Exploring Alaska in an RV has always seemed like the ultimate road trip
to me, especially when driving there and back from just about anywhere
in the Lower 48 States. Starting two days ago from our house in the
Roanoke, Virginia area and ending back there in mid-October . . .
Jim and I will probably drive at least 10,000 miles this summer.
is the first time either of us has been to Alaska. Most of the territory
we will traverse to get there through Alberta, British Columbia, and the
Yukon Territory will be new to us, too.
How exciting is that?? We love to explore new places.
One of my favorite travel quotes says, "Too often we are so
preoccupied with the destination, we forget the journey." I don't
know who said that first.
I do know that our journey to Alaska is our destination. We
hope to make every bit of it memorable and we plan to share it
with you on this site. Brace yourself for lots of superlatives in my
journaling and spectacular scenery in the photos.
I'll do my best to keep this journal more current as we travel
this summer. There will be times when we don't have a phone, MiFi, or
WiFi connection or I'll be too busy to finish an entry. When I get
behind just scroll down through the topics page to see where we are.
Note: this is probably the only entry I've written in nine years
that has none of our photos. That's because we haven't been to Alaska
yet! I'll make it up to you soon. The two images included are from other
This is not the best year to visit Alaska.
Gas and diesel prices are near historical highs in the Lower 48 and
will be even higher in Canada and Alaska. In addition, parts of south
central Alaska where we want to spend the most time got record-breaking
amounts of snow during the winter.
Lousy timing, eh? But my answer to "Why now?" is "Why not?"
I've been collecting magazine and newspaper articles about Alaska
since the mid-1970s -- and I still have some of them with me in
the camper right now! Exploring the 49th state has been on my radar for
a long time.
Before this year, however, the timing just wasn't right for either
Jim or me to visit Alaska the way we want to do it -- slowly and
as thoroughly as we can in two to three months, plus some time in Canada
on the way there and back. Neither of us could do that when we were
working. Even after we both retired, we were so involved in running
ultra-distance foot races that we didn't want to miss four to five
months' worth of events to travel to the far north.
Now that Jim and I are no longer running races we don't have to
schedule our extended RV trips around those events. Except for the
responsibility of still owning a house, we are free to travel as far and
as long as we want.
Now an Alaskan adventure is reality!
Photo from the
I also mentioned another consideration in one of my introductory
entries this year -- life's unpredictability.
You just never know what may happen to prevent you from doing the
things you've always wanted to do but kept putting off for various
reasons. Cancer, Alzheimer's, and other serious physical afflictions
happen. So do tragic accidents.
My mother always wanted to visit Alaska but she never got
there. I'm sure she had other dreams that weren't realized, too. I'm
trying to prevent that in my own life.
Exploring Alaska is one of the remaining biggies on my life's "bucket
list." I don't want to miss this opportunity. Jim and I are not getting
any younger. Neither are our truck and camper. So, as I mentioned in an
earlier entry, come hell or high water from all that melting snow, we're
going to Alaska this summer.
RESEARCHING THIS TRIP
Alaska is huge. So is the distance from Montana, Idaho, or Oregon
through Canada to get there and back on a road trip. Even if we spend
two or three entire months in the state of Alaska we will barely scratch the
surface of all the things there are to do and see.
That has become very clear as we've researched this trip. Thank
goodness for the internet -- it is so easy to find useful
information. It's also a bit overwhelming because we'll be traveling
through so many interesting places.
We've read several relevant, detailed online journals and blogs
written by other retired RVers who have spent several weeks to several
months in Alaska. Those have been very informative and have helped us
narrow down the places that will probably interest us the most.
In addition to websites that are specific to areas we want to visit,
like Denali National Park and the Kenai Peninsula, we have found other very useful online
resources such as U.S. and Canadian weather sites, travel and road
conditions sites, and local news sites.
We've obsessed over official U.S. and Canadian customs websites so we
have the proper paperwork for ourselves and Cody-pup. We pretty well
know what items, in what quantity, we can and can't take across those borders but still
hope no one wants to thoroughly search our camper at any of our border
crossings -- not because they might confiscate something but
because of the time and hassle.
