Scenic Drives of The Great North

When it comes to beautiful drives, nearly everywhere you go in Alaska and Canada qualifies. We already told you about The Al-Can Highway, an amazing 1400-mile stretch that gets you to Fairbanks, and The Alaska Marine Highway, the only way to get to quite a few places in Alaska.

But in the interest of telling you as much as we can about what we’ve seen in our 35,000 mile (so far) tour of the US and Canada, we want to talk about a few other scenic drives in Alaska and Canada.

Alaska 1 / Sterling Highway

At A Glance

From: Anchorage, AK
To: Homer, AK
States/Provinces: AK
Length: 222 miles
Nearby Cities: Anchorage, AK; Soldotna, AK; Homer, AK

To get to Homer, we went through Anchorage and took the only route available, Alaska 1. Starting in Anchorage, Alaska 1 winds around Turnagain Arm where, if you’re lucky (we weren’t), you can see whales swimming around in the water. The mountains and forests of the Kenai Peninsula loom off in the distance.

Sixty to seventy miles into the journey, you turn to the southwest and head upwards into those mountains and forests, skirting numerous lakes and rivers. Another 70 miles later, you emerge on the west coast of the Kenai where you get your first views of the volcanic mountains across the bay. These views will remain on your right-hand side as you head south to Homer.

The Seward Highway

At A Glance

From: The Sterling Highway
To: Seward, AK
States/Provinces: AK
Length: 36 miles
Nearby Cities: Seward, AK

On the eastern side of The Kenai Peninsula, you can take the Seward Highway (AK Hwy 9) from a turn-off from the Sterling Highway on down to Seward. This short road gives you yet another view of the Kenai’s unbelievable mountains, intensely blue water, and thick evergreen forests. The best part is that the end result is Seward where you can take a wildlife cruise.

The Tok Cut-Off / Glenn Highway

At A Glance

From: Anchorage, AK
To: Tok, AK
States/Provinces: AK
Length: 318 miles
Nearby Cities: Anchorage, AK; Tok, AK

When you enter Alaska on the Al-Can, you eventually come to Tok (pronounced “toke”). At Tok, you have a choice: continue up the Al-Can to Delta Junction and Fairbanks or take the Tok Cut-Off to Anchorage. On the way in, we took the Al-Can to Fairbanks. But on the way back out, we took the opportunity to drive the Tok Cut-Off from Anchorage to Tok. Conveniently, this is also Alaska Highway 1, the same road that takes you to Homer from Anchorage, but this is the northern portion of the road.

The Tok Cut-Off is a prime example of how you can drive a long way in Alaska without seeing much of anything representing civilization. This 320-mile road features lots of scenery. There is plenty of cliff-side driving, but little in the way of towns or cities. There are a few small places where you can get gas, but don’t expect much from The Tok Cut-Off beyond pristine Alaskan wilderness.

The Haines Highway

At A Glance

From: Haines Junction, YT
To: Haines, AK
States/Provinces: YT, BC, AK
Length: 148 miles
Nearby Cities: Haines Junction, YT; Haines, AK

To get to Juneau, we first had to drive to Haines, which is accessible by road. But only from Canada. So we headed back into our friendly neighbor to the north on the Al-Can Highway until we reached Haines Junction, YT. From there, we left the Al-Can, taking Canada Highway 3 (aka The Haines Highway) southward back into Alaska.

The first part of this drive is an intense climb up the mountains. The second part is a really nice coast back down the other side of the mountains into the valley that Haines sits in. Along the way are more of those mountains that somehow never get old, covered in green prairies and forests, tipped with snow and glaciers. Once you re-enter Alaska, the road runs right along the river that takes you closer and closer to the Chilkat Inlet and Haines.

The Klondike Highway

At A Glance

From: Skagway, AK
To: Whitehorse, YT
States/Provinces: AK, BC, YT
Length: 100 miles
Nearby Cities: Skagway, AK; Whitehorse, YT

Our departure from Juneau on the Alaska Marine Highway took us to Skagway to cut our driving distance back to the lower 48. Nothing we’d seen in Alaska to this point prepared us for the landscape we saw here. It was like driving through a moonscape with oddly shaped terrain, pockmarked with craters, small ponds and lakes, and strange colors to go with the standard (though never dull) 1,000 foot cliffs and towering mountains.

One day, we’d love to hop on the Whitepass & Yukon Railroad for a rail trip through this beautiful area where we can both take it in.

Yellowhead Highway

At A Glance

From: Kitwanga, BC
To: Prince Rupert, BC
States/Provinces: BC
Length: 151 miles (242 km)
Nearby Cities: Kitwanga, BC; Terrace, BC; Prince Rupert, BC

On our southward trek to Washington, we decided to take a westward detour to Prince Rupert for a few nights of camping. If you’ve picked up on the trend, there are a lot of places way up north that have a single way in and a single way out. Prince Rupert is another of these, though you can also hop on a ferry instead of driving, if you so choose.

The Yellowhead Highway (Canada Highway 16) is that single way in. This is a phenomenal drive through a river valley. The drive is fairly flat, especially in comparison to the mountainous terrain we covered on other drives. Sitting in the valley for the entire drive really makes apparent the size of the mountains along British Columbia’s western coast.

Even with the clouds on the days we drove in and out, the scenery is no less fantastic than any other drive we’ve taken. For the entire drive, you’ll find yourself running right beside the Skeena River as it makes its way to Chatham Sound. Numerous times, the road plays leap-frog with the railroad track that shares the narrow flat that was used to build the road.

The Sea-To-Sky Highway / BC-99

At A Glance

From: Vancouver, BC
To: Lillooet, BC
States/Provinces: BC
Length: 157 miles (253 km)
Nearby Cities: Vancouver, BC; Squamish, BC; Whistler, BC; Lillooet, BC

The final drive of our great northern adventure was a drive down BC-99 from Lillooet, BC to Vancouver, BC. This is one road, but it goes through two very different types of terrain, with Whistler as roughly the dividing line. North of Whistler, you’ll drive a two-lane winding mountain road through a dry, rocky landscape dotted with green here and there. The road is steep and the turns are sharp. Pay attention to the warning signs telling you to slow down.

About 30 minutes north of Whistler, you descend the steep mountainous terrain into a more gently winding road through a dense evergreen forest next to a rushing river. South of Whistler, BC-99 is known as the Sea-To-Sky Highway. Unlike in 2009 when Scott and his friends went to Whistler, this road is now a 4-lane highway with a lot of development, owing to the 2010 Olympics held in Vancouver. The road still winds tightly next to Howe Sound for a good portion of the drive, giving incredible views that you’ll need to stop to take in.

Now a word of caution for the crazy drivers out there. Not long after leaving Lillooet, we found ourselves passing Porsche after Porsche heading the other direction, with an occasional BMW thrown in for good measure. They were mostly driving like idiots. A few miles later, we round a corner and find a Porsche that found the guardrail heading the other way. Of course, there’s no cell phone service in this area to make a call to the tow truck, so the car was sitting abandoned while they went to get help (FYI – no shoulder along that part of the road either, so the injured Porsche was still in the road!). Naturally, there were more pushing-the-limits-of-their-tires drivers coming that were soon going to round a corner and find the rear end of a Porsche in a guardrail. We were nice enough to flash our lights as a warning to everyone coming for the next 5 miles. But really, you can enjoy this road without risking driving into a ravine.