Constructing the Alaska Highway in 1942 to defend against Japanese attack, workers (mostly the US Army) also faced the possibility of surprise encounters with angry or unfriendly grizzlies, black bears, wolves, wolverines, lynx, moose and elk. In spite of an often-hostile environment and tremendous construction challenges, the highway was finished in less than a year, and further invasion of North America was prevented.
Today, the wildlife you can see along the Alaska Highway corridor from the Northern Rockies area of British Columbia to the interior of Alaska remains abundant. The animals enjoy wild lives here, free to roam in greater numbers than almost anywhere else in the world!
If you’re travelling the highway this summer, go out of your way not to surprise the large, dangerous mammals as well as the not-so-scary deer, mountain goats, ground squirrels, beavers, coyotes, sheep, foxes, porcupines, hares, as well as (in the skies above) eagles, ospreys, falcons and owls (this is only a partial list).
To help you improve your chances of seeing wildlife during your road trip, here’s some background information from each of the three “zones” you’ll be passing through: British Columbia, Yukon and Alaska.
According to Hello BC, a provincial tourism site, most of the province is prime bear watching territory:
The province is home to the rare white Kermode (Spirit) bear, more than half of Canada’s grizzly bears, and a quarter of Canada’s black bears.
If you begin your drive at Mile “0” in Dawson Creek, before you leave BC for the Yukon, you’ll have quick access to Muskwa-Kechika. It’s a vast, northeastern B.C. territory named after its two major rivers with worldwide significance as a massive, “managed” swath of untamed wilderness. Most travel is by air, water or via a network of horse trails, many of which have been in use since Wild West days.
Something like 2,000 grizzlies call the 6.4 million hectares of this wilderness home. There are also about 4,000 caribou, 7,000 Stone’s sheep, 15,000 elk, 22,000 moose and thousands of whitetail and mule deer. How’s that for a wildlife viewing opportunity? Saddle up!
Canada’s Yukon Territory is famous for the gleaming gold that triggered a chaotic, worldwide stampede known as the Klondike Gold Rush (it featured prospectors, U.S. gangsters, dancehall girls, Mounties, poets and entrepreneurs). This is a land of vast, remote wilderness, its diverse ecosystems a world away from the rest of the planet, with sparse human population. The Yukon is a haven for some of North America’s most rare and impressive species.
Viewing opportunities are everywhere here, including, sometimes, in the towns. Road trippers should watch for bears, moose, elk, bison, and sheep while driving the region’s highways, and especially along the Alaska Highway, which connects the Northern Rockies area of British Columbia with Alaska.
A little less wild than the rest of the Yukon, but (yes, ironically) with the certainty of seeing the region’s natural inhabitants, the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, 25 minutes outside Whitehorse, features woodland caribou, lynx, elk, mountain goats, moose, deer, muskoxen, wood bison, two varieties of sheep and foxes, all living in harmony on 700 acres. The animals have plenty of space and are healthy. Go off-road into the wilds, though, if you’re looking for grizzlies.
People from all over the world visit Alaska as they work through their bucket lists. There are many reasons. Some want to get close to North America’s highest mountain peak, Denali. Previously known as McKinley, it’s a very dangerous climb, but a well-managed park with outstanding bus transportation. Other visitors board boats to approach massive glaciers along the coasts that calf massive, splashing shards of ice.
And, of course, there’s the wildlife, in pretty good supply up here:
“The Great Land has the largest population of Bald Eagles, Brown Bears and Black Bears in the world,” says alaskatravel.com. There are 47 State and National Parks. Denali National Park, an add-on road trip from Delta Junction at the end of the Alaska Highway, affords great viewing of almost all Alaska wildlife.
This is where you, the road traveller, can inhabit the world-famous scenes with large brown bears fishing for meals in pristine, running streams. There are 30,000 bears here. There are 175,000 moose.
Safety for wildlife enthusiasts
Start with safety as you plan your wildlife viewing. Learn about the animals before you travel…and follow these rules:
- Wherever you are, stay clear of bison, elk, moose and bears. If they’re protecting young or near a kill — and you startle them — they’ll probably take a run at you and it won’t necessarily be all good.
- To view animals at the roadside, stay in your vehicle.
- Keep your children under supervision at all times.
- Do not feed the animals.
Chris Gale – Wild North Photos