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The Interior: Fairbanks & the Yukon Valley

Alaska Highway and Richardson Highway
(AK 2)—Canada to Fairbanks

Road Conditions and Attractions—300 miles. Good paved road with some old grades and frost heaving, open year-round. Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska Public Lands Information Center in Tok, Delta Junction Bison Range, Fairbanks, views of the Wrangells and the Alaska Range.

Shortly after you enter the state via Port Alcan on the Alaska Highway, the wide basin of the Tanana River watershed opens before you. Enjoy the 100-mile roadside vista to the peaks of the Wrangell Mountains across a completely wild scape. Alaska knows how to say hello while revealing its utter lack of interest in your presence.

After meeting up with the Tanana near its headwaters, road and river stay together all the way to Fairbanks. The peaks of the Alaska Range rise to the south, sometimes at a distance, other times near at hand. The road is fast and easy, traffic is relatively thick, and services are plentiful. Tok and Delta Junction are good places to look for a motel, RV park, or car repair.

Officially, the Alaska Highway ends in Delta Junction where it meets the Richardson Highway. The Richardson follows one of Alaska’s earliest roads—a turn-of-the-century route linking the port of Valdez with the Tanana and Yukon Rivers and the Fairbanks mining country. At Delta Junction, the mileposts change to reflect the road switch. Most travelers fly along both roads en route to Denali or the coast—generally a good approach when time is tight.

Port AlCan (Mile 1,221.8)—The border and U.S. Customs station—always open.

Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge (Mile 1,221.8–Mile 1,284.2)—See below.

Northway Junction (Mile 1,264)—The dispersed community of Northway Junction (population 113, 70 percent native) is located around the highway’s junction with Northway Road, which heads south through swamp and lake country to the settlement of Northway (population 133, 64 percent native). About 1.5 miles further on is the traditional Athabascan community of Northway Village (population 123, 95 percent native), where residents practice a largely subsistence lifestyle, harvesting fish and game from the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge and native lands. Highway services are available at Northway Junction. Northway is centered around the regional airport.

Historically occupied by Athabascan Indians, Northway was a staging area for operations in World War II. Most employed residents work in transport services, fire fighting, and construction. A drive down the road for a look about the Tetlin flats and Northway Village is an interesting diversion.

Tetlin Junction (Mile 1,301.7)—There may be an operating roadhouse here when you arrive, or at least a gas station—though don’t count on it. From here, the Taylor Highway heads north to Chicken and Eagle. You can also access the wonderful Top of the World Highway that follows the ridgetops to Dawson City (see Taylor Highway below).

Tok River State Recreation Site (Mile 1,309.2)—This small park offers camping, a boat launch, and a nature trail. Campsites are $8.

Tok and Tok Cutoff Junction (Mile 1,314.2)—Turn south here to follow the Tok Cutoff (see chapter 8) to the Copper River basin, the Wrangells, Valdez, or Anchorage. Tok has every visitor service imaginable, but little more (see below).

Tanacross Road Junction (Mile 1,325.7)—Turn north for the 2-mile drive into the village of Tanacross (population 88, 94 percent native), home to many of the remaining Tanah or Tinneh Athabascan Indians. Across the Tanana River you can see the ruins of the old village that burned in 1979.

Moon Lake State Recreation Site (Mile 1,331.9)—Camping and swimming are options here. Sites are $8.

Cathedral Bluffs (Mile 1,335 to Mile 1,338)—The Tanana cuts a narrow path between the Alaska Range and hills of the Interior. Use the turnouts and enjoy the views. Beyond this point, much of the forestland to the north is part of the Tanana Valley State Forest, while to the south are the undesignated public lands of the Alaska Range. Several valleys and ridges offer pathless access to glaciers and high peaks.

Dot Lake (Mile 1,361.3)—Highway services are available here. Dot Lake (population 78, 54 percent Athabascan Indian) is the headquarters for the Dot Lake Native Corporation, which encompasses the native inclusions throughout the region.

