This is a set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions about bicycle touring in British Columbia, Alaska, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. Bicycling on logging roads and trails is outside of the scope of this FAQ.
This FAQ was last updated on 10 October 2013. Updates should be sent to Bob Broughton; click here to contact him.
It depends on how long it takes to build the road. :-)
The two choices for road access are the Alaska Highway and the Cassiar Highway. The Alaska (or AlCan) Highway (B.C. 97-Yukon 1) is entirely paved, although it's guaranteed that you will encounter stretches under construction. The Cassiar Highway (B.C. 37) has three unpaved stretches, each about 40 km. in length. Along either route, there are stretches of 150 km. between stores and overnight accommodations. This fact, combined with volatile weather, makes it pretty much mandatory that cyclists be equipped for camping.
Ferry access creates more interesting choices. The Alaska Marine Highway connects Bellingham, WA with Prince Rupert, BC, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Haines, and several other communities on the Alaska panhandle. Call (800) 665-6414 for fare and schedule information. It is possible, and also very scenic, to ride to Prince Rupert via the Yellowhead Highway (B.C. 16). There is also frequent bus service (Greyhound), and not-so-frequent train service, from Prince George, BC to Prince Rupert.
BC Ferries operates the M.V. Queen of Prince Rupert between Port Hardy, BC, at the north end of Vancouver Island, and Prince Rupert. (The Queen of Prince Rupert is a temporary replacement for the Queen of the North, which sank to the bottom in March, 2006.) Schedule and reservation information can be obtained by calling (800) 663-7600. The road to Port Hardy is OK for cycling, and there is also bus service from Vancouver and Nanaimo to Port Hardy; It's run by Maverick Coach lines ((604) 662-8051). From Prince Rupert, it's possible to switch to the Alaska Marine Highway. It's also possible to ride from Prince Rupert to the Cassiar Highway.
The most scenic route is to take the Mulkiteo ferry to Whidbey Island, route 20 until the turnoff for Edison, then Chuckanut Drive (route 11) to Bellingham. Route 9 is more direct, and no slouch in the scenery department either. Unfortunately, route 9 has a lot of traffic south of Arlington, and little in the way of shoulders north of Arlington.
From Bellingham, you could take route 539 straight to the Canadian border. After you cross the border, go west on North Bluff Rd. (16th Ave.) until you get to 184 Ave., then follow the directions given four paragraphs down. There's a couple of more scenic alternatives, both of which involve taking Northwest Road out of Bellingham, then West on Smith Rd. to Ferndale.
Once in Ferndale, the most direct route is Malloy Drive north to Brown Road. Take a right on Brown Road, then a left on Portal Way. Portal Way will take you into Blaine.
A more scenic route, but less direct, is to take Vista Drive out of Ferndale, then right on Bruce Road into Custer. After Custer, go north on Custer School Road, west on Haynie Road, north on Stadsvold Road, and west on Sweet Road into Blaine.
An even more scenic alternative is to take Malloy Drive out of Ferndale, left on Brown Road, right on Kickerville Road, left on Grandview Road, and follow the signs to Birch Bay State Park. After you go through the park and the town of Birch Bay, follow Birch Bay Drive, Semiahmoo Drive, and Drayton Harbor Road to Blaine Road. Go north on Blaine Road to Blaine.
After you cross the border at Blaine, you again have a couple of alternatives. One is to take 0 Avenue east to 184 Street. Take 184 Street north to 80 Avenue. Take 80 Avenue west to Fraser Highway (route 1A), then take Fraser Highway west to 88 Avenue. Take 88 Avenue west to 112 Street. Go south one block to Nordel Way, and go west on Nordel Way to Brooke Road. Go north on Brooke Road to River Road, and west on River Road to the Alex Fraser Bridge.
The second alternative is to take Beach Road west into White Rock, and continue on State St. to North Bluff Rd. (16th Ave.) Turn left, then right on Johnston Street, which will become 152 St. after you leave White Rock. Go west on 68 Ave., north on 124 St., west on 84 Ave., and south on Nordel Way to the Alex Fraser Bridge.
Maps for these routes can be found online at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/communications/Map/Map-Quadrant-PDFs/Q8.pdf and http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/communications/Map/Map-Quadrant-PDFs/Q2.pdf. For more detail, go to http://www.mapquest.com.
