali Highway it will go in and out, but it’s hard to maintain due to the mountains. Make sure you let someone know where you plan on traveling on these highways and when you plan to get back from the trip.
-When driving make sure you have your headlights on at all times. There are times when there’s dust clouds from the road being heavily traveled. Also try to keep your lights clean. It’s recommended that you drive slow on both of these roads- there are patches of gravel, potholes, and slick mud at times. Both roads have steep hills and curves, little to no shoulder, and are very narrow. Slow down for oncoming traffic, not only because of narrow roads, but so you don’t risk your car throwing loose gravel at their car. If you come across a truck, remember that they have the right away. If you have to stop, make sure you’re in a safe spot and never stop on hills or curves. Easy rules to remember and they seem like common sense, but accidents still happen because someone decided to go too fast or not let a truck pass.
-Most of all, have fun. It’s a long and bumpy ride, whether you’re on the Denali Highway or the Dalton Highway, but if the tips are followed you’ll come back with great stories to tell and some beautiful photographs.