RV Guide: Drive The Dalton Highway May 1, 2019
Driving the Dalton Highway will provide you one of the most unique and life-changing adventures that you will carry with you forever.
There is no lack of scenery as you drive the Dalton Highway from central Alaska to the north slope.
As you follow the Alaska pipeline you will watch the landscape change from forest to tundra in a matter of hours.
You will cross paths with black bears, caribou and even the prehistoric musk ox.
And, of course, the simple solitude will evoke a sense of wonder within you at any time of year.
The Dalton Highway is a desolate road (the term “road” used loosely!) that runs 415 miles from just north of Fairbanks to just south of the Arctic Ocean in the oil town of Deadhorse.
The highway is a brutal mixture of graded gravel and pavement with steep grades and unforgiving shoulders. Expect more potholes than pavement in the short stretches of road that are paved.
It is most known as being one of the infamous “ice road trucker” roads that connects Deadhorse, Alaska to Fairbanks.
Big rig trucks make the haul between both terminus on a daily basis, moving at speeds that are sure to alarm you when you drive the Dalton Highway.
Many people will only drive to the Arctic Circle, approximately 115 miles into the Dalton Highway.
However, if you have the courage, time and tires to spare then you will be rewarded for driving the Dalton Highway in an RV all the way to Deadhorse.
NOTE: Not all RVs are created equal. The Dalton Highway is brutal on ALL vehicles. If you are leasing or renting and RV we DO NOT ADVISE that you attempt to drive any portion of the Dalton Highway.
However, if you do take the safety precautions and use the information found in this Guide then it is possible to enjoy one of the most isolated drives in the world!
The Dalton Highway begins approximately 85 miles north of Fairbanks, Alaska. To reach its starting point, you will drive these miles along the Elliot Highway.
Although definitely not as raw and wrangled as the Dalton Highway, the Elliot Highway still has its share of frost heaves and road repairs.
Don’t take these 85 miles lightly!
Once you complete the drive along the Elliot Highway you will reach the starting point of the Dalton Highway.
From this point it is 415 miles one way to the terminus of the highway in Deadhorse, Alaska.
Road conditions are less than ideal along the Dalton Highway. In fact, you can download and print a complete listing of Dalton Highway Road Conditions to take with you.
Most of the highway is graded gravel/dirt. Although we must note that the gravel is sometimes as large as a baseball and can be sharp enough to pierce your all-terrain tires.
When you drive the Dalton Highway in an RV there are some subtle techniques and tips you can apply to keep yourself safe.
It’s also important to note that as a tourist we are often considered an annoyance to the truckers who earn their living hauling up and down the Dalton Highway.
As such, we encourage you to review the Dalton Highway Driving Tips that will offer several common sense, but perhaps forgettable, tips to help make your drive safe and enjoyable.
The Bureau of Land Management suggests that you prepare for driving the Dalton Highway in your RV with no fewer than 2 full-sized spare tires.
This means you need to have both tires in good condition AND mounted to full-size rims.
While this may seem excessive, we can tell you from experience that we had one blown tire and wished that we carried an extra spare tire with us!
We also recommend that you follow several Driving Safety Tips when you drive the Dalton Highway in an RV.
You will also want to ensure that you are well stocked with basic RV necessities like fresh water, food and fuel.
There are places along the Dalton Highway where you can restock supplies.
However, because of the difficulty in reaching these locations the items you will purchase can sometimes cost two or three times what they would in Fairbanks.
We recommend that you make a quick trip to Walmart in Fairbanks before you leave.
In fact, this Walmart is also quite hospitable to RVs and it will serve you well as a basecamp for planning your drive along the Dalton Highway.
At minimum we ensured that we had enough food and water to last 5 days.
You can, of course, break the drive into as many days as you would like.
But allowing yourself 2 days to travel up the Dalton Highway, 1 day to take a tour to visit the Arctic Ocean and 2 more days to travel back down the Dalton Highway.
Note: We drove the Dalton Highway in our truck camper from Fairbanks to Deadhorse in 15 hours straight. We do not advise this.
However we had a very small window of good weather (40 degrees and windy) before a massive snow storm was set to arrive in Deadhorse for a week.
We also made the entire drive back in 17 hours. But that was due to another reason, as we had a tire blow out and we wanted to return to Fairbanks as quickly and safely as possible.
We call our trip “Two Days To The Top Of The World” because that’s about all the time we spent driving the Dalton Highway in our truck camper roundtrip!
Camping On The Dalton Highway
When you drive the Dalton Highway in an RV there are innumerable places where you can camp along the way.
Most places for camping on the Dalton Highway are not formal campgrounds.
In fact, you can find many places to camp on the iOverlander app.
However not all camping spots are indicated on iOverlander.
You are welcome to camp on the Dalton Highway in virtually any pull off where you are safely removed from the road.
Note, big rig trucks will be hauling along the Dalton Highway at all hours of the day and night. So depending on where you decide to camp, expect to hear some noise throughout your stay.
Places To See When You Drive The Dalton Highway
Although the Dalton Highway is quite desolate with very few formal stops along the way, there are a number of landmarks that you do not want to miss.
