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Far North
AlaskaJourney Home

Far North


The Brooks Range

James Dalton Highway (AK11)—Livengood to Prudhoe Bay

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Anaktuvuk Pass

Noatak National Preserve

The North Slope

Kaktovik (Barter island)

Deadhorse (Prudhoe Bay)


James Dalton Highway (AK11)—Livengood to Prudhoe Bay

Road Conditions and Attractions—415 miles. Good, graded gravel road built to handle heavy truck traffic; occasional washboards, frost heaves, mud, ice, and snow. Arctic Circle, Wiseman, Atigun Pass, and the amazing wilderness of the Far North.

Long known as the "Haul Road," the Dalton Highway begins at its junction with the Elliott Highway (AK 2) near Livengood and shoots north 413 miles to the oilfields of Prudhoe Bay. Until 1995, the highway was open only to vehicles involved in oil extraction and pipeline service. Travelers can now drive all the way to Deadhorse, a few miles from the Arctic Ocean.

The Dalton passes north through the hilly forest lands of the Interior, then follows the Middle Fork of the Dietrich River into the Brooks Range and crosses into Alaska’s Far North over 4,739-foot Atigun Pass. Following the valley of the Sagavanirktok (Sag) River, the road drops gradually down the North Slope through tundra lands, low hills, and some canyon formations to the oilfields. Paralleling the Dalton for its entire length is the Trans-Alaska Pipeline—now to the left, now to the right; sometimes above ground, sometimes buried. There are many places you can stop for a look, but remember not to block gates and access roads.

There is no wilder drive in America than the Dalton Highway. You may see grizzlies bounding across a tundra whitened by a summer snow, or glimpse a herd of musk ox munching contentedly. You will certainly feel the growing presence of the Arctic as you head north, heralded by the strange behavior of light and sky as the sun’s circling path flattens. You can sample the realities of resource exploitation in a hard place when you reach the ugly industrial sprawl of Prudhoe Bay. And when you arrive at the general store in Deadhorse and inquire about a bar or restaurant where you might relax after your long drive, the clerk will laugh out loud—there are none. The North Slope is dry and the only restaurants are the fixed-menu meals served during limited hours at the hotel.

Don’t tackle the Dalton unprepared. The road is good, graded gravel, hardy enough to handle two passing semis—but those same semis have to pass you. Slow down as you approach oncoming trucks and stay to the right to avoid too much damage from flying gravel. Some folks use headlight screens and protectors for their windshields. Consider carrying an extra spare and five or more gallons of gas—there’s one 240-mile stretch with no services at all. Stop at every roadhouse for gas and a break, and carry survival gear and a warm sleeping bag. If you have trouble, stay with your car.

Elliott Highway Junction (Mile 0)—Junction is at Mile 73.1 of the Elliott.

Yukon River Crossing (Mile 55.6)—This is the only bridge over the Yukon in Alaska and the first bridge downstream of Whitehorse. It’s a good place to take a look around.

Yukon Ventures Alaska (Mile 56) Gas, food, information, lodging, car service, showers, and towing. Inquire about river cruises and floats. RH

Arctic Circle Wayside (Mile 115.3)—Here you’ll find an overlook and display marking the road’s crossing of the Arctic Circle. North of this point, there is at least one day a year when the sun never completely sets, and one day when it never completely rises. By the time you get as far north as Barrow, that number is up to 84 days. There is an undeveloped camping area.

Coldfoot (Mile 175)—Self-billed as "the farthest-north resort in the world," I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that it’s true—though if gas, lodging, and gift shops make a resort, the people in Barrow might have a case to make. It does have, however, the farthest-north bar in the United States!

Coldfoot was once a bustling supply center for hopeful miners, but now it doesn’t even qualify as a town. You’ll need to stop here for gas—this is the last source of gasoline until you reach Prudhoe Bay.

Don’t miss the Coldfoot Interagency Visitor Center where printed and oral advice on the public lands of the Far North can be had for the asking. P.O. Box 9034, Coldfoot, AK 99701, 678-5209, aurora.ak.blm.gov/arcticinfo. The office is open June 1–September 10, daily, 10 to 10, Evening slide programs are offered.

Coldfoot Services and Arctic Acres Inn (Mile 175), 678-5201. Lodging, bar, restaurant, gift shops, and frontier attitude. Rooms start at $135. RH

Marion Creek Campground (Mile 180)—Developed but primitive sites are available for $6 at this BLM campground. There are 27 sites, fire rings, tables, and restrooms.

Wiseman and Nolan Road Junction (Mile 188.6)—These two settlements, along with Coldfoot, were centers of mining activity a century ago. Today, Wiseman (population 28) hosts a hearty group of residents eager for the frontier life. The town is reached via a spur road from the Dalton along the stretch where it runs west of the Koyukuk River. A small B&B, museum, and public phone are found here, though there is no gas. Be sure to take a look at this historic village.

Wiseman Bed-and-Breakfast (Mile 188.6), Igloo #8 (follow the signs), Wiseman, 678-4456. As rustic and frontiersy as they get—possibly my favorite lodging in the state. $90 includes breakfast.

Treeline (Mile 235)—Take a last look at the spruce trees.

Atigun Pass (Mile 244)—At 4,739 feet above sea level, Atigun Pass is the highest year-round road pass in Alaska and the farthest-north road pass in the world. This is also the continental divide between the Pacific and Arctic Ocean watersheds. The pass can be snowy and icy at any time of the year. Use caution, particularly when descending. Though there are few turnouts, the sparse traffic allows plenty of time for pictures.

Toolik Lake (Mile 284.3)—A road leads west to the Toolik Lake Research Camp where University of Alaska researchers work on Arctic biology projects. There are no services or public facilities, but you can drive in and take a look. Someone might be around for a chat.

Arctic Wilderness Lodge (Mile 334), Prudhoe Bay, 659-2955, winter 376-7955. Fishing and viewing packages from about $300. Flying-service drop-offs, raft rentals, rustic. At the time of publication, lodging was not an option, but a facility may be reopened when you visit. Call ahead.

Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay (Mile 414)—Private vehicles are still not permitted to drive all the way to the Arctic Ocean. Instead, follow the obscure signs to Deadhorse Center (the group of buildings just north of the airport; see Deadhorse).