I am writing this post from the utterly charming city of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Grab a cup of tea or glass of wine and get ready for another looong Alaska Road Trip recap! You can find all of my posts about our trip here.
By the way, I love writing these posts so much. Thank you for reading, wherever you are. When we are on the road or camping or exploring, I don't work on the blog, but when we both need some time to relax after a long drive, it's the perfect thing. In the background as I write this, Grace is watching a National Geographic special on TV, Willie is sleeping (and running in his dreams the way dogs do), and I'm typing away. It's raining and hailing outside here in the big wild Yukon and oh so cozy.
But I need to back up a few days.
My last post, about the Canadian Rockies, ended with us spending the night in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. Dawson Creek is known as "Mile 0" of the Alaska Highway, which stretches from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks, Alaska. It was built during WWII for the purpose of connecting the contiguous United States to Alaska (pretty wild to think that before that, there was no direct way to drive to Alaska. There just weren't roads! And there still aren't roads connecting many parts of Alaska.). Since we got out of the Canadian Rockies, we have followed the Alaska Highway the whole way, and it will take us straight across the border into Alaska.
The Alaska Highway is the wildest place I have ever been. Just for context . . . I have been on safari in Botswana. Hiking in rural Turkey. Slept under the stars next to a volcano in Chiapas. I know I have a flare for the dramatic, but nothing (from my personal experience & travels) compares to the Alaska Highway in terms of remoteness.
It is stunningly beautiful. It weaves through British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska (the last of which we haven't gotten to yet, as of the time I'm writing this), and the landscape truly is "Larger than Life." That phrase happens to be the Yukon's motto (on all the street signs), and it's perfect. I'm not trying to knock other beautiful places in North America, but the Yukon and Northern British Columbia just makes anything else look miniscule. For example, I'm from North Carolina, and we have the world-famous and gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains. The fall foliage there is amazing, and the mountains are mysterious and serene-looking. While I will always love my home state . . . the Yukon's mountain ranges and fall colors make the Blue Ridge Mountains look like a toy train set version of the landscape. I just can't imagine anything that can compare to the sweeping views and VASTNESS of the Yukon. I can't describe it adequately and a camera can't really capture it, so you just have to go and see it for yourself!
Grace and I spent a lot of time today in the car wondering why we have never heard of anyone taking a vacation to the Yukon, even though it's jaw-droppingly, tear-jerkingly beautiful. We figured it's a couple of things. One, it's so very remote. And two, there isn't really anything here other than the landscape (plus Whitehorse, which is an awesome city that I have fallen in love with).
The Alaska Highway is also no joke. I can see how very quickly, the remote terrain would become terrifying if you had car trouble or got stuck after dark. Just to paint a picture for you, it is often six full hours of driving between "towns." And a "town" often consists of one gas station, a Tim Horton's (sometimes they don't even have that), a motel, and an RV park. About halfway between "towns" there is usually some type of gas station. We haven't been in any danger of running low on gas, but yesterday, right as we got about 30 minutes into our drive, the check tire pressure light came on in the car. We had a 6 hour drive ahead of us to the next town. Honestly, my heart was in my throat for the rest of the drive. It all worked out, but it's scary! I should add that while I have a Canadian cell phone plan, I have 0 cell service for 5 or 6 hours out of the day when we're driving. My phone will just say "no service" for the whole drive. There are also no street lights for hundreds of miles. I said a lot of silent prayers (not wanting to worry Grace) that we wouldn't blow a tire in the middle of nowhere with no cell service. We usually see another car maybe once ever 15-30 minutes. Okay, now I've probably convinced you never to do this drive, haha!
But seriously, I would recommend this trip to anyone with the right preparation. It's been surreal and inspiring and beyond my wildest dreams. We keep saying that we feel like we're on safari. We've seen reindeer, bison, elk, moose, coyotes, bunnies, and tons of beautiful birds. Sadly, we also saw an enormous black bear that was roadkill. But even that just illustrates how larger than life it is here--even the roadkill is HUGE. The only way you can "get it" is by doing it.
So you might be wondering, where actually DID we sleep at night if it's so remote? I'm going to break it down for you, which I hope will be helpful if anyone is thinking about planning a similar trip! I know I scoured these types of recap posts when I was planning ours. All accommodations listed below are pet friendly (a couple people have asked . . . we don't have Willie as a service dog or anything like that. We just stay in pet friendly places--they're not hard to find!).
Dawson Creek, B.C.: We stayed at the Stonebridge Hotel. Room service food was DELISH. Comfy, would 100% recommend. Really nice people working there. And, huge plus, an amazing and enormous *free* brekkie buffet starting at 5am. We loved that.
After Dawson Creek we drove to Fort Nelson, B.C.
I don't want to be a downer or dissuade you from staying in Fort Nelson. For one thing, there's really nowhere else to stay between Dawson Creek and Watson Lake (both of which were great stops, but they're about 12 hours apart, so you pretty much have to stop in the middle which leaves you with Fort Nelson).
We did not love Fort Nelson. Unfortunately for us it was just kind of one flop after the next as soon as we rolled into town. We stayed at the Sunrise Inn and Suites. It is pet friendly and has great reviews online which is why I booked it. I booked by emailing directly with the owner, who was very friendly. Fast forward . . . we pull up to the "inn" and no one was even there. We finally reached someone by pressing the buzzer which I guess was connected to a pager (?) and she said she'd be there soon. When she got there she was clearly flustered that we wanted to check in. She tried to call another hotel to get us a room there, said we must have "accidentally" booked a room with only one queen size bed since we have two people and a dog (I was like "no . . . that is fine with us"), and she eventually "upgraded" us to a bigger room because they obviously didn't reserve the room that we had booked in advance. But the bigger room wasn't pet friendly, so she kind of acted like it was an inconvenience that we had a dog but said it was "fine for one night." Trust me, I would have taken our business elsewhere had there been any other option in that town . . . or any other town closer than 6 hours away. Later, we realized our door didn't close properly--the lock was like hanging by the hinges and could have easily been broken into. But given that there were no other rooms in town, we were stuck. Around 10pm we were terrified when some truckers stood RIGHT outside our door drinking and yelling (this is the type of place where you can drive right up to the door of the room, there's no lobby or hallway). It just was not ideal.