The two most useful books that RVers who've been to Alaska have
recommended are the
Alaskan Camping book mentioned
The Milepost, a detailed highway log of major routes and
side trips through Alberta, British Columbia, Northwest Territories,
Yukon Territory, and Alaska. Both books are updated annually. We
purchased ours when they came out in the spring of 2011 so we'd have more time to peruse them. They are
recent enough that the information should still be relevant this year,
although some places may cost more or be closed now.
Another useful source of information about traveling to Alaska has
been the RVers we've met in the last couple of years, especially
snowbirds we got to know at Imperial Dam LTVA in southern California and
Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ this past winter. Many of them have
spent one or more summers in Alaska and were happy to share travel
One of the things we've read and heard over and over is that once a
person has visited Alaska, (s)he wants to go back again. It's difficult
to see everything in one trip, even an extended one, and folks just love
the place so much they want to return.
I'm guessing that will happen with us, too.
MAKING IT UP AS WE GO
Having all this information at our disposal is great in most regards
but sometimes it is overwhelming when we look at the Big Picture. There
are so many routes, so many places we want to see, so many unknowns.
Exciting, yes. A little scary, too!
This trip will be as fluid as our winter trip was. The only
reservations we have made anywhere are at two Denali National Park
campgrounds in August. We got online in December when reservations
opened for the 2012 season so we'd be sure to have a campsite there. If
I had time to visit only one place in Alaska it would be Denali. Enough
other people also want to go there that the campgrounds fill up quickly.
We're wide open for the rest of the trip. We hope we can get into
military campgrounds for a few days whenever we reach Fairbanks,
Anchorage, Seward, and Valdez but that's the extent of our planning for specific
One reason is that we hope to find some boon-docking (no hook-up)
sites along the way. Those are often serendipitous discoveries the first
time we've found them. Even if we
know where they are, we can't make reservations.
We also want to be free to change our minds as we go. We want to
at a leisurely pace, especially when we get to Alaska. We'll learn about things
from other people or we'll read something that might send us off on a side trip or even a
different route entirely.
We might find a lovely place with lots of things to do and want to
stay several days instead of just passing through.
If we don't have reservations on the road ahead, we can do that.
Conversely, if we think we might want to spend several days in a
particular place that sounds great but the weather is crappy when we're
there or we don't like the camping options, we can move on sooner if we don't have reservations.
Of course, this MO may backfire sometimes.
We may not find as many
boon-docking or inexpensive public camping places as we hope to find, or they may be
full, especially around the 4th of July and Labor Day holidays.
Sometimes the only option may be an expensive private campground
-- and it may be full, especially if we find ourselves on a
similar itinerary as an RV caravan going to Alaska. Caravans to Alaska
are popular and a group of 20-30
RVs can fill up a campground pretty quickly. We'll have to be plenty
Our original plan -- conceived in January -- was to
cross the Canadian border from Montana in late May and travel through
Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta (AB) to the Alaska Highway through northeastern
British Columbia (BC) and southwestern Yukon Territory (YT) to Alaska.
We thought we'd travel rather
quickly through Canada in order to spend as much time in Alaska as possible since it's
so far to drive, so expensive to get there, and this might be our only
opportunity to tour the state.
We figured we could spend more time in Canada on the way back to the
Lower 48 in September. If there wasn't time, we could always go back to
places like Banff and Jasper National Parks and Lake Louise another
summer, since they aren't as far away.
By now it is clear that the south central part of Alaska,
where we'd like to spend the most time, was totally inundated with
winter and spring snow. Anchorage, e.g., set a record this past season
and high passes still have many feet of snow.
Instead of hiking over the Memorial Day weekend, folks will likely be
So we've changed our plans a bit to allow time for most of that snow
It doesn't appear that the Canadian Rockies got more snow than
normal. Friends from Whitehorse, YT that we met at Imperial Dam this
winter went back home at the end of April and said the major roads were
already clear through BC and YT.
Our current plan is to stay at the USAF Academy campground in
Colorado Springs, CO for a couple of weeks, then head to Malmstrom AFB
in Great Falls, MT for a few days. Both are sort of "staging areas" for
the rest of our journey.
