September 19, 2017
With the last sunny days of summer on the horizon, mountain bikers are getting excited for what might be called the season of singletrack—autumn. Fall…
By Murray Lundberg August 10, 2014 #php comments_number('0 Comment', '1 Comment', '% Comments'); ?> #php echo wpb_get_post_views(get_the_ID()); ?>
Motorcycle enthusiasts around the world know BC as a dream destination for road trips, and high on the list of the best routes to ride is the Alaska Highway. To really enjoy the trip simply requires the right gear, the right attitude and sufficient time – though a bit of luck with weather helps, too.
There are many opinions about what the “best” motorcycle is for a trip up the Alaska Highway. Big dual-sports usually win in those discussions, but the reality is that you can ride anything on 2 or 3 wheels and have a lot of fun as long as you recognize its limitations. As a frequent rider on the “Alcan” (a term often used for the highway by Americans), my choice is a Vstar 1100 Classic – large enough to be comfortable for long days, but small enough to manhandle in awkward spots and on loose gravel.
It is possible to ride the highway staying just at motels and lodges, or just camping. Although it means a much larger load on the bike and sometimes irregular meals, I prefer to carry a tent and sleeping bag and mix it up, mostly to allow total flexibility when I find a spot that I want to stay longer at.
Whether your route to reach the Alaska Highway is from the west and south on BC’s Hwy 97, the John Hart Highway, or from the east and south, usually on Alberta Highways 43 and 40, you’ll end up at Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek. You’ll certainly want to add a shot like this to your collection. My bike was heavily loaded in this photo for a trip from Whitehorse to Yellowknife and back.
There are two road conditions in which motorcyclists get specifically warned about by signs. The first is bridges that have decks made of metal grates. They can be very slippery, particularly when wet, and they develop grooves which can make steering difficult, particularly if your bike has narrow and/or knobby tires.
Signs marking patches of gravel are a very recent addition to the Alaska Highway. As the gravel gets packed down by traffic, smooth paths through those sections can be found, but loose gravel requires a great deal of care, especially if you’re riding a heavy, smooth-tired cruiser.
Photo-ops abound along the Alaska Highway, and if you ride alone as I always do, carrying a light tripod makes getting good “selfies” much easier. The next photo was shot at Summit Lake in Stone Mountain Provincial Park. It seldom shows up on people’s lists of must-sees along the highway, but I can never get enough time here. Whether you enjoy hiking or just relaxing in spectacular surroundings, this might be one of the places that makes having a flexible schedule is wonderful.
You’ll see many “Motorcycle Friendly” signs at lodges along the Alaska Highway. These date back to a series of motorcycle rallies run by a group called Ride Yukon from 2004-2009. The reality is that all lodges are bike-friendly, though. The availability of fuel along the highway is a concern to many people, but unless your bike has an exceptionally small tank, you don’t need to carry a can of gas with you. While the number of lodges is much smaller than it was when I started driving the highway 25 years ago, there are still enough to keep your tank topped up.
Motorcycles may not require as much fuel as people in cars and RVs, but riders tend to stop more often and spend a great deal more on the things that really keep lodges in business – food and accommodations. It sometimes surprises me just how many calories it takes to “re-fuel” after a long day of riding.
Wildlife viewing can be extremely good along the Alaska Highway. Wood bison are almost always seen in the Liard River Hot Springs area, and they sometimes demand the right-of-way!
And although I’ve seen bikers stop to watch grizzly bears, keep in mind its best to watch wildlife from a safe distance. Even a cow moose with a calf could be a danger to anyone not protected by a large metal box! However, animals such as sheep are great to watch from a motorcycle.
Caribou are naturally curious, and perhaps because they don’t see many, they are particularly curious about motorcycles. This bull, with his mouth open to get as much information about me as possible (sheep do it as well), approached quite closely one day near Muncho Lake Provincial Park.
Whether you want a motel/lodge/cabin or just a tent site, there are a fair number of options. While reservations are not usually necessary, have a Plan B if you choose to go that route. This may be a good time to note that once you get north of Fort St. John, there is no cell phone service except near larger communities such as Fort Nelson. The best single source of information about accommodations, fuel and attractions for the Alaska Highway and approach routes is The Milepost, now in its 66th year of publication. At 760 pages, it’s not very bike-friendly though, so I just photocopy the pages for whichever route I’m going to be travelling.
After a day of riding, there isn’t a better destination to stop at than Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park. Whether you camp there, stay at the lodge on the opposite side of the highway, or just stop to soak in the hot water for an hour or so, it is one of the finest experiences the Alaska Highway has to offer.
Most people use the Alaska Highway as part of a much longer route. While you can ride south on the same route you came north on, the Great Northern Circle Route is a very popular option. That’s particularly true for motorcycles since paving was completed (except for about 1 km / .6 mile) on Highway 37, the Stewart-Cassiar, in recent years. Continuing north into the Yukon Territory and Alaska can extend your trip to any length you choose, with roads such as the Haines Highway offering superb riding and scenery – the photo below was shot near the Haines Summit.
With the vast range of motorcycle types and rider experience and interests, this post is just meant as a brief introduction to a ride you may have considered. There are certainly many more things to think about during your planning, and I’d be happy to discuss your specific plans – just use the “Leave a Reply” box below to get started. Ride safe!
Featured image: Two caribou on the Alaska Highway in Muncho Lake Provincial Park. Photo: Andrew Strain
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