ExploreNorth, your resource center for exploring the circumpolar North

Return to the Home Page The ExploreNorth Blog About ExploreNorth Contact ExploreNorth

Search ExploreNorth

Marshall Creek Road, Yukon:
A Historic Backroad

Northern Highways - Alaska, the Yukon & northern British Columbia

Click on each photo to greatly enlarge it

    Along the Alaska Highway are many sections of old highway that can still be driven. One of the oldest and most scenic of these is a 20 kilometer (12.5 mile) long section of the original tote road that was abandoned during the first upgrade of that tote road to all-weather standards. Now known as the Marshall Creek Road, its north-western end is in downtown Haines Junction, Yukon - Historical Mile 1016 on the Alaska Highway.

    The history of Haines Junction begins with the construction of the Alaska Highway - it was a medium-size construction camp built at the junction of the Alaska Highway with the Haines Cut-off. It consisted of 18 buildings of log, Quonset and frame construction when inventoried by the United States Army on September 1, 1945. The two largest buildings at that time were each 20x120 feet in size.

    Between Whitehorse and Kluane Lake, the military road had generally followed the Kluane Wagon Road which was built to access the placer gold creeks around the lake, and the initial realignment of the highway took an awkward jog to the south so that it still went through the construction camp. A later proposed major realignment (seen on the map below captioned the Bear Creek Cut-off Road) was cancelled due to protests from the community that was developing at the site of the camp. Today, the only survivors from the war period seem to be one log cabin and the little Catholic church, Our Lady of the Way, which was built in a Quonset hut.

    Unfortunately, there are no signs of the early days left along the Marshall Creek Road today, either. But it does provide a very scenic side trip for those with regular vehicles, and for those with high-clearance 4-wheel-drive vehicles capable of fording Marshall Creek at a point 13.2 kilometers from Haines Junction, it's an interesting alternative to the Alaska Highway. To get on it, turn east onto Hume Street at the main intersection on the village (location of the Mammal Muffin). Hume Street becomes the Marshall Creek Road. For most of the distance to the Marshall Creek ford, the road surface is very coarse gravel, requiring slow speeds, but driving slow should be a given on side roads like this anyway. For a couple of miles the road is alongside the Dezadeash River, and pullouts have been made at several good fishing spots along it. In 2004, $30,000 was spent raising some sections and improving drainage.

    There is little elevation change along the road, with only a few short, gentle grades. Along the road you pass through a residential area, then a small industrial area (which was home to a short-lived mill that produced compressed-sawdust firelogs). That is followed by a series of about a dozen small grain fields that are being worked with what looks like good results. You then enter the wilderness, with a mixed forest of white spruce, black spruce, white birch, Northern poplar and quaking aspen. Of note, the white birch has been little affected by the severe outbreak of spruce bark beetles in the Kluane region, though the aspen have been hit by the leaf miner that is so prevalent throughout the Yukon and Alaska in recent years. The forests are interspersed with small, dry open areas, and throughout the area, roses, bunchberries, dry ground cranberries and feather mosses are abundant.

    Surprisingly, the Marshall Creek Road doesn't make it onto the Village of Haines Junction's recreation guide - but for peaceful backroads exploring, that's a good thing.

A peaceful track into the wilderness


A series of grain fields along the road


The Dezadeash River


Marshall Creek crossing at Km 13.2


A 1946 U.S. Army map of the Haines Junction area,
showing what is now the Marshall Creek Road - click to enlarge it.