Near the beginning of June we'll continue north on I-15 and cross the
Canadian border at Sweet Grass, MT / Coutts, AB. Our probable route will
take us on the "East Access Route" described in The Milepost book
- north on AB Hwy. 4 through Lethbridge, Alberta
- north on AB 3 and 2 through Calgary to Edmonton, Alberta
- west on AB 43 and BC 2 to Dawson Creek, British Columbia and the
beginning of the famed Alaska Hwy.
- Alaska Hwy. north and west through Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, and
Muncho Lake, British Columbia, Watson Lake, Teslin, Whitehorse, Haines
Jct., and Destruction Bay, Yukon Territory to Tok, Alaska.
The distance from Great Falls to Dawson Creek is 872 miles if we
don't go off on any side trips. From Dawson Creek to Tok is another
1,282 miles. We have no idea how long that will take. It depends on
weather and road conditions and how long we stay in various places.
We'll have to keep checking on snow conditions in Alaska on the way
Although the major roads will be open we want to make sure the weather
has warmed up sufficiently in the southern part of the state before we
At Tok we'll have a big decision to make -- 1) continue
northwest to Fairbanks in the interior, where it's likely to be warmer,
and do somewhat of a CCW loop of the state or 2) (our preference) head south to Valdez,
Anchorage, Seward, Homer, and the rest of the Kenai Peninsula first,
then go in a clockwise direction to Denali NP, Fairbanks, and back to Tok.
If you look at a map of Alaska you can see what looks like a small
area of Alaska that we want to visit. Looks are deceiving, however.
Alaska is a humongous state and that "small area" entails a lot of
driving. I haven't even added up those miles, nor some side trips we'd
like to make.
On the way back through Canada we may take a different route,
depending on how much time and energy we have left:
- From Haines Jct., YT we might go out-and-back to Haines, AK.
- From Whitehorse, YT we might go out-and-back to Skagway, AK.
- From Watson Lake, BC we might head south on the Cassiar and
Yellowhead Highways to scenic Hyder, AK, then Smithers and Prince George, BC.
- And if we have time we might return through western Alberta via
Banff and Jasper National Parks.
The only "deadline" we have on our return to the Lower 48
states is my
brother's wedding in Ohio in October. Barring an emergency, we're free
to travel through Alaska and Canada until the end of September.
Of course, any of this could change for any number of reasons! Stay
LARGER THAN LIFE
Alaska is renowned for its grandeur -- spectacular mountain
ranges, a hundred thousand glaciers, magnificent fjords that rival those in
Scandinavia, immense expanses of untamed wilderness that are beyond the
comprehension of most Americans. We can't wait to see some of that!
There are other things we hope to see and experience that we'll
share with our readers, too. Here are some of them:
- summer's sun that barely sets in June -- this is the Land
of the Midnight Sun
- Northern lights AKA aurora borealis
- the Arctic Circle
- massive national parks, forests, and preserves
- the highest peak in North America, 20,320-foot Mt. McKinley in
Denali National Park
- wildlife up close -- grizzlies, black bears, moose, elk,
Sitka deer, caribou, wood bison, Dall sheep, wolves, fox,
bald eagles, peregrine falcons, tufted puffins, salmon, humpback
whales, Steller sea lions, Dall's porpoises, sea otters, harbor seals,
- Iditarod sled dog demonstration
- musk ox farm/qiviut production
- hikes on icefields and tundras
- calving glaciers in a shimmering bay
- Native history, culture, and art, including totem poles
- picturesque fishing villages and harbors
- unique Russian Orthodox churches and other historic
- interesting museums of all sorts
- abandoned gold mines
- the Trans-Alaska pipeline
I'm just getting started, and I haven't even begun to list any of the
things we might see or do in Canada on the way up and back . . .
Like most Alaska visitors, I bet we'll have so many things left
undone that we'll want to go back at least one more time. Hopefully we
won't get the urge to move there! That's happened to quite a few
people who fell in love with the place.
Next entry: trip notes on the first leg of our journey
-- Roanoke, VA to Colorado Springs, CO
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil