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The Dalton Highway

The Dalton Highway is an isolated and mostly unpaved road that begins outside of Fairbanks, Alaska and ends 414 miles (666 km) later just shy of the Arctic Ocean in Deadhorse, AK. It’s the farthest north you can drive on a public road on the North American Continent. With one section being 240 miles between gas stations, it includes the longest stretch of road in America without services. The road follows the Alaska Oil Pipeline, takes you across the Arctic Circle, and the continental divide at Atigun Pass which is the highest elevation year-round road you can drive in Alaska.

The night will go by quicker than you think if you prepare a few comfort items. I figured that if I was going to spend all night in line I might as well do it with some style, so I picked up a camping chair which was quite possibly the best $10 I have ever spent in my life. Being able to sit up off the ground and be comfortable made a huge difference. I picked mine up at Dollar Discount a few blocks away on 46th and 5th. At the very least you want to grab some cardboard or a crate (both of which seem to be available for the taking on every street corner in NYC), especially if it is a cold night as sitting on concrete will just make you hate life. I also brought a few blankets from my hotel, while some others in line brought sleeping bags. I filled up my iPad with downloaded TV shows and for a couple hours draped a blanket over my head and was in my own little world watching episodes of “Impractical Jokers.” All things put together I was pretty cozy.

Officially labeled on maps as Alaska Route 11, the road began as a supply route during the construction of the Alaska Oil Pipeline in 1974, and now continues to serve as the main artery for transporting equipment and supplies up to the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay and the several thousand workers based there. Originally called “The North Slope Haul Road,” it wasn’t opened to the public until 1994. It was then given the name, “The James Dalton Highway.” James W. Dalton was an Alaskan engineer and an expert on the untamed North Slope of Alaska. After WWII, he oversaw the construction of the Distant Early Warning Line, a system of radar stations running across the top of North America designed to detect inbound Soviet Bombers during the Cold War. He later served as a consultant during the years of oil exploration in the remote region of Prudhoe Bay. The road serves as a memorial to this great Alaskan pioneer.

  • Accidents do happen on the Dalton...

The night will go by quicker than you think if you prepare a few comfort items. I figured that if I was going to spend all night in line I might as well do it with some style, so I picked up a camping chair which was quite possibly the best $10 I have ever spent in my life. Being able to sit up off the ground and be comfortable made a huge difference. I picked mine up at Dollar Discount a few blocks away on 46th and 5th. At the very least you want to grab some cardboard or a crate (both of which seem to be available for the taking on every street corner in NYC), especially if it is a cold night as sitting on concrete will just make you hate life. I also brought a few blankets from my hotel, while some others in line brought sleeping bags. I filled up my iPad with downloaded TV shows and for a couple hours draped a blanket over my head and was in my own little world watching episodes of “Impractical Jokers.” All things put together I was pretty cozy.

The night will go by quicker than you think if you prepare a few comfort items. I figured that if I was going to spend all night in line I might as well do it with some style, so I picked up a camping chair which was quite possibly the best $10 I have ever spent in my life. Being able to sit up off the ground and be comfortable made a huge difference. I picked mine up at Dollar Discount a few blocks away on 46th and 5th. At the very least you want to grab some cardboard or a crate (both of which seem to be available for the taking on every street corner in NYC), especially if it is a cold night as sitting on concrete will just make you hate life. I also brought a few blankets from my hotel, while some others in line brought sleeping bags. I filled up my iPad with downloaded TV shows and for a couple hours draped a blanket over my head and was in my own little world watching episodes of “Impractical Jokers.” All things put together I was pretty cozy.

Trip Overview

The night will go by quicker than you think if you prepare a few comfort items. I figured that if I was going to spend all night in line I might as well do it with some style, so I picked up a camping chair which was quite possibly the best $10 I have ever spent in my life. Being able to sit up off the ground and be comfortable made a huge difference. I picked mine up at Dollar Discount a few blocks away on 46th and 5th. At the very least you want to grab some cardboard or a crate (both of which seem to be available for the taking on every street corner in NYC), especially if it is a cold night as sitting on concrete will just make you hate life. I also brought a few blankets from my hotel, while some others in line brought sleeping bags. I filled up my iPad with downloaded TV shows and for a couple hours draped a blanket over my head and was in my own little world watching episodes of “Impractical Jokers.” All things put together I was pretty cozy.

