Cinnamon rolls (aka cinnamon buns) are synonymous with the Alaska Highway (aka the Alcan). Somehow when you’re traveling the more than 1,400 miles of blacktop, gravel, potholes and frost heaves that make up this classic road trip, you need a seriously delectable treat like a warm, freshly-baked cinnamon roll. So we set out to answer the burning question every Alaska roadtripper should ask: “Who makes the best cinnamon roll on the Alaska Highway?”
We actually started tasting cinnamon buns in Fairbanks, Alaska, a full 100 miles from Delta Junction, the “official” start of the Alaska Highway. Since Fairbanks has its own love affair with the cinnamon bun and was part of our epic cinnamon-tinged road trip, we decided to include buns from that fair city too.
As editors of Realfoodtraveler.com, Anne Weaver and I spend many hours sampling and reviewing food all around the world. You’ll certainly find your own favorite cinnamon buns along the Alaska Highway. We encourage you to explore and use our list as a guide.
We’ve awarded each bun we sampled 1-10, with 10 being the best. All the buns were served warm with butter (the best way to eat cinnamon buns). When there was a choice, we ordered cinnamon buns without raisins (some only come with raisins).
AK refers to Alaska; YT to Yukon Territory; B.C. British Columbia. To make it easy to find these places, when possible we’ve listed the closest town or the Milepost (MP) or KM (Kilometer signs) along the highway.
So here’s our take on who makes the Best Cinnamon Buns along the Alaska Highway.
6.0 Pts. Buckshot Betty’s, Beavercreek, YT. This is a big one—a full 6” square and 3.5” high—and really soft, almost cake-like. The swirls between cinnamon layers are pretty thick, making it a little dry and not as cinnamony as it could be. Good icing that’s not too sweet. $4.25.
6.5 Pts. Old Fashioned Bakery, MP 0, Dawson Creek, B.C. This bakery makes a Swiss-inspired version of the cinnamon roll that resembles a snail or Danish. At 4” round, it’s the smallest of the cinnamon rolls we sampled. The dough is very different—many layers—and there is little cinnamon, but lots of raisins. We found this one too dry for our taste.
7.0 Pts. Village Bakery, Haines Junction, YT. In this little bakery run by young new parents, Andrew and Chelesa, they make 5” square x 2” high cinnamon rolls. They don’t frost or ice their rolls. Instead, they brush the top and bottom with cinnamon-sugar. It’s a nice change of pace from frosted/iced rolls that can be overly sweet. The dough is soft with thin swirls, which gives plenty of space for cinnamon.
7.0 Pts. Wolf It Down Restaurant, Nugget City, MP 627 (KM 1003), YT. Linda and Steve Goodwin have built this restaurant-motel-gift shop-RV Park literally in the middle of nowhere near Watson Lake. Their restaurant, Wolf It Down, has “Famous Dave” as the chef and he cooks up some mean ribs and fish and chips.
The restaurant doesn’t consistently offer cinnamon rolls, but when Linda heard we were looking for the best cinnamon rolls on the Alcan, she stayed up until 4 a.m. whipping up a batch. “At 17, I won the Fleishman’s baking contest for roll and buns,” she told us.
Linda’s cinnamon buns are biggies— 8” x 8”, 1 1/4 “ high. At $9.95, they were also the most expensive buns we found on the highway. The buns offered plenty of cinnamon. As Linda says, “If you call them cinnamon buns, make sure they have lots of cinnamon.”
The buns feature thin swirls and nice cinnamon goo in the middle and a bit of cinnamon icing on the top.
7.0 pts. Cookie Jar, Fairbanks, AK. This cinnamon roll is 6” square, 4” high, well iced all around with powered sugar icing. This is not a gooey cinnamon roll, but features chewy dough with plenty of swirls so there’s good cinnamon flavor. This is a solid cinnamon roll.
While we didn’t try them, Cookie Jar does a couple of interesting things with their cinnamon roll: Nolan’s Own Breakfast is a cinnamon roll cut in half, dipped in egg batter and grilled. It’s dusted with powered sugar and served with ham, bacon, or sausage for $12.99 ($9.99 without meat).
They also offer a Stuffed Nolan’s where they put cream cheese between two halves of the roll and grill it. Then they top it with strawberries and whipped cream. Hang onto your sweet tooth for this one. $11.99.
8.0 Pts. The Shepherd’s Inn, MP 71, (before Fort Saint John; west of Charlie Lake), B.C. We wandered into The Shepherd’s Inn restaurant hoping to sit down to a warm cinnamon bun. However, the waitress directed us to the convenience store next door where they’d wrapped the buns in plastic. There were two left. We bought the biggest one—5” x 4”, 2.5” high (the buns weren’t consistent in size).
This was one of the smaller buns we found on the highway, but, at $3.50, it was also the least expensive and it was a pretty good bun. We heated the bun and added some butter and found the dough soft with plenty of goo and a nice amount of cinnamon. One of us detected a touch of nutmeg, but we couldn’t agree on that. The buns featured lots of icing, which made them just a bit too sweet, but the gooeyness of these rolls made up for it.
8.0 Pts. Pine Valley Lodge & Bakery/Creperie, Mile 1147, Beavercreek, YT. Literally out in the middle of the Yukon bush, who’d expect to find a French creperie? But here it is. Owners Olivier and Mylène emigrated from France to Montreal and then out here to, well, nowhere. Olivier is the cinnamon bun baker and he says his dough is, “Half French pastry, half Canadian dough.”
This cinnamon roll is different all right. It’s a 6” round that’s only 1” high, more like a Danish. The unique dough has some tooth to it and it’s more chewy than traditional cinnamon roll dough. The dough’s flavor is different too—less sweet, but quite delicious with plenty of cinnamon. There’s a delicacy to this bun not often found in cinnamon rolls. $4.75.
