Traveling Alaska 2016 Experiences

Firstly we must state that the following content is purely our opinion and is based on our experiences in spending months as full-timers in Alaska.

Today The Mountain was OUT!

In preparation and anticipation for this voyage we have heard many stories about RVing here in Alaska.  Mostly negative, but nearly everyone said that we would want to go back – AND WE MOST DEFINITELY DO – probably 2018!

Several of our full-timer friends have asked us to share as they are thinking hard about going to Alaska this year or next year, 2017, 2018.

For them and anyone else planning to travel to Alaska this is going to be a long post.  So if you are not planning this trip this post will be of little interest, unless you know someone planning a trip and you share.

Probably the most essential tool you will need is a copy of “Milepost” publication.  Our friends Dale and Carole gave us their copy from the previous year – it certainly was used all of the time and we are grateful to them. It didn’t matter that it was two years old.  Milepost covers the various routes in the NW North America including Alaska, The Yukon Territories and Northern British Columbia.  For each route it provides a cornucopia of information with mile points for: road surface conditions, pull-offs (paved, unpaved, double entrance, etc.) view points, local history, points of interest, etc.

How did we prepare?

Firstly we developed a rough idea of the route and places we wanted to stop and visit.

Protection for the vehicles:

We were fortunate that on a stop for warranty work on our way North in California, a senior technician from Tigger’s manufacturer was aghast that we were taking our “beautiful motor home” to Alaska!  So he very kindly arranged for two clear plastic windscreen protectors that they use when delivering new motor homes to dealers to be shipped to us. We used each for a few months.

We really hit gold at the Cultus Lake campground when we were introduced to Larry two days before we were due to head North because he did an Alaska trip the previous year.  Larry said that the windscreen really wasn’t an issue for him.  He had two small chips (one from a 5th wheel zooming past him)!  The real problem was the front of his tow vehicle was peppered with stone chips!  And it really was! He towed his on the road whereas Snowflake is off the road on the Sled, a flatbed utility trailer.  We decided we needed a shield added to the front of the Sled.  We visited all of the trailer shops to no avail and in the end found a steelworks that could add a strong aluminum shield to our specifications. It is 24″ high and was smooth finish when added – now it’s like rough sandpaper!

What Damage did we incur?

Snowflake, nothing.

The Sled, nothing.  Before we left California the aluminum fenders had cracked and been welded at the mountings, they were welded again in Tok and then broke again so we replaced them with steel fenders (aluminum really isn’t good for welding).  However, this really wasn’t down to Alaska.

Tigger, one small chip in the windscreen (now repaired) the day between removing the first clear protector and installing the second protector. Several stone chips up the rear cap.  Probably ricocheting off of the Sled’s shield.

Milages

Tigger (and the Sled) drove for a total of 13,385 miles from Jamul, CA to Alaska and back to Jamul.  Jamul to Anchorage was 4,975 miles. Around Alaska 3,750 miles. The remaining 4,660 miles back to Jamul via the Canadian Rockies.

Snowflake, 9,000 miles. (Would have been 22,285 without the trailer – hence the trailer!)

What route did we choose?

Essentially we used the ALCAN highway to go up to Alaska and the Alaska Highway to leave Alaska and travel through the Yukon Territories and Northern British Columbia.

To Alaska:

Our Journey started at the Pio Pico Thousand Trails campground in Jamul, CA.  We will not go into the full details of the journey from CA as you probably are not insomniacs!

Before we left Southern California for Alaska we had major route stops as our rough plan: California Coast, Oregon Coast, Washington Coast then Thousand Trails campground at Cultus Lake, Chilliwack, BC as a jumping off point for Alaska. The main destinations were:

  • Stewart, BC/ Hyder, AK
  • Skagway, AK
  • Haines, AK
  • Tok, AK
  • Anchorage, AK

Back from Alaska:

  • Top of the World Highway, AK/YT
  • Dawson City, YT
  • Tombstone Territorial Park, YT
  • Atlin, YT
  • Liard, NWT
  • Jasper, AB
  • Lake Louise, AB
  • Osoyoos, BC
  • Chilliwack, BC

What was our timing like?

Going up to Alaska we were early.  While in the USA we monitored the daily temperatures on the key places on our planned route.  Whereas Alaska and Northern BC were acceptable (maybe below 32 at night, but above during the day) the Yukon was too cold – always below freezing during the day.  So we spent extra time in Northern CA, OR, WA and Chilliwack.

When we moved up into Alaska (Hyda, Skagway, Haines) we would be going in and out of spring: inland still winter, near the water spring.  We drove the Haines Highway from Haines Junction, YT to Haines, AK and the mountains each side were snow covered (probably the most spectacular 120 mile drive I have ever made!).

