Pan-American Highway (North America)

Pan-American Highway (North America)

:"This article describes the Pan-American Highway's routing in North America. For the South American portion, please see Pan-American Highway (South America)."

The Pan-American Highway route in North America is the portion of a network of roads nearly 48,000 km in length which travels through the mainland nations of the Americas.

Because The U.S. and Canadian governments have never officially defined any specific routes as being part of the Pan-American Highway, and because Mexico officially has many branches connecting to the U.S. border, there is no definitive length. But the total length of the North American portion of the highway is roughly 16,000 miles (25,750 km).

Partial lengths (with references):
*Length: 162 miles/261 km (from Circle to Fairbanks) []
*Length: 980 km/609 miles (from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon) []
*Length: 1890 km/1174 miles (from: Whitehorse, Yukon to Prince George, B. C.) []
*Length: 778 km (from Prince George, B.C. to Vancouver, B.C.) [] ("unofficial")
*Length: 276.62 miles (total length of I-5 in Washington) [] ("unofficial")
*Length: 308.14 miles (total length of I-5 in Oregon) ("unofficial")
*Length: 796.53 miles (total length of I-5 in California) ("unofficial")

United States (Alaska)


* Circle

The Pan-American Highway unofficially begins in Circle, Alaska, following Alaska Route 6 southwest to Fairbanks, Alaska.

* Fairbanks

From Alaska's third largest city, the Pan-American Highway and the Alaska Highway are one and the same, following Alaska Route 2 southeast to the Canadian border southeast of Northway, Alaska, and adjacent to the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge.

"Note: The Pan-American Highway reenters the U.S., potentially in several locations along the U.S.-Canadian border."


Yukon [ Road Map]

Crossing the border into Canada, Alaska Highway 2 turns into Yukon Highway 1. The first significant settlement along the way is Beaver Creek, Yukon.

* Haines Junction

At Haines Junction, where it meets Yukon Highway 3, Yukon Highway 1 turns east toward Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territory.

* Whitehorse

Through most of Whitehorse, Yukon Highway 2 and Yukon Highway 1 share an alignment. Yukon Highway 1 cuts southeast toward Marsh Lake, Yukon while Yukon Highway 2 cuts south to Skagway, Alaska. Eventually, Yukon Highway 1 intersects with Yukon Highway 8 and Yukon Highway 7 at Jake's Corner, Yukon; the highways continues on Yukon 1 east-northeast from this junction.

* Johnsons Crossing

At Johnson's Crossing, Yukon Highway 1 meets Yukon Highway 6 and travels southeast through Teslin, Yukon. The highway continues on Yukon 1 as it crosses over into British Columbia. After several miles, the highway reenters the Yukon (once again as Highway 1) and continues on Yukon 1 southeast of Watson Lake until it once again enters British Columbia as B.C. Highway 97.

British Columbia [ British Columbia Road Map]

* Lower Post

After travelling about 5 miles (8 km) past the B.C.-Yukon border, the Pan-American Highway reaches the first settlement in British Columbia at Lower Post. After travelling about 20 miles (30 km) roughly east, the highway "once again" reenters the Yukon for roughly 8 miles (13 km). The highway then reenters British Columbia (as B.C. 97) for the final time. The Pan-American Highway continues south to southeast through a long, uninhabited stretch until it passes through the villages of Fireside and Coal River. Keep following the highway east along the Rabbit River.

* Liard River

Roughly 8 miles (13 km) south of Liard River is Muncho Lake Provincial Park. The highway continues on B.C. Highway 97 as it passes through Toad River Post. Eventually it passes through Summit Lake, which is nested between Stone Mountain and Mount Saint George. Further down the road, B.C. Highway 97 intersects with B.C. Highway 77; the highway continues along B.C. 97 east to Fort Nelson.

* Fort Nelson

From Fort Nelson, the highway travels south for roughly 180 miles (292 km) until it reaches Fort St. John.

* Fort St. John

Once the Pan-American Highway reaches Fort St. John, the highway traveler has already nearly completed a large stretch of their travels through North America. The highway continues on B.C. Highway 97 southeast for another 38 miles (62 km) to reach the end of the Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek.

"Canada's length of the Pan-American Highway is not officially defined beyond the end of the Alaska Highway."

United States (Contiguous)

"Note: The Pan-American Highway is almost never referred to by name in the U.S. Additionally, it may have multiple branches."

