For the adventurous, the Alaska Highway offers one of the most exciting routes north. For Soldiers, your PCS orders must specifically authorize travel via the Alaska Highway if you wish to drive. Often referred to as the Alcan (Alaska-Canada) Highway, the Alaska Highway weaves nearly 1,400 miles northwest from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Delta Junction, Alaska.
For Airmen driving through Canada or taking the ferry, you are advised you are not authorized to report to Alaska any earlier than the first day of your Report No Later Than Day (RNLTD) month since Alaska is considered an overseas assignment unless the following situation applies.
IAW AFI 36-2110 pages 193-194 and MPFM 07-34 dated May 15, 2007, pages 8-9: RNLTD Changes After Assignment Selection While Assigned Overseas:
The Alaska Highway is now paved, but the pavement varies considerably in quality. Road construction in the north is limited to the summer season, so expect occasional long stretches of road under repair or construction. Depending on the weather, the routing around or through these construction sites can be very muddy or exceedingly dusty.
The dust situation is only bad after long dry spells. To keep the dust out, keep some air pressure in the car by closing the windows and turning on the heater, fan or air conditioner. Finally, take it easy and take your time. Stop now and then to relax and take in the rugged north country; about 350 miles a day on the varying surfaces of northern roads is plenty. Your best source about traveling into Canada is the Canadian Tourism Commission website. Another good resource isthe Canadian Border Services Agency website.
It is important to remember Canada has different import-export laws and regulations. You should check with the Canadian consulate general’s office at http://can-am.gc.ca/seattle or call 206-443-1777 before your trip to see what you can bring into the country. Its address is 1501 Fourth Ave., Suite 600, Seattle, WA 98101.
HANDGUNS ARE NOT PERMITTED WITH ENTRY INTO CANADA.
It is highly recommended you ship all of your personal weapons with your household goods or baggage shipment. A valid state driver’s license IS NOT proof of citizenship; you MUST have a valid U.S. or foreign passport or U.S. naturalized citizenship documents in your possession at the Canadian border. In addition, any family pets must have complete shot records and a current health certificate.
According to the U.S. State Department website, under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative: All persons traveling by air outside the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States.
WHTI-compliant documents include:
- Trusted traveler cards (NEXUS, SENTRI or FAST).
- State-issued enhanced driver’s license (when available).
- Enhanced tribal cards (when available).
- U.S. military identification with military travel orders.
- U.S. Merchant Mariner Document when traveling in conjunction with official maritime business.
- Native American tribal photo identification card.
- Form I-872 American Indian card.
For further information, see the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection travel website. Be sure you know what is required before you embark on a trip. Service members, unless they are traveling as tourists, do not need passports under these new rules. Family members can get no-fee tourist passports if they are on official travel, but the Department of Defense encourages all service members and family members to get regular passports. No-fee passports are not accepted for unofficial travel (going home on leave, etc.).
Re-Entering the U.S.
Re-entry into the United States upon reaching Alaska is the responsibility of the traveler. Canadian immigration officers will usually caution people if they may have problems returning to the United States. Re-entry can be simplified if you list all purchases made in Canada before you reach the border, keep sales slips and invoices separate, and pack the purchases for convenient inspection.
Once you reach Tok, Alaska, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson-bound personnel should take the Tok Cutoff, traveling for 125 miles to the Richardson Highway. Continue travelling southbound for 14 miles and turn onto the Glenn Highway for 189 miles to Anchorage. It’s a long haul but the scenery is magnificent, and if you are traveling in the summer the fishing opportunities along the way are almost limitless.
Have extra cash when making the long drive north. When you reach the Canadian border, you should have at least $500 in cash, traveler’s checks or credit cards, plus $75 for each adult passenger.
The major cities along the route — Fort Nelson, British Columbia; Watson Lake, Yukon Territory; Whitehorse, Yukon Territory; and Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory — are spaced at roughly 300-mile intervals.
In between these communities, various small businesses exist to provide gas, food and lodging.
Auto insurance coverage required in Canada is higher than normally required in the United States. You should check in advance with your automobile insurance provider to ensure your coverage is adequate for Canada and complies with that country’s requirements. You should have a copy of the policy or some other proof of insurance in hand when you enter Canada. Normally, your insurance company will fax you a sheet of paper noting your insurance is adequate and in force for a trip through Canada if you ask it to do so.
Although auto repair is generally available along the Alaska Highway, it can be expensive and there can be delays if you have to wait for parts specific to your vehicle. It’s always a good idea to carry a few common items made for your vehicle such as fan belts and properly inflated spare tires.
Even if you don’t know how to install these items, any competent mechanic you contact along the road should be able to help. In addition to those items specific to your vehicle, a repair kit containing general-purpose items is a good idea, along with a tool kit of basic wrenches, pliers and screwdrivers, jumper cables and all-purpose tape (such as duct tape).
Cautions for the Alaska Highway
Make sure your tires are in good condition and carry a mounted spare tire at least the equal of the tires on the road. The small, temporary doughnut spares commonly provided with vehicles are impractical on the Alaska Highway. During the winter, from October through April, cars need cold-weatherprotection and gear. This may include an engine heater, antifreeze, thinner oil, studded snow tires and warm clothing for the driver and passengers. Tire chains are occasionally required for some stretches during the winter so be sure to carry a set with you and know how to install them. Temperatures may fall to 50 below in the winter. Remember, not all businesses are open all year, nor are they available 24 hours a day, so plan ahead for gas, food and lodging. Although most highways in Alaska are paved, the freezing and thawing of permafrost (permanently frozen ground) in the northern three-fourths of the state and in Yukon Territory can cause the road to buckle. If you drive too fast on these stretches, you may lose control or cause severe damage to your vehicle; slow down and proceed with care.
