The Drive from Anchorage to Whitehorse, Yukon (700 miles/
Once you get off a cruise ship in Seward, Alaska, you need to shake off the remnants of relaxation and being pampered… It is a rude awakening to having to make your own decisions again. The first one: how to get anywhere from here?
Hopefully, you’ve planned ahead.
When we planned this trip, the cruise itinerary listed Anchorage as the last port of call. But it doesn’t get anywhere near this city. Seward is a good 2 hours on a bus from Anchorage. It can also be reached by train. Being the thrifty, budget travellers that we are, I spent time searching for the most economical way to get from the port of Seward to the Anchorage airport where we would pick up a rental car. It turned out to be Alaska Cruise Transfer (https://alaskacruisetransfer.com) The one way ride was $50 per person, considerably cheaper than the transport offered by the cruise line or other companies. The bus was very comfortable, we had a good driver and the best part was the informative, and humorous, commentary audio track. It gave us stories of the area’s history, colourful characters, politics, events, wildlife and more.
The Kenai Peninsula is absolutely gorgeous and you could easily spend a whole holiday here, exploring, hiking, fishing and seeing beautiful scenery. The highlight for me was learning about Turnagain Arm – a wide arm of the Gulf of Alaska reaching inland from Cook Inlet. The arm got its name from British explorer James Cook, who was forced to “turn again” when the waterway didn’t hold the fabled Northwest Passage during his 1778 voyage.
The bore tide here, a wave of water that rushes down the arm, can top six feet tall and is an unusual, awe-inspiring sight. Formed by the area’s huge tidal range and focused in the narrow channel of Turnagain Arm, the bore tide tops speeds of 20 mph. We heard stories of near drownings because the bottom here is quick sand and when the water comes in at that speed, it is very dangerous.
You can see the tidal bore coming in here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VY-qekro1dI
The best thing was seeing many Beluga whales who hang out in this Arm. Beluga Point, a rocky outpost jutting into the waters of Turnagain Arm, is just south of Anchorage along the Seward Highway. Belugas are often seen from mid-July through August when salmon are running in Cook Inlet where their numbers have hovered between 300 to 375 whales since 2000. Belugas use sonar to find their way and catch fish in the silty waters of the inlet. Beluga whales are relatively small, often measuring less than 16 feet. Younger whales look blue-gray in color and then turn white by age five or six. Belugas are the only all-white whale and have no dorsal fin.
We reached the outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, and were dropped off at the airport where we picked up a rental car. What can you expect when driving across the vast expanse of Alaska? The highway was flanked with many, many signs warning us of moose and cariboo. But for all of the 700 miles (1,100 KM) from Anchorage to Whitehorse, the only wildlife we saw was a handful of chipmunks and a few ravens.
There is still very much a ‘last frontier’ feeling here. Towns have few services and buildings still have the gold rush type fronts. There are about as many saloons as there are churches. The main streets are often paved but side streets are full of potholes. Our rental car was not allowed on dirt roads so we had to change our plan of driving the Top of the World highway to Dawson City, Yukon. Gas prices are the same as down south but gas stations are far and few between.
The most beautiful view was overlooking the Matanuska Glacier, lower than the highway, as it creeps out of a southern valley on blue icy toes.
We spent the night in Tok, Alaska. There are several motels and RV Parks with cabins along both the Alaska Highway and the Richardson Highway (it is interesting to note that highways in Alaska are referred to by name in addition to the number). It costs at least 100.- for a room. The place most recommended for meals is Fast Eddy’s. We had fun sitting in this bustling truck-stop atmosphere and watching big burly hunters, truck drivers with long bears and pony tails, and an odd mix of tourists from all over the world. The great food was reasonably priced: https://www.fasteddysrestaurant.com
The highway got noticeably worse once we crossed the border into Canada. But we were very lucky with blue skies and sunshine that set the golden trees ablaze. Early September is definitely one of the most gorgeous times to see this area as aspen and other deciduous trees turn bright yellow, orange and red, dotting the evergreen hills like a fluffy quilt, framed here and there with the first white powder on mountain tops. Especially the drive along Kluane Lake is gorgeous. It inspired me to write a poem:
In their golden uniforms
Between summer and winter,
One tree at a time.
On the return trip from Yukon back to Anchorage, we were lucky enough to see a large flock of snow white Dall sheep in the Kluane Range. Then two curious coyotes walked across the road and peeked at us from the brown grass. The sun was out part of the time, turning the hillside brilliantly yellow for most of the way. In fact, it was so gorgeous that we kept on driving. Instead of spending the night half way, in Tok again, we drove all 12 hours back to Palmer. We saw a large moose up close and even saw our very first caribou.
Hunting season is now in full swing. I’d hate to hike or camp in the bush. We see huge numbers to trucks parked along the road where hunters have taken off into the bush. At a remote outpost, we stopped at the log cabin country store to buy native crafts, when a truck drove with the large rack of a moose in the back. I could see an enormous cooler and bulging garbage bags of meat. So I walked over and had an interesting conversation:
Me: “Hi! How are you? Nice moose! Can I take a picture?”
Me: “Wow. It’s huge. Bet that will be all your meat for the winter, eh?”
Guy: “yup. you canadian?”
Me: “Yeah! How’d you guess?”
Me: “Ah. I said eh! I guess so. So how much did it weigh, like how much meat did you get? Like 500 pounds?”
I guess by then he had really warmed up to me because he added “maybe double. gonna use it all, bones, sinew, organs”.
Me: “Wow, that’s great. Well thanks a lot. Have a good winter.”
Guy: ” ‘kay.”
We were still just in time but wouldn’t to go a week later: the US/Canadian Border closes on September 15 on the Top of the World Highway; many hotels and lodges shut down as of September 15 and the first snow was sprinkled on the surrounding mountain tops.
A tool that helps with planning is the downloadable app: http://www.thealaskaapp.com
In our next blog we will take you around Whitehorse, Yukon.