In 1932, a billspecify introduced to the U.S. Congress proposed, among other roads, a route from Duluth, Minnesota, to Laredo, Texas, to connect with the Pan-American Highway in Mexico; this route probably followed today's Interstate 35. When the section of Interstate 35 in San Antonio, Texas was built, it was named the Pan Am Expressway, as it lies along this route. However, this route was never officially named the Pan-American Highway.

U.S. Route 81 claims to be part of the Pan American Highway from Wichita, Kansas to Watertown, South Dakota.

The Pan-American Highway unofficially has four terminals entering into Mexico, with the Inter-American Highway beginning at the border crossing between Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.


* Monterrey, Nuevo León

South from Nuevo Laredo some 225 km is Monterrey, the third largest city in Mexico after Mexico City and Guadalajara. Monterrey is a largely industrial city with approximately 4.5 million people. The Pan-American Highway continues south on Mexico Highway 85, which is a divided limited-access highway until just past the village of Hualahuises. This is the beginning of the stretch of the Pan-American Highway known as the Inter-American Highway, which parallels (and may cross into) the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains.

From Monterrey to Hualahuises is about 65 miles (105.3 km). The highway continues south on Mexico 85 for another 85 miles (138 km) until it reaches Ciudad Victoria. About 15 miles (24.3 km) past the village of Linares, the Inter-American Highway enters the state of Tamaulipas.

* Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas

From Ciudad Victoria, the highway continues south on Mexico 85; it is about 80 miles (130 km) to the next town, Ciudad Mante. About 55 miles (90 km) south of Ciudad Mante is the town of Ciudad Valles; about halfway to Ciudad Valles, the Pan-American Highway enters the state of San Luis Potosí.

From Ciudad Valles to Zimapán is about 122 miles (198 km) of winding mountain road; Zimapán is in the state of Hidalgo. From Zimapán to the Hidalgo state capital of Pachuca is about 76 miles (123 km).

* Pachuca, Hidalgo

Upon entering Pachuca, the Pan-American Highway becomes a divided limited-access route. About 25 miles (40 km) southwest of Pachuca, the highway transforms from Mexico Highway 85 to Mexico Highway 85D as it enters the state of México; for about another 25 miles (40 km), the highway is a toll road. Teotihuacan ruins exist near the roadside along this stretch of the highway. The highway continues another 20 to 25 miles (30 to 40 km) before entering the Mexico City metropolitan area in the suburb of Ecatepec de Morelos.

* Mexico City (La Ciudad de México)

The Pan-American Highway (as Mexico Highway 85D) enters Mexico City. Downtown Mexico City can be bypassed using Mexico Highway 136 (a divided limited-access route) and Mexico Highway 115, which reconnects to Mexico Highway 95D south of the Mexican Federal District.

* Cuernavaca, Morelos

As the Pan-American Highway continues south of Mexico City and the "Distrito Federal" (Federal District), the road arrives in the city of Cuernavaca about 30 miles (50 km) south of the Mexican capital. Here, the Inter-American Highway section of the Pan-American Highway heads east along Mexico Highway 190; for about 20 miles (30 km), it is a limited-access divided highway. Continue on Mexico 190 for the near duration; the road leaves the state of Puebla and enters the state of Oaxaca. From Huajuapan de León to the Oaxaca state capital of Oaxaca is about 90 miles (150 km).

* Oaxaca, Oaxaca

From the city of Oaxaca, continue southeast on Mexico Highway 190. From Oaxaca to the village of Juchitán de Zaragoza is about 142 miles (230 km). The Pan-American Highway is now in southern Mexico, which is a combination of small mountains, hills, and jungle areas. It is another 56 miles (91 km) to the border with the state of Chiapas and another trip across the Continental Divide.

* Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas

From the Oaxaca-Chiapas state border, it is 100 miles (160 km) to the Chiapas state capital of Tuxtla Gutiérrez. Chiapas is an extremely impoverished region with relatively few services, especially outside of Tuxtla Gutiérrez. A large number of Chiapas residents are partly or completely of Mayan descent and do not speak Spanish, let alone English. Chiapas is also the home of the anti-Mexico City Zapatista Army of National Liberation rebel group.


Upon crossing into Guatemala, Mexico Highway 190 transforms into Central America Highway 1. From the border village of La Mesilla to the city of Huehuetenango is about 50 miles (80 km).

* Huehuetenango

A short distance from the Huehuetenago are the Maya ruins of Zaculeu.

By the time it reaches Huehuetenango, the Pan-American Highway has to once again cross over the Continental Divide and into the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes mountains.

* Chimaltenango

From Huehuetenango to Chimaltenango is roughly 100 miles (160 km). On the way to Chimaltenango, there are some Mayan ruins at Iximché just north of Tecpán Guatemala. From Chimaltenango, it is only about 22 to 25 miles (35 to 40 km) to Guatemala City.

