Dalton Highway, AK

Wild Roads

Throughout the pandemic, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.

IN ALASKAN VERNACULAR, the Dalton Highway, a 414-mile stretch of hard-packed gravel paralleling the Trans-Alaska Pipeline north of Fairbanks all the way to the Arctic Ocean, is known as the Haul Road. It's tempting to imagine that name as shorthand for the Hauling-Ass Road—the occasional sign posting a 50-mph speed limit gets as much respect as a no guns sign in Afghanistan's Hindu Kush—but it's really a Hauling-Equipment Road, for supplies on their way to Prudhoe Bay's oil fields. For intrepid motorists, the Dalton offers a route into the wildest, most beautiful landscape you'll ever see from behind a wheel. The road is notoriously tough on cars, so rent an SUV or light pickup in Fairbanks (make sure the rental contract covers you on the Dalton; most don't). Day one takes you across the vast Yukon River and then through endless sub-Arctic straightaways, where one glimpse of the unpeopled expanse equals a thousand weekends away anywhere else. Prep for day two by filling the tank at Coldfoot Camp, the self-proclaimed northernmost truck stop in the world (you won't hit another station for 244 miles). From there it's up and over the Brooks Range via a stunning, serpentine pass, and then down into rolling arctic tundra. Here the only pedestrians are musk ox, grizzlies, and caribou. Don't wait a lifetime to make the drive; if the oil fields of the Alaskan Arctic peter out (when this will happen is anyone's guess), the road might be destroyed.