We recommend resetting your tripmeter and looking out for a few of the more popular places to see when you drive the Dalton Highway:
Official Dalton Highway Sign (Mile Marker 1).
If you’ve made it this far then you might as well stop and take a photo of your RV at the official Dalton Highway sign.
The pulloff is noticeable from the road and can be quite busy with everyone from rental cars to RVs.
Note: Almost every rental car company does not permit their vehicles to travel along the Dalton Highway. So regardless of how much traffic you see here, it is very likely going to thin out as you travel north.
Finger Mountain (Mile Marker 98)
We later renamed this “give it the Finger Mountain” because the road conditions in this stretch of the Dalton Highway are brutal.
However, if you are interested in stretching your legs and taking in a view (along with a decent sized crowd) you can see the vast stretches of the Alaskan landscape from atop an easy-to-climb mountain trail.
Note that this is more of a “hill” than a mountain. But there are great views and you can hike several longer trails if you are interested.
Arctic Circle (Mile Marker 115)
By far the most popular stop along the Dalton Highway (and turnaround point for most visitors) is the Arctic Circle.
There is a mystique in visiting the Arctic Circle in any part of the world. After all, it is here where the midnight sun claims its name.
You will not be the only person to stop and take a photo of the sign here.
However, it is a great place to stretch your legs and enjoy a bite to eat at one of the many picnic tables in the area.
Coldfoot (Mile Marker 174)
Plan to get fuel here. And by fuel — plan to get coffee too!
This is the last stop for fuel on your way to Deadhorse.
And while prices seem unreasonable, you definitely want to pay them if your RV does not have the fuel range to make it to Deadhorse and back to Fairbanks (nearly 1,000 miles!).
There are basic amenities, such as formal camping and a restaurant, and this is a popular place to split the drive to Deadhorse.
However, we’ll say it again… plan to get fuel here!
Atigun Pass (Mile Marker 244)
When we drove the Dalton Highway in our truck camper by far our favorite stretch of road began with Atigun Pass.
The pass itself is not incredibly high in elevation. However the road has a steep grade and several switchbacks that made it challenging in our truck camper.
Even in the middle of summer you are likely to find vast swaths of snow cover on the ground. It’s worth a stop to stretch your legs and take in the view in each direction.
As you begin your descent from Atigun Pass you enter Happy Valley and the North Slope.
This is perhaps the most beautiful stretch of the Dalton Highway and one you will certainly never forget.
Deadhorse Camp (Mile Marker 412)
Deadhorse Camp is a place of interest because you will actually pass it as your drive the Dalton Highway into Deadhorse.
The best tour to the Arctic Ocean originates at Deadhorse Camp.
And even if you don’t take a tour with them, you can stop and grab a warm meal and some information about the area.
Note: The camp itself is not the end of the Dalton Highway.
Deadhorse (Mile Marker 415)
The town of Deadhorse is at the terminus of the Dalton Highway, a full 500 miles from Fairbanks, Alaska.
Calling it a town is a stretch.
There are technically no permanent residents. The town’s only inhabitants are oil field workers who fly in and out every few weeks in shifts.
It is a highly industrial town and you are definitely not going to fit in with your RV.
Official Deadhorse Sign
The official Deadhorse Sign is located outside of the Brooks Range Supply store in the center of town. It is not a secret.
However finding the general store can be a little difficult as no buildings in Deadhorse stand out as remarkable in any way.
Most of the time the dirt roads are a mixture of mud and ice/snow and just getting around town to find the sign is an adventure in itself.
But don’t come all the way to Deadhorse and pass up on the photo opportunity!
Things To Do In Deadhorse, Alaska
To be honest, there is not much to do in Deadhorse, Alaska. In fact, most people who drive the Dalton Highway in an RV only do so to visit the Arctic Ocean.
That was our sole motivation. In our journey to drive from Alaska to Argentina we wanted to go from the very top of the world to the very bottom of the world.
As such, we knew that we had to visit the Arctic Ocean.
However you are more than welcome to spend as much time as you like exploring the region.
After all, it was one heck of drive up the Dalton Highway in your RV to get there!
If you stay you will find great camping and the opportunity to see incredible wildlife you might not find in other places in your journey.
Visit the Arctic Ocean in Prudhoe Bay
Deadhorse is the terminus of the Dalton Highway. However the town does not sit directly on the Arctic Ocean.
The last ten or so miles are restricted to the public as oil lease land and only accessible by official tour.
If you were committed enough to drive the Dalton Highway in an RV then you need to plan to book a tour with one of two tour companies in Deadhorse that can take you the extra miles to the Arctic Ocean.
BEST OPTION: Deadhorse Camp.
Cost: $69 per person
You must book at least 24 hours in advance (book in Fairbanks before you journey north!). This is a the most direct, no-frills tour that takes you the last 20-30 minutes north through oil country to the banks of the Arctic Ocean.
You’ll hear about the history of the region and perhaps see a variety of animals as you make your way to/from Prudhoe Bay.
