Alaska Highway into the Yukon

Alaska Highway into the Yukon

August 2022

Before we can make our first miles in our second travel country, there are still thousands of miles of asphalt ahead of us. The first stretch between Hinton and Grand Prairie immediately showed us what awaited us in the coming days. Asphalt, a yellow line in the middle and green pine trees on either side. The picnic and short swim in Grand Cache Lake came as a nice change. In Grand Prairie we did some shopping and filled our tank with diesel again. On to Dawson Creek.

Just before Dawson Creek we parked the car in the small nature area McQueen Slough for – what we thought – a quiet night and even though there was only room for up to eight cars, it was a coming and going of cars and people. When we ourselves returned from a short walk through the ‘Slough’, everyone had disappeared and we had the realm to ourselves.

The realm to ourselves…until we woke up the next morning and with a lot of rustle something announced itself from the woods. A moose stepped into the parking lot still somewhat unassured. The animal assessed the situation a bit more and decided to continue. Next to our car it stopped for a moment as if to say “look how beautiful I am” and then continued to step out into the field. What a surprise and what a wonderful way to wake up!

After a little more extensive cleaning for our camper and the obligatory photo at “Milepost 0” we quickly left Dawson Creek again. We passed the somewhat dusty towns of Fort St. John and Fort Nelson. Not much more than a Tim Hortons, McDonalds and several gas stations these places have to offer. Along the way a black bear dared to show himself at the side of the road and after the first 500 kilometers on the Pan American Highway we thought, this is enough and found a beautiful place to spend the night at the Muskwa River. Secluded in the forest, we built a campfire and kept an eye on the edge of the forest to see, if there are more bears around. The next morning we found some suspicious tracks in the mud….

Soon after we left the next morning, the first bear announced itself at the side of the road. The road meandered along a beautiful route through the northern foothills of the Rocky Mountains. A little later the highway ran right along the shores of the ten kilometer long Muncho Lake where we once again braved the cold water.

The first real highlight presented itself after 760 kilometers, the Liard River Hot Springs. The Indians knew how to appreciate this place, especially in winter. Nowadays, the beneficiaries are mainly tourists who like to interrupt their long journey with a dip in the warm water. The only unnatural thing in the area is the boardwalk leading up to the spring. The spring itself is pristine and wonderful for swimming. It is the third largest hot spring in Canada and the closer one swims to the spring, the hotter the water. At 52 degrees even so hot that it becomes unbearable for some.

During the long car rides, there is often little more to do than look out for wild animals that occasionally show up at the edge of the highway. Bears and moose topped the list at this point, but as we crossed the British Columbia and Yukon Territory provincial border, we quickly stumbled upon another large animal inhabiting the emptiness of northern Canada. A herd of wood bisons with calves were quietly hiding in the shade of trees on the side of the road. Slightly smaller than the prairie bisons, but just as impressive. If we didn’t get to see them in Grasslands we could at least make up for it a little here.

We were approaching Watson Lake. The closer we got to this 790-resident town, the stranger the sky began to look. Dark orange-colored clouds blocked the view to the sun of which there was nothing left but a small red ball hanging strangly in the sky. Were we witnessing a rare natural phenomenon? Surely we thought of forest fires, but we did not smell fire odor. Later, when we inquired at the Visitor Center in Watson, it turned out that there was indeed a fire more than 100 kilometers away. This did not cause any panic. It was an annual thing. Around September, it will stop again by itself.

Watson Lake, by the way, houses the second highlight of the trip along the Alaska Highway. During the construction of the highway an American soldier got homesick for his native soil and, as a consolation, hammered a nameplate of his city onto a tree. Nothing crazy in itself, but since then this has taken on a life of its own, eventually resulting in a ‘forest of signs’ of more than 80,000 signs that are carried here by travelers. It put Watson Lake on the tourist map forever.

We were left with 450 kilometers to drive until we reached the capital of the Yukon Territory, Whitehorse. There weren’t many highlights on this stretch either. We had a nice conversation with Frank at Johnson’s Crossing, the owner of the souvenir store, camping, gas station, bakery, and…anything else you are in need for…unfortunately his cinnamon buns were already sold out for today, but the oatmeal-raisin-cookie tasted fine too.


In Whitehorse, we allowed ourselves a rest day. With a population of 27,000, it feels like a real town with all the facilities one needs. Only 40,000 people live in all of Yukon Territory and it is even larger than Germany in terms of area, to give an idea.

We slept in the large parking lot of a supermarket chain and from here we could walk along the Yukon River towards the S.S. Klondike. This region became big when gold was found in the late 19th century, what attracted thousands of prospectors. Boats were used to transport people and goods to Dawson City, 500 kilometers north. The journey took one and a half days downstream and four and a half days upstream. In 1956, new bridges were built across the river, that were too low for the steamboats. With that the steamboats had served their time. The S.S. Klondike sailed from 1937 to 1955 and was declared a National Historic Site in 1966.

Since Dawson Creek, we regularly run into Thomas and Sima, a couple from Germany, who have travelled more or less the same route as we have with their camper. We exchanged a lot of info and had great conversations about routes, travelling and ‘life’. We decided to stay an extra night in Whitehorse and had dinner together in a Vietnamese restaurant. Waking up in the parking lot of the Real Canadian Store already felt familiar. A walk across the parking lot to the supermarket restroom and a cup of coffee in the car…. We said goodbye to Thomas and Sima, we would meet them again later in Alaska.

Now we are going to start our trip to Dawson City, the Gold Rush town in the north of Canada.

Eddy and Romy van Es © 2020, All Rights Reserved.

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