Getting to Alaska  by car is the most flexible means of mobility. You can start anywhere, and once there, you can go anywhere there’s a road, anytime you feel like it, stopping along the way for however long you decide. The roads in the North Country are especially fun, and you have some of them almost to yourself. On a few roads you’ll rarely see another car. It’s very open, unconfined, and uninhibiting—a large part of the spell of the North.
One essential for Alaskan drivers of all types is The Milepost, a fat annual book that’s packed with mile-by-mile descriptions for virtually every road within or to Alaska (including, of course, the Alcan). The book is sold everywhere in Alaska—even at Costco—and is easy to find in Lower 48 bookstores or online at www.themilepost.com . Warning: Don’t believe everything you read in The Milepost; much of the text is paid ads for specific businesses—watch for the small notice.
You can drive all the way up and back, or put the car on the ferry one way. The Alaska Highway (nicknamed the Alcan) has been dramatically upgraded from the early days when you had to carry extra fuel and four spare tires, when you had to protect your headlights and windshield with chicken wire, and when facilities were spaced 250 miles apart.
Today, the entire road is paved, gas stations are about every 50 miles, and roadhouses and hotels are numerous. Still, this road is 1,442 miles through somewhat inhospitable wilderness. Frost heaves and potholes are not uncommon. Mechanics are few and far between, and parts are even scarcer. Gas prices are no laughing matter, especially on the Canadian side, where they’re typically almost double those in the Lower 48 states.
If you’re coming from anywhere east of Idaho or Alberta, you can hit Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway through Edmonton without having to backtrack east at all. But if you’re heading north from the West Coast, or through the Canadian Rockies, you’ll probably wind up in Prince George and have to head east a bit to Dawson Creek (the starting point).
You can also head west out of Prince George on the Yellowhead Highway and take the Cassiar Highway north from Meziadin Junction to just west of Watson Lake in Yukon Territory. This 458-mile paved road is scenically stunning, but services are a little less frequent than on the Alaska Highway.
A few commonsense preparations can eliminate all but the most unexpected problems. A credit card (preferably Visa or MasterCard) is essential, especially if you don’t want to worry about changing money on either side of the border. You can expect to get hit hard by gas prices along the Alcan and in the more remote stretches within Alaska. But along the main Interior  and Southcentral Alaska thoroughfares, prices are often only a few cents higher than Outside. Finally, by driving the whole way in one direction and putting the car on the ferry in the other, you can take different routes up and back.
A reliable car is a must. Get the car carefully serviced before setting out; when you ask your mechanic, “Will it make it to Alaska?” you won’t be kidding. If you get stuck somewhere, there might not be another mechanic for 100 miles. And tow trucks have been known to charge $5 per mile. Since you’ll be tempted to drive hundreds of miles off the beaten track, the best investment you can make in your car is five good tires. Bring a pressure gauge and check the tires frequently. A few spare hoses (and hose tape) and belts take up little room and can come in very handy.
Spare gas and oil filters are also useful because of the amount of dust on the gravel roads in the dry months. Water is an absolute necessity; carry at least a five-gallon jug. Also, if you have a mobile phone, it may prove useful not only for keeping in touch with friends at home but also for emergencies. Service is good in the major cities and most towns, but it can be spotty or nonexistent elsewhere. Take tools and jumper cables even if you don’t know how to use them. Someone usually comes along who doesn’t have tools but knows what to do.
During the winter months, travelers to Alaska  need to take special precautions. Always call ahead for road and avalanche conditions before heading out. Studded snow tires and proper antifreeze levels are a necessity, but you should also have on hand a number of emergency supplies including tire chains, a shovel and a bag of sand in case you get stuck, a first-aid kit, booster cables, signal flares, a flashlight, a lighter and a candle, a transistor radio, nonperishable foods (granola bars, canned nuts, or dried fruit), a jug of water, an ice scraper, winter clothes, blankets, and a sleeping bag. The most valuable tool may well be a cell phone to call for help—assuming you’re in an area with reception.
If you become stranded in a blizzard, stay in your car. You’re more likely to be found, and the vehicle provides shelter from the weather. Run the engine and heater sparingly, occasionally opening a downwind window for ventilation. Don’t run the engine if the tailpipe is blocked by snow or you may risk carbon monoxide poisoning.
For current road conditions, construction delays, and more, contact the Alaska Department of Transportation online at http://511.alaska.gov , or dial 511 toll-free anywhere in Alaska or 866/282-7577 outside Alaska. In Yukon, call 877/456-7623 or visit www.511yukon.ca .
An increasingly popular way to see Alaska  is by flying into the state and renting a car. This provides travelers with flexibility, and the costs have dropped in recent years. Rental cars are available in all the larger towns, but they are generally cheapest out of Anchorage , where most of the major car rental companies have airport booths. For long rentals, it’s always best to get a car away from the airport, where the taxes are higher. In the peak summer season you should reserve up to two months in advance to get the best rates and to be assured of finding any car at all when you arrive.
If you plan to rent a car for an extended period, it’s probably worth your while to check travel websites such as www.travelocity.com  to see which company offers the best rates. When reserving a car, be sure to mention if you have an AAA card or are a member of Costco; you can often save substantially on the rates. Also be sure to ask about driving restrictions, since most car rental companies prohibit their use on gravel roads such as the one to McCarthy .
Recreational vehicles are among the most despised sights on Alaskan roads, but they seem to proliferate like rabbits as soon as the snow melts each spring. Motor homes are infamous for cruising slowly down the Seward Highway south of Anchorage, wagging a tail of impatient cars for a mile or more behind. Many snowbirds drive up to Alaska for the summer in their RVs, fleeing to Arizona for the winters. Other folks fly into Anchorage , Fairbanks , or Whitehorse  and rent one of these land yachts.
Despite these criticisms, RVs can be a decent choice if the price of gas is not out of sight and if you can cram enough folks inside to cut your costs. But for just two people they are a profligate and environmentally disastrous investment.