Alaska is known for its cold climate, world-class fishing, and seafood. It’s also 2,000 miles away from its nearest state, Washington, and together with Hawaii, it’s one of two US states not bordered by another state.
When thinking about driving the ultimate road trip from the US, Alaska is bound to spring to mind, so let’s find out if it’s possible and the routes that you can take.
To drive to Alaska from the US, you’ll need to cross a US-Canada land border. Crossing points are spread across the US states of Washington, Montana, North Dakota, and Maine. You’ll then connect to the Alaskan Highway and drive northwest into the Yukon territory and cross into Alaska.
Travel times will vary depending on your starting location and driving route.
Can you drive to Alaska without crossing Canada?
If you’re traveling to Alaska from the United States, then you’ll cross through a large portion of Canada to get there, and you’ll likely spend the majority of your drive in Canada.
You cannot drive to Alaska from the mainland US without driving through Canada.
US-Canada land borders
Canada shares a land border with the US and has four different states with US-Canada border crossings you can choose to pass through.
These include 13 crossings in Washington for those on the West Coast, 12 in Montana for the 13 states in the Mountain Time Zone, 18 from North Dakota (highly popular) for the central areas, and 24 from Maine for those living further East.
Each border holds its own rules and regulations. Before crossing through, make sure you understand the operating hours and other procedures, such as presenting a valid US passport or visa for international travelers.
The drive to Alaska also includes traveling through British Columbia and then the Yukon Territory.
Depending on how far you’re driving from the East, beforehand, you might pass through Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, or Quebec.
The Yukon Territory borders Alaska, and the border is 1,538 miles long, consisting mostly of forests.
In many instances, there are neither visible border signs nor manned checkpoints, and you’ll be able to simply drive between the two countries uncontested.
Driving the Alaskan Highway
The Alaskan Highway was originally 1,422 miles long, but since 1947 has been rerouted to bypass unnecessary sections and is currently 1,382 miles (2,224 Km) in length.
The highway is made up of three roads, which are the British Columbia 97, Yukon Highway 1, and Alaska Route 2.
At some point on your trip, you’ll join this highway and drive northwest to Alaska. The highway begins at Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and runs to Delta Junction, Alaska.
To travel further into Alaska, you then have the option of taking the Richardson Highway from Delta Junction to Fairbanks.
It’s comfortable to drive on, being completely paved/chip sealed, and along the way, there will be towns, restaurants, and services to make your trip comfortable.
How long will the drive to Alaska take?
If you’re looking for a quick road trip and plan on rushing, then driving to Alaska from the US isn’t worth considering, as the drive takes a minimum of one week to complete at a steady pace.
There are two parts of your journey to consider: your starting location and drive to the US-Canada border, and then the drive up to Alaska.
As an example, if you’re starting in Seattle, Washington, it takes 2 hours and 30 minutes to reach the US-Canada border of Sumas, and then another 39 hours to reach Alaska.
This trip is going to take roughly one week to complete without rushing.
If you’re starting from the US States further away from the border, the journey can take significantly more time.
Let’s take the city of Las Vegas, where it takes 19 hours of driving to reach Sumas, and when compared to starting in Seattle, it equals an extra three days of solid driving!
If you’re traveling from the Eastern side of the lower 48 states and plan to cross a border far east, in Maine, then your drive will be very lengthy.
From Maine, it’s roughly 4,500 miles to Alaska, and it takes approximately 70 hours!
With this route, you’ll also have the option to drive the Trans-Canada Highway west for a portion of the drive for a scenic, tranquil and unforgettable experience.
All in all, including the drive to Alaska, the stopping period, and the drive back, you could comfortably spend over a month completing the trip.
As you can see, driving times to Alaska vary greatly depending on your starting location and driving route. Other factors, such as the time of year and weather conditions, also factor into your travel time.
The best time of year to drive to Alaska
There are some great reasons to visit Alaska all year round, but an important part of deciding what month of the year to make the drive is to understand the differences between driving in the summer and winter months.
A good time to drive the Alaskan Highway is throughout the period running from June to September. The summer sees all of the hotels and tours being open and provides the fullest overall experience.
During this period in Alaska, daytime temperatures can reach the region of 60°F-80°F. During the evening, temperatures generally fall between 40°F-50°F.
Also, June has been described by locals as the best time of year to visit Alaska weather-wise, with temperatures generally between 45°F-60°F, and little rain, which is notable as other periods of the year are prone to downpours.
Between May and the end of August offers a great opportunity to view the local wildlife.
There’s also the unforgettable experience of the midnight sun between mid-April and mid-August, peaking in June, which is best viewed in Fairbanks, being labeled “the Land of the Midnight Sun.”
The Alaskan Highway isn’t as busy during the winter, as road conditions can reach low temperatures and become icy or snowy, especially in the Yukon Territory and interior Alaska.
Fitting winter or studded tires are advised when traveling this route during colder periods.
During the winter months, inside Alaska, temperatures reach the region of 5°F-30 °F.
Cities will be lit up with lights, and it’s great for those who like winter activities and sports such as snowboarding, and the shorter nights are perfect to witness the stunning auroras.
January is the coldest month, and throughout the month, the hours of light increase from 8 to 12.
March is generally regarded as the best time during the colder months to visit, as spring is approaching and it heats up, and the days are longer.
Things to note
It’s important to research the most recent rules regarding crossing the border and road regulations in Canada.
- It’s also important you are fully insured for driving in Canada.
- In contrast to the US, which uses gallons, gas in Canada is purchased in liters.
- In contrast to the US, which uses miles per hour, Canada uses kilometers per hour for speed and distance.
- Alaska uses Mountain Standard Time (MST), so depending on where you’re traveling from, you might need to adjust your clock.
- In Canada, people use Canadian dollars.
- In Canada, laws are strict about carrying weapons, so it’s best to read up on this before your trip or leave any weapons at home.
To drive from the US to Canada, you’ll need to drive to one of the US-Canada border crossings located in the US States of Washington, Montana, North Dakota, and Maine, and then drive Northwest to Alaska.
You’ll need at least a week to complete the journey one way, and if you plan on staying in Alaska, looking around, and driving back, expect to spend a month or more to do so comfortably.