Follow Alaska's Trails -- On Your Own -- With Bearfoot Travel Magazines

Alaska's Roadhouses Have A Rough & Ready History: Looking Back With Bearfoot Travel Guides

Battered by wind, isolated location offered meals to travelers.
Summit Roadhouse at the top of Thompson Pass in Alaska is now long-gone. 

Roadhouses Offered Shelter Against Alaska's Terrible Elements

Alaska's roadhouses had their origins as tents along the trail. The earliest roadhouses were replaced by shacks, and rough cabins. Some of them eventually went on to become two-story, relatively substantial buildings.
But this one at the top of Thompson Pass looks like it was made of rocks. Eventually, this roadhouse was covered over with old crates from the Alaska Commercial Company, in a desperate effort to keep out the cold and snow.

The roadhouses of the Richardson Highway were roughly 10 miles apart; a day's walking distance. The Thompson Pass section of the trail is cold, windswept, and often blanketed with a dense fog, winter and summer. 

You can see the tattered and frayed cloth around the edges of the building in this picture -- beaten by the high, glacial mountain winds. Many people traveled on the Richardson Highway trail (it was known as the Valdez-to-Fairbanks Trail back then) in the winter. This was because you could cross frozen rivers and lakes more easily. 

But, you also encountered raging blizzards and Minus 50 temperatures. Summit Roadhouse, in Thompson Pass, was in Alaska's heaviest snow country. It averages 551 inches of snow every winter -- and had almost twice that much during a record winter. To wrap your head around these numbers, Thompson Pass averages 45 FEET of snow. Not blown snow, or snow drifts, but actual snow, falling down. The Pass had a record snowfall, in the winter of 1952-53 of 81 feet of snow.


As you travel around Alaska, you'll come to high mountain passes on every road: Maclaren on the Denali Highway,  Eureka Summit on the Glenn, and Thompson Pass on the Richardson... The old trails of the early 1900's were dangerous everywhere, but especially at these long and lonely summits. If blizzards and white-out conditions occurred at the summits, and travelers couldn't find the lodge, their lives were in serious jeopardy.

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