A Trip to the Arctic Ocean and Deadhorse, Alaska via the Dalton Highway — By Jennifer Shipp
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A Trip to the Arctic Ocean and Deadhorse, Alaska via the Dalton Highway — By Jennifer Shipp

Coldfoot, AK
This photo captures the essence of Coldfoot. There isn’t much here except fuel, snacks, and some fiesty mosquitoes.

Deadhorse, AK is located 495 miles north of Fairbanks via the Dalton Highway. It is located in North Slope Borough, Alaska near the Arctic

Coldfoot on a Map
You’ll need to stop in Coldfoot to fuel up before continuing on to Deadhorse from there.

Ocean. It’s a community that’s developed to meet the needs of the workers and businesses that operate in the Prudhoe Bay oil fields.

This is not a great tourist destination per se, but it is still a worthwhile place for hearty travelers or serious birdwatchers to visit. Most travelers take a bus from Fairbanks to Coldfoot and spend the night before continuing on to Deadhorse the next day. It’s an 11-12 hour drive (if you drive your own vehicle) from Fairbanks to Deadhorse via the Dalton Highway when the weather is good and there’s no ice or snow on the roads.

Deadhorse, Alaska Lodging Options

There are only 25 to 50 permanent residents living in Deadhorse and there are few accommodations for visitors. The hotel accommodations that are available are rather expensive, although there were a number of tents pitched along the highway near Deadhorse.  There are only two hotels serving the Deadhorse area; Prudhoe Bay Hotel and The Aurora Hotel.

Deadhorse hotels
The Deadhorse, AK hotels are pretty basic, but very expensive.

1.       Prudhoe Bay Hotel- (907-659-2449)

100 Main Street

2.       The Aurora Hotel- (907-670-0600)

123 Lake Colleen Road

The cheapest rooms we could find were $200/night for two. There were four of us when we visited the Arctic Ocean so the total cost would have been $400. We opted instead to sleep briefly in the car rather than spend this kind of dough on a shitty hotel room, but depending on your circumstances, it might be worth it. After all, these are the same rooms used by oil workers, which makes them somewhat of a novelty, I suppose.

Tent Camping in Deadhorse, Alaska

If you do decide to pitch a tent out in the middle of nowhere near Deadhorse, AK, be sure that it’s a good, solid tent that can withstand raging winds and keep out persistent mosquitoes. If I were going to pitch a tent in this area, I’d want a tent that would go up quickly and easily (the mosquitoes are FIERCE). In the middle of the summer, it was only 37 degrees Fahrenheit at the end of the afternoon (and the mosquitoes were still biting). There are no trees in this area under which to take shelter and much of the landscape is nothing but tundra bog.

A number of motorcyclists had made their way to Deadhorse, presumably as part of the Iron Butt Association motorcycle challenge known as “The Ultimate Coast to Coast”. This ride begins or ends at Key West, Florida and riders then have 30 days to make it to their destination in Deadhorse, AK.

Deadhorse-Finding Fuel

Deadhorse, AK
If you arrive in the middle of the night and you need fuel, look for this station.

Temporary residents who are employed by different firms in the area can skyrocket the population to 3,000. The entire town is built out of pre-fabricated modular structures that have been shipped in from elsewhere and placed on man-made gravel “pads”. Ironically, it can be remarkably difficult to locate fuel in Deadhorse because of the monotony of the architecture, but don’t despair, there’s fuel available even at “night” as well as restrooms.

The Arctic Ocean Shuttle Bus

When we planned our trip to Deadhorse, we originally intended to take the Arctic Ocean shuttle, but we arrived in the middle of the night (in summer, so it was still light outside) and decided to head back rather than wait another 11 hours until the bus was scheduled to run. The shuttle takes passengers out to the Arctic Ocean and Prudhoe Bay from Deadhorse. There’s no way to go see the Arctic Ocean or Prudhoe Bay without advance reservations on this shuttle because the government limits access to these areas.

Unfortunately, the people running the shuttle bus aren’t particularly adept at using technologies either. We were asked to give them our credit card over the phone to reserve a seat and we hesitated, but were given no other options as far as making the reservation online through a secure web site. We were committing

Deadhorse Experiences
John puts fuel in the van before we head back to Coldfoot and then Fairbanks.

to what we thought was going to be a 32 hour drive round trip to see the Arctic Ocean and we didn’t want to get there and wish we had made the advance reservations so we went ahead and gave them our debit card number. Sure enough, though we cancelled the reservations in plenty of time before the bus was scheduled to depart (via both telephone and email), they still charged our card (three months later!). We were able to get a refund eventually, but only after we sent them a copy of the email proving that we’d cancelled the trip.

We didn’t go on the shuttle bus (which was also overpriced, in my opinion at roughly $50 per person), but we were perfectly happy with our experience. We were near the Arctic Ocean and we drove all over Deadhorse in search of fuel for the return trip. It was daylight for our entire trip so we didn’t miss any of the amazing scenery along the way. Though we would have planned things differently if we had had a better estimate of how much time it takes to get from Fairbanks to Deadhorse (11 hours under good conditions–we had fog for about an hour that slowed us down), we were still very satisfied with the outcome of our things after we made it back to our RV in Fairbanks!

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Deadhorse AK
A view of Deadhorse, AK as we approach along the Dalton Highwa
Deadhorse Hotels
If you decide to stay in a hotel in Deadhorse, it will probably look something like this and be very basic (a room with a bed).

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