This is a guest post by fellow RV travelers and bloggers Ben and Rebecca of His and Hers Alaska. Having moved to Seward, Alaska a few years ago from the lower 48, their willingness to share their experiences and advice has been instrumental in helping us plan our own trip up there this summer. When they asked us if there was anything they could do to help us and our readers who might be interested in making a similar journey, a guest post about what it’s really like in Alaska instantly came to mind! We hope you enjoy it and be sure to follow their blog for tons more information. We can’t wait to finally meet these guys in person this summer!
There are as many myths about driving an RV to Alaska as there are salmon in the rivers. Alaska is a popular destination, but the magnitude of the journey can be intimidating. We’re going to shed a little light on the common tales about driving to Alaska. Hopefully a few of you jump in your RV and come on up for a visit! It’s a trip you will never forget.
Alaska Myths Versus Reality
- Road Hazards: No matter where you are coming from, it’s a long drive to Alaska and those miles will put wear and tear on your rig, but I have yet to hear of someone completely destroying their RV. Most people get home with a few new squeaks and rattles, but those can usually be fixed with some felt tape and tightening a screw (or few). Some get flat tires, and unfortunately a few have accidents, but that can happen anywhere. In the end, we feel life is short and ultimately about experiences. Alaska is worth it! Here are a few things to watch out for.
- Frost Heaves: These occur when freezing soil and ice buckle the road. Most frost heaves are marked with signs, flags or cones. Take them seriously, they are hazardous and just when you get comfortable going over them a big one will sneak up on you. As summer progresses, heaves recede and lose their intensity.
- Potholes: The Alaska and Canada DOT do a great job of maintaining our roads and filling in potholes. Most of them show up in the spring as the ice melts and get filled in during the month of May.
- Soft Shoulders: Many roads in the northern latitudes were built on top of swamps and uneven surfaces. This means there can be a 4 foot drop if you get too far off the road! Just try to stay on the roads and use pullouts whenever possible.
- Road Construction: There is a fair amount of road construction in Alaska. The winters are long and hard on the roads, and summer weather is favorable to construction. Occasionally, you will see DOT paving sections of previously gravel roads. For example, the newest paved road in Alaska is a 14 mile stretch west of the Canadian border on Top of the World Highway.
- Windshield damage is inevitable: “Break” is a strong word, but you will probably get a rock chip or two on the journey. It’s one of those things you will have to accept. In Alaska, we can tell the tourists from the residents by the cracks in their windshields. If you make it to Alaska and back home without a rock chip, buy a lottery ticket! After 4 years of RV’ing in Alaska, we’ve had a several chips and one busted windshield, which happened in Anchorage – not the middle of nowhere like you would expect.
- Tip: If it’s small, put a piece of clear tape over the star to prevent dirt from getting inside the damaged area and making the repair more difficult. Try to get it fixed ASAP. If your windshield can’t be repaired and still functions, report it to your insurance and wait until you get home to have it replaced. The last thing you want is to chip up a new windshield on the way home. Anchorage and Fairbanks have windshield repair companies and sometimes you can find one in a mid-size town along your route. We have even seen a guy on the side of the road with a spray painted “Windshield Repair” sign.
- Gravel roads: The ALCAN is completely paved, with the exception of segments of road construction and maintenance. You will still find plenty of gravel side roads. If you decide to go down some gravel roads here are a few we recommend:
- Denali Highway: 135 miles through some of the most beautiful land around. The Denali Highway connects Paxson to Cantwell and is one of our favorite places in the world. Every fall, we make the trip up here and harvest a caribou to feed our family for the year. Tangle Lakes has excellent kayaking, grayling fishing, and an endless supply of blueberries free for the picking (in August and September).
- McCarthy Road: This 60 mile dirt road through Wrangell-St. Elais National Park leads to the historic Kennecott Mine. We visited the mine in 2013, choosing to take our ATV down the road (we left the motorhome at the campground in Chitina). If you have a toad, this drive is no problem. There is also a shuttle bus if you want to visit the mine but don’t have a toad or tow vehicle. This was one of our all time favorite trips in Alaska!
- Skilak Lake Road: An 18 mile loop through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and off the beaten path. When the reds are running, the Kenai Peninsula is a bustling place, but here you can find peaceful and secluded campgrounds and cabins. Be prepared for a bumpy ride, the few times we’ve been down this road, it’s been washboarded with potholes.
