Made famous by the History Channel’s “Ice Road Truckers,” Coldfoot Camp has a rich history of catering to the adventurous, going back to the gold rush in the 1890s and a revival with the black gold rush in the 1970s.
Originally founded in 1898 as Slate Creek, it was settled by prospectors looking for a place to relax, gamble, drink, and hang out with the few women in the area. The name “Coldfoot” came about when those who couldn’t hack the harsh winters and went south were said to have “cold feet.” In 1912, the camp was relocated several miles up to Wiseman to newly discovered gold beds, where a few of the original cabins remain to this day.
Coldfoot largely stayed abandoned until the 1970s. During the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and Haul Road (now the Dalton Highway), the camp’s population exploded into the hundreds but dwindled down to nearly zero until Iditarod champion Dick Mackey set up an old school bus and sold burgers to the truckers who traveled to and from Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay. Over the years, the truckers dropped off leftover building material, even helping with the construction, giving the camp an improvised look and feel as it grew.
Today, it now serves as the “middle” point along the Dalton Highway and the last place (or first place if you’re headed south) where you can find services such as food, a hotel (repurposed from trailers from the pipeline construction), car/truck repair, gasoline, and the last legal bar north of the Arctic Circle. It also has its own post office, where your bartender might be your postmaster.
From the end of August through the end of April, the camp offers spectacular views of the auroras, but even during the months of total daylight, the scenery is beautiful. Nearby is the Arctic Circle Interagency Visitor Center run by the Bureau of Land Management, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Know Before You Go
Tours to Coldfoot Camp can be made from Fairbanks and hotel reservations can be booked through those tours or directly. There is an airstrip and the flights are spectacularly beautiful. If driving, note that the Dalton Highway is mostly an unpaved, compact gravel road. Most rental car companies in Alaska do not allow their vehicles on it and private vehicles are strongly encouraged to have more than one full-sized spare tire, tools, and CB, as the only nearby services are at the Yukon River (about 50 miles south of the Arctic Circle) and Coldfoot (about 60 miles north) and there is no cellphone reception. The Dalton Highway is open year-round, though services at the Yukon River are closed mid-September to mid-May. Check local conditions before driving.