I won’t lie – I have dreaded doing this post.
My problem is I expect people will want to find this post interesting, relevant, and useful, and it will likely be none of those. But since when has that stopped me.
Here are some thoughts, suggestions, and wisdom (that could be a stretch) from our trip, in no particular order. I know I have said it previously, but this was the best trip. Ever.
Quick recap: We left Crossville, TN May 15th and arrived in Alaska June 11th, and exited Alaska August 6th. Basically we were in Alaska almost two months, and in that time we traveled almost 4,500 miles by car (truck) in Alaska, most of those miles towing our 27-foot Airstream travel trailer. As of this blog post, we are still traveling.
Our trip took us into Canada at Glacier NP (into Waterton Lakes) and continued in a somewhat non-linear fashion up to Dawson City and further up the Dempster Highway into the Northwest Territories before crossing the Top of the World Highway into Alaska. Our return trip heading out of Alaska was on a more southerly route on the Klondike Highway into British Columbia and finally into Washington state.
Expenses. For expenses, the two variables are camping fees and fuel. Your mileage will vary – literally. It is not perfect science, but just in Alaska I would estimate we spent about $1,000 in camping fees (so $15-20 per night on average) and about $1,500 in fuel (diesel) costs. This does not include getting to or back from Alaska – just in state. Our camping fees may be significantly less than others because we took advantage of free camping spots, state and regional campgrounds and very few private campgrounds. Things like cruises or fishing or other activities you might choose would be additional. Like I said, mileage varies.
Diesel fuel costs were somewhat higher in Alaska than in the Lower 48 (maybe 20 cents higher per gallon – typically in the $2.60 – $2.99 per gallon range), but fuel costs in Canada were clearly more expensive. Typically we would find diesel in Canada at around $1.05 – $1.20 per liter, so I don’t know what that translates to dollars per gallon, so more like $4.40 per gallon equivalent in Canada.
And clearly it benefits for you to have an over-sized fuel capacity, both for economic reasons (fill up when it is cheapest) as well as you just need more mileage capacity between limited fuel stations.
Reservations. We had none, literally. Our entire trip was unplanned. Now mind you, Karen did an enormous amount of research before our trip to identify things/places we might like to see, but we had no itinerary, no reservations, and typically no idea each day where we would end up. It worked beautifully.
We did acquire a reservation from others for 3 nights at Denali NP, but that was unplanned and not a reservation we made. Pretty sweet, though!
Whatever research you do before the trip, you would be well advised to print this material before you depart, because you will likely have no Internet access for much of the way.
Resources. Yes, we had Milepost, the authoritative book to bring with you on a trip to Alaska. Now the funny part of Milepost is: 1) the trip begins in Canada, which measures in kilometers, and 2) there are no “mileposts”. So if you don’t reset your odometer or trip counter at Mile Zero, you are pretty much hosed. Don’t ask me how I know this.
We (Karen) used apps and websites like Allstays and Campendium along the way, but keep in mind that Internet coverage in many (most) parts of Alberta, British Columbia, The Yukon, The Northwest Territories, and Alaska can be sketch at best to non-existent (unless you are downtown Anchorage). Sometimes the place to get Internet coverage and catch up with email can be visitor centers.
So along this line, bring a good, actual paper map or atlas – don’t rely on having Google maps or whatever.
Campground firewood. We love campfires, so occasionally we would have a campfire on our journey, but need to purchase firewood from campgrounds. Do campground owners cut the trees down and split their firewood 15 minutes before putting it in the “seasoned firewood” display case for sale? If the US Forest Service is in need of a great fire retardant to quell some of those forest fires, all they’d have to do is dump campground firewood on the fire and it would be out in no time.
I will say that the provincial parks in the Yukon on the way to Alaska provide free firewood at their campgrounds, which is really nice! But none of it is split. So bring an axe; I did not, and I wish I did.
We did bring a propane fire pit as well and used it from time to time. But in the end, a real log fire is the best.
Roads. What can I tell you: drive slow, assume everything will take 5-10x longer than you think. If you try to rush Alaska, you will lose. Go slow. The roads are not this state’s crown jewels. As you go through Canada on your way to Alaska you will be introduced to the Canadian sign that signifies rough road ahead. It is your friend; embrace it.
While some roads are actually in excellent shape, there are others that are terrible. One segment of one road comes to mind. We were traveling on a road called the Tok Bypass, and like any road some of it is in fine shape. But there are about 20 miles on this paved road where you cannot go more than 10-15 mph because the road is in such horrible condition. You could lose fillings from your teeth if you take this road too quickly, and many a traveler have reported losing cabinets and other trailer parts from hitting these roads too quickly.
Keep in mind that over the course of this trip we probably spent over 1,000 miles on gravel, rutted roads. We traveled perhaps 50-100 miles on logging roads out of Crowsnest (ALB), over 600 miles on the Dempster Highway going up to the Northwest Territories and back, another 150 miles on the Denali Highway, another 100 miles on the Top of the World Highway, and many other various roads. So if you take a similar route, expect rough roads and dirt. What fun, though!!
