State Route 11, better known as the James W. Dalton Highway and sometimes simply as the Haul Road, is a state highway in the US state of Alaska. It is the northernmost road in the United States and heads north to the Arctic Ocean. The route is 667 kilometers long and serves three villages with no more than 25 inhabitants each. The main part is a gravel road.
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The Dalton Highway in the Brooks Range, overlooking Sukakpak Mountain (1359 m).
The Dalton Highway begins near Livengood, approximately 100 miles north of Fairbanks. The road runs through a wild area with frequently beautiful views. The road is an unpaved, but mostly well passable gravel road. Halfway through the route you will pass through the Brooks Range, an area with mountains up to 2,000 meters. The Dalton Highway runs over the 1,444 meter high Atigun Pass. To the north the area is flatter and consists of barren tundra. The northernmost part of the road is asphalted. The Dalton Highway ends in Deadhorse, north of the Arctic Circle. Nearby is Prudhoe Bay. There are few permanent residents, but plenty of companies in the oil industry.
The Dalton Highway is not publicly accessible to the Arctic Ocean, the northernmost part to Prudhoe Bay is owned by BP which operates the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field. However, tours to the Arctic Ocean are possible that must be arranged in advance.
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The Dalton Highway south of Deadhorse (tarmac in 2020-2021).
The Dalton Highway was built in 1974 as a route to enable the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. This pipeline was constructed parallel to the Dalton Highway between 1974 and 1977. The road is named after James W. Dalton, an Alaskan engineer.
In 2020-2021, the northernmost 84 kilometers of the Dalton Highway will be asphalted. The gravel road here was difficult to maintain due to a lack of material and the more frequent rainfall meant that the road was increasingly difficult to drive on. It was therefore decided to asphalt this part. An asphalt plant was temporarily moved to the project for the work, because the nearest asphalt plant was located 800 kilometers to the south. This was by far the most remote road construction asphalt work done in North America.
The Dalton Highway has mainly an industrial character, the number of permanent residents on the route is very limited, Deadhorse terminus mainly consists of an airport and industrial area that is a transfer point to the oil and gas extraction around Prudhoe Bay. The only ‘place’ on the route between start and finish is Coldfoot, which is mainly a truck stop. The Dalton Highway was extensively portrayed in the reality series ‘Ice Road Truckers’.
Driving on the Dalton Highway
The Dalton Highway in the Brooks Range.
The Dalton Highway is partly a gravel road.
Most of the Dalton Highway is a gravel road. Small parts are asphalted. The Dalton Highway can be driven up to fairly high speeds of around 80 km/h, but it is not recommended to drive on the road with small passenger cars and especially motorcycles. There is no cell phone reception on the route, except near Deadhorse. Satellite phones also don’t work everywhere, especially in the Brooks Range. Satellite phones often have poor or no coverage north of the Arctic Circle.
Many car rental companies do not allow driving on the Dalton Highway. Cars are damaged in summer due to gravel spatter from passing trucks. In winter, the road surface is firmer, but also smoother. The route is maintained by winter services, but is usually covered with a layer of ice. It is not recommended to drive a passenger car on the Dalton Highway during the winter. Temperatures are extremely low (often around or even below -40°C) and car breakdowns can lead to major problems. In winter there is the polar night, where the sun does not rise. In winter, snow chains are often necessary in the Brooks Range, where there are slopes of up to 12% over the Atigun Pass.
It is possible to drive a tour bus on the Dalton Highway. The journey from Fairbanks to Deadhorse and back usually takes 3 days, with an overnight stay in Coldfoot. Truck drivers often drive the route from Fairbanks to Deadhorse in one or two days, depending on speed. Tanker trucks and oversize loads often drive slower and take a day and a half. It is not possible to see the Arctic Ocean from the Dalton Highway. The speed limit on the Dalton Highway is 50 mph (80 km/h). It is mandatory to use the lighting day and night.
There are few gas stations on the route. Fuel can only be obtained in Fairbanks, Coldfoot and Deadhorse. There are no facilities at the starting point of the Dalton Highway in Livengood. The Dalton Highway is known for having no ‘services’ for 386 kilometers between Coldfoot and Deadhorse. Collisions with large game (bears, moose, caribou) are common.
In 2009, 160 to 300 vehicles drove daily on the Dalton Highway, with the intensities decreasing to the north. Traffic on the Dalton Highway consists mainly of trucks supplying the oil industry around Prudhoe Bay, and tourists. In the winter, the amount of freight traffic increases, because many oil and gas projects can only be carried out in the winter, because the ground around Prudhoe Bay is only hard enough to drive over with heavy equipment.