021 - the alaska highway to vancouver
Updated: Sep 27, 2018
9 days, 1'880 miles / 3'025km
Tok, AK > Destruction Bay, Yukon > Whitehorse, Yukon > Watson Lake, Yukon > Muskwa River, BC > Fort St. John, BC > Chubb Lake, BC > Lillooet, BC > Whistler, BC > Vancouver, BC
While many that do this trip find the Alaska Highway a drag to drive or even boring, we actually very much enjoyed and also loved it. Especially when wanting to visit the remote state of Alaska, we believe it's part of the journey to drive it, at least once. Only this way, you actually get a feel of how faraway and how wild this region is. Plus, its pretty rad to drive through the Yukon, unpaved, dusty, pothole heavy streets and all.
On our way up, we only drove on the 'actual' Alaska Highway between Watson Lake and Whitehorse. We came up on the Cassiar Highway 37 and continued north to Dawson City on the Klondike Highway 2. While this is definitely also a very scenic and recommended route, especially because of the breathtaking Top of the World Highway that will take you in through Chicken Alaska, so is the Alaska Highway.
July 29th - August 5th
On our way back down to the Contiguous Unites States, we drove almost all of the Alaska Highway. We only skipped the last bit, after turning west to get to Highway 97 about 22 miles before Dawson Creek.
While the driving days on the Alaska Highway are in definitely longer and more monotonous, the scenery is still spectacular. We saw wildlife every single day without fail, including: bear, bison, sheep, a coyote, a rabbit, a beaver, and caribou. The only other time we saw bison in the wild was at Yellowstone National Park, and caribou at Denali National Park. The landscape around Destruction Bay is marvelous, Muncho Lake is mesmerizing even on a cloudy day, and driving along side the teal Liard River is definitely a treat. We were once again greeted by the familiar Canadian Rockies before getting back into the more civilized areas of northern BC. On top of that, we camped mostly free or very cheap.
Unfortunately we did have to drive through the smoke of four different wildfires, the first one greeting us just outside Tok. And shortly before crossing the border into Canada, we got hit by a small rock from a passing car, slightly cracking our windshield in two places. Instead the border crossing went very smoothly and without any issues, but then again, we were heading into Canada. In Whitehorse, now quite a familiar city to us, we finally treated Henry to those previously offered four new rear tires, and put his best old ones on the front.
Because we were keen to see Whistler, the St. Moritz of British Columbia, we turned west onto Highway 99, which turned out to be quite the beautiful drive as well as a smart choice, because continuing on Highway 1 toward Vancouver would have meant waiting for the recent slide to get shoveled out of the way. We camped at another fantastic free campsite in Lillooet, and enjoyed the afternoon in the crowded yogi and mountain biker filled ski town. Because it was the weekend, and we happened to hit the one with the extended BC day to it, as well as the ongoing Wanderlust Festival, we were promised by two different information guides that we would not find a camping spot in or even near Whistler. However, when we turned into the first marked campground out of town, and joined the other RVs and tent campers on a big lot, we miraculously found the overflow lot of the campground and legally camped for 6.50CAD.
Vancouver: August 6th - 7th
After spending practically no time in any large city for the past couple of months, and being in some of the remotest parts of the US and Canada, the concrete jungle of Vancouver definitely had us overwhelmed.
The streets were scary to drive on; too tight with Henry, too clustered, it was difficult to change lanes, hard to turn corners. There were suddenly more cars around us than we had seen in the entire Yukon all together. After re-driving around a few of the same blocks, paying attention to one-way lanes again, we somehow managed to park right downtown.
As soon as we started walking through the streets, all of a sudden, all our senses were pushed. There were odd smells around every corner. Our eyes flickered from one moving thing to the next. Our ears were pierced with foreign noises. Everything was bustling, people were walking faster. We were again exposed to second hand smoke, something we had not smelled in months. Although we could see trees, downtown Vancouver is actually exceptionally green, we couldn't smell or feel nature in any way. There were unknown stains on the floor, cigarette stubs pressed into corners, junkies picking up the ones that still offered a breath. There were homeless at every corner, their sight leaving a sting inside us.
With everything going on around us, we became more quiet, trying to process everything, all at once. It was tiring. We walked into familiar stores, touching new clothes, but exited without buying anything.
Sure, Vancouver is a nice city. In hindsight probably one of the nicer ones. A few districts were exceptionally upcoming. Bars and restaurants that looked and tasted appetizing. We ate a great lunch downtown in Gastown. The stores were all just like the ones we used to shop at. But, we were the ones that had changed, it all seemed so foreign now.
Stanley Park was a nice little save haven for us in the afternoon. Although all the noise was still there, the smells resumed to salty air and forest scents. Our views were consumed of the bay filled with container ships and sea planes above. But when I closed my eyes I found myself feeling a little more comfortable, letting the sea breeze wash over me. Walking through the core of the park was refreshing. The trees offered a cooling shelter from the glaring hot summer sun, the paths were more empty, because all the people were seeking the beaches and the water around. Maybe it would have been a good idea to come to Stanley Park first, letting our minds and body adjust to the city life here first.
We continued our exploring outside of the city at the Spanish Banks, where we too, sought the beach. We parked Henry for free for once, and rested in the sand for the remainder of the day, processing the previous hours in the city and days on the road. After the extensive driving we were really looking forward to unwind in the Pacific Northwest.