Be aware that bicycles are not permitted on the Trans-Canada Highway (route 1) in the Vancouver area. Also be aware that route 99 between Blaine/White Rock and Vancouver goes through the Massey Tunnel. Don't even think about bicycling through this tunnel. There's a shuttle for bicycles that operates very infrequently through the tunnel during the summer months. There are also some busses through the Massey Tunnel that are equipped to carry bicycles. To find out where and when you can catch these busses, you must call B.C. Transit at (604) 521-0400.
There's a free shuttle that transports cyclists and their bicycles through it. Click here for more information and a schedule.
Bicycling Southwestern British Columbia & The Sunshine Coast, Simon Priest.
Bicycling Vancouver, Volker Bodegom
Bicycling Vancouver Island & The Gulf Islands, Simon Priest
The British Columbia Bicycling Guide, Teri Lydiard
The Traveling Cyclist, Roy M.Wallack. Doubleday, ISBN 0385413734, Pub. 1991. He tours from Anchorage to Vancouver and does 19 other trips in this book, including San Francisco to Los Angeles. Apparently out of print.
The Kettle Valley Railway is a "rails to trails" route in south-central British Columbia. It is described in Cycling the Kettle Valley Railway, by Dan and Sandra Langford. Dan Langford has put together an excellent Web site on the Kettle Valley Railway, which includes recent updates on the condition of different stretches of the route.
Tourism B.C. publishes the indispensable "Accommodations Guide" annually. Call (800) 435-5622 ((800) HELLO BC), and they'll mail you this, and all sorts of other great stuff.
Alaska Bicycle Touring Guide, by Pete Praetorius
and Alys Culhane. Published by The Denali Press, Post Office Box
021535, Juneau, Alaska USA 99802-1535, Phone (907) 586-6014, Fax
(907) 463-6780. The ISBN is 0938737279. REI sells it. It also
includes parts of the Yukon Territory and Northwest Territories.
This book is great. It covers all roads/highways with elevation profiles. Unfortunately, even though the charts are generally accurate, they often don't give you a good idea of what the road is like. Long rolling hills that don't have a net gain don't show in the charts.
Quote from the back cover:
"This detailed guide divides the route into sections of approximately 50 miles each and includes information on: road conditions and terrain, water sources, camping and picnic areas, trails, food and lodging, flora and fauna, emergency services, roadside sights, and sidetrips. There is also extensive information about cities and towns."
The Milepost, a thick volume published annually by Vernon Publ., Inc., 3000 Northup Way, Suite 200, Belleview, WA 98009, (800) 726-4707. It's oriented towards motorists, but it tells you pretty much everything there is to know. It logs every road in Alaska and the Yukon, and every lodge, gas station, campground and restaurant are in it. If you pass a restaurant it may be 75 miles to the next one; You need to know that before you pedal by. It includes complete ferry schedules, with pricing, for B.C. and Alaska.
Yes. I've seen a slide show given by Steve Grant of Vancouver, who made this trip, and it's quite spectacular. The entire length of the Dempster Highway is gravel. Overnight accommodations are the Eagle Plain hotel at the half-way point, Fort McPherson (550 km. from Dawson), and Arctic Red River. It can snow at any time of the year. Finding water on the Eagle Plain can be a problem.
Unless you go in winter, the only way to get from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk is by boat or plane.
John Egan (johnegan AT wyoming.com) reports that The amount of paved road in the Northwest Territories is continually increasing - by 2005 the highway from the Alberta border to Yellowknife should be entirely paved. At present it is paved past Fort Providence and as far as Rae-Edzo. The Mackenzie highway from the Fort Providence Junction to Fort Simpson is generally in excellent condition for cyclists - gravel with nice, wide hardpack free of gravel. It's messy in the rain - but doable. From Fort Simpson to Wrigley - the new highway is built to a much lower standard - very soft - apparently little roadbed - and very difficult in wet weather. The Fort Liard Highway from south of Fort Simpson to the BC border is currently being upgraded. It is not as bad as the Wrigley section of the Mackenzie, but not as good as the section between Fort Providence Junction and Fort Simpson. There is strong local sentiment to extend the Mackenzie Highway along the river valley to Inuvik but it will be many years before this comes to pass - if at all.
