The trees grow smaller as you drive north towards the arctic tree line, but a different kind of forest sprouts along the Alaska Highway in Watson Lake, Yukon, just over the border from BC.
It started with one homesick traveller, an American soldier helping to construct the Alaska Highway back in 1942. Private Carl Lindley was painting highway signs near Watson Lake and decided to add an extra one for his hometown of Danville, Illinois, more than 4,000 kilometres away.
Nearly 70 years later the Sign Post Forest has grown to include tens of thousands of signs put up by other travellers, and has gained new meaning in 2020. In a time when globetrotters are stuck at home and many borders are closed to nonessential travel, it’s almost emotional to wander the Sign Post Forest celebrating all the travel culture that’s currently out of reach. See signs for the London Tube, license plates from Lithuania or weird wildlife signs like ‘Kangaroo Crossing.’ The
What’s your take on the landmark? Is it a corny collection, a fun representation of Yukon’s spirit, or an eyesore?
The signs take you around the world, but they also take you back in time to the thousands of meaningful moments that have happened in Watson Lake over the years. What was it like to travel this road in 1992, 1972, or all the way back when it was being built in 1942? Did these travellers face flat tires when the road was gravel, wipers working overtime through a Yukon blizzard, or dramatic sightings of caribou?
Every sign tells a story — of young adventurers striking out to build a new life in the Yukon, of seniors taking a retirement RV adventure. There are declarations of love and homesickness, and there are questions. How did the giant Autobahn signs make it all the way from Germany in a traveller’s suitcase?
Bring along the old license plate from your first car, the street sign for where you grew up, or carve the names of your travel companions into a spare piece of wood. When the pandemic is over you’ll be able to visit the Visitor’s Information Centre, which has sign-making materials as well as photographs and history from the building of the Alaska Highway. But the sign forest is always open — 24 hours a day — so if you’re looking for a spot to stretch your legs on a long drive north or south, Watson Lake is ready.
Plan your adventures throughout the West Coast at westcoasttraveller.com and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram @thewestcoasttraveller