All of the RV trips we've taken have been meaningful in much more
esoteric ways than just "by the numbers," especially this one because we
experienced and learned so many new things.
The plethora of entries about our Alaska trek, including the recent
series of summaries, observations, and tips, should give you some
clues to the journey that took place within me.
One of my "coolest" experiences
was hiking through snow past Exit Glacier to the vast Harding Icefield
near Seward; you can see the
glacier and ice field (background) in the photo above. About 5% of Alaska's
land mass is covered in ice but most people never set foot
on either a glacier or an ice field. (7-7-12)
The trail to the Harding Icefield was "opened" by
rangers just a few days before I hiked up there
alone in early July. It was a memorable experience with
spectacular 360-degree views. (7-7-12)
This entry focuses on numbers for this trip and a comparison with
some of the previous summer and winter trips we've taken with 5th-wheel
If you decide to take a road trip from the Lower 48 states to Alaska,
YMMV (your mileage may vary) substantially from ours. So will your expenses.
It's fun for us to compare our trips since we've been compiling some
statistics from each of them for a few years -- miles we put on
the truck and camper, number of nights we were on the road, and the
average cost per night for camping.
Although we keep good financial records we've never added up the costs for gas/diesel, propane, food, and
other items. We don't need to. We are rather frugal people who live well within our means.
We lead an increasingly simple life so we can splurge on some of the
things that give us the most pleasure -- like this trip to
Water flows from the unique
spring at Giant Springs State Park in Great Falls, MT. (9-18-12)
We left Alaska on September 6 and crossed back into the U.S. on
September 12. Most of the photos in this entry are ones I took on our way back
through the states from Montana to Virginia, where we still own property.
We spent several days in Montana drying out the camper from all the
moisture it absorbed in Alaska, enjoyed more warm, dry sunshine in the
Black Hills area of South Dakota, and finally concluded our Great Alaska
Adventure on October 8 when we reached our house near Roanoke. That's
where we began the trip in early May.
Cody tries to keep up with Jim
for a short distance on a trail
above the Missouri River in Great Falls, MT.
DURATION OF TRIP:
May 12 to October 8 = 150 nights in our camper, almost five months
out from and back to our house in Virginia
Outbound from May 8 to June 12: VA, WV, KY, IN,
IL, MO, KS, CO (we spent almost two weeks in Colorado Springs), WY, MT
(our "staging area" for the next part of the trip was Great Falls for a
few days), Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon Territory, and finally Alaska
We were in the South Central and Interior parts of Alaska from June
12 to September 6, almost three months.
Return from September 6 to October 8: Alaska, the Yukon,
BC, AB, MT, WY, SD, IA, IL, IN, OH, KY, WV, VA
MILES ON VEHICLES:
2010 Carriage Cameo 5th-wheel coach: 11,435 "camper miles"
2008 diesel 2WD Dodge Ram 2500 truck: 15,825 miles (over
94,000 total miles on it now)
Diesel fuel efficiency = approximately 12 MPG over hill and dale,
which is pretty good considering we're towing a 14,000+ pound camper.
That's dry weight, not including any water, food, clothing,
and all the other necessities and niceties we lug around with us.
Above and below: scenes
from the Michelson Trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota
Gas and diesel prices were near all-time highs this summer in the
Lower 48 states; they were higher in comparison in Canada and Alaska. We haven't added
up the cost of fuel for this trip and never have previously. Because of the greater distance we drove on this
trip I can guarantee you that we spent more on diesel fuel this time than
We decided several years ago that the price of fuel isn't going to
deter us from traveling in an RV. We might have to modify the distances
we drive some day but that's not going to prevent us from living this lifestyle.
Eventual health matters might, or a loss of interest in
gallivanting around the continent, but not the cost of fuel.
AVERAGE CAMPGROUND FEES:
$16.85/night for 150 nights
This figure is only for CG fees, not additional gasoline
(generator) or propane we use when we don't have electrical
hookups or adequate sun to fully charge the solar panels and
batteries. Even when we do have electricity we still have
to use propane to run the stove and oven.