If you want to travel up the Dalton Highway, you have a few choices. The easiest and arguably safest is to take an organized tour with one of several companies that run trips up the highway. You can expect to travel in a standard 10-passenger van, which is probably not the most comfortable ride, but you’ll have an experienced driver and tour guide who can handle any issues that pop up. Another benefit of a tour operator is that you have the option of driving up and flying back. Both Coldfoot and Deadhorse have airports, and so you can drive the Dalton one way and then take a plane ride the other.

You can take your own car if you have good tires, but expect a few nicks and scratches from the spray of rocks that follow behind every truck like a group of screaming teenagers chasing a pop star’s tour bus. The other option is a rental car; however, the major companies specifically prohibit the use of their vehicles on the Dalton. There are several companies that rent specially equipped vehicles for use on gravel roads, but the cost can be high, plus it’s a two-way drive. There is no option of dropping off the rental in Deadhorse and flying home. If you drive a rental car up the road, you have to also turn around and drive it back. The only way around this would be to get a little creative and book the rental car with a group of friends, some of whom fly up to Deadhorse and you swap out there.




When To Go

Since the road is maintained all year round, technically you can make the trip any time of year. Whichever month you choose, there will be pros and cons. In the winter it’s dark 24 hours a day (once you pass the Arctic Circle) so you won’t get to experience any of the fantastic scenery. The road over the mountain is plowed but they do close it periodically for avalanche control (they blast the mount side with canons). Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend a winter trip up there. In spring you can expect the roads to be a bit muddy with the snow melt, but you’ll get a colorful display of wildflowers. In the summer months you’ll get long days of sunshine and pleasant temperatures, but you’ll be eaten alive by mosquitos. At the Yukon Camp I smirked at the shelves full of mosquito repellant and windshield washing fluid next to the register. I suspect those are their best sellers.

The night will go by quicker than you think if you prepare a few comfort items. I figured that if I was going to spend all night in line I might as well do it with some style, so I picked up a camping chair which was quite possibly the best $10 I have ever spent in my life. Being able to sit up off the ground and be comfortable made a huge difference. I picked mine up at Dollar Discount a few blocks away on 46th and 5th. At the very least you want to grab some cardboard or a crate (both of which seem to be available for the taking on every street corner in NYC), especially if it is a cold night as sitting on concrete will just make you hate life. I also brought a few blankets from my hotel, while some others in line brought sleeping bags. I filled up my iPad with downloaded TV shows and for a couple hours draped a blanket over my head and was in my own little world watching episodes of “Impractical Jokers.” All things put together I was pretty cozy.

Renting a Car

If you decide to go with a rental car, there are a handful of companies that allow their vehicles to be taken on the Dalton:

Arctic Outfitters
Go North Rentals
Alaska Auto Rentals

I went with Arctic Outfitters. They have only one type of car to choose from: Ford Escape. They come with all terrain tires, a hard-wired CB radio, two spare tires (one full size and one donut), a tool kit, and in the winter months a sleeping bag and satellite phone (for emergencies). They rent by the day, so that means if you pick up the car at 5pm you pay for the whole day. The flip side is that you can return the car at 11pm on the last day and jump on a late night/early morning flight out of Fairbanks, which is exactly what I did (1:30am flight to Seattle). Their rate varies depending on the time of year, but expect to pay at least $250-$350 per day with the taxes added in. They also add a charge if you go over 250 miles per day on average. I did a five-day rental and from the Fairbanks airport up to Deadhorse and back I logged 1,043 miles. So, if you do a four-day rental or less and drive the whole road, expect an additional mileage charge. Officially it seems that Arctic Outfitters do not allow their rental cars north of The Brooks Range after mid September (which means no Deadhorse), but they told me that was a new rule and didn’t seem to mind me doing it (I went in early October), so it may be negotiable.

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My nice and clean rental car at the begining of the trip

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4 days later, my car was covered in dirt, had a cracked windshield, and was riding on the spare tire.

The night will go by quicker than you think if you prepare a few comfort items. I figured that if I was going to spend all night in line I might as well do it with some style, so I picked up a camping chair which was quite possibly the best $10 I have ever spent in my life. Being able to sit up off the ground and be comfortable made a huge difference. I picked mine up at Dollar Discount a few blocks away on 46th and 5th. At the very least you want to grab some cardboard or a crate (both of which seem to be available for the taking on every street corner in NYC), especially if it is a cold night as sitting on concrete will just make you hate life. I also brought a few blankets from my hotel, while some others in line brought sleeping bags. I filled up my iPad with downloaded TV shows and for a couple hours draped a blanket over my head and was in my own little world watching episodes of “Impractical Jokers.” All things put together I was pretty cozy.

