Driving with Jens: Road tripping on the Top of the World Highway

It’s hard to be a tourist in your own hometown or region.

We tend to overlook just how beautiful we have it living in the North. I know a lot of people who have lived here their whole life but never made the trip over the Top of the World Highway. Lots of people travel great distances every summer to make that same trip. The highway is only open from May to September.

If it’s on your bucket list there’s no better time than the present. Here’s a quick preview of what to expect on this spectacular drive.

Once you leave Whitehorse and get on the Klondike Highway the first notable stop should be Braeburn Lodge for one of its world famous giant cinnamon buns. Although the cinnamon buns are its trademark, everything on the menu is good. The grilled ham and cheese sandwiches are huge as well.

Stop at Carmacks and check out the store there. You’ll think you’re in the city. It’s pretty nice.

Just outside of Carmacks you get to the lookout over Five Finger Rapids. It’s a great view but also offers a short hike down to a very large viewing deck almost on the river. It’s worth the hike.

Next you pass through Pelly and then Stewart Crossing. The next notable stop for me is the Moose Creek Lodge. It was my favorite stop as a child and still doesn’t disappoint. It’s a great place for lunch or a snack.

Once you get to Dawson City plan on spending a little time here. It’s a beautiful little town with lots to see and do. Accommodations may be tight in the summer so book ahead or stay in the campground just across the river. Be sure to spend one night at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s to experience the can-can dance shows and gambling, reminiscent of the gold rush era.

The Top of the World Highway starts across the river from Dawson City and takes you to Tok, Alaska. You must cross the river on the George Black Ferry. The ferry is free and runs 24 hours a day except Friday mornings when it is shut down for servicing between 5 and 7 a.m.

It’s about a seven hour drive from Dawson City to Tok, Alaska. The 301-km highway weaves and winds along the top of the mountain range and is a very breathtaking drive.

Keep in mind it’s very remote with many tight turns and can be a little rough during bad weather.

The Little Gold/Poker Creek border crossing is the most northern international border crossing in North America. It’s here you enter the United States. The border is open from 9am to 9pm Yukon time. Everyone crossing the border will need their passport.

There are lots of gold rush relics to see near and around the Town of Chicken, Alaska. The Pedro Dredge in Chicken offers daily tours during the peak summer season. Fuel and other services are available in Chicken.

When you finally get to Tok you connect with the Alaska Highway and will begin heading back south to Whitehorse. Your trip isn’t over though, there is still a lot of beautiful country to see.

You will cross back into Canada at Beaver Creek. The customs station here is open 24 hours. Beaver Creek offers lots of services, gas and food. A number of highway lodges of the past are closed now — a testament to road improvements and changing times. I remember the first time I traveled the Alaska Highway as a kid it was all gravel, narrow and very windy. Part of the adventure was stopping at the highway lodges for coffee and pie and maybe to have a flat tire repaired.

Even though the highway is wide and paved take your time through this stretch stopping often to see the sights. The drive back to Whitehorse through Kluane Park offers spectacular scenery.

If you’re camping, there are two great campgrounds right on Kluane Lake. Congdon Creek Campground is a government campground and Cottonwood is a very nice private campground with hookups.

Be sure to stop at the Kluane National Park and Reserve Visitor Centre at the end of the lake. There are lots of things to see there. They have telescopic scopes set up on the deck for viewing the Mountain Sheep regularly on the hills above.

Your next stop will be Haines Junction. There are many great places to get lunch here. I really like the bakery. It’s a little hard to find but worth the search.

There is still a lot to see on the road form Haines Junction to Whitehorse. Kusawa Lake is worth the drive. I always take the old highway through Champagne on the way back.

Just do it. Be a tourist in your own hometown.

Catch Driving, with Jens on CHON FM Thursdays at 8:15. If you have any questions or comments you can reach out to Jens Nielsen at drivingwithjens@gmail.com, Facebook or Twitter: @drivingwithjens.

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