The up side of being early was the great levels of snow on the mountains, the roads were always clear.  The downside was that many places and campgrounds were not yet open. (Next time I think we would be a little earlier knowing that Tigger would survive the cold for a limited period and the snow would be even better!).

Coming back through the Yukon, Northern BC and NWT we had fall colours, usually at their peak, for about three weeks!  Whole mountain sides were blanketed in yellow Aspen/Birch trees.

The Roads….

Again there are many conflicting reports from other RVers about the roads.  We suspect some of them date back 10, 15, or even 20 years.  The roads have been greatly improved since then.

Generally the roads were good and presented no problems for our rig.

One thing we found true 90% of the time was that on the dirt / gravel roads if a truck was coming in the opposite direction, if we slowed and moved to the right shoulder the truck approaching would do the same – thereby removing the risks to the windscreen.

One lesson we learnt was that an unfinished road (dirt) might be good when dry, but would be awful when wet!

However, there were a few bad areas. The worst “finished” road was the Glen Highway Tok Cutoff (Tok to the Richardson Highway).

Stretches of the ALCAN in the Yukon were gravel / dirt and required very slow patient driving.  Apparently each year more sections of the road are paved.

The Top of the World Highway (Chicken to Dawson City) was fine for the whole rig.  Might be less so when raining.  The ferry across the Yukon River to Dawson City was easy to get on and off (some folks were worried about this).

The McCarthy Road in Wrangell St. Elias National Park (Snowflake not Tigger) was good going in, but it rained and was rough coming out).

We cannot comment on the Denali Highway as we did not use it, but it is unmade and we heard was a bit rough.

Places we visited and really enjoyed and will return to

In Alaska

  • Salmon Glacier, Hyder
  • Skagway
  • Haines
  • North Glenn Highway (to Anchorage)
  • Turnagain Arm (Bore Tide, Beluga Whales)
  • Cordova
  • Tern Lake
  • Seward (Exit Glacier, Alaska Sealife Center)
  • Homer
  • Anchor Point (Bald Eagles, view of “Ring of Fire”)
  • Kenai Fjords National Park (Kenai Fjords Cruises)
  • Deep Cove (Bald Eagles)
  • Wrangell St. Elias National Park, McCarthy Road, Kennecott
  • Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Nabesna Road
  • Valdez
  • Brooks Falls (Grizzlies)
  • Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, Fairbanks
  • Top of the World Highway
  • 12 Mile Summit
  • Denali National Park
  • Denali National Park
  • Denali National Park……

Outside of Alaska

  • Joshua Tree National Park, CA
  • Idyllwild, CA
  • Alcatraz National Park, CA
  • Tri-Delta Area, CA
  • Redwood National Park, CA
  • Klamath Estuary, CA
  • Brandon Beach, OR
  • Cape Meares, OR
  • Cape Kiwanda, OR
  • Cannon Beach, OR
  • Cape Disappointment, WA (it wasn’t)
  • Mount Rainier National Park, WA
  • Railway Museum Prince George, BC
  • Smithers, BC
  • Stewart, BC
  • Swan Haven, Marsh Lake, Whitehorse, YT (for swan migration)
  • Skagway Highway, YT/AK
  • Haines Highway, YT/AK
  • Dawson City, YT
  • Dempster Highway, YT
  • Carcross, YT
  • Atlin, YT
  • Alaska Highway (Highway 97) YT, BC
  • Jasper National Park, AB
  • Ice fields Parkway (Highway 93), AB
  • Lake Louise, Banff National Park, AB
  • Morant’s Curve, Lake Louise
  • Nisqualli National Wildlife Center, WA
  • Myers Beach, OR
  • William L. Finlay National Wildlife Center, OR
  • Morro Strand State Beach, CA
  • Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve, CA
  • La Jolla Cove, CA
  • San Diego Safari Park, CA

Camping in Alaska

The delightful discovery in Alaska was that we could use virtually any pull-off to dry camp.  So when we would be nearing the point we wished to achieve for a days driving and  be enchanted by a view, we would use a pull-off and camp for the night and enjoy the view early morning the next day.

Denali National Park.  We understood that although the road in Denali National Park was some 92 miles long, the public could only drive to mile 15 (thereafter use park tour buses or shuttle buses), except if you are booked into the Teklanika Campground at mile 29. The web-site for the campground states RVs less than 40′, so I called and learnt that there is “wiggle room” for slightly longer rigs.  Being very comfortable with dry camping we decided to book 10 nights at the Teklanika Campground.  Talking to the agent it was explained that if we went to the dump station during our booking we would not be allowed to return (as it was past Mile 15).  So we booked two consecutive 5 night stays as we knew we could dry camp for 5 nights without problem.  Unique to this campground, we could purchase a shuttle bus ticket each ($35) and use it for the entire stay at the campground.  With this we could catch any shuttle bus, get off where we liked and flag another down to get on again.  The shuttle bus drivers were full of useful information and would stop at any wildlife sighting to view and photograph.

