My Itchy Travel Feet | The Baby Boomer's Guide To Travel

Driving on Top of the World

2013/09/20by Donna Hull

This article is part of a paid series that I’m writing as a brand ambassador for Michelin Guides.

A rainy day at the Top of the World

It’s a misty day at the top of the world.

On a misty, September morning, our Ram truck climbs Yukon Highway 9—also called Top of the World Highway—after crossing the Yukon River on the George Black Ferry out of Dawson City. Soon Alan and I are riding a crest of bronze waves on a sea of mountains that roll onto one another as far as we can see through the clouds and mist. We truly are driving on top of the world.

Crossing on the George Black Ferry is free but avoid peak traffic times. The wait can be as long as 3 hours on a busy summer morning when trucks and tour buses have priority.

When Alan and I read about Top of the World Highway in the Michelin Must Sees Alaska guide’s Gold Rush Trails driving itinerary, we looked at each other and said, “Sign us up.” Adding the journey as a side trip to our Alaska Highway road trip proves to be a wise decision even though our day’s drive along the scenic road is a rainy one.

The mostly unpaved highway travels the crest of the mountains through miles of Yukon and Alaska wilderness. As Alan negotiates a road that winds above the timberline, I keep a lookout for the Fortymile Caribou herd, which remains elusive to us on this trip.

Bird on Top of the World Highway

This bird is really curious about us.

There are plenty of pullouts for camera stops and a couple of rest areas that provide pit toilets. At one stop, three gray birds swoop into a group of small trees in the rest area when they see us enjoying a mid-morning snack. They are quite bold, landing on the truck mirrors and also flying toward us. I think they would have flown into the vehicle if we had left the window open.

Approximately 65 miles from Dawson City, we cross the U.S.-Canada border and receive the same stern welcome that U.S. citizens receive whenever returning home. As Alan hands over our passports, I gaze out the window at the housing provided for the border personnel and wonder what it must be like to live in total isolation at the top of the world.

The US-Canada border crossing is open from May 15 to early October (or late September if the snow arrives early). The U.S. crossing is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Crossing into Canada, the hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. But it’s best to check at the Visitors Center in Dawson City to confirm as hours are subject to change and there are no phones at the border crossings.

The rain makes the going muddy on the U.S. side of Top of the World Highway (also known as the Boundary Spur Road on the U.S. side). And the road construction doesn’t help matters. I find it sad to see this adventuresome road being widened and civilized. But, then again, Holland America tour buses travel this road practically on a daily basis as they ferry cruise passengers on a land excursion that includes Dawson City.

Fall color on Top of the World Highway in the Yukon

Fall color on Top of the World Highway

At the Jack Wade Junction, a spur road turns off to Eagle (an adventure we will be taking next time) and Top of the World Highway officially becomes the Taylor Highway. Eventually the road construction ends as the road winds down from the crest and follows several creeks that are also gold mining streams.

Never trespass on a gold mining claim. To pan for gold on your own, arrange an outing with Chicken Gold Camp & Outpost or with outfitters back in Dawson City.

Small dredges, mine tailings and ramshackle camps along the river provide the evidence of active gold mining. Actually the entire area is mined for gold with many private and non-private roads veering off the Top of the World Highway into the wilderness.

Beautiful downtown Chicken, Alaska

The sun comes out at Beautiful Downtown Chicken.

At the town of Chicken, we have three choices on where to stop for lunch, provisions and fuel. Our choice—beautiful downtown Chicken—proves to be a delight. While Alan and I wait for chili and a sandwich, and debate about which baked good we’ll be sharing for dessert, the talkative cook tells us about life in Chicken. According to him, there really is gold to be mined. “I find some every time I go out on the creek,” he tells us. And tasting owner Susan Wiren’s chocolate chip cookies are as good as gold to us. The delicious cookies ensure our return to Chicken some day. They’re that good.

Back in the truck, the journey continues along the Top of the World (now Taylor) Highway. Here the land shows signs of damage from a forest fire. The Taylor Complex Fire of 2004 burned 13 million acres of trees. But it’s not all devastation. The fire created habitat for willow and birch trees plus huge displays of fireweed.

Wildlife on the Top of the World Highway in Alaska

Is this an elk or a reindeer? You tell us.

About this time, the only animal that we see on the drive runs across the road in front of us. Since Alan is driving, I’m the designated photographer. Grabbing the camera, I zoom in as the animal bolts across a red field of fireweed. He stops to look at us and I snap the shot. We still haven’t decided if it’s a deer or reindeer (we’re pretty sure it wasn’t a caribou as there is no scoop to his antlers).

