The Alaska Highway was the engineering marvel of World War II and was once described as the largest and most difficult construction project since the Panama Canal. Whether this is your first time driving to Alaska or you’re a seasoned traveller of the Alaska highway, we hope the following information will be an asset. Stretching 2,224 Km/1382 miles (Originally 1422 miles) from Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Delta Junction Alaska. The Alcan Highway is mostly paved in Canada and all paved in Alaska.
The highway surface is paved or chip sealed (which is more common), however, there are still rough patches and construction to watch for. Most problem areas are marked by signs, but not all so stay alert. You may encounter long sections of new chip seal which can be very dusty so drive with your headlights on at all times. Finally, pay close attention to all highway signs as they will alert you to changing road conditions.
The original highway was marked with mileposts in 1947 and many of the towns and highway lodges along the way became known by their milepost number. Even today, many lodges use Historical Mileposts (HM) to refer to their location.
The Canadian portion of The Highway is now marked with kilometre posts and due to highway reconstruction and re-routing over the years, the road is now 64 km (40 miles) shorter than the original Alaska Highway. Alaska, however, has not changed the original mileposts, so there is a mileage discrepancy of 40 miles when you cross the border.
From Dawson Creek, the Alaska Highway extends almost 970 km/595 miles to Lower Post where it enters the Yukon. The highway winds through the Yukon for about 892 km/550 miles and crosses into Alaska at mile 1182/km 1903. Continuing on to Delta Junction at mile 1422/km 2224, the Alaska Highway joins the Richardson Highway for the remaining 98 miles/158 km to Fairbanks AK.
Alaska Highway History
It was truly a wilderness trail with gravel roads, steep grades, muskeg and log bridges to navigate. The difficult and exhausting work inspired one poet to write:
‘The Alaska Highway, winding in and winding out, fills my mind with serious doubt, as to whether ‘the lout’ who built this route, was going to hell or coming out!’
It also took unprecedented cooperation between the Canadian and United States governments to make construction possible. In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt lobbied Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King for a highway connecting Canada and Alaska. The highway could be used to shore up military defenses on the west coast in case of a Japanese attack. It wasn’t until the attack on Pearl Harbor that both Nations agreed on the importance of such a road and quickly put the wheels in motion.
The United States Army approved a plan for the construction of the Alaska Highway on February 6, 1942 and received authorization from the U.S. Congress and President Roosevelt only five days later. Canada agreed to the construction if the United States would bear the full cost and that the road and all facilities in Canada were to be turned over to Canadian authority at the end of the war. Less than a month later, on March 8, 1942 construction began.
More than 11,000 soldiers and engineers, 16,000 civilians and 7000 pieces of equipment were called upon to build this 1500 mile road through the vast wilderness of northern Canada and Alaska. In less than nine months these hardy men managed to connect Dawson Creek, British Columbia and Delta Junction, Alaska. And, on November 20, 1942, the official ribbon cutting took place at mile 1061, known as “Soldiers Summit.”
The successful completion of the Highway in such a short time was accomplished by having teams start in both Dawson Creek and Fort Nelson and work their way north. Meanwhile, two other teams started in Whitehorse and worked in opposite directions; one southeast towards Dawson Creek and one northwest towards Alaska. The fifth and final team pushed the road through from Delta Junction to the Canadian Border. The final tally for the Alaska Highway was approximately $140 million U.S. dollars, making it the most expensive construction project of World War II.