Alaska is most certainly American, but it’s more than 2,000 miles away from the nearest state, Washington. Getting there with a vehicle requires either driving through Canada or taking a ferry. Both options boast unrivaled scenery and an adventurous experience, but require a little planning. Here are our recommendations for getting yourself and your vehicle to the Great Land, including road and water options.
Drive the Alaska-Canada Highway
The most direct route to Alaska is to get on the Alaska-Canada Highway (AlCan) in Dawson Creek, BC. If you’re coming from the middle or Eastern half of the lower 48 and you want to get there as fast as possible, head west in the US before going north to hop on the AlCan. Plan to spend at least four days traveling between Dawson Creek and Anchorage—more if you want to see some sights along the way.
This is the most popular route to Alaska by car, and there are plenty of gas stations and amenities along the way.
Drive the Trans-Canada Highway
If you’re coming from the Eastern side of the lower 48 and you want to maximize your time in the Canadian wilderness, consider the Trans-Canada Highway. As the name suggests, this highway crosses Canada from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast. It will take you through the Canadian Rockies and much of the country’s wilderness. For sightseeing, check out this list of 14 recommended attractions to check out along the way.
Drive the Cassiar Highway
If you want to take the road less traveled, the Stewart-Cassiar Highway is for you. This is a two-lane highway through some of the most isolated areas of British Columbia, and it will offer spectacular nature and wildlife views. It starts in Yellowhead, BC and connects to the AlCan at the edge of the Yukon Territory. Take advantage of all opportunities to get gas along the way (there are enough amenities, but just enough) and prepare for some patches of rough road. If you’re driving in winter, you may want to stick to the AlCan.
Prepare your vehicle
These highways are paved the entire way, so you can drive them in most any vehicle. And enough gas stations dot the way that you don’t have to stock up with extra cans. But even the AlCan is sparsely populated for certain lengths and an inconvenient place to be stranded. Be sure to have your car checked out and serviced before you head out. If you expect a potential issue, it can’t hurt to carry whatever part you suspect might give you problems.
Pack with the long road in mind
Of course, if you drive, you can pack whatever you can fit in your vehicle. But keep in mind that, if something were to happen to your vehicle, you’d want to be prepared to hang out and wait for help. Make sure you have food, water, and a variety of clothes. Even if it’s summer, pack rain clothes and cold-weather gear. It never hurts to have a sleeping bag, just in case. And remember to bring good maps.
Plan for customs
If you choose to drive, be prepared to stop at the border. Canadian customs requires people driving to Alaska to possess a certain amount of money—or a major credit card—in order to cross the border. They want to know that if you have a problem, you’ll be able to take care of yourself. They will turn you away if you don’t have it, so do your research ahead of time and be prepared. Canada also enforces different firearms laws than the United States, so it’s easier to simply leave them at home if you don’t plan to hunt. If you’re under 18, you’ll need a notarized document signed by your parents giving you permission to cross the border.
Take the ferry
The Alaska Marine Highway ferry is a shorter trip; it will take two or three days depending on where you disembark, while driving takes up to a week or more. And on the ferry—unless you’re headed to Skagway or Haines, Alaska—you can avoid going through customs. With this option, you’ll save mileage and wear and tear on your car while enjoying the coastal scenery and whale watching.
You’ll hop on in Bellingham, WA. Once you reach Alaska, you can choose to make stops along the way until you get to your destination. You’ll have the option to reduce costs by camping on the ferry deck or make it more comfortable by booking a stateroom. Staterooms aren’t cheap and they sell out months in advance, but if you want a bed for the night, it’s the way to go. You’ll only have access to your vehicle a couple of times a day, so be sure to pack as if you were backpacking or staying in a hotel so you’ll have everything you need with you.
No matter how you decide to get your vehicle to Alaska, you’ll be sure to have a memorable and beautiful experience. And once you get there, you’ll have the freedom to explore the state however you want. If you want to try it all, consider driving to Alaska and taking the ferry back down to the lower 48.