In addition to being our most expensive trip for diesel fuel, this was
also our most expensive trip for campground fees since we started averaging
those costs in 2009. We expected the fees to be higher this
time but we ended up spending
even more than our prediction.
That's OK. We still did much better than folks who stay more
than we do at private campgrounds, which can easily cost
$30-50/night and more in Canada and Alaska.
On another long bike ride on the Michelson Trail
and through Custer SP in the Black Hills of SD
Jim got very close to some bison (above)
and a long line of bighorn sheep (below). (9-26-12)
In the Lower 48 states we do a lot of inexpensive and "free"
boon-docking on public lands, mostly National Forest Service and BLM
We did very little boon-docking on this trip.
We had some opportunities but the cool, wet weather worked against that MO in
Canada and Alaska this summer.
When it's raining it's infinitely more comfortable to camp with electricity than to use our generator and solar power to run our
propane space heater, furnace, stove, lights, etc. Electric heat is
drier than gas heat. Every time we used propane this summer to heat the
camper or cook our meals on the stove it added more moisture to
the interior of the Cameo, exacerbating the problem with foggy
More bison at Wind Cave National Park, just
south of Custer State Park (10-1-12)
Even with electrical hookups approximately two-thirds of the time we
still had a lot of moisture build up in the camper throughout
the summer. By late August we were battling mildew and double
wooden doors that wouldn't close properly because they'd
swollen. It took several days of hot, sunny, dry weather in
Montana in September to thoroughly dry out the interior of the
Several more days like that in South Dakota were even better for
the camper -- and us!
The Cameo was dry as a bone by early
October at our full-hookup campsite at Ellsworth AFB. (10-2-12)
We did save money by staying in relatively inexpensive
campgrounds along the way:
- several military posts and
bases (the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs in May, Malmstrom AFB
in Great Falls in June and September, Valdez Glacier CG near
Valdez, Joint Base
Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage three times for a total of
almost six weeks, Seward Military Resort, Seward Air Force CG,
Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Ellsworth AFB in Box Elder, SD);
Above and below: Ellsworth AFB often has
- several city and provincial campgrounds in Canada;
- a couple
- some national parks and forests (half price
for us old geezers);
- and a very few private campgrounds,
most of which cost significantly less than campgrounds with the
usual exorbitant fees charged for amenities we never use.
We had only two or three nights with fees in the mid-$30 range.
Those were in Canada. That's expensive for us but 'way below
what a KOA and many other private campgrounds charge nowadays.
This scenic, spacious "free" parking spot
at Sam's Club in Sioux City, IA was nicer than some of
the expensive 'real" campgrounds where
we've stayed! Note the light over our bedroom slide . . .
I joked in a previous entry the reason
why we adjusted so easily to the Midnight Sun in Alaska.
We boon-docked several nights outbound and on the return at Walmart
and Sam's Clubs in the Lower 48 states and in Calgary. That
practice is even more popular in Canada than the U.S.!
We also spent the night in nice turnouts along the road in
Alaska at least three times when traveling between destinations.
Those were all "free." (I've explained on this website several
times why there is no such thing as "free" camping.)
COMPARISONS WITH OTHER TRIPS
I've gone back to my travel notes from 2007 and looked at our
ten most recent "summer" and "winter" trips from our house in
Virginia to points out west. We have the number of nights in
campgrounds and the truck mileage for all of those trips.
We've averaged our camping fees for our last six trips and
tracked camper mileage for the last five trips.
Upper Roughlock Falls in Spearfish Canyon,
Black Hills of South Dakota (9-24-12)
We bought our Virginia house in 2004. Although we made RV trips
out West that year and in 2006, and from GA to ME and back when
we ran/hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2005, I haven't taken the
time to look up the numbers from those years.
Here are some stats since 2007 for comparison purposes. I could
get even more detailed than this . . .
Duration: "Winter" trips have lasted from a low of 53 days to a high of
131 days; most began sometime in November and ended sometime
in March/April, averaging 104 days. All were in warm,
Southwestern locales (southern TX, AZ, NM, CA). Two also
included some time on the way back to VA in the Southeast (MS, LA, AL, GA, NC).
