Well, we have been on the road for a bit now and have seen and done some really cool stuff this year and in the past.
The Dalton HWY was new for us. We are adventurers and do not mind hiking 10-20 miles a day in the mud and slop, but driving 414 miles in the mud and slop to dip our feet in the Arctic Ocean was new for us.
We read the Mile Post’s suggestions and several other blogs about what to expect and what to bring and how to prepare.
That was helpful, but nothing can prepare you for the unknown and with the Dalton HWY there is a truck load of unknowns.
The Dalton HWY is 414 miles from start to finish with about 85 miles to get to the start from Fairbanks. So, roughly 1000 miles to get the whole thing done.
There are paved sections of the road, but most of the paved areas were worse than the gravel. Pots holes the size of cars and whoop-de-dos that send you airborne without warning. The posted speed limit is 50 mph, but that is a joke. That does not feel like a safe speed for the family speedster.
Do not attempt to make this trip in less than 3 days. 3 days is optimal if you know a few things in advance. We will list out our suggestions as we go.
We are going to start from the beginning and drive you through the whole trip so you can get a picture of what it was like and how to do it.
As you leave Fairbanks, stop off for the pipeline view. It is a great way to start and will give you a false sense of security about what you are about to do. And it is the last place you will find cell service, in case you want to say any good-byes to loved ones. (I kid.)
First 20 mile of the HWY is messy. It is pretty smooth, but can get sloppy with rain. We had some heavy rain and it was a mud pit. This seems like a good time to point out that while we feel like hard core adventurers, we felt like amateurs when we met the bike-packers and motorcyclists who were making the trek. They didn’t seem to enjoy their trip, but that’s not often why we take adventures. We just need to prove to ourselves that we can do these crazy things. #TalesToTell
The Arctic Circle stop is mile marker 115. There are picnic tables and a really cool camp ground up top on the hill. This would be a great place to camp on the way back when you are heading down the globe (if you’re not too traumatized by this point-again, I kid).
Coldfoot is at mile marker 174. The road after the first 20 is pretty cool minus a few pot holes and some dips that make you feel like Bo and Luke Duke. If you make it to Coldfoot, they offer gas, a buffet from 5-9, drinks, and tire and vehicle repair, at a hefty price dictated by supply & demand-you are in the Arctic Circle, afterall.
The Arctic Visitor Center is super cool; it is across the road from Coldfoot Camp. Here, you can stamp your NP passport for the ANWR & Gates of The Arctic, both of which are inaccessible via roads. Also, you can get a handy certificate stating that you made it to the Arctic Circle. They have lots of information on the road as they travel it often. Go talk to the rangers and volunteers to get current info on road conditions, same with the folks at Coldfoot Camp. Talk to people and save yourself some headaches. They have way more experience than you do and they kind of like to tell you that.
Look around as there is lots to see along the way. There are caribou (actual reindeer, y’all!), muskox, raptors (the predatory bird-type, not dinosaurs-it’s not a time traveling road, people), wolves, and bears (although we saw none). The pipeline is in view quite a bit and it is quite the engineering marvel. In case you missed our video, it carries oil 860+ miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. Ironically, they have to have gas brought back up for use in their vehicles & generators. You pay for it too.
Mile Marker 179 is the Marion Creek Camp Ground. We highly recommend this camp ground for $8.00. It has “bathrooms” (vault toilets with doors) and the sites are nice. This is a great place to stop on the way out if you are going for a 3-day trip. RVs are welcome and lots of folks on nice BMW bikes were coming through and camping. We met some cool bikers there; again, they don’t seem to enjoy the road, but they are pretty stoked to be surviving it. They’re pretty hardcore.
Mile 188 is the Wiseman turnoff. You can camp along the river and back down the road here. Wiseman has Bed and Breakfast cabins. You can call to reserve or reserve online, but they had vacancies when we passed through. There are only 12 residents here, so understand that before you pull in.
