Dalton Highway

Route map:
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Alaska Route 11 marker

Dalton Highway

James W. Dalton Highway
North Slope Haul Road
Dalton Highway highlighted in red
Route information
Maintained by Alaska DOT&PF
Length414 mi (666 km)
Major junctions
South end AK-2 (Elliot Highway) near Livengood
North endEast Lake Colleen Drive in Deadhorse
CountryUnited States
BoroughsUnorganized, North Slope
Highway system
AK-10 AK-98
Sukakpak Mountain is a landmark at MP 203 Dalton Highway

The James W. Dalton Highway, usually referred to as the Dalton Highway (and signed as Alaska Route 11), is a 414-mile (666 km)[1] road in Alaska. It begins at the Elliott Highway, north of Fairbanks, and ends at Deadhorse (an unincorporated community within the CDP of Prudhoe Bay) near the Arctic Ocean and the Prudhoe Bay Oil Fields. Once called the North Slope Haul Road (a name by which it is still sometimes known), it was built as a supply road to support the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System in 1974. It is named after James Dalton, a lifelong Alaskan and an engineer who supervised construction of the Distant Early Warning Line in Alaska and, as an expert in Arctic engineering,[citation needed] served as a consultant in early oil exploration in northern Alaska.[2] It is also the subject of the second episode of America's Toughest Jobs and the first episode of the BBC's World's Most Dangerous Roads.[3]


In 1966, Governor Walter J. Hickel opened the North Slope to oil extraction. To improve access to the oil fields, a 400-mile (643.7-km) winter road was planned between Livengood and Prudhoe Bay. Construction started in November 1968, and the "Walter J. Hickel Highway" was completed by March 1969. Due to poor engineering, the construction of the road exposed the underlying permafrost to thawing, and the road was abandoned by April of that year.[4] Maintenance was not performed as the route was farther west than the planned Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.[5]

Following the failure of the Hickel Highway, oil companies still needed a route to the North Slope. The Alyeska Pipeline Service Company funded what would be the first stretch of the Dalton Highway from Livengood to the Yukon River in 1969.[5]

Delays to the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, and therefore the road, meant that work on it did not resume until April 29, 1974.[6] Within 5 months, 390 miles (627.6 km) of the road were built and construction was finished. The pipeline would not be completed until 1977.[5] It was initially known as the "Wales Highway".[7]

In 1979, Alyeska turned over control of the road to the state of Alaska, who gave it the official name of "James W. Dalton Highway", named after the prospector of the North Slope, James W. Dalton. In 1981, the highway was opened to the public up to Disaster Creek at mile 211. In 1994, the public was allowed access to the entire length of the highway.[5]

Route description[edit]

The highway, which directly parallels the pipeline, is one of the most isolated roads in the United States. There are only three towns along the route: Coldfoot (pop. 34) at Mile 175,[8] Wiseman (pop. 12) at Mile 188,[8] and Deadhorse (25 permanent residents, 3,500–5,000 or more seasonal residents depending on oil production) at the end of the highway at Mile 414.[8] Fuel is available at the E. L. Patton Yukon River Bridge (Mile 56), as well as Coldfoot and Deadhorse.[8] Two other settlements, Prospect Creek and Galbraith Lake, are uninhabited except for campers and other short-term residents.

The road itself is mostly gravel, very primitive in places, and small vehicle and motorcycle travel carries significant risk. The nearest medical facilities are in Fairbanks and Deadhorse. Anyone embarking on a journey on the Dalton is encouraged to bring survival gear.

Despite its remoteness, the Dalton Highway carries a good amount of truck traffic through to Prudhoe Bay: about 160 trucks daily in the summer months and 250 trucks daily in the winter.[8] The highway comes to within a few miles of the Arctic Ocean. Beyond the highway's terminus at Deadhorse are private roads owned by oil companies, which are restricted to authorized vehicles only. There are, however, commercial tours that take people to the Arctic Ocean. All vehicles must take extreme precaution when driving on the road, and drive with headlights on at all times. There are quite a few steep grades (up to 12%) along the route, as well.