Architectural design/style. There is none. Nada. Emptiness. Null set. Imagine an architectural style that you like on a home. Put that in your head. Remember it, because it isn’t here in Alaska.
Starbucks. Yeah, no. On the other hand, there are small independent espresso stands that litter the state like Dunkin’ Donuts shops in New England.
Care of your truck/RV. If you don’t want your truck and/or RV to get dirty, don’t come to Alaska. They will get filthy and I don’t have any good tips other than pack a hose, soap and brush (that assumes you have water). But don’t get fixated on keeping stuff clean, as it will only last about a mile.
Oh, and when setting up your truck, note to self, don’t locate the hot generator next to the cold cooler. Duh.
I did protect the front of the trailer with plastic, but I wouldn’t do that again. The tape is really hard to get off, and I am not convinced it had a sufficient benefit to warrant the cost and removal effort. With the front covered up by white plastic, every time we passed another Airstream and waved, Karen figured the other owners thought, “Why is that Casita owner waving at us?”
I did protect the propane lines with pipe insulation. I don’t know if this ultimately protected the lines from rupture due to rocks, but we didn’t have a propane problem, and the insulation was sufficiently carved up that were I to make this trip again I would surely do this wrapping again.
Weather. I thought the weather throughout our trip was great! Now Karen’s interpretation of great weather may be a little off from mine. I say there is no bad weather – just bad preparation. Of course, that is easier to say when you are camping in a hard sided RV rather than a tent carried on a bicycle (which we saw plenty of).
Temperatures during the day were generally in the 50’s and 60’s, some days into the 70’s. At night we used the heat in the trailer regularly. We had the thermostat set relatively low (58-60 degrees F), but even so the heat would kick on regularly. Not complaining.
Karen would tell you we had more clouds and rain than I would. I think it is my rose colored glasses. I saw nothing but sunshine.
Clothing. Bring it. And make sure you can layer, and expect to get wet (rain, spray if you go out on a boat, etc.). I brought a winter coat, hat and gloves and was glad I had them – used them when I flew over to Lake Clark NP where it was cold, rainy and very windy.
Mosquitos. I know people complain about these, but quite frankly they were the least of our issues. We did bring head nets, and we did use them (maybe twice?). They pack small and light and are a good thing to have.
Rule of exponentials. This has to do with what you pack. Bring as little as you can! For every thing you bring, you will move it 100 times. So if you bring more than one thing, you do the math. Pack what you really think you will need, no more.
Spare (trailer) parts. I carried a tub with spare parts like door latches, washers, spare water line, spare electric cord, spare water pump and was glad I had all of it, and used some of it. I must have replaced 3-4 door/drawer latches because the roads can be so grueling, even going slow. Hardware stores can be your friend on the road – when you can find them. Oh, and bring tools; some of you know how handy I am (not), yet I used way more tools than I expected to use. Self-sufficiency going to Alaska has its merits.
Spare tires. Bring them. I didn’t need them, but I felt a whole lot better knowing I had two for the truck and two for the trailer, just in case. There are many miles between places here and on the way to Alaska, and very few resources, so expect to take care of your own problems. I also carried a ramp, so that in the event of a trailer flat tire I could roll the trailer onto the ramp and thus avoid the need to jack up the trailer.
Best breweries: Denali Brewing in Teklanika. Loved their DIPA, and 49th State Brewery in Anchorage (really good imperial stout and awesome IPA). But the best resource to have is a Yetti cooler filled with ice and your own favorite brews. After all, we went 4,500 miles and visited two breweries. You get my point.
Favorite moment: Describing in my blog our chartered fishing boat out of Seward as the Andrea Gale (from the movie The Perfect Storm). No, that really wasn’t my favorite moment, but I can so amuse myself. I was the second funniest person in our truck.
Best Bring: Those orange, stackable leveling blocks (like 20-30 of them). Obviously I used them for leveling the trailer, but they were enormously useful for all kinds of things along the way. Kind of like duct tape – you never know how they will be used next. Oh yeah, I had duct tape, too (and used it).
Water. We found sufficient places to refill our fresh water tank along the way, which included state and provincial parks, some gas stations, and even in some towns that offered free dumping and fresh water. Finding water wasn’t a problem as long as you thought about your needs and timing.
Dumping. Same as above.
Electricity. Most things on the trailer operate on 12v DC, but the trailer batteries do need to be recharged, and we had needs (or at least desires) for electric appliances. We brought a generator, which was used liberally throughout our trip to supply us with electricity. Of all the things I wished we had, it would have been solar power to significantly reduce the need for the generator. Other than in Denali National Park itself, we had very few limitations on the use of a generator, though. If you stay in private campgrounds, this generally becomes a moot point because you are hooked up to electric. But for us it was rare to have “shore power”.
Hope you get the chance to make it to Alaska!