* Guatemala City (La Ciudad de Guatemala)

Guatemala City is the capital and largest city in Guatemala with a population between 1 and 2.5 million people; it is also the largest city in Central America. Guatemala City has several attractions, such as the "Centro Cívico" (Civic Center), "Centro Cultural Miguel Ángel Asturias (national theater), the "Jardín Botánico" (Botanical Garden), Lake Amatitlán (with a view of active volcanoes), the "Mercado Central" (Central Market with fruits and vegetables), Kaminal Juyú Mayan ruins, and the "Zoológico La Aurora" (Aurora Zoo).

From Guatemala City to Cuilapa is about 50 km (30 mi) and another 35 miles (56 km) to Jutiapa. The highway continues as CA Highway 1.

* Jutiapa

From Jutiapa, the Pan-American Highway approaches the border with El Salvador. It is 32 miles (52 km) to the border crossing at San Cristobal Frontera.

El Salvador

El Salvador is the smallest country (by area) that the Pan-American Highway travels through. After crossing into El Salvador at Candelaria de la Frontera, the Inter-American Highway continues on toward Santa Ana as Central America Highway 1. From the border crossing to Santa Ana is about 8 miles (13 km).

* Santa Ana

From Santa Ana to San Salvador is about 28 miles (45 km). At Nueva San Salvador, the traveler will pass near the Volcano de San Salvador.

* San Salvador

San Salvador, with a population of 402,448, is the capital and largest city in El Salvador. Some attractions are the New World Museum, Dixon Hill Lighthouse, and Watling's Castle, which is an old pirate hangout.

* San Miguel

From San Salvador to Cojutepeque is about 15 km (9 mi); following the highway southeast to San Miguel is about 65 km (40 mi). From San Miguel to the El Salvador-Honduras border is about 30 km (20 mi).


From the border with El Salvador, the Pan-American Highway doesn't spend much time in Honduras. The highway's total distance in the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere is about 65 miles (105 km).

From the border crossing to Nacaome is only about 25 miles (40 km). Just past Nacaome is a highway traveling north to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. It is about another 25 miles (40 km) to Choluteca, the fourth largest city in Honduras. From Choluteca to the border crossing just past San Marcos de Colón is about 42 miles (68 km).


From the crossing at the Honduras-Nicaragua border, the highway continues as Central America Highway 1. From the border to the town of Ocotal is about 26 miles (42 km); from Ocotal to Estelí is about 36 miles (58 km).

Estelí to the village of Sébaco is about 46 km (29 mi); the Inter-American Highway turns from southeast to south towards Ciudad Dario, which is 15 km (9 mi) from Sébaco. From Ciudad Dario to the village of San Benito is 55 km (35 mi).

From San Benito, it is about 38 km (24 mi) to the Nicaraguan capital and largest city of Managua. Managua is located on the shores of Lake Managua and is about 35 miles (55 km) west of Lake Nicaragua. Attractions include the Plaza de la República, which includes a lakeside cathedral, the Palacio Nacional (National Palace), the Ancient footprints of Acahualinca (Huellas de Acahualinca) museum, and the Museo de la Revolución (Nicaragua) (Museum of the Revolution). From Managua south to the town of Jinotepe is about 30 miles (50 km).

Jinotepe to the town of Rivas is about 70 km (40 mi). Around this area the Highway is in view of the shores of Lake Nicaragua, which is the largest lake in Central America. From Rivas to the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border is about 22 miles (36 km).

Costa Rica

Costa Rica contrasts sharply to the other nations in Central America, as it is a "second world" developing country compared to its underdeveloped, poorer neighbor Nicaragua. Costa Rica is the second smallest Central American country in area (after El Salvador). Its portion of the Pan-American Highway, however, is still a minimally-maintained twisty two-lane road, at least between San José and the Nicaragua border. Soon after entering Costa Rica the highway separates two national parks, the Santa Rosa National Park to the west and Guanacaste National Park to the east.

From the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border to the town of Liberia is about 45 miles (73 km). In the region of Costa Rica, the Pan-American Highway (still CA 1) is just west of the Cordillera de Guanacaste (Guanacaste Mountains), which includes the active volcanoes of Rincón de la Vieja and Miravalles.

Liberia to the town of Barranca is about 65 miles (105 km). From Barranca, the Cordillera de Tilarán (Tilarán Mountains) can be seen from the Pan-American Highway. The Tilarán range includes Arenal, one of the world's most active volcanoes. From Barranca, the highway heads east across the mountains and the Continental Divide once again. From Barranca, it is roughly 44 miles (71 km) to the town of Alajuela.