ALTERNATIVE OPTION: Northern Alaska Tour Company.
Cost: Expensive (over $1,000).
This is a multi-day, all-inclusive tour that isn’t quite suitable if you’re driving the Dalton Highway in an RV.
However, if you start up the Dalton Highway and decide that it is too rough, this may be a good option as they will handle your transportation, accommodation and meals.
Visiting The Arctic Ocean
When visiting the Arctic Ocean your tour guide will likely offer you the opportunity to dip your feet (or whole body) in the ocean.
If they don’t offer, at least they will not frown upon your insistence!
We opted to take a dip in the ocean. The water was so cold there were still chunks of ice floating in it!
And the wind was ripping at over 40 miles per hour. But it was definitely worth the experience.
In fact, due to a funny situation we “double-dipped” in the Arctic Ocean.
But do make sure that whether you plan to swim in the Arctic Ocean or not you have adequate warm weather clothing.
Our visit in July was no walk in the park. So visiting at any other point in the year is likely to be even more harsh.
RV Camping In Deadhorse
There are plenty of places to RV camp just outside Deadhorse. Formally you can likely arrange camping at Deadhorse Camp.
They offer full hotel amenities (at a premium) that include a room and meals throughout the day.
But if you have not already figured out how appealing and accessible it is to boondock in Alaska, let your boondocking experience begin in Deadhorse.
Our favorite place was in a gravel parking lot along the Sagavanirktok River a short distance from Deadhorse Camp (GPS 70.19530, -148.42683).
There is excellent cellular service (AT&T) and a great view of the river from this spot.
You really don’t have any other options closer to the center of the town.
But if you prefer more privacy (and the quiet that comes in not having the airport nearby) then you can always pull over at several pull-offs just outside of town.
View Wildlife In Deadhorse, Alaska
The North Slope of Alaska is rich in wildlife. Depending on the timing of your visit, you can see any number of over 200 species of birds in and around Deadhorse.
If you are fortunate you will see some other more rare species of animals including the arctic fox, ground squirrels, grizzly bears, musk oxen and caribou.
Of course if you are brave enough to drive the Dalton Highway in an RV during the winter months you might also see polar bears that frequent the region.
While we did not view much wildlife on our way into Deadhorse we did see hundred of caribou and a handful of musk oxen on our drive back to Fairbanks.
Driving Back to Fairbanks
Once you drive the Dalton Highway in an RV from Fairbanks to Deadhorse, the scenery back to civilization can be just as amazing, if not entirely different.
Sometimes our fascination with the destination of Deadhorse or the Arctic Ocean will skew our view of the journey.
It’s possible to find yourself in a rush to arrive in Deadhorse and you might overlook some of the other views or stops along the way.
Before you leave Deadhorse be sure to account for any fuel you might need to get you to Coldfoot.
Unless you are able to make the entire 499 mile drive back to Fairbanks on one tank of fuel (or with spare jerry cans) it is a good idea to at least add a little fuel in Deadhorse and then top off in Coldfoot.
The fuel will be more expensive in Deadhorse, of course. But it is much better to ensure your safety on the Dalton Highway and avoid running out of fuel on your return to Fairbanks!
We had a tire blowout on our return trip. So we did not spend much time enjoying the drive back to Fairbanks.
Had we been more prepared with a second full-size spare tire we might have taken our time driving the Dalton Highway in our truck camper.
But if you do have the extra time to journey back toward Fairbanks, consider a couple other stops along the way:
Wiseman (Mile Marker 226 from Deadhorse)
Wiseman is an old gold mining town that has long since seen it’s glory days pass. There are still a handful of permanent residents in the quirky town.
And as it is only a short side trip from the Dalton Highway it might be worth a visit on your way back to Fairbanks.
Yukon River Camp (Mile Marker 359 from Deadhorse)
The Yukon River Camp is typically one of the first stops as your drive the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Deadhorse. It is only 56 miles into the drive north.
But if you pass it by on your way to Deadhorse then it’s worth a stop on your way back to Fairbanks as there is a nice view of the Yukon River and information you can gather from the BLM station.
Any View That Suits Your Taste
Despite our rush to return to Fairbanks in one piece we found ourselves stopping in many places simply to take in the view.
Because the sun never set during our summer journey driving along the Dalton Highway we had the opportunity to see colors and contours in the sky that were quite surreal.
There is very little traffic on the Dalton Highway, particularly once you reach the North Slope.
So there are plenty of gorgeous places to stop on the northern side of Atigun Pass to enjoy the solitude and stillness of the Alaskan tundra.
Enjoy The Drive
Driving the Dalton Highway in an RV is incredibly rewarding! From the wildlife you will see to the spectacular, desolate landscapes the Dalton Highway is worth the drive.
Of course, be sure you know what you are getting into before you go.
Plan your drive accordingly and give yourself plenty of time to cover the 1,000 mile round trip drive from Fairbanks to Deadhorse.
But with proper planning and consideration for your safety and that of other travelers, you are sure to place this drive at the top of your list of most beautiful and rewarding drives in North America!