8.5 Pts. Bun on the Run, Fairbanks, AK. For 30 years, much to the delight of Fairbankers, the folks in this little trailer just off College Avenue have been whipping up cinnamon rolls and other buns. Their cream cheese frosted buns weigh in at 5”x4” and 2.5” high. The buns come out of the oven early and the gal behind the counter told us, “If you want them really fresh, come at the 6:30 a.m.”
They wrap the buns in plastic at 9:30 a.m., about the time we arrived. However, the buns were still slightly warm.
These buns feature a yeasty smell and are soft rather than chewy. They’re covered with the perfect amount of cream cheese frosting and it’s not overly sweet. They use quality cinnamon and plenty of it on the multiple swirls so you get a great cinnamon flavor. This is definitely one to check out.
9.0 Pts. Double G Service, Muncho Lake, B.C. Double G Service is a modest café and fueling station that’s a favorite among truckers. Owner Jack has been operating Double G since the 1970s and the man knows how to cook up delectable, all day breakfasts. He’s skilled with cinnamon buns too.
After tasting Jack’s big cinnamon rolls, which are 6” square and 4.5” high, we took to calling him “Cinnamon Jack.” These are really good cinnamon buns—soft, almost pillowy, with thin swirls and crusty bottom. Jack’s cinnamon rolls are classics with no frosting or icing, just cinnamony goodness. At $5.20, these buns are a great value.
9.0 Pts. Tetsa River Lodge and RV Park, MP 551, B.C. Tetsa River Lodge is an attractive log-style lodge/RV park/bakery/gift shop that claims to be the last family-owned lodge along the highway. Ben, whose grandparents homesteaded and built the lodge in the 1970s, is the baker and he and wife, Gail, operate the place. They call their buns “the center of the galactic cluster” and that bit of marketing savvy works. They sell 200 cinnamon rolls every day during the summer months.
Part of the reason they peddle so many of these $5 cinnamon rolls is that they make the rolls in small batches all day long to ensure they’re fresh. “When we get down to a dozen or so,” Gail told us, “we bake some more.”
Their cinnamon rolls are 4 1/2” x 5” and 3” tall and are served warm, buttery and lightly iced. The dough has a nice, soft chewy texture with plenty of thin swirls filled with cinnamon and a touch of nutmeg. These are gooey, 2-napkin buns and the gooiest buns we found along the highway.
These are truly good buns and may have stolen the best buns title, but one of our editors found the addition of nutmeg a bit off-putting.
The bakery also bakes excellent bread. We purchased a $6.50 loaf of whole grain bread that had a lovely, chewy texture and nice molasses flavor. Ben also smokes up his own bacon (both slab and back bacon) and it’s super smoky and salty.
9.5 Pts. Johnson’s Crossing, KM 1295, YT (before Teslin Lake). The small sign on the road just before the Johnson’s Crossing Bridge says, “Get your buns here” and there couldn’t be a truer sign on the Alaska Highway. Johnson’s Crossing is a historic site and the cinnamon buns baked here are historic too.
Johnson’s Crossing is where they began building the ill-fated Canol Road, an expensive endeavor by the U.S. government to ensure Canadian oil would flow during WWII. Originally, this place was an Army outpost for road builders. After the war, Ellen Davignon and her family took over and started baking up cinnamon rolls for travelers.
After more than 30 years, Ellen and her family finally moved on and the property stood empty for three years until Sandy and Frank Ruether bought the place. Sandy convinced Ellen not only to share her famous cinnamon bun recipe, but to tutor her in how to make them. The result, in our opinion, is the Best Cinnamon Buns on the Alaska Highway.
Now the buns we enjoyed were not made by Sandy herself, but by the baker she’s hired and taught to make the buns. According the husband Frank, “When Sandy makes them, they’re even better.”
We’re not quite sure how they could get better. These buns may be the largest on the highway, weighing in at 6” x 6” and 3 1/5” inches high. They come with golden raisins and just a drizzle of icing. The dough was soft and the swirls thin (ours had 5 swirls) and each swirl was packed with cinnamon and plenty of cinnamon goo. If you order it heated with butter, the goo pools onto your plate; it’s perfect for swirling with pieces of cinnamon bun.
The story of how Sandy and Frank got together and came to own Johnson’s Crossing is almost as good as their cinnamon rolls. Sandy and Frank originally met ever-so-briefly in the 1980s. Over the years, they met again and again, but something—sometimes other partners–always kept them apart. One Christmas when Sandy was single, on an impulse she phoned to wish Frank Merry Christmas, but Frank, an over-the-road trucker, never got the message. The years passed. Then, out of the blue, 7 years ago, Frank reached out to Sandy. And the rest, as they say, is history. The couple married within weeks.
Sandy is an entrepreneur and always looking for a business opportunity. Six years ago, she learned that historic Johnson’s Crossing café and motel was for sale. But the asking price was astronomical. Sandy put it out of her mind.
However, the property didn’t sell and ended up bank owned. Five other couples expressed interest. Sandy figured they’d easily be outbid.
A few weeks later, on a whim, Sandy called the bank. Miraculously, none of the other couples had made an offer. It was as if owning Johnson’s Crossing was meant to be. The bank accepted Sandy’s and Frank’s bid and they became the proud owners of Johnson’s Crossing. Today, the couple keep the café and motel open 365 days a year, including Christmas and New Year’s.
And every day, they bake up the very Best Cinnamon Buns on the Alaska Highway.
– Review by Bobbie Hasselbring and Anne Weaver; photos by Anne Weaver