Atigun pass is beautiful at mile marker 244. It’s very steep up and down, but what a view. Road were not too bad in here either…because it’s summer. We have gained a whole new appreciation for Ice Road Truckers. Those guys are heroes.
Lake Galbraith is at mile marker 277. We camped here for the night of day 1 of our trip. What a cool place in the middle of nowhere. There is a lone bath room, but the camping is basically primitive back-country camping for the most part. Camp here on Day 1 of your trip if you can. We had a caribou parade very near our site. Warning – the mosquitoes are big and abundant, yet they are not as aggressive as we have encountered in other places, like Texas or Maine. We would not try to camp north of Galbraith lake.
We were told about camping at Last Chance Wayside and Sag River overlook, but do not recommend that. The Last Chance wayside at mile marker 354 was usable but it is just a big gravel space on top of a hill. There are no bathrooms, but plenty of places to dig a hole. The Sag River overlook was a possible camp spot as well, but road construction is bad from here on out and getting off the road is tricky.
From mile marker 60 to 0, you are not getting off the road easily. No camping and no stopping as it is all pilot car navigation as the road is being rebuilt. The road is in bad shape, with large rocks the size of bowling balls. This is no joke! It is July of 2017 so hopefully, it will be better next year, as they are improving it currently. We blew a tire going 40 mph through here, following a pilot car. We bought brand new tires before we left Texas in June and they are mud terrain tires. The road is rough and this section took us over 2 hours both up and back. We saw wolves and muskox on this section of the trip, so there is an upside. The “Cruisers” were awesome and helped us when our tire blew out. The road construction crew’s roaming tire repair guys stopped and helped out which saved us some time for sure. They had superior tools. They even tried to plug the hole in our tire, but were unsuccessful. At this point, we pretty much decided we would have to move our tour to the 3:30 time slot, if they would let us. We had allowed ourselves 5 hours to get 130 miles, but the thick fog, flat tire and road construction delays had us believing we were just not meant to make it by 8:30 a.m.
Deadhorse is where you get the on the tour for the Arctic Ocean. Dead Horse Camp handles the tours. We rolled in with just 2 minutes to spare (see what I did there?). Take the tour and jump in the water or at least put a body part in the water. The tour is cool and they bring towels for your dip in the super cold water. Gas is available in Dead Horse along with a few groceries and auto parts. You can get used tires and tire repair, as we had to do that. This is an oil field town and not for tourists. Do not get in the way of their work and get out of town once you are done. We did not see any polar bears or interesting marine life, but we can now say that we have touched the waters of the Arctic Ocean! #BraggingRights (See our video on mom’s FB page.)
Suggestions: Plan 3 days to do this trip, MINIMUM! Day 1 – go slow and stop around Marion Creek or Galbraith Lake to camp. Day 2 – Make it to Deadhorse and get a hotel room if you can afford it. Day 3 – get up and go on your tour at Deadhorse Camp. Day 3 – camp at Marion Creek or the Arctic Circle on your way back. Day 4 – stop at the Hot Spot on your way back to Fairbanks.
Other suggestions: Bring 2 spare tires and plenty of food & water for the trip. There are really no places to get tires and no places to get food. You need water as well. Fuel is plentiful at Dead Horse and Cold Foot, but it is close to 5 bucks a gallon. You can stock up at Wal Mart in Fairbanks.
Was it worth it? Heck yeah! Are you prepared for the trip after reading this? Nope. Nothing will prepare you for this. You will get a beat down and learn lots about yourself and your mental toughness and it is possibly the coolest adventure we have ever taken!!
The truckers are awesome so move over out of their way. The Dalton HWY is their road, not yours. They are accommodating, but they have a schedule to keep.
Disclaimer: This post was written by the parents. Per the kids, “That was a really long car ride and a little scary at times. The wildlife and campsites were awesome. The water was cold. We prefer the warm water in Texas and Florida for swimming.” We thought you might want more info than that, so you get our take. Happy trails!