Distance: Since we aren't typically gone as long on our winter trips as
our summer trips, our truck and camper miles have been a little less
in the winter.
We always put more miles on the truck because of the driving we
do when the camper is stationary at a campsite. Truck mileage ranged from 5,631 miles on the shortest
winter trip to 10,171 miles on the longest one. Camper miles for
the last two winter trips averaged 4,587 miles. I know we had
more camper miles than that during one previous winter trip but
we didn't keep track of them.
Golden paperbark birch leaves on the trail
to Roughlock Falls (9-24-12)
Campground fees: Until last winter we usually
stayed primarily at public and military campgrounds on our
winter trips so we had electrical hookups. That's more expensive
than boon-docking on "free" BLM land but much less expensive
than staying at most private campgrounds or RV resorts..
I know our average winter campground fees in 2006/2007,
2007/2008, and 2008/2009 were higher than they've
been the last three years but we didn't keep complete records
back then. We reduced the average cost in 2009-2010 to $11.18/day and
in 2010-2011 to $9.39/day by doing three to six weeks of light campground hosting
duties at Brazos
Bend State Park in Texas during both of those trips.
This past winter we really saved on campground fees by
staying two months at a long-term visitor area (LTVA) in the southern
California desert near Imperial Dam at an average cost of less
than $3/day. We also stayed at some other inexpensive National
Forest Service and "free" BLM sites. The average
during our 2011-2012 winter trip
for all 119 camping nights was only $5.79/day.
Bright fall colors along the scenic byway
through Spearfish Canyon (9-24-12)
Our cost was higher, of course, if you add in the new solar
panels we purchased last winter. We got a good price and Jim
installed them himself, which saved a bundle of $$$. We figure we've already recouped the
cost this year by being less dependent on electrical hookups at
campgrounds -- and at our house. We use them to power the
TV, lights, computer, and other things on the circuit in our
open family/dining room.
Duration: "Summer" trips have usually been longer in terms of time,
spanning from spring (early May) to late September or mid-October
longest trip was 153 days in 2010 and the shortest was 100 days
The average number of nights in the camper on these
trips was 135, which is more than four months. Two have been
just under five months in duration. We didn't take a
summer RV trip in 2008, one of only two times since 2004 that we didn't
journey from VA to the West in the warmer months (in 2005 we
journeyed from GA to ME along the Appalachian Trail).
The Black Hills of South Dakota are full of
interesting rock formations.
These are at Sylvan Lake in Custer State
Distance: Truck and camper mileage are usually higher in the summer than
on our than our winter
trips, too, not just because we are gone longer but we also tend
to wander through more states in the summer. Destinations have
traditionally been the cool Rocky Mountain states of
NM, CO, WY, and SD, with occasional forays to MT, ID, and
NV. This summer was our first to trek through Canada and Alaska.
The only other exception was in 2005, when we did our
Appalachian Trail Adventure Run/Hike from Georgia to Maine.
Truck miles since 2007 have ranged from a low of 10,310 that
year to 15,825 miles this summer. The average has been 12,916
miles per summer trip (not including the miles from CO to OH and
back to CO for a funeral during the middle of our 2011 trip;
we left the camper in CO).
Camper mileage since the summer of 2010 has ranged from 5,535 to
11,435 miles, with an average of 8,176 miles per summer trip.
More large rock formations at Sylvan Lake
Campground fees: Campground fees are usually fairly
low in the summer because we've done a lot of boon-docking at
"free" and low-cost public lands sites out West.
We averaged $9.94/day for 153 nights in 2010, $10.62/day for 150
nights in 2011, and $16.85/day for 150 nights this summer.
Although we don't have all the figures for the summers prior to
that I'd guess our campground expenses averaged $12-$14/day in
2006, 2007, and 2009.
I hope these figures show you how affordable even very long RV
trips can be. There are numerous ways to save money while
enjoying the scenic byways and terrain in North America.
Next entry: now what?? our tentative
winter travel plans
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil