Scenic Alaska Roadtrip Itinerary with Hidden Gems

Scenic Alaska Roadtrip Itinerary with Hidden Gems

Alaska holds an extra special place in my heart. There’s just something about that wild, gorgeous state that calls to me. I’ve been several times – by airplane, ferry, and cruise ship – but my favorite trip was when I took a 3-week Alaska roadtrip from Washington state, passing through British Colombia and the Yukon Territory in Canada, towing my Tiny House on wheels.

About this Alaska Roadtrip Itinerary

The typical Alaska roadtrip itinerary will lead you on the famous ALCAN, or Alaska Highway, but this itinerary instead hugs the western edge of Canada and features small towns and hidden gems that are too often overlooked. The highways involved in this itinerary are: Highway 99, 16, 37, 37A, and finishes with the Klondike loop.

I’ve highlighted my favorite stops, as well as details on each highway, and a few suggested detours and campsites.

Sea to Sky Highway (Highway 99)

The scenic 254 mile Sea to Sky highway is very popular because it not only offers picturesque views, but it also travels straight through Whistler, a popular town for recreation no matter the season.

Alaska Roadtrip

Highlight: Whistler

Whistler is a beautiful town with a lot to offer including shopping, skiing, hiking, and dog sled rides. It’s definitely worth spending a few days exploring this charming mountain town.

Alaska Roadtrip

If you’re on a budget, eat at El Furniture Warehouse. Every food item on their menu is $4.95, no matter the season. You’ll spend more on beer than food at this place!

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Highlight: Nairn Falls

A 20 minute walk from the parking lot awards you with a gorgeous close up view of Nairn Falls. The teal colored cascade crashes, foams and forces its way through underwater portholes only to gush out into a raging river. Bring a picnic, the viewing platform is a wonderful place to have lunch. Camping also available.

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Highlight: Joffre Lakes

Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, is the BEST stop on this particular highway. Three pools of turquoise tears fed from an elevated angelic glacier are easy to reach via a moderate hike. You can even camp out overnight at the top!

Alaska Roadtrip

Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16)

The Yellowhead Highway stretches 1,840 miles east to west from British Columbia to Manitoba. We met up with it in Prince George.

The Yellowhead is paved and has easy accessibility to gas, camping, shopping, restaurants, etc.  The small towns lining the Yellowhead are charming and the local fishing is some of the best in British Columbia (or so we’re told).

Highlight: Railway & Forestry Museum

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Get ready to nerd out over old machinery! This outdoor museum serves as a rusty graveyard for retired trains, plows, chainsaws, tractors and a few monstrous machines you never even knew existed. You can stumble around the old machines for hours, reading plaques and peeking inside the rusty old carriages. For the love of God… BRING MOSQUITO REPELLENT!

Alaska Roadtrip

Highlight: Smithers

Smithers is an adorable town with colorful boutiques, and definatley worth a stop for lunch and at least a few hours to walk around.

Hightlight: Ksan Historical Village

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For a little Gitxsan culture and history, we stopped off at Ksan Historical Village near Old Hazelton to tour the native buildings and see the totem poles. Tip: Pay for the guided tourThe entrance fee will NOT get you inside any of the historic buildings, only tour participants are allowed inside.

Campsite: Taltzen Lake Recreational Site

This is a suggestion for a secluded campsite and located next to a lily pad covered lake. If you have a canoe, I can think of nothing better than a evening paddle.

Alaska Roadtrip

Detour Suggestion: Scenic Drive to Prince Rupert

The Yellowhead Highway continues to Prince Rupert, and the drive is absolutely stunning! I highly suggest taking a few days to follow highway 16 all the way to Prince Rupert before continuing north.

We followed the Skeena River while snow-capped mountains towered proudly in the distance. Rest stops were readily available, so it was easy to pull over for a photo or picnic.

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Highlight: Prince Rupert

Prince Rupert is a tiny coastal city with a quirky downtown. Cow Bay, a wacky section of downtown, synchronizes their retail and restaurants around a simple theme. Can you guess what it is??  Yep, COWS! Several shops have embraced the motif, using cattle-puns for their shop names. For example, “Cowpuccinos” is the name of Cow Bay’s coffee shop.

If you did the detour to Prince Rupert, drive back east on Highway 16 until you reach the junction for Highway 37.

Alaska Roadtrip

Stewart-Cassiar Highway (Highway 37)

The Stewart-Cassiar Highway is a paved but rural 543 mile highway that runs along the interior of British Columbia. It is often considered the more rugged alternative to the more popular Alaska Highway.

The towns bordering the highway have populations of less than 300 permanent residents, so there are probably more bears in residency along the highway than people! Rest stops and gas stations are readily available at reasonable intervals but locals suggest carrying a gas can for emergencies.

Highlight: Abundant Wildlife

We were told that wildlife is abundant on Highway 37, and oh boy, they weren’t kidding! We saw ten black bears on this highway and most of them were crossing the road. A few were mothers with small cubs, so we were careful to keep our distance.

A Bald Eagle Eyeing His Next Meal

Moose, bald eagles and other majestic northern animals also live around the Stewart/Cassiar highway, so although the area offers excellent wildlife watching it’s also dangerous for careless drivers.

