Driving from Seattle to Alaska - best route?
August 5, 2015 11:49 AM   Subscribe

I want to drive from Seattle and 'get to' Alaska, just so I can say I've been there. So-- no particular PLACE in Alaska, but officially "in Alaska". I want to drive, not fly. What's the more scenic place to enter Alaska-- Northway, or Haines?

It looks like, from Google maps, that I could drive into Canada, head north along the Alaskan Highway, and enter Alaska south of Northway... OR I could head southwest, just before Whitehorse, and head down and enter Alaska either near Skagway, and take a... ferry? I guess? that goes to Haines, OR drive to Haines Junction and then drive south and cross the border and drive into Haines. I'm just wondering which route would give the most interesting experience. I will have a dog with me, and my van is equipped to camp in if needed, but hotels or campgrounds along the way would also be nice.

Any advice or suggestions, things along the way to see? Thanks in advance for any help! :)
posted by The otter lady to Travel & Transportation around Alaska (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The ferry is awesome; this Alaskan recommends you hop on as early as you can and then drive out of Haines. In general, southeast Alaska, to me, is more interesting than central Alaska.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:55 AM on August 5, 2015

Is money a concern? I've taken the Alaska Marine Highway System up to Alaska from Bellingham several times though not recently. With your setup, you might want to consider ferrying part way and driving back? You can sleep aboard the ferry (on a covered deck, or just on a couch in the lounges) which is sort of fun. However your dog would have to stay in the van in a carrier when the ferry was moving which might be a suboptimal experience for them. The ferry would let you go to Juneau which you can't otherwise easily drive to. That said Juneau's not that awesome compared to the rest of the state. I haven't driven through Canada to get there however, I did really enjoy the time I spent in SE Alaska going back and forth on the ferries.
posted by jessamyn at 12:01 PM on August 5, 2015

Best answer: Try Hyder, AK -- I believe this is the southernmost point at which you can enter Alaska by road rather than by ferry.

You'll take BC 37A, picking that up from BC 37, picking that up from Trans-Canada 16.
posted by tckma at 12:15 PM on August 5, 2015

We had a great (long) trip years ago taking the ferry over to Vancouver Island, driving up to Port Hardy, and taking the Inland Passage ferry (reservations strongly recommended) to Prince Rupert. From there we drove through British Columbia and the Yukon into Alaska. It was incredible. I think we crossed into Alaska around Beaver Creek.

There are a lot of other options here.
posted by bearwife at 12:20 PM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, and this is from over fifteen years ago, but I am a roadgeek, hence I find it interesting. Here's a photo log from someone who drove from Massachusetts to several points in Alaska, and back, with many photos. Alaska 2001
posted by tckma at 12:21 PM on August 5, 2015

Best answer: I rode my motorcycle from Seattle to Skagway, AK, and it was great. I recommend the Cassiar highway (BC-37) up through BC. The Milepost was the canonical excellent reference for travel up north and I don't know any reason it still isn't. Their entry on the Cassiar.

Partway along BC37, you come to a T intersection with signage that points right to get to the Alaska Highway (continuing along the Cassiar) or left to Hyder, AK. (I turned right. If you don't want to go all the way up through the Yukon to get to AK around Skagway, I recommend turning left.)
posted by rmd1023 at 1:16 PM on August 5, 2015

What time of year are you planning this trip? It makes a difference.

I am nth-ing suggestions that you try to include some travel on the Alaska Marine Highway System (if you can afford it.) It's an Alaskan experience in its own right and a wonderful way to travel.

If you choose to drive -- the AlCan is the most traveled route, but a few years ago I had a very nice trip up the Cassiar with a friend who came to visit me in Ketchikan -- we caught the ferry to Prince Rupert, drove inland until we hit the Cassiar, and drove it as far as Kluane National Park, then turned south and caught a ferry back to Ketchikan from Skagway. Photos if you're interested.
posted by Nerd of the North at 7:12 PM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Some additional advice:
  • Once you get north of the Whistler area, the route from Seattle north/south through southern BC turns inland and takes you well away from the coast and the Coast Range. After that it's hundreds and hundreds of miles of comparatively unremarkable scenery. Don't linger in this section (or skip it to take a leg on the ferry, or find an alternate route) because there's much better as you get further north.
  • Maybe it's just me, but Prince George has never treated me very well any time I've passed through, and friends have said the same. I've been accosted by violent drunks on the street, friends have had their car broken into overnight, and other people I know have generally reported bad experiences there. I don't know if these experiences are typical, and you're going to have to pass through there one way or another if you drive through northern BC, but I usually try to arrange my driving so that I no longer stop in Prince George.
  • On the other hand, the Skeena River Valley is a truly lovely drive and worth arranging your route so that you travel the road between Prince Rupert and Smithers (or vice versa) (I like it best following the river route from the mountains down to the sea but it's quite pretty either way.)
  • Allow slack in your schedule and be aware that if you run into an obstacle it may complicate things more than you expect. When driving the Cassiar a few years ago, my friend and I got to Dease Lake before we learned that there was a very good chance that forest fires would close the northernmost section of the road before we could join the AlCan. We ended up being escorted through the fire zone in convoy with active burning going on on either side of the road and wildlife fleeing from the fire crossing the road in front of us but we had little choice but to continue, as the only alternative route would have required backtracking hundreds of miles and missing our ferry sailing out of Skagway. If you have any mechanical or routing problems in the north they may play hell with a tight schedule.

posted by Nerd of the North at 7:50 PM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ah! Thanks for the advice thus far! The timing would be this month-- sometime in August.

I'm a little dubious about the Marine Highway system because I will have the dog with me, and I don't think there'd be any place for her to relieve herself on a boat, right? I was thinking driving would be best because we could stop whenever and wherever we wanted, to walk, pee, look around etc....

Thanks so much for the advice so far!
posted by The otter lady at 8:44 PM on August 5, 2015

If you have your dog you have to keep him/her in the car while the ferry is moving; you can take them out when you're in port but can't visit them otherwise. If you are on a leg longer than 8 hours there are 3 calls a day where you can spend 15 minutes with the dog and they can pee/poop/stretch legs, but it does suck for them (especially if your dog is really well housetrained and won't pee inside...some people find that bringing a square of artificial grass helps).
posted by charmedimsure at 11:09 PM on August 5, 2015

When we moved up here, we went Seattle - Bellingham - Haines (via the Ferry) [then Tok-Delta Junction-Fairbanks].

If all you want to do is set foot in the state, you could just take the ferry to Ketchican.

(But we've got lots of fun stuff to do. Come stay a while! Rates will be cheap in middle/late August!)
posted by leahwrenn at 11:42 PM on August 5, 2015

Yes, the dog probably rules out the ferry options, certainly the longer ones. That will restrict lodging options quite a bit, too. It's very likely you wouldn't be able to get ferry reservations which included a vehicle on such short notice anyway -- walk-on space is pretty much always available but vehicle space and staterooms book early for summer sailings on the major routes.

As for "rates will be cheap in August" -- well that hasn't been my experience. At all. Not in Southeast Alaska, anyway, where August is peak season.
posted by Nerd of the North at 6:42 AM on August 6, 2015

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