Fairbanks to Coldfoot

I picked up my car in the afternoon and then stocked up on supplies and snacks in Fairbanks with the intention of getting an early start the next day. Everything up north is more expensive, so it’s best to get a few things in Fairbanks. On a whim, I grabbed a gallon of windshield fluid which turned out to be a good idea. If I didn’t constantly keep the rear window clean it would quickly cake over with dirt and I wouldn’t have been able to see the trucks sneaking up on me.

The first leg of the journey is the 80 miles from Fairbanks to the beginning of the Dalton Highway, which is just past the town of Livengood. You’ll get your first glance of the pipeline shortly after you leave Fairbanks where the road narrows to one lane each way. Look to your right and you’ll see a pull off for your first photo-op of the trip! If you want to fill up the gas tank on your way out of town, you’ll pass by a gas station and general store at the town of Fox, and then a few miles later a truck stop called the Hilltop.

For the next 70 miles or so you’ll be traveling on the Elliot Highway (AK 2), which is paved but deteriorates as you get closer to Livengood. The road gets wavy and full of potholes, almost like it is offering you a preview of what’s to come and asking, “Are you sure about this bud?”

The night will go by quicker than you think if you prepare a few comfort items. I figured that if I was going to spend all night in line I might as well do it with some style, so I picked up a camping chair which was quite possibly the best $10 I have ever spent in my life. Being able to sit up off the ground and be comfortable made a huge difference. I picked mine up at Dollar Discount a few blocks away on 46th and 5th. At the very least you want to grab some cardboard or a crate (both of which seem to be available for the taking on every street corner in NYC), especially if it is a cold night as sitting on concrete will just make you hate life. I also brought a few blankets from my hotel, while some others in line brought sleeping bags. I filled up my iPad with downloaded TV shows and for a couple hours draped a blanket over my head and was in my own little world watching episodes of “Impractical Jokers.” All things put together I was pretty cozy.

The night will go by quicker than you think if you prepare a few comfort items. I figured that if I was going to spend all night in line I might as well do it with some style, so I picked up a camping chair which was quite possibly the best $10 I have ever spent in my life. Being able to sit up off the ground and be comfortable made a huge difference. I picked mine up at Dollar Discount a few blocks away on 46th and 5th. At the very least you want to grab some cardboard or a crate (both of which seem to be available for the taking on every street corner in NYC), especially if it is a cold night as sitting on concrete will just make you hate life. I also brought a few blankets from my hotel, while some others in line brought sleeping bags. I filled up my iPad with downloaded TV shows and for a couple hours draped a blanket over my head and was in my own little world watching episodes of “Impractical Jokers.” All things put together I was pretty cozy.

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The sign marking the beginning of the Dalton Highway, just past Livengood

  • The peipleline will follow the road North
  • The road is mostly hard-packed dirt

The night will go by quicker than you think if you prepare a few comfort items. I figured that if I was going to spend all night in line I might as well do it with some style, so I picked up a camping chair which was quite possibly the best $10 I have ever spent in my life. Being able to sit up off the ground and be comfortable made a huge difference. I picked mine up at Dollar Discount a few blocks away on 46th and 5th. At the very least you want to grab some cardboard or a crate (both of which seem to be available for the taking on every street corner in NYC), especially if it is a cold night as sitting on concrete will just make you hate life. I also brought a few blankets from my hotel, while some others in line brought sleeping bags. I filled up my iPad with downloaded TV shows and for a couple hours draped a blanket over my head and was in my own little world watching episodes of “Impractical Jokers.” All things put together I was pretty cozy.

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The Yukon River bridge

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Yukon River Camp cafe

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The Yukon River gas pump

The night will go by quicker than you think if you prepare a few comfort items. I figured that if I was going to spend all night in line I might as well do it with some style, so I picked up a camping chair which was quite possibly the best $10 I have ever spent in my life. Being able to sit up off the ground and be comfortable made a huge difference. I picked mine up at Dollar Discount a few blocks away on 46th and 5th. At the very least you want to grab some cardboard or a crate (both of which seem to be available for the taking on every street corner in NYC), especially if it is a cold night as sitting on concrete will just make you hate life. I also brought a few blankets from my hotel, while some others in line brought sleeping bags. I filled up my iPad with downloaded TV shows and for a couple hours draped a blanket over my head and was in my own little world watching episodes of “Impractical Jokers.” All things put together I was pretty cozy.

