Coldfoot Alaska: The Perfect Arctic Adventure

Aerial view of Brooks Mountain range, Alaska Pipeline and Dalton Highway from plane
Aerial view of Brooks Mountain range, Alaska Pipeline, and Dalton Highway from the plane. Maria Haase photo.

Coldfoot Camp Alaska:The Northernmost Truck Stop in the World is more than just a Gas Station

By Maria Haase

Dalton Highway Sign
Dalton Highway Sign in the snow with travel writer Maria Haase

The bus jolted forward like a tiger leaping for its prey. What was that?

“Yeah, that sometimes happens in the winter. The tires freeze to the ground when it gets that cold. That’s why I need to keep our photo stops so short!”The bus driver explained nonchalantly.

Winter in Alaska comes with its own set of travel challenges, as I’ve learned during my trip to Fairbanks and up the Dalton Highway to Coldfoot, Alaska.

Mile 175

Located 60 miles north of the Arctic circle, at the halfway point Mile 175 of the famous Dalton Highway between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay, Coldfoot Camp offers a unique travel experience. The Northernmost truck stop in the world is more than just a gas station.

Ice covered trucks getting gas at Coldfoot Camp Truck Stop
Ice-covered trucks getting gas at Coldfoot Camp Truck Stop

There is a simple yet cozy hotel, a restaurant, a post office, and even a gift shop. But why would I spend my vacation going to a truck stop in the middle of nowhere in Arctic Alaska? Because Coldfoot Alaska, it turns out, is the perfect gateway to an Arctic adventure.

Driving on the Dalton Highway

Even the drive up is filled with several bucket list items:

Driving on the icy Dalton Highway? Check!

Walking on the frozen Yukon River? Check!

Taking your picture in front of the famous Arctic Circle Sign? Check!

Having your tires freeze to the ground? Check!

Our Tour Bus for our Dalton Highway Road Trip to Coldfoot Alaska
Our tour bus for our Dalton Highway road trip to Coldfoot Alaska

Not bad for a 12-hour bus ride, right? In between these highlights, Aaron, our bus driver, aka tour guide of Northern Alaska Tour Company, shared interesting tidbits of information about the history of Alaska, the Dalton Highway, the Alaska Pipeline, and flora and fauna of the Arctic.

Livengood to Deadhorse AK

The famous Dalton Highway stretches from Livengood, a small town outside Fairbanks, to Deadhorse at the oil fields in the Alaskan Arctic on Prudhoe Bay.

The 414-mile long dirt road was built in 1974 in record time to facilitate the construction of the controversial Alaska Pipeline.

Today, it is used to bring supplies to the workers at the drilling sites in the Arctic Ocean.

It has a dubious claim to fame as one of the most dangerous roads in the world. Steep grades up to 16%, surprisingly sharp turns and tight curves, harsh weather conditions, and the remoteness itself make this a treacherous road to drive on. Only specific rental car companies allow their cars to be driven on the Dalton, and carrying survival gear is a must.

The massive 18-wheelers that fly down the road can also be quite intimidating. Truckers of the Dalton Highway are known as Ice Road Truckers and have become famous in recent years thanks to a reality TV show that documents their lives driving up and down between Fairbanks and Deadhorse.

Aurora Borealis at Trucks parked at Coldfoot Camp Truck Stop
Aurora Borealis above trucks parked at Coldfoot Camp Truck Stop

At the Arctic Circle

At the Arctic Circle, a few of us switched vans and continued our journey up north to Coldfoot Camp while the rest of the tour group drove all the way back to Fairbanks. I was happy to spend the night in Coldfoot and experience the Arctic for a bit longer than just a photo op.

Still, I like that Northern Alaska, my tour company, offers various options to experience the Arctic, all depending on your budget and comfort needs. You can choose between an all-drive adventure, a drive and fly mix, or fly in and out of Coldfoot. And, of course, you can spend as much or as little time in Coldfoot Alaska as you like.

An old snow-covered cabin at Coldfoot Camp.
An old snow-covered cabin at Coldfoot Camp. Janna Graber photo.

Arriving in Coldfoot Camp

Coldfoot Camp doesn’t sound like much at first, but you’d be surprised by all the things you can do at this “truck stop.”

The camp is located right at the foothill of the Brooks Mountain Range and just outside the Gates of the Arctic National Park and the Kanuti and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

You will also find the interagency visitor center there, which is a collaboration between 3 agencies, including the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Coldfoot is a popular base camp for explorers, nature and wildlife photographers, filmmakers, and regular tourists with a lust for adventure and love for the outdoors ready to explore the Alaskan Arctic.

While there, you can also join other excursions, such as flightseeing over the Gates to the Arctic National Park, wildlife safaris, river rafting excursions, dog sledding, aurora viewing, and excursions to a small Alaskan village. You could easily spend a few days up there or even longer to spend time in nature and explore the area if you are up for an adventure in the Alaskan wilderness.

