Alaska February 02, 2019
The Very First Road In Alaska Still Exists And Its History Is Captivating
Alaska is a relatively young state. Far before we even became a state, gold miners flocked to Alaska to explore the “Last Frontier.” What started as a pack trail, the Richardson Highway in Alaska is now one of the most scenic routes in the entire state. This road routinely gets added to many people’s bucket lists, and it’s no surprise why!
The Richardson Highway started out as a pack trail in Valdez, Alaska.
It ran from Valdez to Eagle, at a distance of around 408 miles. This pack trail was built in 1898 by the US Army, as an "All American Route" to the Klondike Gold Fields, instead of the many trails through Canada.
To this day, you can still find the original trail that cuts through Keystone Canyon outside of Valdez.
The trail parallels the paved Richardson Highway, until ascending up through the mountains into Thompson Pass. Even after the gold rush ended, the Army kept the trail open for easy access from Fort Liscum in Valdez, to Fort Egbert in Eagle.
The pack trail originally ended in Eagle, Alaska.
As Eagle is right on the border of Canada, the trail was a perfect way in for many miners going after the Klondike Gold Rush. The United States Army camp, Fort Egbert, was built at Eagle in 1900. A telegraph line was also completed between Valdez and Eagle in 1903.
When the 1902 gold rush hit Fairbanks and Nome, many people were lured away from Eagle.
In 1903 Judge James Wickersham moved the Third District Court to Fairbanks. Due to that and the significance of the strung telegraph, the trail was was considered one of the most important access routes to interior Alaska, and so the Alaska Road Commission upgraded it to a wagon road.
U.S. Army General Wilds P. Richardson headed up the highway project.
In honor of his work, the highway was later named for him. The government ended up hiring many of the failed gold prospectors to build the highway, and many of the Roadhouses that were built along the road ended up being on the National Register of Historic Places.
The first car that traveled the road from Valdez to Eagle drove it in 1913.
The entire road was finally upgraded to automotive standards in the early 1920's. In 1933 The Alaska Road Commission ended up collecting tolls for commercial vehicles, sometimes up to $175 per trip, to help fund the maintenance of the road.
With the opening of the southern part of the highway in the 1950's year-round, the road was paved in 1957.
Nowadays, the Richardson Highway is absent of any tolls, and is a dream of a road trip. The views of the multitude of mountain ranges, culminating in the sight of Worthington Glacier right before Thompson Pass, stun the visitors of this highway each year. Recognized as the first major road in Alaska, the Richardson Highway is now a glorious 368 miles from Valdez, to Fairbanks.
Looking for more information on what’s located on the Richardson Highway? The handy Milepost has everything you need to plan your trip, from gas stations to the best places to take a picture! You can look at their
online version here.
Have you traveled the Richardson Highway in Alaska? What was your favorite part of the road? Tell us in the comments!
Are you looking for a great place to sleep or eat while traveling down the Richardson Highway? Check out this
Gorgeous Wilderness Lodge In Alaska Where The Buffalo Roam!