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Driving in Alaska

The Alaska Highway was completed in just 8 months during World War II stretches almost 1,400 incredibly scenic miles through dense, otherworldly black spruce forests, rugged mountain passes, and isolated alpine lakes.  It crosses tiny creeks with quaint historical names, thundering rivers murky with glacial silt, and deep chasms cut by rushing waterfalls.  The towns connected by the highway are often small, distant from one another and far from the seasonal playgrounds on the cruise ship routes.  It passes through many important migration corridors and breeding grounds, and affords an outstanding opportunity to encounter wildlife.

Driving in Alaska can be a wonderful adventure.  Unlike a tour, your own car gives you the freedom to choose exactly where you go and how much time you spend there.  It's also a great way to gain a sense of the true size of the place, and an opportunity to explore more remote areas of the state, considerably off the beaten tourist track.  If you're interested in camping, fishing, hunting, photography,  birding, or just spending time in the outdoors, driving your own car gives you the flexibility to follow changing conditions and explore new favorite places.   However, if you're only in Alaska for a short time, the distances between towns can be daunting.  You should allow about double the amount of driving time for equivalent distances down south.   Costs, including rental and drop fees, gas, food, and lodging on the Alaska highway are all more higher than you may be used to.  Roadhouse food service remains stuck in the 50’s with burgers, fries, soup, pie and coffee still the mainstay.   You might want to stock up on picnic supplies at one of the large supermarkets in Anchorage or Fairbanks before heading out as there's no shortage of absolutely world-class picnic sites on the highway. Remember that amenities are far apart.  If you have a feeling you might need a motel or a gas station when you're passing through a town, it's best not to procrastinate; the next one might not be for many miles, and cell phone reception is spotty.  Lodging is comfortable but basic.  Not all facilities are handicap accessible–call ahead if this is an issue.  Motels can fill up in the summer, though on the highway it's more likely your neighbors will be local hunters and fishermen than tourists. The highway is well maintained and entirely paved, though you may encounter summer because the constant seasonal freezing and thawing creates what Alaskans call 'frost heaves'.  These are usually marked (and fun to drive on!), but be aware.  Binoculars and a camera are essential for this adventure.

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