Alaska has what you need if you are looking for a rugged overland adventure. At 663,300 square miles, Alaska is more than twice as big as Texas, the next largest US state, but has fewer than 800,000 full-time residents. Alaska overlanding offers vast stretches of wilderness and unlimited possibilities for adventure.
In this Alaska overlanding guide we’ll introduce some of the best regions, wilderness areas, and overland routes the state has to offer. Dubbed “The Last Frontier,” Alaska is massive so, it’s impossible to cover everything, but we’ll keep adding to the information here over time. The goal is to provide you with an introduction to the possibilities and let you jump into planning your Alaska adventure from there.
- Alaska Overlanding Overview
- When to go
- Alaska Overland Routes and Destinations
- Other Alaska Overlanding Resources
- Mosquitoes and Bears – Oh My!
- Other Stuff
Alaska Overlanding Overview
Alaska is one of the wildest and most beautiful places in the world. Ask any overland enthusiast and they’ll tell you it’s high on their bucket list. There are many reasons for this.
As I mentioned above, Alaska is big and empty. You can travel for days without seeing another person. For those looking for solitude, the state offers plenty. For many adventurers, however, it’s not what you’re getting away from but what you’ll find in Alaska.
Alaska is home to numerous national parks and nature preserves, including Denali National Park and Preserve, Kenai Fjords National Park, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Beyond the lands managed by the National Park Service, large wilderness tracks of the state are overseen by the United States Bureau of Land Management. BLM lands typically have looser regulations for travel by vehicle and off-grid camping than state and national parks, and thus can be great places for overlanding trips.
Alaska’s landscape is as varied as it is vast, including the tallest mountain ranges in the United States, island archipelagoes, sprawling coastal plains, glacier-fed fjords, and expansive bays. The state is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including bear, moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, and marine mammals such as whales and orcas.
When to go
When considering overlanding Alaska, it’s wise to start by considering two of the state’s extreme characteristics: 1) much of the state is extremely remote, and 2) the winter is very long and cold. While some people choose to explore Alaska in winter, the options for vehicle travel are very limited and winter travel requires extensive planning and an appetite for risk.
Most overland expeditions to Alaska take advantage of the warmer summer months when roads and off-road trails are generally clear of snow and passable. Most people visit Alaska between mid-May to mid-September, though you may need to wait further into summer if you are looking to drive on roads or trails that could be snowed in until midsummer. For instance, travelers on the far-north Dalton Highway typically drive the route late June to early August.
Alaska Overland Routes and Destinations
Alaska offers endless possibilities for overland travel and accounting for them all is impossible. We recommend mapping out you’re own route through the state, visiting destinations that intrigue you and traveling and camping along the state’s many roads and off-road trails. One thing that’s nice about Alaska is that in many areas there are fewer restrictions for camping in other states, so you wing it a bit more in terms of planning out campsites. That said, make sure to check the camping rules laid out by the agencies that manage the lands you’ll be traveling through.
Below we’ll point out some popular Alaskan overlanding routes as well as some parks and other destinations that might be worth visiting on your expedition. One word of advice, which applies to trips in any vast landscape: don’t try to pack too much into one trip. Alaska is huge and it’s easy to become overly ambitious. Make sure you take time to stop, relax and enjoy the scenery.
Of all the US overland routes, the James W. Dalton Highway is the most remote. Dalton Highway is a 414-mile stretch of gravel and dirt road that runs through some of Alaska’s most isolated wilderness, from the town of Livengood up to the outpost of Deadhorse on Prudhoe Bay.
|Time of Year||Open all year, but winter (pretty much anytime outside of late June to early August) requires special preparation.|
|Vehicle requirements||An all-wheel-drive vehicle capable of handling snow is recommended, as snow is a possibility year-round. If you are tackling the route in colder months, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got a vehicle capable of handling deeper snow and ice (not to mention appropriate supplies, clothing, and safety gear).|
|More information||Colorado Department of Transportation Guide|
Dalton Highway is one of the most northern roads in the world and extremely remote: there are only three towns along the entire stretch, and the last 215-mile stretch offers nowhere to get fuel, food, or lodging. If you’ve seen the show Ice Road Truckers, you’ve seen the road.
The road was built in the 1970s to facilitate the construction of an oil pipeline and to service the oil fields on Alaska’s North Slope. It’s now managed by the state of Alaska and mostly used by cargo trucks bringing supplies to the oil facilities in Deadhorse–and a few intrepid overlanding adventurers.
For explorers, the attraction is the remoteness of the area and the boreal forests, flanking the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, and the Arctic National Park and Reserve. There are a few campgrounds along the way and plenty of places for dispersed camping. The area is home to a range of wildlife, including wolves, bears, and musk ox.
The road is remote and driving conditions can be difficult, so an all-wheel-drive vehicle and extra gear and supplies.
Basically, you need to be ready to be self-sufficient should you get stranded in a remote area. The summer window for driving the road is narrow, as winder conditions can last from early August through June.
Denali National Park
Denali National Park is the largest national park in the United States, encompassing 6 million acres of wilderness that includes taiga forest, high-alpine tundra, and massive mountain ranges. The park is home 20,310-foot-high Denali, the largest peak in North America.