Top of the World Highway is also part of the Klondike Loop. Alaska Highway travelers who take the side trip up the Klondike Highway from Whitehorse to Dawson City, returning back to the Alaska Highway via Top of the World Highway, experience road trip adventure at its very best.

So what did we think of Top of the World Highway? It’s beautiful, even in the rain, offering a chance to drive through remote areas of the Yukon Territory and Alaska. The road is not as narrow or treacherous as we had expected, but I wouldn’t want to be driving it in a large RV. And, unfortunately, the improvements being made are taking some of the adventure away. But, then again, how adventurous can a road be if tour buses are driving it? Alan and I suspect that the true adventure is driving the spur road to Eagle, which is definitely on our list for next time.

Have you driven Top of the World Highway? Please tell us about it in the comments. We’d love to read about your experience.

Disclosure: Michelin Guides has paid me to write this article as part of my Michelin Ambassador duties.


A boomer travel and lifestyle authority who is exploring the world one activity at a time. Besides writing and publishing My Itchy Travel Feet, she also writes about boomer travel for My Well-Being Powered by Humana, Make It Missoula and is the author of My Itchy Travel Feet: Breathtaking Adventure Vacation Ideas.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Lanier-Graham
Twitter:
September 24, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Excellent article and gorgeous photos. I LOVE the one of the bird on the mirror. I love following along on this trip to Alaska!
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Vera Marie Badertscher September 24, 2013 at 4:43 pm

If this doesn’t persuade Ken to drive to Alaska, I don’t know what it will take! Beautifully written and photographed. Although all the photos are enticing, I’m totally in love with that first one of the foggy road.
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Merr September 24, 2013 at 4:54 pm

We were in Alaska a few years ago and did have the opportunity to drive a bit. What an incredible state.

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Alexandra September 24, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Have never been to Alaska. This summer was in northern Sweden, which is at a similar longitude. I loved it there, and judging from your description, the same would be true for Alaska. I don’t know what the animal is but the photo is amazing.
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HeatherL
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September 24, 2013 at 6:55 pm

I love that they have a town named Chicken. How Alaska-like.
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Brette
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September 25, 2013 at 5:48 am

Wow. I would love to drive this. (but how is the shopping in Dawson City and Downtown Chicken?!)
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Jane Boursaw
Twitter:
September 30, 2013 at 7:45 am

This area just looks so remote and beautiful. And so neat that you’re a Michelin Ambassador!
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Bridget March 30, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Alaska sounds like an amazing state to visit. Very talented photography- these photos are incredible. thanks for sharing!
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Laura M Wagner June 21, 2014 at 6:42 pm

Thank you for sharing your lovely experience. We are presently making our ‘Trip of a Lifetime’ we have dreamt of making this trip for 40 years. We left Central Coast of California on the 10th of June and presently we are staying in Kamloops, BC. Another couple camping next to us strongly advised us against traveling the Top of the World Highway. What else could I do but to GOOGLE and came across your blog. I believe we will simply enjoy it thru the photos and others’ tales of adventure. We are traveling in a 32 ft. motorhome….we will possibly make a side trip, unhitching our dingy vehicle. Again Thank you for your posting!

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
June 22, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Hi Laura, thanks for taking the time to comment, especially since you are on a trip of a lifetime. I agree with the advice you received about avoiding Top of the World Highway if you’re driving a 32 ft. motorhome as the road would be a bit much for you. But I was certainly lusting after a rig like yours as we traveled through Alaska last summer…much better lodging than most of the motels that we found. Please come back and let us know how the trip goes. You are carrying The Milepost with you, right? A necessity in my opinion.

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Sam Holiday July 26, 2014 at 6:44 pm

Our “Trip of a Lifetime” will start in a few weeks, and does include the Top of the World Highway. I have a co-worker who retired this spring, and she and her husband are dredging a mining claim they have on the north 40 mile, out of Chicken. Hope to see them. Last word from her (July) was that there has been a lot of rain and shoulders of the Boundary Spur are very soft. She said two large rigs had gotten into the soft mud and tumbled over the side. Being stopped by the trees, no one got hurt – but quite a loss. We are pulling a small 13 ft. Scamp trailer, and hope that the weather dries out by the end of August. We look forward to some of the colors described in your article, and will definitely avoid the shoulders of the road.

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Richard Freeman
Twitter:
September 4, 2014 at 1:19 am

Chicken’s electric is supplied by each
owner’s generator with the exception of the Post Office which Robin collects the sun for solar power.

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