After Alajuela the Cordillera Central (Central Mountains) come into view from the Inter-American Highway. The Central Mountains include four large volcanoes--Poás, Barva, Irazú and Turrialba. From Alajuela to San José is about 15 miles (25 km).

San José is the capital and largest city in Costa Rica. Although San José is more modern than other large Central American cities with its shopping malls, department stores, and even fast food restaurants, it also includes several museums. These include the Museo Nacional (National Museum), the Museo del Oro Precolombino (Museum of Pre-Columbian Gold), the Museo de Jade (Jade Museum), the Teatro Nacional (National Theatre), and the Mercado Central (Central Market; open air).

Leaving San José, the Pan-American Highway winds its way roughly southeast. From San José to San Isidro is about 84 miles (136 km).

From San Isidro, the Cordillera de Talamanca (Talamanca Mountains) rise up from the rain forest canopy. The Talamanca range, which is non-volcanic, includes Cerro Chirripó. Cerro Chirripó, at 3,820 meters (12,533 ft.), is Costa Rica's highest mountain peak. From San Isidro to Palmar Sur is roughly 65 miles (105.3 km). Palmar Sur to the Costa Rica-Panama border is about 55 miles (90 km).


The Pan-American Highway in Panama is being renovated and expanded to a four-lane Highway.

From the Costa Rica-Panama border to the village of La Concepción there is about 13 miles (21 km). From La Concepción to the city of David there is about another 15 miles (24 km). The highway enters Panama traveling generally from west to east.

* David

David, with an estimated population of 115,173, is located about 5 miles (8 km) north of the town of Pedregal and the "Golfo de Chiriquí" (Gulf of Chiriquí). David is the capital of the Chiriqui Province and is a center of trade for agricultural products such as bananas, sugar, and coffee, as well as smaller manufactured goods. From David, the highway travels east about 55 miles (88 km) to Tolé.

* Tolé

From Tolé to the town of Santiago is about 50 miles (80 km). Immediately east of Tolé, the highway crosses through some mountains for the next 36 miles (58.3 km). About halfway to Santiago, the Inter-American Highway crosses over the San Pablo river.

* Santiago (Panama)

From Santiago to Aguadulce is about 38 miles (62 km), where the Pan-American Highway (still CA Highway 1) reenters the tropical lowlands. From Aguadulce to Penonomé is roughly 30 miles (50 km). This stretch of highway crosses the Santa María river.

* Penonomé

From Penonomé, the highway travels southeast, then northeast, then roughly north in a loop as it mostly (but not completely) avoids crossing into Panama's Central Mountains. From Penonomé to La Chorerra is about 63 miles (102 km). From La Chorerra, it is only about 15 miles (25 km) to Balboa just west of Panama City.

* Panama City

Panama City, with a population of roughly 708,738, is the capital and largest city in Panama. Before entering the city, the Pan-American Highway crosses over the Panama Canal on the Centennial Bridge, which replaced the Bridge of the Americas as the major canal crossing in 2004. Panama City, compared to many other large Central American cities, is very modern. Some local attractions include the 17th-century Metropolitan Church, the Interoceanic Canal Museum of Panama, the Plaza de Bolívar, the "Palacio de las Garzas" (Heron's Palace or Presidential Palace), and the Panama Canal.

From Panama City, the highway turns northeast; from Panama City to Chepo is roughly 35 miles (60 km); from Chepo to Cañita is another 15 miles (24 km).

* Cañita

At the village of Cañita is the old terminus (end) of the northern route of the Pan-American Highway. Supposedly, the highway continues another 110 miles (178 km) past Cañita to the village of Yaviza. This stretch of highway is extremely remote.

* Yaviza

Yaviza is a village near the junction of the Tuira and Chucunaque rivers. It is here that the Inter-American Highway officially ends and, consequently, the northern Pan-American Highway. From Yaviza southeast lies the virtually impenetrable Darién Gap, a 57-mile (92 km) stretch of some of rugged, mountainous jungle terrain.


*Plan Federal Highway System, New York Times, May 15, 1932 page XX7
*Reported from the Motor World, New York Times, January 26, 1936 page XX6
*Rand McNally Road Atlas, 1998 edition, p. 120, ISBN 0-528-83918-7
* [ Institute for Central American Studies - Costa Rica map]
* [ Maps for DXers by Don Moore]
* [ Road numbering systems by Marcel Monterie (links page)]

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