Dot Lake Lodge (Mile 1,361.3), Dot Lake, 882-2691. Year-round camping, food, and gas. Sites $6–$14. RH

Cherokee Lodge & RV Park (Mile 1,412.5), Delta Junction, 895-4814. Restaurant open year-round 6 a.m.–10 p.m. A classic Alaskan roadhouse; stop if you need a break or a room. RH

Delta Junction Bison Range (Mile 1,392 to Mile 1,422)—Though bison were common in Alaska at the end of the last ice age, they later disappeared. A few were introduced to the area in 1927 and the herd grew to its current level of about 500 animals. About 90,000 acres south of the Alaska Highway were designated as a refuge in an effort to secure grazing range for the bison while keeping them out of the barley fields across the road. The results have been mixed—a bison that gets a whiff of barley is hard to discourage.

Use binoculars to look for bison along this stretch, as well as at viewing points between Delta Junction and Mile 240 of the Richardson Highway, 25 miles south of town. With the onset of winter, the bison concentrate in a smaller range and are easier to view. A limited number of hunting permits are sold each year.

Delta Junction and Richardson Highway (Mile 1,422 Alaska Highway, Mile 266 Richardson Highway)—Turn south here for access to the Denali Highway, the Wrangells, Valdez, and Anchorage (for town information, see Delta Junction, below). This is the official end of the Alaska Highway; the mileposts switch to indicate the distance to Valdez.

Delta State Recreation Site (Mile 267.1)—Campsites are $8. River access across the road.

Big Delta State Historical Park (Mile 275)—This is a great place to get a good dose of the Alaskan past. Rika’s Roadhouse has served travelers along the Richardson route since 1910. Rika Wallen ran the roadhouse from 1917 until 1940, and lived there until her death in 1969. There are historic exhibits, a self-guided walking tour, a restaurant and gift shop, and a campground. Just up the road you can stop and inspect the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Bridge over the Tanana.

Quartz Lake State Recreation Area (Mile 277.7)—Turn northeast here and drive about 3 miles to reach Quartz Lake. Campsites are $8.

Midway Lodge (Mile 314.8), 11191 Richardson Highway, Salcha, 488-2939. Rooms $40–$55. Restaurant open daily 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. RH

Harding Lake State Recreation Area (Mile 321.5)—Turn east here and drive 1.5 miles to a lakeside campground. Sites are $8.

Salcha River Lodge (Mile 322.2), 9162 Richardson Highway, Salcha, 488-2233. All services. Rooms $50. Cafe open at 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. RH

Salcha River State Recreation Site (Mile 323.1)—Camping sites are $8.

The Knotty Shop (Mile 332.3)—If you see this gift shop and can drive by without a double take, you’re really in a hurry. Stop and check out the spruce-gall animal sculptures out front and the Alaskana within. Mile 332.3 Richardson Highway, Salcha, AK 99714, 488-3014, open daily 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. in summer, 10 p.m. to 6 p.m. in winter (until 8 p.m. around Christmas).

Eielson Air Force Base (Mile 341)—Named for Carl Ben Eielson, famous explorer and bush pilot, the base was constructed in 1943 as part of the massive World War II build-up. Weekly tours are offered to groups, but most will have to be satisfied with distant views of expensive military aircraft. Call 377-3148 for information.

Chena Lakes Recreation Area (Mile 346.7)—Turn north here to reach a swimming beach and camping. $3 day use, $6 campsites.

North Pole Visitor Center (Mile 348.7)—Get the lowdown on the destination for all those letters to Santa. The village of North Pole (population 1,649, 5.4 percent native) milks its name for all it’s worth and in all the ways you might expect. If you’re fatefully intrigued, go ahead and check out the schlock.

Fort Wainwright Military Reservation (Mile 358.6)—Entrance to the army base.

Fairbanks (Mile 360 and on)—See below.