Since I only had one night in the Arctic, my schedule was jam-packed. After checking in, I grabbed dinner at the restaurant and was surprised by the extensive and affordable menu. Due to its remote location, I had imagined a sparse selection and ridiculous prices.

Various burgers, including three vegan and vegetarian options, homemade burger buns, and a side salad, washed down with a local(ish) Alaskan IPA, felt like heaven after the exhausting drive.

Aurora Hunting in the Arctic

My meal gave me enough energy to join the Aurora Borealis viewing trip to Wiseman, a tiny village just a little further north. I was lucky to have seen the Northern Lights twice in Fairbanks, but when you are in Alaska during Aurora season, you take any chance you get to see the mystical flickering lights in the sky. On the way to the tour pickup, I already spotted the Aurora behind clouds over the parked trucks at the truck stop.

Aurora Borealis at Coldfoot Camp. Janna Graber photo.
Aurora Borealis at Coldfoot Camp. Janna Graber photo.

A stunning sight, but nothing compared to seeing the dancing lights on a clear night. I was still hopeful. Weather moves fast in the Brooks Mountains, and I had nothing to lose but a few hours of sleep.

This far North, the Northern Lights tend to be directly above you, a rare angle to see and photograph. Excited, I climbed into the van and off we went.

Huddled in a Small Cabin

Our group of about 10 people huddled together in a small dry cabin to stay warm and get our cameras set up. Jack Reakoff, a local from Wiseman and aurora camera specialist, gave great instructions on the best camera settings and other photography tips to get the “perfect Aurora shot” for our Instagram.

Coldfoot camp snowy cabin. Janna Graber photo.
Coldfoot camp snowy cabin. Janna Graber photo.

The small wood-fire oven radiated a cozy heat, and we peeled off a few layers of clothing.

There was plenty of chairs, hot coffee, tea, and chocolate to sip on as we listened to Jack’s stories about living a subsistence lifestyle in Arctic Alaska.

It was fascinating to learn about the local wildlife, hear about his hunting and fishing adventures all over the state, and eye-opening to learn about the extreme impact of global warming on Alaska and the fragile ecosystem there.

During our visit, temperatures were in the 20s, which should have been -20F in late February.

Everyone I talked to during my trip was concerned about this “heatwave” and the consequences for the environment.

Every half hour or so, we bundled up and took a peek outside to check with our Aurora-spotter and driver if the cloud cover had lifted. I took a few photos, as the camera tends to see the Aurora better than the naked eye.

The Aurora was there, as it is every night, but due to the thick clouds, the images came out as if I added a green filter over it, bathing the landscape in an eery green light.

Luckily, I had gotten some great aurora shots in Fairbanks a few nights earlier, and thanks to Jack’s captivating stories, I was a little less disappointed when we wrapped things up at around 2:30 AM.

Learning to showshoe in Alaska.
Learning to snowshoe in Alaska.

Snowshoeing in the Brooks Range

After not enough hours of sleep, a quick breakfast, and coffee, I jumped into another “first” for me–Snowshoeing.

Simple accommodations in Coldfoot Camp.
Simple accommodations in Coldfoot Camp.

Awkward at first, I was surprised how fast I got the hang of maneuvering in these oversized strap ons.

Yes, the first quarter mile or so had me huffing, puffing, and cursing as I tried to not tie myself into a human knot and trip over the unwieldy contraptions on my feet.

But then it “clicked,” and I was able to enjoy not only the snowshoeing along Slate Creek but also the stunning landscape around me.

Living in San Diego, I don’t get to see winter-y landscapes often, so the snow-dusted trees and snow-capped mountains made me feel all giddy with excitement and joy.

When we had to jump off the trail to make room for a dog musher and his team of sled dogs, my heart felt full.

A Bird’s Eye View of the Arctic

Close-up of flight instruments and co-pilot from the back of the small plane
Close-up of flight instruments and co-pilot from the back of the small plane

But my Coldfoot adventure was not yet over. We still had to get back to Fairbanks, which was an exhilarating experience in itself. Instead of driving 12+ hours back to Fairbanks, we hopped on a little 9-seater plane to take us back.

Seeing the arctic landscape from a birds-eye view was the “icing on the cake” and a fantastic ending to an amazing Alaska trip.

When I signed up for this trip to the frozen north, I did so without knowing much about the place.

I just heard some buzzwords like “Yukon,” “Arctic Circle,” and “Dalton Highway” and thought: “I’m in.”

Traveling to Coldfoot put me outside my comfort zone, and as always, this leap of faith rewarded me with a trip of a lifetime and experiences I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Before my trip to Alaska, I was afraid of how I could handle the harsh climate and how the Arctic conditions would affect me.

Now I wonder how we affect the Arctic and if the Arctic can handle our impact.

Maria HaaseMaria Haase is Editor-in-Chief of several online publications focused on various travel niches. A self-proclaimed serial ex-pat, blogger turned publisher, and spicy food aficionado. Maria grew up in Germany and now splits her time between the United States and Europe. You can read more of her stories on and

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