The most direct route to anywhere in the south-central portion of Alaska (Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula, Valdez) from the Alaska Highway is via the Tok Cut-off. Constructed in the 1950s, we had heard many complaints from people after they drove it.
Whether our smaller motorhome just handled the road better, or I’m far less impatient when I need to go slower on the road, or the US portions of the Top of the World Highway and the Taylor highway set a low bar for decent roadway, we didn’t find the drive bad. There were a few stretches that we slowed down to 35-40 mph, but there were relatively few jarring potholes or especially bumpy stretches. If that is the worst road we have for the rest of our Alaska trip, then the rest of the Alaska roads will be good to great.
(An aside about Alaska roads: They have both names and numbers, which can be rather confusing. I assume that the names came first, and then at some point the state assigned route numbers. So, for example, Alaska route 1 starts in Tok with the Tok Cut-off, travels a stretch of the Richardson Highway, follows all of the Glenn Highway, becomes the Seward Highway in Anchorage and ends as the Stirling Highway in Homer.)
The Tok Cut-off ends at the Richardson Highway, where we turned south. After fueling in Glennallen, headed south on a section of highway that had jaw dropping gorgeous scenery. For nearly 100 miles, we had to suffer through constant beautiful mountains, glaciers, waterfalls and rivers everywhere. Each mile seemed more beautiful than the previous one!
We stopped briefly at the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park visitor center, got information and discussed the practicalities of a drive to McCarthy in our motorhome. McCarthy provides access to the Kennicott Mill (a now-abandoned copper mining area maintained by the park service). The road in is about 40 miles of old rail bed – narrow, gravel and in “okay” condition. It has a reputation as high-risk for flats. People will drive nearly anything on it (although pickup trucks and passenger vehicles are recommended), but in the end we decided it was not worth it for us on this trip.
With all the beautiful scenery, we were making frequent stops for photographs, and it was past the animals’ dinner time by the time we got to the Worthington Glacier. So we passed the glacier up intending to stop on our way out, and headed on to Keystone Canyon, a highlight of the drive.
The canyon is especially beautiful, and features numerous small waterfalls. There are two large falls: Bridal Veil and Horsetail. We stopped for a few more photographs before heading down into the town of Valdez. We got to our waterfront campsite after 7:00 pm, and took in the view. We were surrounded by mountains, overlooked the beautiful waters of the fjord, with views of the marina entrance to our left, a large dock to our right, and the Valdez oil terminal on the opposite shore. It’s a pretty spectacular spot to spend the next few days.
Day 38 (Day 4 in Alaska)
Driving time: 5:30
Roads: Tok Cutoff (AK-1)/Richardson Hwy (AK-4)
Road conditions: Fair to good
Overnight: Bear Paw II Campground
Weather: Mostly sunny (cloudy in Valdez) (48/67)
Total miles in Alaska: 377*
Total miles since crossing Canadian border: 2,937*
Total miles: 4,505*
* Since our motorhome is our only vehicle, mileage includes side trips.