  • Coldfoot Camp Truck Stop
  • Coldfoot Camp main accommodations

The night will go by quicker than you think if you prepare a few comfort items. I figured that if I was going to spend all night in line I might as well do it with some style, so I picked up a camping chair which was quite possibly the best $10 I have ever spent in my life. Being able to sit up off the ground and be comfortable made a huge difference. I picked mine up at Dollar Discount a few blocks away on 46th and 5th. At the very least you want to grab some cardboard or a crate (both of which seem to be available for the taking on every street corner in NYC), especially if it is a cold night as sitting on concrete will just make you hate life. I also brought a few blankets from my hotel, while some others in line brought sleeping bags. I filled up my iPad with downloaded TV shows and for a couple hours draped a blanket over my head and was in my own little world watching episodes of “Impractical Jokers.” All things put together I was pretty cozy.



Coldfoot to Deadhorse

The night will go by quicker than you think if you prepare a few comfort items. I figured that if I was going to spend all night in line I might as well do it with some style, so I picked up a camping chair which was quite possibly the best $10 I have ever spent in my life. Being able to sit up off the ground and be comfortable made a huge difference. I picked mine up at Dollar Discount a few blocks away on 46th and 5th. At the very least you want to grab some cardboard or a crate (both of which seem to be available for the taking on every street corner in NYC), especially if it is a cold night as sitting on concrete will just make you hate life. I also brought a few blankets from my hotel, while some others in line brought sleeping bags. I filled up my iPad with downloaded TV shows and for a couple hours draped a blanket over my head and was in my own little world watching episodes of “Impractical Jokers.” All things put together I was pretty cozy.

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At 240 miles, this section of road is the longest stretch of road without services in America

The night will go by quicker than you think if you prepare a few comfort items. I figured that if I was going to spend all night in line I might as well do it with some style, so I picked up a camping chair which was quite possibly the best $10 I have ever spent in my life. Being able to sit up off the ground and be comfortable made a huge difference. I picked mine up at Dollar Discount a few blocks away on 46th and 5th. At the very least you want to grab some cardboard or a crate (both of which seem to be available for the taking on every street corner in NYC), especially if it is a cold night as sitting on concrete will just make you hate life. I also brought a few blankets from my hotel, while some others in line brought sleeping bags. I filled up my iPad with downloaded TV shows and for a couple hours draped a blanket over my head and was in my own little world watching episodes of “Impractical Jokers.” All things put together I was pretty cozy.

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The Chandalar Shelf, leading to Atigun Pass


The next climb takes you to the top of Atigun Pass, which at 4,739 feet is the highest point on the road, and also the continental divide. After one short but steep set of switchbacks you’ll be on a gradual downhill of the North Slope all the way to Deadhorse. This was one of my favorite sections of the drive as there are no trees this far north and you could see clear to the horizon out in front of you. The mountain range gives way to the open tundra which is spotted with crystal blue lakes. If you want to get a good photo of the pipeline, this is probably your best opportunity as the pipeline is right next to the road. The lack of trees and backdrop of the mountain range will make for a nice addition to the trip album.

This also happens to be the spot where I got my flat tire, which was on the way back south after leaving Deadhorse on day three of the trip. I was driving along admiring the view when I got a “ding ding ding” from the Ford Escape. Triple chimes are never good, and a look down at the dash told me it was a “tire pressure low” warning. There happened to be an access road to the pipeline just ahead so I pulled over to investigate. As soon as I opened my car door I hear the telltale hiss of air escaping from my left rear tire. Great. At first I was very disappointed with myself as I thought I had been driving quite well and missing most of the potholes and larger rocks, but the road was very dry and thus very firm, so I must have hit one small rock just right for a puncture in my tire. I knew I had two spares, one full size and one donut, but I still had a long drive back over Atigun to get to Coldfoot. I was hoping it wasn’t the beginning of a string of bad luck.

The night will go by quicker than you think if you prepare a few comfort items. I figured that if I was going to spend all night in line I might as well do it with some style, so I picked up a camping chair which was quite possibly the best $10 I have ever spent in my life. Being able to sit up off the ground and be comfortable made a huge difference. I picked mine up at Dollar Discount a few blocks away on 46th and 5th. At the very least you want to grab some cardboard or a crate (both of which seem to be available for the taking on every street corner in NYC), especially if it is a cold night as sitting on concrete will just make you hate life. I also brought a few blankets from my hotel, while some others in line brought sleeping bags. I filled up my iPad with downloaded TV shows and for a couple hours draped a blanket over my head and was in my own little world watching episodes of “Impractical Jokers.” All things put together I was pretty cozy.