The Teklanika campground is usually booked solid, so book early!

Apart from the Teklanika campground we only booked in Anchorage in order to fly to England to visit Richard’s Mum and return having stored the rig at the campground.

We never pulled into a campground to be told that it was full, despite July and August being peak season and there being hundreds of rentals as well as hundreds of visiting RVs.

Often we liked the city campgrounds, usually no hook-ups but just about every town / city had a dump station ($5 honor system).

Eateries we really liked

  • 49th State Brewery, Healy, AK – Great ales and food
  • TJ’s Oyster Bar, Bonita, CA – small, maybe 5 tables – fantastic fish tacos and burritos
  • Log Cabin Pub, Spencer Bridge, BC – ambiance, Fish & Chips
  • The Post Hotel, Lake Louise, AB – Breakfast, Dinner in the Pub and the Restaurant for SPECIAL OCCASIONS!
  • Klondike Kates Restaurant, Dawson City, YT
  • Baja Taco (bus), Cordova, AK
  • Gwennies Old Alaska Restaurant, Anchorage, AK – Breakfast (Reindeer Sausage)
  • Tommy’s Burger Stop, Anchorage, AK – small, maybe 4 tables, people waiting 45 minutes!
  • Black Jaxx Barbeque, Homer, AK (near Oceanview RV park – also in Soldotna, AK) – great pulled pork from a mobile wagon.
  • Haystack Coffee Roasters Kiwanda Surf Co., Pacific City, OR – small, maybe 4 tables Divine Clam Chowder
  • True Food Kitchen, Fashion Valley, CA

Activities

  • Denali Park Zipline, AK
  • University of Alaska Museum of the North, Fairbanks, AK
  • Alaska SeaLife Center, Seward, AK
  • Wildlife Cruise, Kenai Fjords Tours, Seward, AK
  • Rust’s Flying Service, Anchorage Bear Viewing at Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK
  • Wildlife Tour with Karl at Bay Excursions, Homer, AK
  • Alcatraz Tour, CA
  • San Francisco Cable Car, CA

What we would do differently next time?

Book Teklanika Campground early.

Book the activities we want to do early!  We were lucky with our desired trip to Brooks Falls to watch the Grizzlies feeding on the Salmon as we managed to get on the last trip from Anchorage at the end of the season.  We were unlucky booking a fly fishing trip as they were all sold out!

Fit some dense foam rubber to the front of The Sled’s shield in order to prevent the stones ricocheting and chipping the paint on Tigger’s rear cap.

Go a little earlier.

Do more “adventure trips” (fishing, bear watching, birding, flight seeing,etc.)

Book overnight stay at Kennicott in Wrangell St. Ellias National Park to hike the area and enjoy the glaciers, maybe even join a trip hiking onto the glacier!

Maybe have an “informal caravan” with other RVing friends.  Not fixed to a specific schedule, not tied together for the duration, but roughly following a similar route with many opportunities to enjoy the company.

What we would do the same next time!

Go early.

Use the same routes: ALCAN north and Alaska Highway back.

Dry camp often to enjoy the views.

Other alternatives

Would we ‘Fly Drive” next time?

Leave our rig in storage, fly to Alaska and rent a smaller RV? NO.  We had our home and everything we might need with us for the four months we were in Alaska.  Not limited to what we could fit into suitcases (especially all my camera stuff!).  We had minimal and only cosmetic damage to Tigger which we know how to minimize next time.

Would we join an organized Caravan?

NO.  We would not want to be tied to a specific route and schedule.  We would want the flexibility to stay longer or shorter at destinations, we enjoy dry camping at the side of the road at our whim.  While we enjoy good company, we also enjoy the peace and quiet of nature.

What else can we tell you?

Any questions, please do not hesitate to ask, we will share our opinion and experience with you, understanding that that’s all it is.

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5 Responses to Traveling Alaska 2016 Experiences

  1. Michael Carter says:

    Great stuff you two. Sounds like you had a great time and we will certainly consider some of your guidance and some of the activities that you mention. I will reach out to you directly as I have questions regarding the fly fishing.

  2. Janet Hough says:

    What a fabulous primer! Great information. We think of you often and our wonderful visit with you. Loved that pulled pork at Black Jaxx!

  3. Bruce KAY says:

    This was an excellent summary. One day we hope to do this trip. So the advice is golden. Thanks

  4. Lenore says:

    So great to hear more about your AK adventure. Always good to know what you’re up to. We just stopped full-timing and have settled in Jekyll Island, GA. Come see us!! We’d love to have you.

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