The well-known Alaska highway is home to one of the world’s most quirky forests. In the town of Watson Lake – at Kilometer 980 of the highway (Historic Mile 635) it is a must-stop to have a look at signpost forest. The Sign Post Forest is Watson Lake’s most famous attraction. Travelers from around the world have been bringing signposts from their hometowns to the Sign Post Forest since 1942 and continue to do so today.
The start of signpost forest
The tradition began during the Alaska Highway Project in 1942, when U.S. soldier Carl K. Lindley spent time in Watson Lake recovering from an injury. A commanding officer asked him to repair and erect the directional signposts, and while completing the job, he added a sign that indicated the direction and mileage to his hometown of Danville, Illinois. Others followed suit, and the trend caught on creating literally a forest of signposts.
Exponential growth of the signpost forest
To say that posting signs has become popular with travelers is an understatement – in July 1990, sign number 10,000 was added and since then the forest has frown exponentially. The official count of signs conducted by the staff at the Visitor Centre in September 2003 showed 51,842 signs, by September 2008 it had reached 65,164, and in 2015 the number of signs was over 72,000!
Each year, an average of 1,000 new signs are being added to the collection.
Street sign, license plates, welcome signs and more
The Signpost Forest takes up a couple of acres with a huge diversity of signs and plates. There are street signs, there are “Welcome To…” signs, there are signatures on dinner plates, there are license plates from around the world – the variety is enormous. Reading the signs and messages can take you on a textual tour of the world for as long as you care to keep reading and walking.
The size of some of the signs is amazing – how on earth do people get a 6×10-foot sign from the German autobahn to Watson Lake?? While many of the signs, including some wonderful examples of folk art, have obviously been created specially for the Forest, others are apparently on “long-term loan” to the Yukon!