As of July 2013,[needs update] 129 miles (208 km) of the highway are paved, in several sections, between the following mileages: 19 and 24; 37 and 50; 91 and 111; 113 and 197; 257 and 261; 344 and 352; and 356 and 361.[citation needed]

Truckers on the Dalton have given their own names to its various features, including: Taps, The Shelf, Franklin Bluffs, Oil Spill Hill, Beaver Slide, Surprise Rise, Sand Hill, Ice Cut, Gobbler's Knob, Finger Mountain, Oh Shit Corner,[9] and the Roller Coaster. The road reaches its highest elevation as it crosses the Brooks Range at Atigun Pass at 4,739 feet (1,444 m).

The highway is the featured road on the third, fourth, fifth and sixth seasons of the History reality television series Ice Road Truckers, which aired May 31, 2009, to November 9, 2017. It is also the subject of the second episode of America's Toughest Jobs and the first episode of the BBC's World's Most Dangerous Roads featuring Charley Boorman and Sue Perkins.[3] Polar bears are known to traverse the Arctic region of Alaska and can be seen wandering the outskirts of Deadhorse at the terminus of the Dalton Highway.

Floodings of the Sagavanirktok River, combined with melting of nearby ice roads under warmer climatic conditions have forced weeks-long closures of the road and the need for significant repairs, costing several million US dollars.[10][11][12][13]

Major intersections and other features[edit]

UnorganizedLivengood00.0 AK-2 (Elliott Highway) – Manley Hot Springs, FairbanksSouthern terminus
Hess Creek2134Hess Creek Overlook & Rest Area[2]
Yukon River5690E. L. Patton Yukon River Bridge
115185Arctic Circle Wayside Rest AreaA short side road leads to viewing deck with interpretive displays[2]
126203Oh Shit Corner[9]
Prospect Creek135217Access road to Prospect Creek Airport[citation needed]Site of the lowest recorded temperature in the United States
Grayling Lake150240Grayling Lake Wayside Rest Area
Coldfoot175282Coldfoot RoadTo Coldfoot Visitor Center
175282Airport RoadTo Coldfoot Airport and Coldfoot Post Office
Wiseman189304Road to Wiseman
North Slope244393Continental Divide / Atigun PassThe highest-altitude point on the road (elevation 4,739 feet (1,444 m)); Rivers to the south flow to the Pacific Ocean or Bering Sea and rivers north of here flow into the Arctic Ocean
Galbraith Lake275443Galbraith Airport RoadTo Galbraith Lake Airport
Sagavanirktok River348560Sagavanirktok River Overlook
Deadhorse414666East Lake Colleen DriveTo Deadhorse Airport and Prudhoe Bay; Northern terminus; Northernmost part of the western hemisphere road network
1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Dalton Highway". United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. Archived from the original on May 9, 2009. Retrieved September 4, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d "The Dalton Highway: Visitor Guide" (PDF). U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Summer 2022. Retrieved March 7, 2024.
  3. ^ a b "BBC Two — World's Most Dangerous Roads, Series 1, Alaska". BBC. July 7, 2012. Retrieved May 21, 2013.
  4. ^ "Governor Walter J. Hickel and the Hickel Highway". The Alaska Pipeline. PBS. April 24, 2006. Retrieved October 21, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d Historic Roads of Alaska: Driving the History of the Last Frontier (PDF). Alaska DOT&PF. 2017. Retrieved October 21, 2021.
  6. ^ "Dalton Highway". The Milepost. Retrieved October 21, 2021.
  7. ^ Pipeline drive: a roadside guide to the trans Alaska pipeline / Alyeska Pipeline Company, 1978, pp. 7-8
  8. ^ a b c d e 2008 edition of The Milepost, pp. 517-529 (Morris Communications Company)
  9. ^ a b Google (February 10, 2014). "Oh Shit Corner on Google Street View" (Map). Google Maps. Google. Retrieved February 10, 2014.
  10. ^ Wood, Rovin (May 18, 2015). "'Extreme' flooding again closes Dalton Highway". News Miner — the voice of interior Alaska. Retrieved August 12, 2016.
  11. ^ Bross, Dan (March 25, 2016). "Flooding still a large concern on Dalton Highway". Alaska Public Media. Fairbanks, AK. Retrieved August 12, 2016.
  12. ^ DOT&PF, Alaska (May 20, 2016). "Dalton Highway Update 5/20/2016: the road remains in good condition". Alaska Business Monthly. Retrieved August 12, 2016.
  13. ^ DeMarban, Alex (August 11, 2016). "Feds give $2 million to repair Dalton Highway; state hopes to reopen in a week". Alaska Dispatch News. Retrieved August 12, 2016.

External links[edit]

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