Thursday, 10 May 2012

Six Undeniable Reasons to Travel the Alaska Highway to Whitehorse

Most people who travel Canada’s West will hang out closer to the national border, usually sticking to Vancouver Island and the coast or venturing into the ever popular Okanogan Valley for some wine and....old people? If you’ve never actually been past Prince George before, you’ll look at the mountains and think “gosh, Canada is such a beautiful, diverse country!”, or something else that’s bashfully endearing. While you wouldn’t be wrong with that sentiment, the Southern Rockies are certainly not the end-all-be-all of stunning mountain scenery and culture for us humble Canucks. Not by a long shot.

Usually, the way things tend to go when you’re travelling is that you have to make three times the effort to get to the places that make it worthwhile. Yes, Vancouver is pretty, but if you think you’ve seen Canada just because you spent a two week vacation in Whistler, you’d be quite terribly mistaken. Things become a lot more untamed after you’ve pointed yourself north, as I’ve done, and get to the Alaska Highway.

Mile 422 - Toad River Lodge
The Alaska Highway officially begins in Dawson Creek, BC (not to be confused with Dawson’s Creek, unless that show was about a group of biker outlaws fleeing a paper trail and working in an isolated industrial wasteland). This is the official ‘Mile 1’ of an ambitious project that would finally connect the Yukon and Alaska with the rest of Canada and the mainland. From Dawson Creek, the highway stretches north past Fort St. John and Fort Nelson, dotting small roadside stops on the way – each with their own unique character. A crown jewel amongst this journey, however, is Toad River Lodge, situated in between Summit Lake and Muncho Lake. The Northern Rocky Mountain Range begins to enfold you at this point, and at times it will seem as though you are a tiny spec treading through the land. Toad River Lodge is complete with a service station which boasts a collection of over 3000 hats, most of which were donated by travellers passing by. The ‘restaurant’ is usually occupied by friendly neighbours, lonesome truckers and the regularly scheduled Greyhound passengers en route to Whitehorse or somewhere in between. 

This is why their buisness is ahead.....Heheh.....

Mile 462 - Muncho Lake
A mere one hour’s drive northwest of Toad River on the Alaska Highway is Muncho Lake, the centerpiece of Muncho Lake Provincial Park. The highway will  skim the edge of the lake, an unforgettable sight as towering cliffs contrast the clear blue below. While you’ll feel dwarfed by the scenery, Muncho Lake is a place of serenity in the wild. It’s most startling attribute forms out of a special mix in natural chemicals that allow the lake’s water to appear crystal blue and translucent. This section of highway traverses the ‘Muncho Pass’, that is, the Northernmost range in the Rocky Mountains to be traversed by a highway. It is also arguably the most beautiful section of driving in BC.

Mile 497 - Liard River Hotsprings
Follow the Alaska Highway closer to the Yukon border and you’ll end up on the other end of the Muncho Pass, where an oasis of naturally heated spring water awaits. In Liard River Hotsprings Provincial Park, a boardwalk trail leads over a bog and into the overhanging canopy of lush boreal forest, complete with unique species of plants that are not found anywhere else in Canada. Two pools of blissfully hot water trickle into the overgrowth, creating a sanctuary for those who need a reprise from the road. You would probably forget you were in Canada if it wasn’t for the putrid smell of lingering sulfur in the air (kind of smells like rotten eggs). Nevertheless, Liard River Hotsprings are truly a must see on the Alaska Highway. 

Mile 597 – Watson Lake Signpost Forest
Watson Lake is the first real ‘town’ North of the BC/Yukon border on the Alaska Highway, and like many other roadside establishments in this end of the country, there’s not much too it. But the big claim to fame in Watson Lake is the Signpost Forest; an impressive collection of vintage licence plates, hand painted signs and road markings posted by passersby. Word on the dirt road has it a homesick U.S Army G.I by the name of Carl K. Lindley first nailed a sign in this location during the construction of the Alaska Highway in 1948 indicating the number of miles to his hometown. What Lindley didn’t know is that he would start a fad that is now well over 10, 000 signs strong. 

Mile 866 – Tagish Road to Carcross Desert
The wayward traveller is welcome to venture off the Alaska Highway and into more uncharted territory. Tagish Road, at Mile 866, is one such opportunity that reaps great rewards. Diverting an hour Southwest, Tagish Road eventually happens across the small community of Carcross, home to what many refer to as the World’s Smallest Desert. True, The Yukon Territory is probably the very, very last place you would expect to find a desert, but it’s there...All one square mile of it. The area itself was originally covered by a glacial lake, which then retreated, leaving its exposed sandy bottom behind. It was a very bad, very dirty glacier. Today, you can climb the dunes of the Carcross Desert and pretend you’re a tiny cowboy searching out the nearest scallywag for a tumble. If that’s what you’re in to. 

Mile 866 – Atlin Road
 If you’re feeling extra saucy, you can continue on past Carcross and ride South along the Klondike Highway to its terminus at Atlin, BC. Affectionately deemed The Little Switzerland of the North, Atlin is situated in the Torres Channel Mountain Pass, home to massive glaciers and gorgeous white-capped giants. The area was first occupied during the Gold Rush in 1898, but a few residents continue to live in the town year-round. If you’re searching for breathtaking scenery coupled with nature’s bounty, look no further. 

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