Food options were also bleak. We walked across the street to a place called Gourmet Girl, which had glowing reviews online. I went in and chatted about the takeout options they had. I mentioned we were just passing through town for one night and happy to have found a dinner takeout place across the street from our hotel. I went to relay the info to Grace (who was waiting with Willie outside) and she gave the thumbs up and I went back to order. They were then like "oh we can't make the food until tomorrow." I'm sorry . . . am I living in the twilight zone? What was the conversation we just had?! I walked out and we ended up ordering some takeout from a Canadian chain called Boston Pizza . . . not my first choice but there were literally no other options. I felt like Fort Nelson was just like that in general . . . not a lot of options. I know it's the far north and there aren't a lot of resources but we have now been to multiple towns that are even more remote and had GREAT experiences. Again, sorry to be negative. Just our experience!
We later joked that the Sunrise Inn and Suites was so named because you want to leave at sunrise . . . which we did! We started off along the Alaska Highway and were immediately in a better mood. The mountains and wildlife were breathtaking.
We stopped at a lake called Muncho Lake and fell in love! They had a super cute campground that we hope to camp at one day. I would spend a week just relaxing at Muncho Lake. It was beautiful.
After stretching our legs at Muncho Lake, we drove on to Watson Lake, Yukon Territory (with our tire pressure light blinking). After Fort Nelson, I had kind of a sinking feeling that every town along the rest of the Alaska Highway would be bleak. Happily, I was wrong :)
We LOVED Watson Lake! Such good vibes. When we got into town, the very first thing we did was pull into a car repair shop we saw. I walked up and found some very "Yukon" people (bearded . . . looking like they could weather 50 years of Yukon winters . . . you get the picture) and asked if they could help us check our tires. They sort of responded (I wasn't sure what they said) and was honestly pretty dismayed at the situation, but I should have withheld judgment because the older man who worked on our tires turned out to be the SWEETEST guy. They had a bunch of shop dogs that Willie loved. They tried to not even charge us anything for pumping up our tires! (Which I wouldn't allow of course). We had a good feeling about this town right away after that experience.
Tires refilled, we decided to go to the Signpost Forest which is a Yukon landmark. Rather than explain it myself, here's a photo of the sign at the entrance:
It's pretty famous (in the realm of Yukon travel), so I'd read it about it in advance and decided to surprise Grace by having signs made of our hometowns (Waterloo, Belgium, for her, and Raleigh, NC, for me). I tucked them away in a bag and showed them to her right as we were driving to the Signpost Forest! It was so sweet nailing them up beside each other.
I have to mention here the people working at the little giftshop next to the Signpost Forest. They were AWESOME! They let us use nails and a hammer to put up our signs, and they were just so friendly and knowledgeable about the area. The one guy running the shop (I wish I had gotten his name) has amazing photography skills, especially of the Northern Lights in the area, and he gave Willie treats. You must must stop here if you go to Watson Lake. It made our day. This is a link to the shop's website--it's the cutest little place!
After that we went to our hotel and didn't leave for the rest of the day. Haha!! We stayed at Andrea's Hotel, which was a little dated and kitschy but I would overall recommend given the remoteness of the area and lack of other pet-friendly options. And we got surprisingly tasty Chinese takeout from a restaurant right next door called the Golden Dragon! We were very charmed by the hospitality we found in Watson Lake. It's a gem of the Far North.
The next morning we set off from Watson Lake for Whitehorse, which is the capital of the Yukon. This was one of our shorter drives at only 4 hours and 30 minutes. We took in the views from the car and the time flew by.
I am not exaggerating when I say that it was love at first sight for me and Whitehorse (well, I hope it's mutual, at least). It's the coolest city. And yes, it's a city, not a town, though by LA standards it is tiny. If you've been to Asheville, North Carolina, it kind of reminded me of that. It's funky, charming, diverse, and unique. To me it also had a bit of European flair to it. It was so clean and beautiful and pure. It holds the Guinness World Record for the city with the least air pollution in the world. It's official nickname is "The Wilderness City." The Yukon River runs right through it, and the atmosphere was moody and dramatic when we arrived.
So dramatic, in fact, that we got caught in a hailstorm! Pebbles of ice came raining down on me as I hurried back to the car from picking up takeout lunch. For two people who live in LA, this was actually kind of a cool novelty . . . except for the fact that we had booked a campsite in Whitehorse as our accommodations for the night. Grace quickly made the executive decision to book a hotel room instead and I'm so glad she did. We ended up staying at the Coast High Country Inn, and it was LOVELY. We walked up to the front desk asking if they had any rooms, and they went above and beyond, booking us a spacious room with the biggest Jacuzzi I have ever seen, and feeding Willie treats the whole time. The lobby was filled with people, and Willie was seriously holding court with his little fan club around the fireplace! It was adorable.
After getting the room figured out, we explored Whitehorse a little bit! And I fell harder in love. We decided we definitely want to come back and use Whitehorse as a jumping off point for a bigger Yukon vacation.
I was genuinely sad to leave Whitehorse and look forward to returning. But we weren't too bummed to leave, because the next day would take us into ALASKA! More to come soon :)