There are a number of different options when driving through Canada between the contiguous United States or "Lower 48" and the Alaska Highway, which connects with Alaska. There are three main corridors which connect the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains regions of the United States, with a number of deviations and additional options depending on your point of origin.
The Alaska Highway was completed in 1943 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a military access road. The Yukon and British Columbia sections were turned over to Canada six months after the end of World War II and was opened to civilian traffic in 1948. The original access routes were Alberta & British Columbia Highway 2 from Edmonton, AB to Dawson Creek, BC, and later the John Hart Highway (then-BC Hwy 2) from Prince George to Dawson Creek. The Alaska portion of the Alaska Highway was proposed to be designated as US Route 97, leading to a series of British Columbia highways being re-designated as BC Hwy 97 between Washington state and the Yukon; however the Yukon did not participate and the plan was ultimately cancelled.
Since that time, other corridors have been developed to improve access to the Alaska Highway, and depend on how much time you have and what you like to do. There are three routes that head Dawson Creek, British Columbia (Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway), and then a number of deviations from the main routes are possible, allowing you to customize the route to your personal schedule and interests.
According to The Milepost, the primary choices to get to the Alaska Highway from the Lower 48 are:
- East Access Route - from Montana (Interstate 15), through Alberta
- Central Access Route - from eastern Washington state (US Highway 97) through British Columbia and Alberta
- West Access Route - from western Washington state (Interstate 5) through British Columbia
- See also: Alaska Highway#Prepare
Get a copy of The Milepost, either in print or eBook form. (Print would be a better idea once you hit the road.) Billing itself as "the Bible of north country travel," this guide book covers the entire northwestern corner of North America in rich detail.
The access routes start Great Falls, Montana; Ellensburg, Washington (where US Highway 97 intersects Interstate 90); and Seattle; however, that can be accessed from various points in Canada and the United States.
For travelers coming from the eastern United States and Canada, they can take the Trans-Canada/Yellowhead Highway (Hwy 16) and arrive in Edmonton.
There are various airports, depending on how much additional driving you want to do. Edmonton (YEG IATA) is the nearest major international airport to mile zero of the Alaska Highway, with Calgary (YEG IATA), Vancouver (YVR IATA), Seattle (SEA IATA), and Great Falls (GTF IATA) also being options.
East Access Route
Runs from Great Falls, MT to Dawson Creek, BC, the majority of this route is a four lane divided highway.
- 1 Great Falls (exits 278-290) - head north on I-15.
- 1 U.S.-Canada border (Sweetgrass, MT/Coutts, AB) - open 24 hours, I-15 becomes Alberta Hwy 4.
- 2 Lethbridge - population 98,000; follow Hwy 3 (Crowsnest Highway) west
- 3 Fort Macleod - population 3,000, follow Hwy 2 north.
- 4 Calgary (exits 232-271) - population 1.2 million, the largest city in Alberta and Canada’s fourth largest metropolitan area. Travellers can either take Hwy 2 (Deerfoot Trail) through the city or Hwy 201 (Stoney Trail) as a bypass route. Intersects the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1), which provides access to Banff.
- 5 Red Deer (exits 394-405) - population 100,000.
- 6 Edmonton - population 930,000, capital and second largest city in Alberta. Travellers can take Hwy 216 (Anthony Henday Drive) as a bypass route to the Yellowhead Highway (Hwy 16) and continue west.
- 2 Jct Hwy 43 (exit 340) - Hwy 16 continues west to Jasper, follow Hwy 43 north.
- 7 Whitecourt - population 10,000.
- 8 Valleyview - population 1,900; Hwy 49 provides access to Peace River and the Mackenzie Highway, connecting to the Northwest Territories.
- 9 Grande Prairie - population 63,000.
- 3 Alberta/British Columbia border - AB Hwy 43 becomes BC Hwy 2.
- 10 Dawson Creek - population 13,000; mile zero Alaska Highway.
- Travellers coming from central and eastern Canada and the United States can approach Edmonton from the east via the Trans-Canada/Yellowhead Highway (Hwy 16) and link with East Access Route. Major border crossings include the Portal–North Portal Border Crossing (US 52/SK Hwy 39) near Estevan, Saskatchewan and the Pembina–Emerson Border Crossing (I-29/MB Hwy 75) south of Winnipeg.
- From Calgary, follow the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1) west through 1 Canmore and 2 Banff to the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93) and travel north to 3 Jasper. Follow Highway 16 east to to Highway 40 near Hinton and connect with the Central Access Route.
- From Edmonton, follow Hwy 2 north through 4 Athabasca, 5 Slave Lake, and 6 Peace River, following the original overland access route to the Alaska Highway. Reconnect with the East Access Route at Grande Prairie, or take a cutoff via Hwy 49 to Dawson Creek; or follow Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to Highway 40 near Hinton and connect with the Central Access Route.
Central Access Route
- 11 Ellensburg (I-90 exit 106) - population 19,000; exit Interstate 90 and travel north on US 97.
- 12 Wenatchee - population 32,700, intersects US 2.
