Tips for Safe Driving & Wildlife Viewing along the Alaska Highway

Few people drive the Alaska Highway without seeing some of North America’s largest, wildest mammals along the way.

In fact, you’ll need to exercise caution in order to avoid a large, wild accident in which you and your vehicle, along with a mammal, could get seriously mangled. Here are some Alaska Highway safe driving tips.

Take a look at the sign (it’s from the Alaska Highway, itself). At first glance, you might think your vehicle could pass underneath the belly of that moose, but not quite. The moose would crash through your windshield, flattening your roof and your body.

Safe Driving Tips for the Alaska Highway
Image Credit: British Columbia Ministry of Transportation

How about hitting a bison at full speed? Again, not a good plan. Bulls weigh from 1,600 to 2,000 pounds, stand between 5.5 and 6.5 feet high at the shoulder, and measure from 9.5 to 11.5 feet in total length (including the tail). Unfortunately, about 20 are killed on the highway every year.

When it comes down to it, there are no Alaska Highway mammals you’d want to hit. An elk, a deer, a grizzly and/or a black bear would also do serious damage to your wheels and yourself.

Road Safety Made Simple
To avoid an accident, avoid driving alone, if possible. More eyes on the road will ensure a better chance of spotting wildlife. Follow the speed limit and pay attention to solid yellow lines.

When you see wildlife, do not lose your mind, pull over as fast as possible and leap out of the driver’s side into oncoming traffic, swinging your camera. It’s all common sense. Please help to make it common practice. For best photos, stay in the car and roll down the windows to reduce streaking, spotting and reflections.

Having said all of that, you do want to see these large, wild mammals, roaming free in their frontier environment. They’re magnificent, and the ultimate road trip wouldn’t be the same without them.

Enjoy watching these beautiful creatures by pulling over to a safe location on the side of the road. Use hazard lights if necessary and watch them from the inside your car. This allows them to continue with their business and allows you to experience them in peacefully.

Large mammals along the Alaska Highway have babies that are super cute. The little ones look cuddly with their mothers, whose maternal instincts are exemplary. So much so, in fact, that they’re significantly more likely to attack and very unlikely to show you any warning signs before they do.

Reading Large Mammal Behaviour
Animals will warn when you they’re not pleased. They’ll raise their heads high and point their ears right at you. If they’re scared, they’ll jump at your sounds and movements. If you notice their ears back, they’re usually getting ready to charge you. If the hairs on their necks or backs are standing up, it could mean they’re quickly developing an aggressive “attitude” toward you because you’ve made them nervous.

Never harass or chase an animal on foot or in a vehicle. In Alaska, you could be fined $1,000 and thrown in jail for six months. That’s if the animal doesn’t turn on you before the law arrives.

Don’t try to attract bears with recorded prey calls or audio devices. The bears that respond to these teasers and sound bytes tend to arrive on the scene looking for the kill. And there you are.

Don’t approach an animal when others are photographing it. You could ruin everyone’s photographs, scare the animal and turn a previously serene photo session into dangerous chaos.

Weighing in: Largest Mammals of the Alaska Highway

alaska-highway-deer ELK
Height: Females 1.3 m at shoulder; males 1.5 m
Length: Females 2.1 m; Males 2.45 m
Weight: Females 225 to 241 kg; Males 320 to 331 kg
alaska-highway-bison BISON
Height: 1.8 to 1.9 m at shoulder
Length: 3.04-3.81 m
Weight: 408 to 907 kg. Males are larger than females.
alaska-highway-moose MOOSE
Height: 1.4–2.1 m at shoulder
Length: Females 3.1 m; Males 3.1 m
Weight: Females 350 kg; Males 430 kg
alaska-highway-bear GRIZZLY BEAR
Height: 1 m at shoulder
Length: 2 m
Weight: Females 130-200 kg; Males 270 kg
alaska-highway-elk DEER
Height: 53 – 120 cm at shoulder
Length: 95 – 220 cm
Weight: 68 kg

Header Photo Credit: JF Bergeron