Highway 6: Canol Road (South)

It is 226 kilometres from Mile 0 at Johnson’s Crossing on the Alaska Highway to Ross River, where a prehistoric cable ferry crosses the Pelly River and separates the Canol into South and North – though it is really one road.

It took me 10 hours to get there at the scintillating speed of 22.6 kph, slower than the fastest humans can run.

I was going so slow on this Tibetan yak trail I felt like the mountains were watching me instead of the other way around. Roughly halfway along this torturous dog’s breakfast of potholes, washboards, axle busters, one lane bridges and steep cutbanks with no guardrails is the beautiful, quaint Quiet Lake campground, which couldn’t be named anything else.

At that point, with pieces falling off both the truck and travel trailer, I figured I had less than a 50 per cent chance of making it to Ross River and the graded Highway 4 (Campbell Highway), which would feel like a European autobahn after this South Canol llama route.

The only part of this lame excuse for a road that didn’t freak me out is the park-like setting at Mile 0, where I am currently camped and writing this on the way home. There is an innocent sign saying “No Services for the Next 226 km’s”, which doesn’t begin to tell the story of what’s in store if you don’t turn around and forget about it. The inside of my poor little R-pod travel trailer looked like the Belushi brothers hosted a frat party while I was driving.

At least the fridge didn’t open and puke out its contents on the floor (because I had it duct-taped shut), but one of the burners on the stove popped off and disappeared. Couldn’t find it.

The last time this road was graded FDR was still president, or so it seemed, and there were several signs and plaques proclaiming the Canol as one of the biggest financial blunders of World War II and “a complete waste of time, money and manpower” in the U.S. government’s own words.

My truck and camper were so wounded by the time we got to Ross, I was struggling to come up with a positive angle upon which to hang this cheerful, flattering and enthusiastic road review until it hit me: RETRO!

Any old timer who is nostalgic for the old Alaska Highway or youngster who wants to know what all Yukon roads once were like, especially those constructed by the U.S. Army, only has to go for a drive in either direction to get the picture. The Canol Road literally hasn’t been changed, upgraded or improved since it was abandoned in 1945. Aside from limited maintenance, it’s living history.

It may have been built for all the right reasons at the time, but now it’s just a hunting trail although there are rumours the northern version is going to be rebuilt in the near future because there is still plenty of Tungsten to be mined in them thar hills o’er Macmillan Pass to the NWT.

It is easily the nastiest numbered road in the Yukon and why we opened with it. The worst shall be first and the fast shall be last.

Doesn’t every beautiful family have a twisted sibling like the South Canol to mess up the family portrait?

Next time: Part 2: Klondike Highway (Hwy 2) and Silver Trail Highway ( Hwy11)


A map to this series

Part 1: Introduction and Canol Road (Hwy 6)

Part 2: Klondike Highway (Hwy 2) and Silver Trail (Hwy 11)

Part 3: Campbell Highway (Hwy 4) and Nahanni Range (Hwy 10)

Part 4: Atlin Road (Hwy 7) and Tagish Road (Hwy 8)

Part 5: The Dempster (Hwy 5) and Top of the World (Hwy 9)

Part 6: Haines Road (Hwy 3) and Alaska Highway (Hwy 1)