A warning to cyclists going into the NWT - there are very long distances between services AND the communities tend to be 10 to 25 kilometers off the main trunk highway. Although there are numerous spectacular waterfalls, most of the cycling will be through mile after mile of muskeg will few scenic vistas. The blackflies will swarm you constantly - riding, walking, and, especially, stopped. As long as you are moving and completely covered, they are tolerable. Camping is not a problem - lots of wood, too. The territorial parks are a real bonus - nice facilities, well maintained - and showers, too! Along the Mackenzie Highway between Fort Providence and Fort Simpson there are emergency cabins every 35 km or so. About 5m x 10m - they have sleeping shelves and a woodstove - and good roofs - but sometimes the doors don't close tightly. Dispersed camping is available throughout the NWT - the land ownership pattern is complicated by First Nations claims and settlements - some of which are still pending. If cyclists are respectful - there shouldn't be any problems. Be aware of bears.
Prices in the few communities are high, reflecting the cost of transportation and the near-monopoly that the Northern Stores (formerly Hudsons Bay Company) has in the region. Don't count on getting anything you need besides groceries and basic toiletries in any NWT town except Yellowknife (maybe Hay River or Inuvik). Even though it would be nice to support the NWT economy, cyclists should have everything they need before arriving. Motels are VERY high, especially in the smallest communities. Although alcohol is available in some communities, it is banned in others. Be aware that alcohol and drugs are a serious problem throughout the North.
The Mackenzie River is spectacular. Cyclists should find some way to get out on the river for a day. There are few great rivers in the world remaining in so natural a state.
It depends on which stretch of the Canol Road you're interested in. The part within the Yukon is gravel, but in pretty good shape. it should be no problem if you have a mountain bike.
The remainder of the Canol Road is in the Northwest Territories. It has been traversed by bicycle, but it takes about the same amount of time as it does to cover it on foot. Anyone attempting this feat should be aware that it's necessary to cross three serious rivers without benefit of bridges. Even for experienced, expedition quality bikers or backpackers, the possibility of death by drowning, exposure, or starvation is very real. There is essentially no chance of rescue except by sheer luck unless you've paid to have a bush pilot check on you every now and then. If you're still foolhardy enough to attempt this trip, there are scheduled passenger flights (on Canadian Air Lines) to Norman Wells, NWT.
A Web page describing the Canol Road can be found at http://internet.ggu.edu/~jvorderstrass/canol.htm. It includes an account by Sally Manning, who bicycled part of the Canol Road.
Two references on this subject are:
A Walk on the Canol Road-Exploring the First Major Northern Pipeline, S.R. Gage, Mosaic Press, PO Box 1032, Oakville, ON L6J 5E9, Canada, ©1990.
"Yanks on the Canol", a letter to the editor in Up Here-Life in Canada's North, July/Aug 1994.
Route 20 is now paved from Williams Lake to Anahim Lake, and from the foot of Heckman Pass (in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park) to Bella Coola. The Ministry of Highways is now paving some more of the highway each year. As for the unpaved stretch (Anahim Lake to the foot of Heckman Pass), the surface on much of it is pretty hard, so this road may be passable on a touring bike, if you have sturdy tires. Traffic on route 20 is light.
The Ministry of Forests used to maintain numerous campsites along route 20, but the provincial government announced plans in 2002 to close them down; I don't know how many of them are still usable. There are enough motels along route 20 to make credit-card touring possible.
There is now ferry service between Bella Coola and Port Hardy, at the north end of Vancouver Island. This ferry stops in Bella Bella. Bella Bella is a stop on the Port Hardy-Prince Rupert ferry, so it will be possible to connect from Bella Coola to the Yellowhead Highway, or the Alaska Panhandle.
That's the good news. The bad news is that Heckman Pass is regarded as the most dangerous stretch of road in British Columbia. The road drops from 4,500 feet above sea level to near sea level over a distance of about 20 km.; This translates into grades as steep as 18%. It's gravel, and avalanche-prone. Going east-west instead of west-east won't save you, because there's also a very steep climb west of the Fraser River.
Wilderness Airline ((604) 276-2635) runs daily scheduled flights from Vancouver to Bella Coola and Anahim Lake. The Williams Lake-Bella Coola bus service has been discontinued.