- 4 U.S.-Canada border (Oroville, WA/Osoyoos, BC), open 24 hours, US 97 becomes BC Hwy 97.
- 13 Penticton - population 33,000 and major tourist destination.
- 14 Kelowna - population 115,000, largest city in the Okanagan and major tourist destination, intersects Hwy 97C just south of the city in Peachland.
- 15 Vernon - population 38,500 and popular tourist destination.
- 16 Kamloops - population 90,000; follow Hwy 5 (Yellowhead Highway) north (exit 374).
- 17 Clearwater - population 7,000, provides access to Wells Gray Provincial Park.
- 18 Tete Jaune Cache - follow Hwy 16 (Trans-Canada/Yellowhead Highway) east, western gateway to Mount Robson Provincial Park.
- 5 Alberta/British Columbia border
- 19 Jasper (inside Jasper National Park) - population 4,600 and major tourist destination.
- 20 Hinton - population 9,900; follow Hwy 40 (Bighorn Highway) north.
- 21 Grande Cache - population 3,500.
- 22 Grande Prairie - population 63,000; merges with East Access Route (Hwy 43) and continues to 23 Dawson Creek.
- From Peachland (just south of Kelowna), follow Hwy 97C west to 7 Merritt, where travelers can either travel north on Hwy 5 (Coquihalla Highway) and reconnect with the Central Access Route in Kamloops, or continue on Hwy 97C to Cache Creek and connect with the West Access Route.
- From Kamloops, follow Hwy 1/Hwy 97 west to 8 Cache Creek and connect with the West Access Route; this allows travelers to follow Route 97 the entire way.
- From Tete Jaune Cache, follow Hwy 16 (Trans-Canada/Yellowhead Highway) west to 9 Prince George and connect with the West Access Route.
West Access Route
Runs from Seattle, WA to Dawson Creek, BC - linking the Interstate 5 corridor with the Alaska Highway.
Note: There are four land border crossings can used to cross into Canada; see Lower Mainland#From Washington state for more border information. This itinerary shows the shortest distance and bypasses metropolitan Vancouver.
- 24 Seattle - city population 609,000/metro population 3.9 million; travel north on I-5
- 25 Bellingham (exits 250-258) - population 90,000; access to the Alaska Marine Highway; I-5 continues north to the Peace Arch and Pacific Highway border crossings and is the most direct route to Vancouver. Follow SR 539 north (exit 256)
- 26 Lynden - population 12,000. SR 539 continues north to the Lynden-Aldergrove border crossing; follow SR 546 east and continue north on SR 9.
- 6 U.S.-Canada border (Sumas, WA/Huntingdon, BC) - open 24 hours: WA SR 9 becomes BC Hwy 11
- 27 Abbotsford - population 141,000. Follow the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1) east, Hwy 1 west heads into Vancouver.
- 28 Hope - population 6,200. The Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1) leave the freeway at exit 170 (the freeway becomes Hwy 5 (Coquihalla Highway)), continue north on Hwy 1.
- 29 Cache Creek - population 1,000. Hwy 1 east and Hwy 97 south continue towards Kamloops, continue north on Hwy 97.
- 30 Williams Lake - population 10,800
- 31 Quesnel - population 10,000
- 32 Prince George - population 79,000. Largest city in northern British Columbia, intersects Hwy 16 (Trans-Canada/Yellowhead Highway)
- 33 Chetwynd - population 2,600, intersects Hwy 29.
- 34 Dawson Creek - population 13,000; mile zero Alaska Highway
- From Bellingham, continue into 10 Vancouver and go north on the scenic Sea to Sky Highway (Hwy 99) through 11 Squamish and 12 Whistler, reconnecting with the Western Access Route near Cache Creek.
- From Prince George, follow the Trans-Canada/Yellowhead Highway (Hwy 16) west, either taking the isolated Stewart-Cassiar Highway (Hwy 37 north) at 13 Kitwanga, located west of New Hazelton, and linking with the Alaska Highway near 14 Watson Lake; or continuing west to 15 Prince Rupert and linking with the Alaska Marine Highway ferry.
- From Chetwynd, follow Hwy 29 through 16 Hudson’s Hope and connect with the Alaska Highway near 17 Fort St. John.
When driving to Alaska or the contiguous United States via Canada, you are subject to customs laws that are enforced by the Canadian Government. Canada and some U.S. states, including Alaska, have legalized marijuana. It is illegal to take marijuana across the state borders, including international borders such as Canada; where it can be considered as drug trafficking. There are also restrictions if you are carrying certain items on your transit to Canada such as firearms. Before crossing into Canada, make sure you declare any items that you have in your vehicle that may be prohibited when crossing into Canada. If you're unsure what needs to be declared, ask the customs officers.
If you have firearms, you are required to declare any firearms you are taking on your transit to Alaska or the lower 48 states. Many firearms that may be legal in some states may also be illegal to be taken into Canada. If you feel driving to Alaska isn't worth the risk, you can, however, bypass it by taking your car onboard the Alaska Marine Highway or by sending your barge over to Alaska or the lower 48 and flying to the port where you'll receive your vehicle.