Dalton Highway (Livengood to Deadhorse)

Haul road

Embrace the vast emptiness along the Dalton Highway

If you’ve seen the TV show Ice Road Truckers, then you’re familiar with the James W. Dalton Highway, a 414-mile stretch of gravel and dirt that runs from the town of Livengood up to Prudhoe Bay and through some of Alaska’s most remote wilderness.

How remote is it up here? There are only three very small towns along the way. Often, the Trans-Alaska pipeline, which runs parallel to the road, is a driver’s only companion. And from the midpoint (the town of Coldfoot) to the end of the road (Deadhorse), you won’t find gas stations, restaurants, rest stops, or hotels—in fact, you won’t find services of any kind over this entire 240-mile stretch. In other words, if you love lonely roads, this is the drive for you.

But not many travelers take this route. The highway—built in 1974 to facilitate the pipeline’s construction—is mostly used only by truckers carrying supplies to oilfield workers in Deadhorse. And it’s a tough drive: steep and slick in places and muddy in others, with those trucks occasionally flinging rocks and gravel onto your windshield. For this reason, most rental cards are not allowed on the Dalton. Instead, rent from Arctic Outfitters Dalton Highway Car Rentals or Alaska Auto Rental for this adventure. Also, it gets cold here in winter—temperatures as low as 82 below are said to have been recorded.

Arctic circle dalton highway

The iconic "Arctic Circle" sign

Still, with a rugged vehicle and plenty of supplies, you can do it: drive through the boreal forests and up to the misty Arctic oilfields of Deadhorse. Halfway, you’ll pass through Coldfoot (mile 174.8)—home to the world’s northernmost truck stop, and a place to have a drink and put up for the night, in accommodations that are basic yet expensive. In fact, the town got is name in 1900, when travelers got cold feet with the approaching winter and turned around. Don’t follow their example—after all, at that point, you’re already halfway done. Other lodging is available in Wiseman (mile 188.6) and the Yukon River crossing (mile 56).

Read more about the Dalton Highway in this great New York Times article.

And get BLM’s printed guide to the Dalton.

Show Map

Guide Points

Here you’ll find a good view of Trans Alas­ka Pipeline and remote-oper­at­ed valve site. At 151 points along the pipeline, pres­sure relief valves are used to relieve pres­sure and keep it below a des­ig­nat­ed lev­el or stop the flow of oil if nec­es­sary. These valves are designed to open auto­mat­i­cal­ly. They are locat­ed at stream cross­ings, pop­u­la­tion areas and major uphill sec­tions of the pipeline.

To the west is Pump Sta­tion No. 6. There were orig­i­nal­ly 10 pump sta­tions along the Trans Alas­ka Pipeline, only 6 are used to move oil today. These pumps move the oil through the 800 mile-long pipeline from Prud­hoe Bay to Valdez. Most sta­tions have three gas-tur­bine-dri­ven main­line pumps. Each pump can move 22,000 gal­lons of oil a minute, that’s 754,000 bar­rels a day.

This ½‑mile-long span is one of only four vehi­cle-car­ry­ing bridges across the mighty Yukon, the longest riv­er in Alas­ka and the Yukon Ter­ri­to­ry, and a pri­ma­ry means of trans­porta­tion dur­ing the Klondike Gold Rush.

Wood­en obser­va­tion deck pro­vides sweep­ing views of the Yukon Flats Nation­al Wildlife Refuge. This 9 mil­lion acre refuge was estab­lished to con­serve fish and wildlife pop­u­la­tions and their habi­tats includ­ing; nest­ing water­fowl, migra­to­ry birds, dall sheep, bears, moose, wolves, wolver­ines, cari­bou and salmon. Offi­cial pro­tec­tion of this area began in 1978, stem­ming from a pro­posed hydro­elec­tric project for the Yukon Riv­er. If the dam had been…  ...more

Look for Fin­ger Rock point­ing the way to Fair­banks. Rumor has it that ear­ly bush pilots in the area used this 40-foot gran­ite rock as a nav­i­ga­tion guide. Fin­ger rock is actu­al­ly a geo­log­ic for­ma­tion called a tor. Tors are rock for­ma­tions caused by weath­er­ing; in this area, the extreme freez­ing and thaw­ing of the ground caus­es the rock to be pushed up into these dra­mat­ic for­ma­tions. There are sev­er­al tors vis­i­ble in this area; Fin­ger Rock is…  ...more

This is a good place to stop and stretch your legs. The scenic view­point has plen­ty of park­ing, two out­hous­es and inter­pre­tive signs. Take the 12 mile inter­pre­tive trail to the sum­mit of Fin­ger Moun­tain for an up close view of the alpine tun­dra. Look for gran­ite tors, the jut­ting rock for­ma­tions caused by the freez­ing and thaw­ing of the ground.

