COLDFOOT, Alaska (KTUU) – For anyone driving along the Dalton Highway, a stop in the small community of Coldfoot is one you can’t afford to miss.
It’s the northernmost truck stop in the world, and the last place with gas and services before the long 240 mile stretch to Deadhorse, where the haul road comes to an end on the Arctic coast.
But Coldfoot hasn’t always been a resting place for weary truckers. Like many communities in this part of the state, its origins date back to the 1890s when prospectors came here in search of gold.
“The famous story is that they got up this far, realized it was going to be really cold, and then turned around and left,” said Franny Hemberg, a manager at the Coldfoot Camp. “They got cold feet, thus this place became Coldfoot Camp.”
After gold was discovered in nearby Wiseman, Coldfoot was largely abandoned by the 1920s. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the town gained new life as a camp for workers building the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. By the 1980s, it became a regular stop for truckers on the Dalton Highway, thanks in large part to the efforts of Iditarod champion Dick Mackey.
“When Dick Mackey originally came up here, all he had was a bus that he had fitted with a stove,” Hemberg said. “He served burgers and coffee out the back of his bus, and the story goes that the truckers loved it.”
They loved it so much that they decided to build a permanent truck stop here, using surplus materials from their own truck loads bound for the North Slope.
“Coldfoot’s a great place. It was built back in the 80s by truck drivers for truck drivers,” Hemberg explains. “Throughout the years its morphed into what it is now.”
Today, Coldfoot boasts a restaurant, accommodations, a US Post Office and as of last summer, cell phone coverage. Across the street you’ll find an award-winning visitors center, an air strip and an Alaska State Trooper post.
With the road long since opened to the public, truckers are no longer the only ones passing through Coldfoot. You’ll also find tourists with campers, and people like Philip Underhill who was on the final leg of a marathon motorcycle journey across North America.
“From Louisiana I’ve had to take a month of vacation and it’s an 11,000 mile round trip for me,” he said. “Unless you really got some serious endurance, I don’t think anyone would try and go all the way up to Prudhoe Bay without stopping here.”