Last Updated on January 6, 2020 by Chris and Lindsay
The following Dalton Highway Driving Tips will help you make the most out of your journey toward the Arctic Ocean.
Prior to our drive we found quite a bit of information about the highlights and stops along the highway. But we felt inadequately prepared for the actual drive itself. We had no idea what to expect of the Road Conditions or how to safely navigate the treacherous road.
As such we have compiled a list of Dalton Highway Driving Tips that will allow you to find pleasure on the road while remaining safe and respectful of other drivers on the highway. The road itself will lead you through desolation and leave you feeling entirely alone at times. But you are never alone on the Dalton Highway! So remember this and follow our advice and you can make your journey (and that of others) safe and enjoyable!
You will find that these Dalton Highway Driving Tips are more “you-centered.” In other words, these tips will help you handle your own vehicle better on the road. Please be sure to read about tips on how to interact with other drivers in our Dalton Highway Safety Driving Tips.
Dalton Highway Driving Tips
1. Reset your trip meter at the start of your trip.
When leaving Fairbanks there is a sign indicating you are entering the Dalton Highway. In Deadhorse the highway actually begins at a T junction where the Dalton Highway meets Lake Colleen. Reset your Trip Meter in both locations such that you can use the Road Condition markers and the Milepost Quick Reference Log so you can know what to expect as you drive.
NOTE: The famous “Dalton Highway Sign” is actually just over 1 mile into the highway so if you reset your trip meter there then you should account for that small discrepancy!
2. Have your Road Conditions markers and Milepost Quick Reference Log handy
Be prepared to have these resources OFFLINE. You will NOT have cellular service on the Dalton Highway. We wrote out our plan on a scratch sheet of notebook paper so that we could anticipate when we would cross certain milestones. With the addition of our Road Conditions markers you should meet very little, if any, surprises… as long as you have them quickly available offline. You can take a screenshot on your phone or tablet or handwrite them. But have them handy to keep you safe and aware of upcoming points of interest.
3. Know your fuel range and plan accordingly.
The easiest fuel stop for us was Coldfoot. Cold foot is approximately 260 miles from Fairbanks and 240 miles from Deadhorse. Both of these distances were within range for our truck. However we did fuel up in Deadhorse as well so that we could make both of these distances. (Fuel in Deadhorse is expensive, but it is better to pay more for fuel than to run out on the Dalton Highway!). We used Coldfoot as our “midway point” and also fueled up on caffeine while we were there.
4. Plan your trip ahead of time.
Always be prepared to adjust your plans, of course. But if you plan to take two days to drive the Dalton Highway each way, then have an idea of approximately how far you want to go each day. Following Tip #2 and Tip #6 will allow you the flexibility to cover a certain amount of distance while also finding a safe place to rest. Be sure to stock up on fuel (Tip #3) and other items as needed along the way.
NOTE: This drive looks different on paper if you are riding a motorcycle vs an RV vs a car/truck vs a bicycle. Your plans will be different and your needs will be met differently. For example, in our truck camper we are always stocked well enough to live for 2-3 weeks on our own. But if you are riding a motorcycle or bicycle with limited storage it is important for you to know where you can expect a hot meal or to purchase groceries.
5. Be aware of everything.
This should be Tip #1 – 10. But as good of a driver as you are back home, be that much better on the Dalton Highway. Road Conditions can change instantly. You might be up to speed on one stretch of the road and have to immediately stop for a string of potholes in another. Trucks will approach you from in front or the rear and fly past you as if you did not exist. And, as cute as caribou, moose and and musk ox are, they can cause big time issues if you hit one (or turn suddenly to avoid hitting one!). Be aware constantly!
6. Rest stops are plentiful.
We wish we knew how abundant rest stops were before we started to drive the Dalton Highway. We anticipated having to cover long distances between stops for the evening. However, you can pull off in so many places to rest. Just do so safely. Regardless of how badly you might need to use the restroom or stretch your legs, drive further until you reach a pullout. There will be one.
We didn’t even bother to mark them all in our Road Condition guide because there are so many. Whether you race to Deadhorse and back as we did, or you take two weeks in each direction, know that there are plenty of places to pull over and rest. Just don’t expect them to be quiet! Trucks and other vehicles drive the Dalton Highway at all hours of the day and night. You will hear them when they pass.
7. Bridges are usually a sign to slow down.
We found that some of the most consistently inconsistent parts of any road (paved or otherwise) was both before and after a bridge. As such, we advise that you slow prior to the transition between the road and bridge. There are a few places with nice, gradual transitions between the road and bridge. But many of the bridges, especially the one crossing the Yukon River, are wooden and that necessitates a different grade between the bridge and the highway.
8. Overdrive can be the enemy.
If you are driving a larger rig it is likely you won’t need overdrive at all. Between the constantly changing road conditions and the steep grades both uphill and downhill, keeping your engine purring at slightly higher revolutions is likely better for it on the long haul than burning out the transmission. Even using overdrive and lower gears to go both up and downhill there were a few instances where we had to pull over to let our transmission cool down. Our overdrive was only efficient at 55 – 60 mph so only in one 35 mile stretch (between Mile 175 and 210, north of Coldfoot) did we consistently use it.
9. Lower gears can be your friend.
When going down steep grades, taking off overdrive will also allow your engine to help you brake. Depending on the size/weight of your vehicle, this can allow you tremendous savings in the wear of your brakes. While we still needed to tap the brakes from time to time on steep descents, in many cases our third or even second gear were able to slow us down enough to safely cruise downhill.
Check out our Dalton Highway Driving Safety Tips for information on how to interact with other drivers on the highway.
Enjoy the Drive!
Driving the Dalton Highway is incredibly rewarding! From the wildlife you will see to the spectacular, desolate landscapes the Dalton Highway is worth the drive. However, it is best to always be prepared for the harsh conditions of the road. If you follow these Dalton Highway Driving Tips and know where to expect road conditions to change then you will have a safer, more enjoyable drive to the top of the world!