This Lev­el Park­ing area was once the site of Old Man Camp, a for­mer pipeline con­struc­tion camp. There were a total of 31 con­struc­tion camps oper­at­ing dur­ing the con­struc­tion of the Trans Alas­ka Pipeline from 19741977. These camps were tem­po­rary facil­i­ties to house the thou­sands of work­ers who build the pipeline. 

Wel­come to the Alas­ka Arc­tic. Be sure to take a pic­ture in front of the sign dis­play­ing N 66 33’W 150 48. You are now cross­ing the Arc­tic Cir­cle. This is the place where the sun does­n’t set on sum­mer sol­stice and does­n’t rise on win­ter sol­stice. The sea­sons are a lit­tle stranger up here, with extreme sun, extreme dark and extreme cold. Pull into the Arc­tic Cir­cle Way­side to learn about how the dif­fer­ent sea­sons affect life in the arctic…  ...more

This is one of the spots where two sep­a­rate con­struc­tion crew met dur­ing the build­ing of the Dal­ton High­way. The high­way was built in 1974 to allow for the con­struc­tion of the Trans Alas­ka Pipeline and fin­ished in only 5 months. This high­way, orig­i­nal­ly a haul road allow­ing access to Prud­hoe Bay, opened to pub­lic trav­el in 1994.

Alas­ka is the land of the mid­night sun and Gob­blers Knob pro­vides a stun­ning loca­tion to view this amaz­ing phe­nom­e­non. The mag­nif­i­cent Brooks Range blocks the sun for a short time. But, if you take a hike up the hill on sum­mer sol­stice you can expe­ri­ence 24-hour day­light. Make sure to bring your cam­era to cap­ture this shin­ing moment.

Pump Sta­tion No. 5 is unique from oth­er pump sta­tions because it is actu­al­ly a pres­sure relief sta­tion. While oth­er pump sta­tions keep the oil mov­ing, this sta­tion slows down the oil as it speeds through the pipeline after its decent from the Brooks Range. Oil is drained to relieve pres­sure and then re-inject­ed. Pump Sta­tion No. 5 does not have main­line pumps and can­not boost the speed the oil is trav­el­ing through the pipeline.

There are 579 ani­mal cross­ings built into the Trans-Alas­ka Pipeline Sys­tem. This allows for free move­ment of large game across the pipeline right of way. There are 554 ele­vat­ed cross­ings and 25 buried cross­ings, like this one. Two of the buried ani­mal cross­ings are actu­al­ly refrig­er­at­ed to keep the per­mafrost from melt­ing and the ele­vat­ed cross­ings are a min­i­mum of 10 feet high.

This infor­ma­tion cen­ter is a part­ner­ship between the BLM, the US Fish & Wildlife Ser­vice and the Nation­al Park Ser­vice. The Cen­ter is open dai­ly from noon to 10 p.m. late May — ear­ly Sep­tem­ber. Here you will find infor­ma­tion and inter­pre­tive dis­plays about the regions his­to­ry, nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment and recre­ation oppor­tu­ni­ties in the area. There’s also an Alas­ka Geo­graph­ic Asso­ci­a­tion bookstore.

Cold­foot (Pop. 12) This set­tle­ment was estab­lished in 1898 by min­ers and orig­i­nal­ly named Slate Creek. The name was changed to Cold­foot in 1900 when a group of new prospec­tors got cold feet” at the idea of spend­ing the win­ter here and head­ed south. By 1902, Cold­foot was bustling with two road­hous­es, two stores, sev­en saloons, a gam­bling house and a post office. Like many oth­er boom­towns, Cold­foot was a ghost town by 1912. The town experienced…  ...more

Wise­man (pop 20) This his­toric gold rush town was estab­lished in 1907, Wiseman’s hey-day was from 1911 to 1915. There was no min­ing in the actu­al town, how­ev­er Wise­man attract­ed prospec­tors from out­ly­ing creeks wish­ing to pro­vide or receive ser­vices. The town grew very quick­ly; a few cab­ins, a school and even a post office were brought upriv­er by sled from Cold­foot to sup­port the pop­u­la­tion swell. In the grand tra­di­tion of min­ing towns, as the…  ...more

A unique­ly Arc­tic phe­nom­e­non, pin­gos are caused by water intru­sions into per­mafrost that then freeze and expand, forc­ing soil and oth­er sur­face fea­tures to rise and split. This pin­go field is prob­a­bly caused by melt­wa­ter from Sukak­pak Moun­tain sink­ing into the ground through the rub­ble pile at its base, then resur­fac­ing in this swampy area and freezing.

