With our new additional confidence found, we turned our sights to the Top of the World Highway. We followed the Campbell Highway to its intersection with the Klondike Highway near Carmacks, Yukon, and headed north, following both the Yukon and the Klondike Rivers for a time before arriving to these rivers’ confluence in Dawson City.
Watch Episode 9 about this segment of our journey here:
Before reaching the Klondike Highway we stopped briefly in the little town of Faro that at one point had the worlds largest open pit lead/zinc mines and supplied huge quantities of lead for batteries. On display at the entrance to the town they have one of their 65-ton ore dump trucks that were some of the first trucks of this size for operation at the mine.
The mine shutdown in 1998 and the site is now one of the most complex clean up sites in Canad due to the lead that has made the area so toxic. Hearing this we were even more appreciate of our Battle Born Lithium Batteries that use materials that are non-toxic and in much smaller quantities. With a little bit of time, hopefully our dependence on lead for batteries will disappear altogether for a more environmentally-healthy future.
As we drove this historic section of road, we stopped to see the sights and read the information plaques. The Yukon River is the longest river in the Yukon and Alaska, and was a major transportation route during the Klondike Gold Rush at the end of the 19th century. This gold rush brought an estimated 100,000 prospectors to the region, and the scars on the land and watersheds are still plainly visible today, not to mention the displacement of the First Nation peoples who called the area home for centuries.
The legacy of the gold rush still remains, and combined with the mining that continues in the area, the mountains of dredged river rock piled on the east entrance to the city, and the rustic saloon-style buildings, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you enter Dawson City.
We stayed at the Klondike River Campground on the east side of town. We didn’t tour Dawson City this time through – we were planning to be there two more times yet this summer (when we drive the Dempster Highway to the Arctic Ocean). So we continued on across the free ferry to the Top of the World Highway.
Top of the World Highway
“You’ll know in about 10 minutes why they call it that,” our ferry master told me with a grin as we motored across the mighty current of the Yukon. He was right!
After a steep and steady incline starting as soon as you get off the ferry, you climb until you are on the very top of the mountain range. Unlike other highways that wind through valleys and along the sides of mountains, the engineers of this road decided to build it right on top! The 127km/79-mile highway goes from Dawson City, to the Canada-Alaska border, and then to the junction of the Taylor Highway, which spits you out at the Tok, Alaska Junction. We were finally going to cross into Alaska!
We crossed into Alaska at one of the most interesting and remote border crossings: Poker Creek-Little Gold Creek Border Crossing. There is a cabin that was built there in the 70s for the border patrol officers to live. Up until then, the US did their crossing inspections in Tok, AK about 100 miles away.
Despite all the warnings we had about the Top of the World Highway, we had not heard a breath about the Taylor Highway, which finishes the connection with Tok, AK from Top of the World and Chicken, AK. Here is your warning: it’s worse.
This dirt road has little gravel, and is narrower and windier then the Top of the World. DRIVE SLOW! Be especially careful if it has rained recently or is raining. We saw a Class A motor home tipped over in the ditch on this road. Once you get past the dirt section, it turns into horrible frost-heaved pavement. Again, DRIVE SLOW. Just expect to not go above 30mph and take your time.
Tok, AK & The Tok Cutoff Road
We’ve been told by locals that the correct way to pronounce Tok is “toke,” like rhymes with poke, coke, joke. This is a great place to get groceries, fuel, water, propane, and maybe even a bath for your RV after the potentially dusty/muddy drive from Dawson City! We recommend grocery shopping at the Three Bears Store, as they have a very wide selection and pretty reasonable prices. We refueled and restocked on things before continuing down the Tok Cutoff heading southwest towards Anchorage, sighting several moose alongside the road and the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains to the distant south. We also encounter some HORRIBLE frost heaves and a very long stretch of road construction. We get it now – all the warnings and horror stories about roads in Alaska. We get it.
We didn’t go all the way to Anchorage, and instead turned north once we reached the Richardson Highway Junction. Our next major destination was Denali National Park, and we were going to drive the Denali Highway – another “rough road” and the original park entrance road paralleling the Alaska Range – to get there!
We were so excited to finally be in Alaska – it had taken us about a month to get here, and even within the few days we had been in the state we were already seeing why it is so famous! We were looking forward to the adventures it held in store for us.
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