If you love a good road trip, nothing in 2017 will top the world famous Alaska Highway, the most ruggedly spectacular driving route on Earth* and one about to celebrate its 75th anniversary.
Eleven thousand American Army men built the Alaska Highway. They did so with the help of hardy Canadian civilians and the blessing of the Government of Canada, who granted right-of-way in exchange for ownership of the road once it was built and the war was won.
The war? That would be World War II. What’s often forgotten is that, on the Pacific side, the Japanese actually invaded and occupied the United States for a period of time via remote, barren (although inhabited) Aleutian Islands in the North Pacific.
In 1942, the U.S. President called for the construction of the behind-the-front Alaska Highway. A new and necessary military lifeline, it would connect the Lower 48 and Canada to the top of the continent: One long road running through three massive swaths of untamed, unassailable wilderness in Northern British Columbia, the gold rush country of Canada’s Yukon and the remote Alaskan Territory (not yet a state).
It was a miracle the men and machines were able to bash and clear their way through, scraping out the highway corridor in eight months. They fought sub-Arctic weather and permafrost, hundreds of miles of heavily treed forests, some of the continent’s highest mountains, bog that sank their equipment, mosquitoes and grizzlies. It was the most expensive Army construction project of the war, according to Heath Twichell in Northwest Epic: The Building of the Alaska Highway. It cost more than $100 Million.
And once it was finished, some of its roadside signs read: “Prepare to meet thy maker.”
In 2017 the Alaska Highway turns 75. It’s easy to forget, collectively, how and why it began. Most of the people who built it, after all, are gone. This anniversary will provide an opportunity shared by fortunate travelers to recall turning point events of the past — that could have changed the world — while touring a wild and beautiful place that would never have been accessible otherwise.
The folks who live along the Alaska Highway today – many as a result of its construction – are expecting plenty of visitors from around the world in 2017. The guests will include their modern-day U.S. army and Canadian government friends, to get up here for a the party under the Northern Lights.
Whether you’re an RV traveler or Harley Davidson biker, an outdoor adventurer or war history buff, a gold rush fanatic or a family of car campers, a ride along the Alaska Highway for its 75th should be on your list of things to do in 2017.
* Re: the “most ruggedly spectacular route on Earth…” This is our editorial opinion and we own this content. We welcome submissions form our readers that challenge our notion, but they must be descriptions of other highways with accompanying photography (for proof) and we reserve the right to curate and publish alongside our Alaska Highway content at a future date.