The Koyukuk Gold Rush is one of the most remote and old­est min­ing booms in Alas­ka. Word got out that gold had been found at the Koyukuk Riv­er and min­ers stam­ped­ed to the area in 1898. Today, the Koyukuk Min­ing Dis­trict is one of the largest in the Yukon Riv­er region. Both life-long and recre­ation­al min­ers still find gold in this area today.

This is it, your last chance to see a tree on the Dal­ton High­way. Wel­come to the arc­tic tun­dra, the word tun­dra actu­al­ly means tree­less uplands”. The sub­soil in this area con­sists of per­mafrost, which is per­ma­nent­ly frozen soil. Only veg­e­ta­tion with a very shal­low root sys­tem can sur­vive this far north. Take a break and check out the inter­pre­tive signs with infor­ma­tion on the tran­si­tion from the bore­al for­est to the arc­tic tundra.

Ati­gun Pass, elev. 4739 ft. This is a very sig­nif­i­cant point of your jour­ney. As you trav­el over Ati­gun Pass, you are cross­ing the Con­ti­nen­tal Divide. Rivers to the north emp­ty into the Arc­tic Ocean, while rivers to the south emp­ty into the Bering Sea. North of the Ati­gun Pass, the per­mafrost grows deep­er (over 2,000 feet in the Prud­hoe Bay area) and is present almost every­where. South of the pass, per­mafrost areas become thin­ner and less…  ...more

The Dal­ton High­way is open year-round, rough­ly 3,700 large trucks trav­el the road each month, even dur­ing the arc­tic win­ter. There are 40 to 50 avalanche paths along Ati­gun Pass and a mas­sive avalanche could close the pass dur­ing win­ter months and shut down the trans­porta­tion of sup­plies to Prud­hoe Bay. The depart­ment of trans­porta­tion uses 11-foot-long avalanche guns to shoot down poten­tial slides, keep­ing the road clear and the truck drivers…  ...more

There are 554 ele­vat­ed cross­ings built into the Trans Alas­ka Pipeline Sys­tem. These cross­ing are a min­i­mum of ten feet high, and allow the free move­ment of large game across the pipeline. Watch for cari­bou and musk ox on these north slope crossings.

Pump sta­tion No. 4 has 2 unique qual­i­ties; first, it has the high­est ele­va­tion of all 11 sta­tions stretch­ing from Prud­hoe Bay to Valdez, sit­ting at 2760 feet. Sec­ond, this is one of the launch­ing and receiv­ing sta­tions for devices called pigs. Pump Sta­tion 1 is also a launch point. There are two types of pigs, named for the squeal­ing sound they make as they move through the Trans Alas­ka Pipeline. A clean­ing or dump pig trav­els through the…  ...more

This large glacial lake was dammed by a ter­mi­nal moraine locat­ed to the north. This area has beau­ti­ful views and good hik­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties into the Brooks Range. This is a great place to stop for infor­ma­tion about this region. There are inter­pre­tive pan­els with infor­ma­tion about the for­ma­tion of the Brooks Range, his­toric uses of the area and major archae­o­log­i­cal dis­cov­er­ies; the Arc­tic Nation­al Wildlife Refuge and Gates of the Arc­tic National…  ...more

Here you will find Too­lik Field Sta­tion, an arc­tic research sta­tion oper­at­ed by the Insti­tute of Arc­tic Biol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Alas­ka Fair­banks. This is the US’s most impor­tant arc­tic research sta­tion and the site of the Nation­al Sci­ence Foundation’s Arc­tic Long-term Eco­log­i­cal Research Site. The mis­sion of the Too­lik Field Sta­tion is to facil­i­tate and enhance arc­tic research as well as increase research and man­age­ment efficiency,…  ...more

There are 25 buried pipeline ani­mal cross­ings on the Trans Alas­ka Pipeline Sys­tem, and this is one of the two refrig­er­at­ed cross­ings. Refrig­er­a­tion keeps the hot oil in the pipeline from melt­ing the permafrost.

Dead­horse (pop. 4 per­ma­nent, 3000 — 6,000 part time). This is a town with a sole pur­pose — to sup­port pipeline and oil­field oper­a­tions for the Prud­hoe Bay oil­fields. The pub­lic road ends here, but you can take a two-hour tour with wildlife view­ing, a vis­it to the oil­fields and access to the Arc­tic Ocean.