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A scenic spot for a flat tire

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Well there's your problem!

The night will go by quicker than you think if you prepare a few comfort items. I figured that if I was going to spend all night in line I might as well do it with some style, so I picked up a camping chair which was quite possibly the best $10 I have ever spent in my life. Being able to sit up off the ground and be comfortable made a huge difference. I picked mine up at Dollar Discount a few blocks away on 46th and 5th. At the very least you want to grab some cardboard or a crate (both of which seem to be available for the taking on every street corner in NYC), especially if it is a cold night as sitting on concrete will just make you hate life. I also brought a few blankets from my hotel, while some others in line brought sleeping bags. I filled up my iPad with downloaded TV shows and for a couple hours draped a blanket over my head and was in my own little world watching episodes of “Impractical Jokers.” All things put together I was pretty cozy.

  • The end of the Dalton HIghway in Deadhorse, Alaska
  • The industrial town of Deadhorse, Alaska
  • The unofficial end of the Dalton is the Prudhoe Bay general store
  • The Arctic Oilfield Hotel
  • Small but comfortable and clean room at the Arctic Oilfield Hotel. Plus good WiFi and TV!
  • I didn't see any other tourists up in Deadhorse

The night will go by quicker than you think if you prepare a few comfort items. I figured that if I was going to spend all night in line I might as well do it with some style, so I picked up a camping chair which was quite possibly the best $10 I have ever spent in my life. Being able to sit up off the ground and be comfortable made a huge difference. I picked mine up at Dollar Discount a few blocks away on 46th and 5th. At the very least you want to grab some cardboard or a crate (both of which seem to be available for the taking on every street corner in NYC), especially if it is a cold night as sitting on concrete will just make you hate life. I also brought a few blankets from my hotel, while some others in line brought sleeping bags. I filled up my iPad with downloaded TV shows and for a couple hours draped a blanket over my head and was in my own little world watching episodes of “Impractical Jokers.” All things put together I was pretty cozy.

Additional Tips

I was surprised at how much time I spent in the car. I figured it’s “only” 250 miles a day but it’s fairly slow going at some points. I did stop at pretty much anything that was even a remote possibility for a good photo, and I was delayed slightly by road construction in a few spots. In all I spent about 10 hours between hotels for those 250 miles each day. It was a bit quicker heading southbound since I didn’t stop at all the same scenic views. Four days is perfect for this road trip, but if you’re planning the minimum time necessary, I’d say it’s three days. The first day heading to Coldfoot, then to Deadhorse on day two, and one long push back to Fairbanks on day three, only stopping for gas.

I rented my own satellite phone from GlobalCom. I researched a few different companies and these guys seemed to have the best balance of price and convenience. You only pay for the days the phone is in your possession, while other companies charge you for days the phone is in transit via FedEx. I also added on a package of 40 minutes and called some family members at the Arctic Circle and the continental divide just to say “hey guess where I am!” It turned out that my rental car company also provided a sat phone for emergencies, but for some reason I wasn’t aware of that ahead of time. Or maybe they only provided me the phone because I was going all the way up to Deadhorse in what was technically the off season for tourists.

All in all this was a fantastic road trip. The scenery was spectacular and varied greatly throughout the drive. Even though it’s just a road, I felt a sense of accomplishment by completing the trip, as only a relatively small number of people make the trip all the way up to the top. I did get really lucky with the weather (not a single cloud all four days), plus I never had to swat away a mosquito. The roads were in good shape and not too busy. My flat tire was annoying and a bit concerning at the time but definitely added to the overall sense of adventure. Pick the time of year that best suits your preferences, travel prepared for some car trouble, drive safely, and you’ll have a great time as well!


Resources and Links

The night will go by quicker than you think if you prepare a few comfort items. I figured that if I was going to spend all night in line I might as well do it with some style, so I picked up a camping chair which was quite possibly the best $10 I have ever spent in my life. Being able to sit up off the ground and be comfortable made a huge difference. I picked mine up at Dollar Discount a few blocks away on 46th and 5th. At the very least you want to grab some cardboard or a crate (both of which seem to be available for the taking on every street corner in NYC), especially if it is a cold night as sitting on concrete will just make you hate life. I also brought a few blankets from my hotel, while some others in line brought sleeping bags. I filled up my iPad with downloaded TV shows and for a couple hours draped a blanket over my head and was in my own little world watching episodes of “Impractical Jokers.” All things put together I was pretty cozy.



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