- Top of the World Highway: Don’t miss out on this great experience. It can be a little rough in spots between Chicken and the start of highway. In 2014, the Canadian side was gravel, but very smooth. You will experience crossing the Yukon River on a ferry (its free and accommodates rigs up to 81 ft long!) and the historic town of Dawson City. We recommend taking this route back home. There will be less traffic, the road will have been maintained through the summer, the fall colors are beautiful, and you will find blueberries and cranberries in the hills.
- Spare tires: Carry your usual spare tire for your rig and anything you’re towing. If you have room for two, it doesn’t hurt but isn’t necessary anymore. You can usually get a damaged tire fixed or replaced in the next town. Don’t be too picky about getting a matching brand replacement tire.
- Tip: Be sure to check the air pressure in all your spare tires before leaving.
- There is wildlife everywhere: Wildlife is everywhere but it is also not a zoo, so you need to know where and when to look. There is definitely an art to spotting wildlife and with time you will train your eyes.
- Tip: If you really want to see wildlife; find a nice view, get out of your vehicle, use binoculars, sit quietly and glass the hills. Don’t forget to look for the little guys such as birds, fox, and porcupine.
- Rivers full of salmon: Keep in mind, timing is everything when it comes to salmon runs and it is not a year-round event. Most of the places you see on the Discovery Channel are off the road system and the salmon may only be there for a couple weeks. There are a few fish viewing platforms right off the highway.
- Tips: There are places where you can watch Alaskans being Alaskans. Residents hold nets in the water and salmon swim right into them, it’s called dipnetting!
- It’s light all the time: This is true in the summer months. The longest day of the year (Summer solstice) is on June 21st. If this is your first time in Alaska, it’s a unique experience when the sun slightly sets and reaches a state of twilight for a few short hours. After a long winter the sun gives us a boost of energy. For some it drives them crazy because they need complete darkness to sleep. Many first-time Alaska visitors lose track of time and have difficulty sleeping.
- Tip: Cut sheets of reflective insulation to fit your windows and if needed, use Velcro strips to hold them in place. This blocks the light and will also keep your RV warm or cool depending your environment. This is handy early and late in our RV season when temperatures dip well below freezing.
- It’s cold up there: Keep in mind temperatures are all relative, after a long winter anything above freezing feels warm. The interior of the state will reach the 80’s in the summer. Coastal sections of Alaska will get rainy days in the 50’s and sunny days in the 70’s. Traditionally, June and July are the warmest months. The odds of experiencing snow from May 10 to August 15th are very slim.
- RV Season: Traditionally, travelers from the Lower 48 start arriving in June and most are heading south by the middle of August. If you want to arrive earlier, we are usually out and about by the middle of April. If you choose to stay later, we are still camping well into October.
- The mosquitoes: The bugs can be thick, but some places are worse than others. For example, in urban areas bugs are not a problem because humans have built streets and buildings over their habitat. When you are in the middle of nowhere, expect to see tons of bugs. Bugs are worse in the morning and evening, and swampy areas are obviously going to have more bugs. A nice breeze can help keep the bugs at bay.
- Tips: We don’t like harsh chemicals so we use Burt’s Bees repellent. Bugs also don’t like campfires. At the end of the day, use an electric bug racket to kill all the bugs that have made their way into the RV. Also try to avoid heavily-scented personal care products.
- The distance between gas stations: If your vehicle can make it over 200 miles on a tank of fuel, you will be just fine.
- Tip: Drive on the top half of your fuel tank. You know how far your rig can go on a tank, use your best judgment when passing a fuel station. The popular Milepost Alaska travel planning book will also tell you where all the fuel stops are along the way.
- Driving to the Arctic Ocean: The Dalton Highway (aka The Haul Road) leads north to Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay, it is a 500 mile journey from Fairbanks and almost all gravel. For security reasons, the public cannot access the coast unless on a tour. I feel the public should have a special place to access the ocean, but alas, no one has asked for my opinion yet. All side roads leading to the coast are restricted to personnel working in the oil industry. The Haul Road is an epic drive and travelers with a truck and cabover regularly make the trip, but you would be hard pressed to find my motorhome up there. I can almost guarantee your motorhome will never be the same after this trip. It is easier to catch a flight in Fairbanks and book a tour.
