All roads leading out of Alaska go through Canada. So the news that Canada is easing its COVID-19 border closures is most welcome.
First, the basics:
Beginning on Aug. 9, fully vaccinated U.S. citizens will be allowed to travel to Canada (or through Canada) for vacation and other non-essential travel.
There are several other specific conditions, too.
First, you must have received your vaccine at least 14 days before arriving at the border. Next, you must provide all COVID-19 related information electronically through the ArriveCAN app or web portal. Finally, you must have your physical proof of vaccination (paper card) to present at the border.
Don’t forget your passport.
For fully vaccinated travelers, there still is a requirement for pre-arrival COVID-19 molecular test result (within 72 hours). Post-arrival tests are no longer required. However, agents at the border may randomly select travelers for testing on arrival.
Ever since Canada closed its borders to non-essential travel, drivers had to prove they really needed to get through for work or school, or to get back home. Once in Canada, they had to drive the most direct route. No fun detours were allowed. In the Yukon, all travelers had to pass through in 24 hours. The Canadians were serious about keeping COVID-19 out.
But on Aug. 9, things are changing. And our neighbors in the Yukon Territory are anxious to welcome Alaskans.
“We’ve developed a lot of friendships with Alaskans over the years,” said Denny Kobayashi, the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve missed visiting each other.”
Kobayashi is based in Whitehorse, the territorial capital. But he’s spent quite a bit of time in Dawson City, in the heart of Klondike Gold Rush country.
Dawson City still is in an active mining district, but much of the town showcases the the gold rush history. There are museums, historic sites and even a casino.
“Diamond Tooth Gertie’s is open,” said Kobayashi, “but the hours are reduced.”
In addition to poker, blackjack and roulette, there’s a gold rush-style can-can show, as well as local artists on the stage.
Getting to Dawson City is a real adventure. Usually, access is via the Top of the World Highway from Tok. The last stretch of the road is on the free ferry that goes across the Yukon River.
It may take longer to open the Top of the World to international travel since it’s been closed during the pandemic. You still can reach Dawson City, but you have to drive all the way down to Whitehorse, then hang a hard left and head north on Canadian Highway #2.
Kobayashi said the border opening for vaccinated travelers will allow folks in Skagway to return to shops in Whitehorse. “Plus, most of their dentists are here,” he added.
Skagway is just 109 miles away from Whitehorse. Haines is farther, 244 miles, unless they take the short ferry ride to Skagway and drive from there.
The shopping is nice, but more Alaskans come to the Yukon to go camping. “We have great campgrounds,” said Kobayashi. “And there’s free firewood.”
The eased border restrictions now allows Alaskans to travel through Canada to Haines, which is the gateway for the Alaska Marine Highway System.
Steve Auch is the tourism director for Haines. He’s happy about the new access to Canada, but he also wants Canadians to be able to visit Haines. “A bunch of us have friends and family in the Yukon,” he said.
“We have lots of independent travelers here — and we hope to have more in the future.”
Aside from taking the ferry from Haines to Bellingham, Washington, there are two main routes to drive south from Alaska to the Lower 48.
I haven’t driven the Cassiar Highway (Canada Highway 37), which is closer to the Alaska border. In fact, that’s the route you take to visit Hyder, one of three Alaska communities in Southeast Alaska connected to the road system.
But the original “Alaska Highway” starts in Delta Junction and goes to Dawson Creek, B.C. There are some incredible stops on the way, which everyone has had to zip by during the pandemic.
My favorite part of the drive was south of there, between Jasper and Banff. Dubbed the Icefields Parkway, it’s a glorious route between the mountains with incredible views at every turn.
Although vaccinated U.S. citizens will be able to enter Canada starting Aug. 9, Canadians are not yet permitted to enter by road (they still can fly to the U.S.).
Because of the pandemic, this travel season got off to a late start, whether you’re driving, flying or sailing.
Starting earlier this month, some big cruise ships are sailing in Southeast Alaska. And some airlines are betting the season will run a little longer.
Frontier Airlines is extending its twice-weekly nonstop flights to Denver through Oct. 6.
United Airlines is extending its daily Anchorage-Fairbanks flight through Oct. 30.
Delta is extending its Anchorage-Atlanta nonstop flights through Jan. 2. After Sept. 19, the flight will operate three days a week.
American Airlines is extending its daily Anchorage-Dallas nonstop through Jan. 3.
Travelers are cautiously optimistic that as vaccinations increase, more barriers to travel will come down, starting with allowing Canadians to drive to the U.S.
Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly reported there is no requirement for a COVID-19 test prior to arrival at the border.