Should I Drive the Alaska Highway or the Cassiar?


Both the Alaska Highway and the Cassiar Highway (aka Stewart-Cassiar Highway or British Columbia 37) traverse far northwestern parts of North America through remote and scenic territory, but they are distinct routes. Choosing between the two is a matter of where you start out, how far you want to go and what part of the province of British Columbia interests you most.

Cassiar Highway

The Cassiar Highway's southernmost point is in western British Columbia, where it meets the east-west Yellowhead Highway (Trans-Canada Highway 16). The northernmost point on the highway is its junction with the Alaska Highway in the Yukon Territory just north of the British Columbia-Yukon border, not far from the town of Watson Lake.

The total length of the Cassiar Highway is 450 miles (720 km). With a few short exceptions, it is asphalt paved, but generally narrow and winding. Logging and other trucks make use of the highway, but there are fewer recreational travelers on the road compared with the Alaska Highway.

The scenery along the way is justly renowned. Running east of the Coast Mountains and west of the Skeena Mountains, the route passes remote glaciers, pristine lakes and steep canyons. It also connects the B.C. towns of Kitwanga and Dease Lake, as well as Stewart via a connecting road.

The Alaska Highway

The Alaska Highway is a considerably longer road–1,390 miles (2,237 km)–with its southernmost point at Dawson Creek in eastern British Columbia and its northernmost point at Delta Junction in Alaska. For the purpose of comparing it with Cassiar Highway, however, the comparable stretch of road (also known as Highway 97) is the 648 miles (1,043 km) between Dawson Creek and the junction with Cassiar Highway.

The B.C. section of the Alaska Highway is paved and there are many travelers' amenities along the way. It is also a busy road, popular not only with recreational travelers of all descriptions, but also with commercial vehicles, since it is the main business link between British Columbia, the Yukon Territory and Alaska.

The B.C. portion of the Alaska Highway crosses the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, and is also famously picturesque, passing through wild territory and connecting such sights as Summit and Muncho lakes, Forlorn Gorge and Liard River Hot Springs. It also connects the towns of Taylor, on the Peace River, and Fort Nelson.

Take Your Pick

Measured from their starting points, the Cassiar is shorter; though as a narrow and winding route, it isn't necessarily a faster road than the Alaska Highway. Still, if your starting point is on or near the West Coast of North America and your goal is the Yukon or the state of Alaska, then the Cassiar is a more direct route.

By contrast, if your starting point is more to the east, then picking up the Alaska Highway at its southern terminus might make more sense, rather than going far enough west to pick up the Cassiar Highway. Also, if you've never done the length of the Alaska Highway, then starting at Mile Zero in Dawson Creek will give you bragging rights, as well as a photo op at the Mile Zero marker.

On the other hand, the Cassiar Highway offers a less-traveled path than the Alaska Highway, and there are some potential bragging rights in that as well, especially if you've already driven on the Alaska Highway.

Finally, there's the option of doing both on the same trip: a circle through some of the most scenic parts of British Columbia by driving up one way and back down the other, with Trans-Canada Highway 16 as the southern connector between the two.

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