Winterizing Your Car
Probably the only thing you need to do to your car before bringing it to Alaska is to make sure it is in good shape. This includes a tuneup, maybe changing belts and hoses that are more than 2 years old, and making certain your coolant is adequate to 50 below or colder. The decision to further modify your vehicle can generally wait until you arrive. The mechanics at the base service stations and local garages will be happy to advise you.
Many people with orders to Alaska wonder if they need to get new tires. Whether to do so depends a great deal upon your abilities as a winter driver. Obviously old, bald tires are a bad idea in the winter, and regular street tires offer little traction. However, many people get along fine year-round with all-season radial tires.
Others feel more comfortable with snow tires or studded tires. There is no magic formula. Even a sport utility vehicle with four studded tires can spin out if the driver encounters black ice or is not driving cautiously.
Tips for vehicles in Alaska:
- An engine block heater is a must to fight off winter temperatures. Cars should not have to be plugged in unless temperatures drop below zero, but the state recommends plugging in your vehicle at temperatures below 20 degrees to help mitigate pollution. Portable interior car heaters are prohibited because they are a fire hazard and an extra drain on the electrical system.
- Another important thing is to change to an arctic-weight lubricant for the differential and transmission.
- You may want to include a northern (hotter) thermostat. A battery blanket may further aid in starting your car on cold winter mornings.
- The oil should be changed to 5W-30 or to special arctic oil. Check your owner’s manual carefully before deciding on which oil to use. In the extreme cold, lubricants can thicken, so thinner oil is usually the way to go.
- The circulating/freeze plug heater and other mechanical modifications will probably be fine if left in place, but it’s not a bad idea to check them out to see if they work come winter.
Winter Driving Tips
People who have never driven on ice and snow will need to rethink their driving techniques. Snow and ice greatly reduce the traction of your tires, so it takes longer to start, longer to stop and longer to get where you’re going. Allow extra time for everything when driving in the winter. Speeds that may be safe in summer are not safe on ice and snow. The distance required to stop a vehicle safely on a slippery surface may be three to nine times longer than on dry pavement.
ALWAYS ADJUST YOUR SPEED TO ROAD AND WEATHER CONDITIONS.
To avoid winter collisions, maintain at least 50 yards between your vehicle and someone else’s; more is better. When slowing or stopping, don’t slam on the brakes or you could skid and lose control. Pump the brakes gently and shift to a lower gear if possible. In case of a skid, turn the steering wheel in the direction of the skid. Cars with ABS brakes may state in the owner’s manual to avoid pumping the brakes and allow the system to do its job in bringing your vehicle to a smooth stop. Do not rely exclusively on this recommendation as sometimes conditions are so slick ABS brakes may lock your wheels.
When you brush the snow off your windshield, take the time to clear the rear and side windows too. In winter, vision in every direction is paramount and may help prevent an accident.
Alaska Marine Highway System
Far and away, the most beautiful way to travel to Alaska is on the AMHS ferries operated by the state. The AMHS ferries carry passengers and vehicles from Bellingham, Washington, and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, up the Inside Passage to the Alaska cities of Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka, Juneau, Haines and Skagway. The boats have parking decks, sightseeing solaria, staterooms and food service.
The ferry will not get you all the way to Anchorage. The most common debarkation point is Haines, Alaska, which is nearly 760 miles from Anchorage. This road requires crossing into Canada for a few hundred miles, so all immigration and customs rules (found in the “driving” section) should be adhered to.
For less of a drive during the summer months, you can get off the ferry in Juneau and catch a connecting ferry to Whittier, Alaska. Whittier is nestled between the glacier-capped Chugach Mountains and Prince William Sound.
The drive from the edge of Prince William Sound through the Chugach Mountains includes a drive through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel (North America’s longest combined railroad-highway tunnel) and connects Whittier to Anchorage — only 45 miles to the north, or about a 1 1/2-hour road trip. There is also an Alaska Railroad station in Whittier that provides train service to Anchorage June through mid-September. Plan ahead for this trip as the Juneau-Whittier route is only scheduled May through October and runs three times a month.
Passengers traveling to Whittier are advised to checkthe Whittier Tunnel website for a schedule of when the tunnel is open to vehicle traffic. Bicycle and foot traffic is prohibited through the tunnel, and there are vehicle size and other restrictions of which you should be aware before traveling through the tunnel. For a recording of the schedule, call the Whittier Tunnel toll-free at 877-611-2586.
The trip from Bellingham to Haines takes about three days, and the Bellingham to Whittier route takes about five days, often requiring an overnight stay in Juneau. Remember, from Haines it’s about two more days of driving to get to Anchorage. Reservations for travel via the AMHS should be made three to six months in advance. You or the Traffic Management Office can book your passage. You will be reimbursed for passage and stateroom berths for all command-sponsored family members as well as one vehicle.
Passenger travel, including a stateroom on the ferry, is at government expense. Your Transportation Office can issue you a Government Travel Request for passage, or you can be reimbursed when you arrive at your new duty station in Alaska. If you did not ship a POV to Alaska, you can receive reimbursement for the cost of the vehicle placed on the ferry; the vehicle cannot exceed 800 cubic feet. If you have already shipped a privately owned vehicle through the government and decide to take the ferry and place another vehicle on the ferry, you may be reimbursed for the cost of transporting your vehicle on the ferry.
For more information about the AMHS ferry service or to make reservations, visit www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs or call 800-642-0066.