Crossing the Alaska Border and Getting Screwed
Everyone says the “Top of the World Highway is unbelievable, you will not be disappointed”. We’ve also been told by several travelers we respect that “Chicken, Alaska is the coolest little town in the USA.” We set out on this path to see if this side trip off the ALCAN is really worth it, because our time in Alaska is limited and Fuel isn’t cheap! So…here goes nuthin’.
Top of the World Highway
Heading west from Dawson City we board a free ferry to cross the Yukon River and it’s off to the Top of the World Highway.
The road spends a short portion on the ridge of a mountain, above the tree line, with seemingly never ending views of the mountains way off in the distance (hence the name Top of the World). The road is all dirt but it’s well maintained and we’re able to cruise at a speed of 40 mph or so. For a road that has such a hyped name we really expected the scenery to be jaw dropping (sure, it is pretty), but we felt that overall the drive was just decent, especially compared to the Icefields Parkway that we traveled just a few short weeks ago.
We cross back into the USA at the Most Northerly Land Border Port at Poker Creek, Alaska, population 3. Immediately after crossing into the states we’re greeted with the most beautiful paved road we’ve ever seen. We pulled over at the vista point for the quintessential “Welcome to Alaska” photo opp, and this is when we heard the eerie hissing noise coming from our RV.
Essential RV Tire Safety Tips
You know how I always end up showing people “how not to” videos? I guess we’ll have to chalk this experience up to that title as well. Since the filming of this video we’ve gotten the tire fixed and we asked several service centers and tire techs about what’s the best gear and gadgets to keep on board for repairing an RV tire, here’s what we’ve come up with.
- Tire Pressure Monitor System – I’ve had the Tire Minder since we purchased our first RV. I distinctly remember reading someone’s recommendation online about a TPMS, it said something like yes these are expensive, but its way cheaper than losing a tire and dragging a bare rim down the road. Not only is it good for the tow car it’s saved my butt on the RV tires as well, unknowingly losing air pressure could be disastrous in an RV, especially the front tires.
- Heavy Duty RV Tire Compressor – I found out about our air pump from our friends the RV Geeks and they swore about the quality, in fact they own a diesel with a built-in air compressor but they still prefer the Viair! After my first use I have to agree, this pump is way more heavy duty than the standard pumps you can purchase at the auto parts store, yet it’s a fraction of the size & weight of the air compressors with the built in tank like you find at the hardware store. I like the RV model because it’s compact, lightweight and comes with the accessories I need all kept safe in the little carry case, although I wish it had a standard plug option as well as the battery clamps.
- Tire Plug Repair Kit – This is a temporary solution only, but from what we’ve learned it’s much safer than using the tire slime stuff. The “brown” sticks are supposed to be stronger than the “red” sticks so they should hold up to the high pressure of an RV tire a bit longer. Having this small RV tire repair kit on board might be the difference of a 10 minute patch or an entire day waiting on a tow truck to arrive.
- Tire Pressure Gauge – I’ve gone back and forth on the metal style vs. the digital style over the years but the newest one I purchased works extremely well and appears to be more accurate than the old-school style metal one I have. I bought the two pack and I keep one in the RV and one in the Smart car.
- Safety Triangles – In this instance we didn’t need our triangles because we weren’t on a busy road, but we have broken down several times on busy highways and these warning triangles work extremely well to alert oncoming traffic there is an issue ahead.
10 or so miles down the road from the border crossing that beautiful tarmac ends and its back to the bumpy dirt roads, actually the US dirt road here is even worse than the Canadian side. It’s a long, slow descent into Chicken, Alaska, especially when you know the air is blasting out of the RV tire. As you can see below there are plenty of bugs to welcome you to Alaska 🙂
To be perfectly fair to Chicken we arrived on one of their busiest weekends of the year: ChickenStock! It’s a music festival that draws quite the crowd. I overheard a few locals saying “we counted 12 planes at the airport, some people spent a fortune to see this show.” With our late and stressful arrival into town we decided to forgo the $40 concert entry fee and instead just unwind in the RV with a cocktail and an episode of House of Cards.
The next morning we walked around both campgrounds and made our way into Downtown Chicken. If you’re here on a non-event day you can camp behind the cafe downtown at no charge, they just ask that you pack-it-in and pack-it-out and only stay for a couple days max. There’s a cool bar and a cheesy gift shop along with a restaurant that are all attached, if you’re looking for “character” in a small town this place totally oozes with it.
Chicken Tip – The fuel downtown was only $3.79 which is $0.30 cheaper per gallon than what we paid at the campground just a block away. Dang-it, I hate when people take advantage of travelers and over charge because they are the biggest and/or first thing you see on the route!
From Chicken many people take their tow car up to Eagle, AK but there’s only a visitor center, a museum and couple historic buildings up there, so we decided to skip this four hour (each way) side trip and make our way back towards the ALCAN Highway.
Sorry Tok, other than a gas station that offered free overnight parking with fill-up along with a mediocre RV wash station we didn’t find much in Tok to do. I’m sure there’s something here but nothing really jumped out at us, but we’ll have another chance since it’s on the road out of Alaska. One night was more than enough for us so now it’s on to Fairbanks!
Yukon & Charlie River Float – If you have loads of time we’ve been told of a cool self-guided multi day river float that starts in either Eagle or Dawson City, inquire with the Dawson City visitor center for info.
Top of the World Pullouts – There are several pull-outs with great views along the Top of the World highway for overnight camping. You could easily kill a few days on this route if you want to mosey along and camp for free.
Is this side trip worth it?
According to Google Maps the direct route from Whitehorse to Tok is 8 hours / 387 miles. The route we drove was an extra 5 hours / 130 miles. Based on our Gas RV Fuel Economy of sub 7 MPG and the high prices of fuel ($4 – $6 per gallon) this far north this side trip cost an extra day and $100.
We’ve seen a lot of amazing things throughout our 5+ years of life on the road and we like to think of ourselves as not jaded, however if a good friend asked me that same question we posed at the start of this article: “Is it worth it to veer off route for the Klondike and Top of the World Highway?” Based on our experience, I think my honest answer would likely be a soft “no” unless you had the extra time and money to spare. That said, I do think every experience in travel enhances life in one form or another…so take my thoughts with a grain of salt and blaze your own trail. Happy Travels!
Fuel Prices – Fuel is less expensive in Chicken vs Dawson City and Downtown Chicken was substantially less expensive. The cheapest fuel by far is in Tok, AK so only put in as much as you “need” to complete this route.
Road Conditions – The Top of The World Highway is in good condition and fairly well maintained however the road into Chicken was a bit rougher, winding and narrow but nothing too crazy. We’ve heard horror stories about traveling in the rain on these roads so you may want to wait for a sunny day to make the trip.
Weather – Temperatures were mild and pleasant with highs hovering in the upper 60’s and the lows in the upper 40’s.
Dates Visited – June 15 – 16, 2015
See all our Alaska Travels and tips here: #Alaska Bound
Have you traveled the Top of the World Highway? What did you think about the scenic drive, Chicken and Tok? Please share your thoughts in the comments below to help other travelers make their own educated decision on whether or not it’s worth the side trip.