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Dalton Highway

Outdoor Recreation along the Dalton Highway

Watching for wildlife

Muskox, caribou, snowy owl — will you see these and other wild creatures along the Dalton Highway? Your chances improve if you know where, when, what and how to look for wildlife. Follow these tips and those on our watchable wildlife page to improve your chances of spotting something exciting. 
a cow musk oxen grazes by the highway 
Travelers often see musk oxen near the highway north of Atigun Pass. 

  • Be patient.
  • Take time to scan open areas along mountain slopes, riverbanks, lakes and meadows.
  • Use binoculars, spotting scopes or telephoto lenses for a closer look.
  • Stay inside your vehicle — it acts as a viewing blind and animals are less likely to flee.
  • Animals tend to be more active in the evening and early morning.
  • Check at the visitor centers to see when and where other Dalton travelers have seen wildlife

Camping

There are many pullouts suitable for camping. Park well off the road to avoid dust and flying rocks and do not block access roads to the pipeline. Recreational camping is limited to 14 days at any one spot.

  campground hosts are on site at Marion Creek Campground
 Volunteer hosts greet you at the Marion Creek Campground.
Marion Creek Campground is 5 miles north of Coldfoot. It is a developed campground (fee area) and a volunteer host is on site from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Other designated camping areas are free and undeveloped: Five Mile (4 miles north of the Yukon River), Arctic Circle (drive uphill from the viewing deck), and Galbraith Lake (north of Atigun Pass).

Camping is not allowed between mileposts 278 and 293 or the surrounding area, designated as the Toolik Lake Research Natural Area (click for 2MB PDF map).

The only dump station is located at Five Mile Campground, 4 miles north of the Yukon River. It is free to the public.

Hiking

The best hiking is in the Brooks Range, where ridges and stream drainages provide firm footing and the forest thins to low-growing tundra. Throughout the Arctic, wetlands and bogs hinder walking. Areas of tussocks — sedges that grow in basketball-sized clumps — are particularly aggravating. Tussock fields dominate the landscape of the North Slope. Waterproof boots with good ankle support are essential.
hiker on peak looks over valley 

The absence of trails allows hikers complete freedom to explore.

 

Hiking east from the highway will lead you to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, while hiking west leads to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Choose your route with care and bring topographic maps and a compass with you. A GPS can also be useful, especially when visibility is poor. At the visitor center in Coldfoot, backcountry visitors can obtain orientation, register, and borrow bear barrels for food storage.

Note: In this part of the world, magnetic declination varies from 27 to 30 degrees east of true north; be sure to adjust your compass.

Birding

The Dalton Highway offers birders a unique opportunity to drive through the northern boreal forest, the Brooks Range, the North Slope and Arctic Coastal Plain. Over 150 species are seen along the highway in their bright summer plumage. A checklist, Birds Along the Dalton Highway, is available at the visitor centers.

Northern Alaska offers birders 24 hours of daylight from mid-May through mid-July. In this short period, birds court, breed, raise their young and prepare to migrate south again.

 Profile of a rough-legged hawk against a blue sky 
 Whimbrel
Early to mid-May brings flocks of migrating waterfowl. Many of the roadside ponds are crowded with loons, ducks, geese, and swans. Shorebirds, gulls, terns, raptors, and jaegers follow close behind the flocks of waterfowl. June is the peak time for territorial displays and songs.

Rarely seen species from Asia and Africa such as yellow wagtail, northern wheatear, and bluethroat occur on the North Slope, as well as Smith's longspur. Closer to the Arctic Ocean coast, look in early summer for snowy owl, Sabine's gull, yellow-billed loon, pomarine and parasitic jaegers, and king, spectacled, and common eiders.

Recreational gold panning

Some BLM-managed public lands along the Dalton Highway south of Atigun Pass are open to recreational mineral collection, including the use of gold pan, pick, shovel, rocker and sluice box. Motorized equipment is not allowed. Closed areas include the pipeline right-of-way (27 feet on either side of the pipeline) and land legally claimed for mining or other purposes. For recommendations on places to try your luck, pick up a copy of the brochure Panning for Gold Along the Dalton Highway at the BLM office or Alaska Public Lands Information Office (Fairbanks), the Yukon Crossing Visitor Contact Station, or the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center (Coldfoot).

Fishing

Arctic grayling, whitefish, Dolly Varden, Arctic char, lake trout, burbot (lingcod) and northern pike can all be found in the far north. Fish in the Arctic grow and reproduce slowly and very susceptible to overharvest. 

 
 Anglers are encouraged to use careful catch-and-release technique and to use barbless hooks to minimize injury.

The following regulations are in effect 5 miles (8 km) on either side of the highway. Fishing for salmon is prohibited; lake trout are catch-and-release only; daily bag and possession limit for Arctic grayling is five fish. You need an Alaska sport fishing license and a regulations booklet for the Arctic-Yukon- Kuskokwim region. For complete regulations, please visit the Alaska Department of Fish and Game web site or contact them by phone at (907) 459-7026.

 

 

Hunting

Click here on our Tips for Dalton Highway Hunters page for specific information. A brief summary of  important regulations and restrictions can be downloaded here (PDF/51 KB). For complete regulations, maps of closed areas and assistance in planning your hunt, visit the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website or call (907) 459-7206.

Off-Road Vehicles

State law prohibits off-road vehicles within 5 miles (8 km) on either side of the highway from the Yukon River to the Arctic Ocean. This includes trucks, cars, ATVs, and snowmachines.

Bicycling

Two bicyclists ride heavily laden bicycles along a gravel section of the Dalton Highway 
Motorists should watch out for bicyclists on the highway. 
The Dalton Highway provides unique challenges and opportunities for bicyclists: the road surface is rough gravel for long distances, services are few and far between, and the road crosses true wilderness. Bicyclists must be in top physical condition, prepare thoroughly, have realistic expectations, and be flexible enough to deal with changing conditions. For further information on bicycle touring on the Dalton Highway, download BLM's eight-page bicycling guide (PDF/822 KB).

Canoeing and Rafting

There are several excellent river trips along the Dalton Highway, including the Jim River, the Middle Fork of the Koyukuk River, Ivishak River, and the challenging Atigun and Sagavanirktok Rivers (for experienced whitewater boaters). For more detailed descriptions of these rivers, contact the Fairbanks Alaska Public Lands Information Center by phone at (907) 459-3730 or the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in summer at (907) 678-5209.

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