Alaska Roadtrip

Detour Suggestion: Highway 37A

The detour to Salmon Glacier from the Stewart/Cassier Highway is about 120 miles round trip, but absolutely worth it! In order to get to Salmon Glacier you have to pass through the tiny town of Stewart, BC, into the even tinier town of Hyder, Alaska, and then swoop back in rural Canada before being smacked in the face with the gorgeous glacier!

This means you’ll be weaving in and out of Canada and the United States, but don’t worry, you’ll only be stopped by the border police as you return to British Columbia after visiting the glacier. No one checks your passport as you enter Hyder, Alaska (a town with a population of 87 residents), which means it’s probably the only place in the United States that you can enter without the threat of a full cavity search.

Highlight: Bear Glacier

As you travel down Highway 37A towards Stewart, you’ll pass Bear Glacier: a spectacular blue giant perched a few hundred meters from the road. Believe it or not, this glacier is only a fraction of its former self.  50 years ago, the highway and our tiny house would have been buried in Bear Glacier’s icy underbelly in the picture below!

Highlight: Stewart

Stewart is a quaint British Columbian town with a few restaurants, a grocery store, campground, visitor center and an estuary boardwalk ( great for bird watching).

As you leave Stewart, to visit Salmon Glacier, and enter Hyder you’ll be greeted by a small frontier tourist shop. Stop in to try some homemade fudge. Yum! It’s a long bumpy ride to Salmon Glacier, but on the way there are a few stop offs.

Fish Creek Wildlife Viewing

The most popular pull off is Fish Creek Wildlife Observatory where you can see bears feeding on spawning salmon in the late summer. Unfortunately, we arrived in early summer, so no salmon or bears were present.

Highlight: Salmon Glacier

Salmon Glacier is an angelic swirl of vanilla ice cream sprinkled with turquoise pools. This strange celestial beauty emits an “other-worldly” aura, as all glaciers do. As I stood in front of the brisk beast, I could feel its cold breath prickling my skin. Glaciers make you feel small, insignificant, awestruck and… a little bit sad. These colossus beauties used to be much much larger.

Mt. Edziza Reflecting in Morchuea Lake

Campsite: Morchuea Lake Recreational Site

The Morchuea Recreational Site is easily accessible from the Stewart/Cassiar Highway and the view of the lake is unbeatable. The volcano, Mt. Edziza, poses handsomely in the distance and a small boat ramp offers recreation for anyone with a canoe or kayak.

If you did the 37A detour, return back to Highway 37 to continue this Alaska Roadtrip Itinerary.

Alaska Roadtrip

Highlight: Jade City

Did you know that about 90% of the jade in the world comes from Cassiar Mountain? Most of it is exported to China, but the large shop called “Jade City” offers a variety of  jewelry and keepsakes for purchase. Talk about quirky! 

Jade City (the shop; it’s not really a city) is owned and operated by a jade mining family. Observe the hardy machinery on display that they use for mining, cutting and polishing the precious stones. As a bonus, the shop offers free coffee, wifi and RV parking for travelers.

Welcome to Yukon Territory

I waved goodbye to British Columbia, a province that whetted our appetite for glacial lakes and bear viewing, as the Yukon greeted us with a dusty smile.

Fishing licenses were cheaper in the Yukon and government campgrounds were plentiful. Groceries, beer, and restaurants were more expensive and WiFi was almost non-existent. The sun refused to set at a proper bedtime. Often I found myself sitting around the campfire well past midnight, believing it was early evening!

Alaska Roadtrip

Klondike Loop (Yukon Highway #2 & #9, Alaska #5)

Continuing this Alaska roadtrip itinerary, next is The Klondike Loop, famous for following the trail taken by gold prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush. The road is partially paved, but the majority is gravel and dirt.

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Highlight: Dawson City

An adorable yet somehow gritty Yukon town that proudly flaunts its Klondike heritage. Dawson City was one of my favorite stops on the entire Alaska roadtrip. I suggest spending at least two nights here.

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Yukon River Crossing

The Klondike Loop continues after Dawson City with the famously scenic “Top of the World Highway.” But first, we had to cross the Yukon River and the only way to do that is by boat! The free ferry service carries pedestrians, cars, and RVs across the Yukon river 24 hours a day.

The Klondike Loop has become so popular that the wait for the ferry can be 3-4 hours in peak season. We waited 3 hours, loaded our tiny house onto the ferry and floated across the river in 15 minutes.

Alaska Roadtrip

Top of the World Highway (Yukon #9)

Many locals warned us about the conditions on the Top of the World Highway, but we refused to double back. The day we traveled was hazy from nearby forest fires, creating less than spectacular scenery (which is why we don’t have any photos). We took it slow and shimmied our way to the border crossing. No tiny houses were injured in this crossing!

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Top of the World Border Crossing

Alaska Roadtrip Border Crossing

This border crossing was unique in that there WASN’T A LINE!  The officer let us pass without an inspection, and the anti-climatic crossing took about three minutes.

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Alaska Roadtrip

Welcome to Alaska!

After three weeks of driving through gorgeous Canada, my Alaska roadtrip reached its destination. I had made it! Bucket list item complete.

All photography in this article by Guillaume Dutilh

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