The Dalton Highway is one of the most remote roads in the world, connecting Fairbanks, Alaska to the Arctic Ocean at Prudhoe Bay. Often referred to as the “Haul Road”, this desolate route is used predominantly by trucks moving supplies to the oilfields in Deadhorse, one of just three towns with services along the 800+ mile round trip. Being one of the most isolated roads in the world, I knew I needed to do a little extra planning before driving the Dalton Highway.
Driving The Dalton Highway Film
As soon as I sold my VW van and bought my Toyota Tacoma I started dreaming about driving the Dalton Highway. I designed the truck and slide-in camper combo to make that dream a reality. The rig was built specifically with the Dalton in mind, and after more than a year of work, and more cash than I’d like to admit, it was ready for the challenge.
With the gas tank and two 5 gallon jerry cans full, the fridge stocked with beer, and the Milepost guidebook on the dash, we bid farewell to Fairbanks and started our journey north. We crossed the Yukon River, followed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline as it traversed the vast landscape, stopped to take in the panoramic view at Finger Mountain, and rolled across the Arctic Circle before idling into Coldfoot to refuel. Even though the oil pipeline was within sight nearly all day, gassing up in Coldfoot was one of the most expensive fuel stops I’ve ever made, which speaks to how remote it really is.
From Coldfoot we drove a few miles further north before turning off the Dalton and setting up camp on the Middle Fork Koyukuk River near the village of Wiseman. Our first night above the Arctic Circle was cozy, and we woke to a warm morning, a beautiful view, and the excitement of making our way to the Arctic Ocean.
We drove up and over the Brooks Range via Atigun Pass, the highest year round road pass in Alaska at 4,739 feet above sea level. From there we dropped onto the vast, flat, and somewhat monotonous Arctic Tundra for the final 150 miles to Deadhorse.
One of the highlights of the trip was coming across a herd of Musk Ox, a type of goat with long, fluffy, thick coats and curved horns. Several of them were ambling along the side of the road and gave us a great opportunity to stop and watch these unique arctic animals.
We rolled into Deadhorse late in the day, scoped out the industrial oil town, and secured a free camp spot on the Sag River across the road from where we would meet our organized tour to the Arctic Ocean the next morning. We drifted off to sleep in broad daylight as the sun doesn’t set from the middle of May to the end of July. We were definitely in the land of the midnight sun!
In the morning we donned our swimsuits, layered up in winter gear, and climbed aboard a tour bus bound for the beach. Access to the Arctic Ocean is through the Prudhoe Bay oilfields, so the general public cannot reach it in their own vehicles, but the paid tour with a knowledgeable and comical security guard/guide was well worth the fee. We parked at the ocean, quickly stripped down to our swimsuits, and jumped into the near freezing Arctic waters. After we submerged several other brave souls jumped in as well and a few minutes later we were all bundled up and happy to be back on the warm bus!
Back in Deadhorse we hopped in the truck, blasted the heater, and did one more lap around town, stopping to grab pizza before turning south to drive the Tacoma across the tundra (that’s a Toyota joke). We followed the pipeline and pulled over at the base of the Brooks Range to check out a free BLM campground just on the north side of the mountains.
It turned out that Galbraith Lake Campground was not only free, but also had incredible cell reception, probably due to the small airfield nearby. With plenty of food, and almost plenty of beer, we decided to settle in and stayed for 2 nights, spending a day working from the camper via our hotspots and staying up wayyyy too late, playing under the midnight sun.
With our stash of PBR dwindling, and the mosquitoes threatening to eat their way through the canvas of the camper, we reluctantly hit the road, left the Arctic Tundra behind, crossed the Brooks Range, and aimed for Fairbanks. It was still a long drive over rough roads, and shortly after another fuel stop at Coldfoot we pulled off and parked for one more night of camping, this time at a free BLM spot behind the Arctic Circle sign.
During the final stretch into Fairbanks we transitioned from the remote solitude of the Northern Alaskan wilderness to a lot of activity due to spreading wildfires. We spent the morning driving through thick smoke and passing firefighters staged on forest service roads. The air quality in Fairbanks was not good, but with most of the state burning we didn’t have a lot of options, so we settled in, restocked the camper, and got back to work for a few days before continuing our Alaskan summer adventures to Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula, and beyond.
Of course, the final thing I needed to do, after restocking the fridge with PBR, was clean the truck. Four days and more than 800 miles of Dalton driving made Terk The Truck Camper pretty dirty!
If you’re interested in watching the “Driving The Dalton Highway” YouTube video, click HERE!
On a technical note, some of the key logistical questions I researched before driving the Dalton Highway were:
Q: Should I take a 2nd full size spare tire?
A: I did. I carried my old spare wheel stashed behind the driver’s seat. It wasn’t an exact tire size match, but in a bind we’d have another option. We had no issues and once in Anchorage I unloaded the old wheel and tire on Craigslist.
Q: Will I have enough fuel?
A: I carried 2 jerry cans for 10 gallons of extra fuel. With my Tacoma getting 14 MPG I was right on the edge of making it from fuel stop to fuel stop, and we actually didn’t need them. I did end up using them in Coldfoot at our last fuel stop to save some cash.
Q: Do I need a CB radio?
A: I didn’t have one, and don’t think I needed one. Around the towns and camps we had good cell reception.
Q: Are the mosquitoes bad?
Q: Is the Arctic Ocean cold?
Q: Is it worth driving 800+ miles to just see an oil town and some water?
A: Yes. Absolutely, Yes.
Alaska Road Trip 2019
Driving The Alaska Highway – Read Here
Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula – Read Here
Valdez, Haines, The Yukon & BC – Read Here
Thanks for the article. I found it very interesting and helpful. My wife and I are planning a trip to Alaska the summer of 2022. Being retired we are hoping to spend 2-3 months exploring as much as possible. We will be traveling in a f350 4×4 diesel crew cab with a 32′ 5th wheel. It’s a pretty long and tall rig. Are there any places that you can see a problem. Any helpful tips would be appreciated. Also any other excursions that were of great interest. Thanks again and safe and happy travels. ????
That’s great! I saw full size trucks pulling nice trailers all over Alaska, though not many on the Dalton. I met one couple who had left their trailer in Fairbanks and drove the truck up the Dalton and stayed at the “camps” or hotel accommodations along the way. It sounds like that’s what a lot of people with tow behind trailers do? But, someone was also talking about their friends who had towed their trailer up the Dalton and back and it made it, but it’s just a long, bumpy road. Either way, it’s a great adventure and I saw large trailers all over the state. Good luck!
My husband and I are planning this trip for August 2023. We drive to Alaska for in 2010 on a 51 day road trip. The Dalton is very remote. We don’t fear the driving portion but on a personal level, In your opinion, is it safe?
Hi Barb, yup, I think we felt completely safe up on the Dalton. Good luck!
Did you air down for the Dalton?
No, never really felt like I needed to. Overall the road was pretty good, I did have 2 fullsize spare tires with me but I never needed either one. Obviously it’s good to be over-prepared, but I felt like it was all very doable. Cheers!