During the Klondike-Alaskan Gold Rush of the late 1800s, a network of roadhouses and lodges were established as checkpoints along popular trails between the gold fields and camps. They were used by travelers, mail delivery, and cargo drivers as places to grab a meal, warm up, lodge, and rest their mule or dog teams.
Heavily traveled routes would have larger roadhouses, sometimes with enclosed barns or bunkhouses. Other roadhouses were one-room log cabins or even a make-shift heated wall tent. Gold rush roadhouses were frequented often by less-than-reputable characters and sordid tales.
As the railroad and eventually paved road systems were established, travel between larger towns became easier and the need for the safety of the roadhouse network diminished. Many of the old structures off of the road system can be found in various states of disrepair, and a few remote roadhouses are still in operation for backwood travelers.
The Gakona Roadhouse circa 1929 (Photo credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, AK,20-GAK,1-1)
Modern roadhouses and several historic roadhouses are located along popular travel routes throughout Alaska and are always a good source of local flavor, a hot meal, and a bed for the road-weary.
If you are traveling through Alaska, particularly in old gold districts, stopping by a roadhouse can give you a sense of the history of the area and the people that have lived there. You will leave with a full mind and a full belly.
A few favorite roadhouses on the road system are listed in this article, but you can read more in Alaskan Roadhouses, Shelter, Food, and Lodging Along Alaska’s Roads and Trails by Helen Hegener or find listings of roadhouses along your chosen route in The Milepost if you are interested.
- The Eureka Roadhouse Lodge is located northeast of Anchorage near the Eureka Summit (elevation 3,322 ft) at the highest point on the Glenn Highway. This roadhouse was built in 1936 and offers year-round services, including RV parking. From the lodge, visitors are treated to fantastic views of Gunsight Mountain and the Chugach Mountain Range.
- The Sheep Mountain Lodge is located close to the Matanuska Glacier north of Anchorage at the base of Sheep Mountain and Yellow Jacket Creek on the Glenn Highway. Sheep Mountain Lodge is a more modern roadhouse that was founded in 1946 as a log structure with 13 guest rooms. Modern additions and a restaurant have been added through the years, and at one time the lodge served as a First Aid Station where people could get emergency care. RV parking is available, as well as individual cabin rentals.
- The Gakona Roadhouse in Gakona, Alaska was built around 1902 at the confluence of the Copper and Gakona Rivers. The Gakona Roadhouse is considered to be the oldest still operating roadhouse in Alaska. The original building had living quarters, a kitchen and dining area, upstairs rooms, and a store. Later a blacksmith shop and barn were added. Many of the historic buildings are still in use today.
- The Talkeetna Roadhouse at the end of the Talkeetna Spur Road off of the Parks Highway is particularly popular with locals and the mountaineering crowd. The roadhouse was built around 1917 and remains very much the same. Stunning views of the Alaska Range and Denali can be seen on clear days, and since the roadhouse is located in the heart of “downtown” Talkeetna, there is a lot to see and do nearby. In addition to bunkhouse lodging, there is a dining area and on-site bakery featuring authentic sourdough that is reportedly from a starter dating back to 1902 (a source of great local pride). Stop in and eat—you won’t leave hungry!
- The Black Rapids Roadhouse on the Richardson Highway between Paxon and Delta Junction was built in 1902 to serve travelers along the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail. A newer building was built adjacent to the old roadhouse in 2001, but the historic building is still on the property. The new lodge building is very modern with carved spruce timbers, black slate siding, and world-class amenities. Guided trips (fishing, hiking, glacier trekking, and flight-seeing) are offered that can accommodate a variety of interests.
- Although technically not a roadhouse, the infamous Skinny Dick’s Halfway Inn is located halfway between Fairbanks and Nenana. Originally a sawmill in the 1950s that provided lumber to the community, the building was remodeled in 1969 as The Halfway House. In the 1980s, Richard “Skinny” Hiland bought the property and added a bar and his name. The current owners have taken full advantage of the tongue-in-cheek name, and have a rather bawdy gift shop that may not be appropriate for kids or folks with more sophisticated sensibilities. They have a reasonable outdoors beer garden during the summer months. To folks driving the Parks Highway around Fairbanks, Skinny Dick’s is a landmark location.