The Vancouver Bicycle Club has an extensive schedule of tours each year. They can be contacted at (604) 873-0320, or send email to info AT vbc.bc.ca.
The Richmond (B.C.) Bicycle Club (schub AT triumf.ca), the Cross-Canada Cycle Touring Society ((604) 433-7710; FAX: 433-4112), the Cascade (Seattle) Cycle Club (http://cascade.org/ or (206) 522-BIKE), and the Elbow Valley (Calgary) Cycling Club ((403) 283-BIKE) also conduct tours in B.C. Cycle Canada has a Cariboo Trail tour: see http://www.cyclecanada.com/Cariboo.htm.
Alaskan Bicycle Adventures (bicycle AT alaskabike.com, (800) 770-7242, or (907) 243-2329) and Pedalers Pub & Grille (rides AT pedalerspubandgrille.com) conduct group tours in Alaska and the Yukon.
Yes. It's titled "Commuter Cycling Map". It's published by the Greater Vancouver Regional District, and it can be obtained from Cycling BC ((604) 737-3034).
Although Vancouver has many cheap hotels, most of them fall into one or both of the following categories:
Consider yourself warned.
SameSun Backpacker Lodge
P.O. Box 1739 400 2nd St. West
Revelstoke, BC, Canada V0E 2S0
Phone: (250) 837-4050
It's possible to travel by bicycle in the general area of Vancouver and Victoria pretty much year round. The period from November through February tends to be rainy and dark.
For the rest of B.C., Yukon, and Alaska, the snow will not leave the mountain passes reliably until the last week in May. Be in a town by September 15. You might have 2 to 3 good weeks of weather after that, but it could snow at any time. Play it safe.
Recreational vehicles (RVs). Lots of them. They're wide, and have mirrors that stick out. The drivers of them are often people who don't have a lot of experience with this type of vehicle or mountain roads.
If you're camping, bears. Take appropriate precautions with your food and trash.
Bring some tools. If you're traveling outside of southern B.C., bring some extra spokes, brake and shift cables, and a chain.
Seasonal jobs tend to be tough to find much past the end of April. Most companies do their recruitment and hiring in March and April, especially companies relating to the tourist industry (the largest seasonal employer). Anchorage would be as good a place as any to look for work considering over half the state's population is in that one city. Computer related jobs are somewhat hard to find in the state.
If you do get work with a seasonal employer, don't count on biking much. The season is very short up here and because of this, work hours can be long and fast paced as employers try to make the most of what little time they have.
You should bring along enough money to support yourself throughout your proposed stay just in case you are not able to get any work. Think of it as a long vacation and any work you find as a bonus.
If you plan to be one of the many people that flock north each year for Alaska's big money jobs, don't waste your time. These jobs are a myth and you'd probably make more money at home working for McDonald's.
On the other hand, if your goal is the vacation of a lifetime, by all means, come and enjoy yourself. It will be an experience you're not likely to forget.
Between Anchorage and Fairbanks, the winds in the summer are generally out of the south, but they are normally not strong enough to be considered real factor in deciding a direction. The only real exception to this is Windy Pass (near Denali Park) and Isabel Pass (near Paxson). These passes can be very windy (40+ mph is not unusual), especially when a weather front is going through. Winds can be from either direction, but are more often from the south.
Downhill, yes. On the level, maybe. Uphill, not a chance. Bears can obtain high rates of speed (30+ mph) on the level and uphill. They are actually a bit slower going downhill due to their short front legs.
I heard it said once that people should go to Alaska only when they are elderly, because if someone goes there when they are young, they will find the rest of their life to be boring. I don't agree with this, but I'm not a reliable source. I live in Vancouver, a city of two million people in which I can see eight mountain peaks outside my office window on a clear day, and occasionally see coyotes and raccoons in my back yard. The poet Robert Service offers this opinion:
There's a land where the mountains are nameless, And the rivers all run God knows where; There are lives that are erring and aimless, And deaths that just hang by a hair; There are hardships that nobody reckons; There are valleys unpeopled and still; There's a land--oh, it beckons and beckons, And I want to go back--and I will. ... It's the great big, broad land 'way up yonder, It's the forests where silence has lease; It's the beauty that thrills me with wonder, It's the stillness that fills me with peace. -from Spell of the Yukon
Copyright 1995-2006 Bob Broughton