The sole road through the park is accessible to private cars for only 15 miles, from the entrance to the Savage River Trailhead. To go further into the park from here, you’ll need to take one of the park buses. While definitely worth a visit, this restriction means that the park itself is likely a waypoint for overland explorers looking for off-the-beaten-path adventure.
Luckily, there are plenty of less regulated and populated wilderness areas within striking distance of Denali to put together a trip that includes the park but also gets you away from the summer park tourist crush.
The Kanai Peninsula, in south-central Alaska, extends 150 miles southwest from the Chugach Mountains south of Anchorage and is home to some of the most stunning scenery in the world. From its towering mountains to its pristine glaciers, the Kanai Peninsula offers overland adventurers a truly wild experience.
Part of the peninsula is set aside as Kanai Fjords National Park, which is is known for nearly 40 glaciers that flow from the Harding Icefield. Wildlife thrives around the glacier-fed streams and forests, and the area is home to an abundance of wildlife, including bears, moose, and eagles.
Any trip to Kenai should include a visit to the national park, but there are plenty of other, less-regulated areas to visit as well. The area is anchored by the community of Seward, which can serve as a launching point to explore the peninsula. Sterling Highway
Alaska Highway (ALCAN)
The Alaska Highway (also known as the Alaska-Canadian Highway or ALCAN) is a paved highway that travels 1387 miles from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, in western Canada, to Delta Junction in Alaska. It’s one of only two road that allow you to drive from Canada to Alaska.
Built during World War II to provide an overland route to Alaska in case the Japanese chose to invade, the route passes for most of its length through remote Yukon and Alaskan wilderness. If you are looking to learn more, a good starting points are Guardian newspaper’s guide to the road and the Bell’s Travel Guides overview.
This video overview is also helpful:
Brenwick Craig Road
Brenwick Craig Road is a rugged 23-mile truck trail near Anchorage Alaska that offers an overlanding adventure for those with highly-capable off-road vehicles. Also known as Klutina Road, this truck trail passed along the Klutina River through privately owned Native lands and terminates at Klutina Lake.
A 60-foot wide easement along the trail allows visitors to park their vehicles and camp for up to 24 hours. There is also a one-acre site at the lake where you can park and camp. Before exploring this area, check with Athena Inc, operated by the local tribes and located in Glenallen, to find out what permits you may need and to acquire them.
The road starts off Richardson Highway near Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge the at GPS coordinates 61.960052, -145.333107.
Other Alaska Overlanding Resources
Alaska BLM Lands and National Forests
The United States Bureau of Land Management oversees more than 70 million acres of mountains, wetlands, and tundra in the state of Alaska. BLM lands are often terrific opportunities for intrepid overlanders looking for adventures beyond better track areas such as national and state parks. BLM lands often allow dispersed camping with fewer limitations than other areas.
To learn more about BLM-managed lands in Alaska, check out the Alaska page on the agency’s website.
The US National Forest Service managed two national forests in Alaska, both of which offer ample opportunities for overland adventure and outdoor recreation.
Tongass National Forest
Tongass National Forest is the nation’s largest national forest and covers most of Southeast Alaska. The area is packed with dramatic scenery and offers unique chances to view eagles, bears, spawning salmon, and other wildlife. The National Park Service offers free PDF maps for motorized vehicles that can be very helpful when planning an adventure.
Chugach National Forest
Chugach National Forest is a 6.9 million acre forest located in Southcentral Alaska, and covers portions of Prince William Sound, the Kenai Peninsula, and the Copper River Delta. The Chugach is the second largest national forest in the United States and is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.
The forest is home to a variety of plant and animal life, including glaciers, mountains, rivers, lakes, and forests. The Chugach National Forest provides a variety of recreational opportunities that include hiking, camping, wildlife photography, kayaking, fishing, hunting, and much more. Similar to Tongass, the park service offers motor vehicle maps for Chugach.
Alaska State Parks
While Alaska’s national parks get all of the attention, there are over 156 parks managed by the Alaska State Parks agency, which encompass more than 3 million acres – the most of any US state. These parks offer ample opportunities for overlanding that may be overlooked by your average visitor to the state.
Check out the Alaska State Parks website to learn more. Among other things the agency has put together a collection of trail maps using Google earth, including maps for: Chugach State Park,
Denali State Park, Kachemak Bay State Park, Caines Head State Recreation Area, and Hatcher Pass Management Area.
Mosquitoes and Bears – Oh My!
It’s worth pointing out a couple of things that often cause problems when overlanding in Alaska – animals and insects. Alaska in the summer is often a buggy place – think clouds of mosquitoes – so it’s wise to invest in some good bug spray (with DEET) and mosquito nets.
Alaska is also home to bears – big ones in places. In some areas, it is required that you have certified bear-proof containers to store food. And even where they aren’t required, it’s a good idea to get in the habit of storing your food securely to prevent unwanted encounters of the ursine kind.
If you need any more inspiration for planning an Alaska overland trip, check out X-Overland’s series on their expedition. Here’s the first episode in the series.
Also, check out this History Channel program on a Jeep expedition along some of the state’s rugged roads and trails.