- Tip: If you don’t want to pass up this opportunity and you have a toad, the trip can be done in 2-3 days. In the peak of summer you will not want to stay outside for very long, the bugs are very intense. Camping is available everywhere, with lodging in Coldfoot and Deadhorse. Make sure you have reservations before hitting the road. I’ve been up there a couple times and use the term lodging loosely, as it’s a camp for housing people working in the oil industry.
- Alaska can be expensive: Everything from fuel to groceries is more expensive up here, it is just something we accept. Participating in tourist activities also adds up.
- Tips: There are a lot of little ways to save money including the Northern Lights Coupon Book, this saves us hundreds of dollars every year. It’s full of 2 for 1 discounts to restaurants, tours, and activities. There is even a 50% off coupon to fix that windshield chip you got on the way up! Remember some of the best stuff in Alaska is free, it doesn’t cost money to take a hike or walk on the beach. Some state parks require a small access or parking fee. You can also save money and have a gourmet dinner by catching some salmon.
- You can pull off the highway and camp anywhere: Boondocking is one of the best things about Alaska! Unless you are in the urban areas, you can use highway pullouts to camp for the night. It’s great when you are looking to cover some ground and need to sleep and get back on the road in the morning.
- Tips: If you are looking to park for the night at a big box store like Wal-Mart, we have a handy summary of who is and isn’t RV friendly in Alaska.
- How much time to spend in Alaska: If you want to make the most of your trip, plan on spending 6-8 weeks. This allows you to get on “Alaska Time”, a state of time that doesn’t necessarily involve a clock! Alaska is not just a destination, it’s a mindset.
- Flying up and renting a motorhome: This is an excellent option if you are unable to dedicate your summer to Alaska. The biggest mistake people make is trying to do EVERYTHING in a 7 day rental period. They end up spending the whole time driving. It is hard to grasp the size of this state until you have been here. For your first trip, we recommend 7 days on the Kenai Peninsula. It is a great place and the perfect balance between finding that Alaska state of mind and time spent driving. If you have 3 extra days, drive to Denali, if you have 4 more days, head to Fairbanks.
- Cell phone service: All things considered, Alaska has great mobile coverage. Set realistic expectations and you won’t be disappointed. Cell phone signal boosters also help improve your coverage area.
- Bear protection: If you are used to being on top of the food chain, hiking in Alaska could make you uncomfortable. The thought of a bear encounter is frightening and many people want to carry a gun. Aside from the issues of getting a gun through Canada, if you are not properly trained it’s not your best choice.
- Tip: Knowledge and education about staying safe and how to handle wildlife encounters is your best weapon, the second best is bear spray.
- What to expect in Anchorage: Anchorage isn’t any different from cities in the Lower 48, aside from it’s surroundings. It’s in a strategic location for commerce and has all the normal issues associated with larger populations of humans. I cannot lie to you, we are not big fans of Anchorage. We are used to camping or being at home in our quiet town with no stop lights, so the city is overwhelming. We primarily go to Anchorage for business appointments, the airport, and Costco, which means we are always busy running around – not fun. You will find nice restaurants, museums, shopping, and movie theaters in Anchorage. There are also places that I really would not recommend going after dark. Use your best judgement and remember, Alaska is 30 minutes away from Anchorage.
- Tips: Never leave Anchorage empty handed, we always stock up on supplies and fuel before leaving town. It will save you money! In our opinion, there is only one habitable RV park in Anchorage and that’s the Golden Nugget. Please make sure you lock everything up. There are also alternatives to staying in an Anchorage RV park.
Alaska’s state motto is “North to the Future” but, in many ways it’s a blast from the past. It’s the way life used to be when you worked hard and still had an ability to live off the land. Aside from visiting international destinations, an RV trip to Alaska is guaranteed to be one of the most amazing experiences of your life. We hope you enjoyed our post and be sure to follow our adventures at His & Hers Alaska.
Jason and Kristin, thank you for the opportunity to guest post on your beautiful blog. We look forward to sharing a little bit of Alaska with you this summer!
Great post! I have always wanted to visit Alaska, and now I want to even more. Thanks for all the tips and recommendations!
Glad to hear it! We’ll of course post about our trip up there as it happens and hopefully help you to decide if it’s something you want to do! 😀
You’ve been nominated in our blog post!
Thanks for all the free advice. I retired from the military 3 years ago and we’ve completed the Lower 48 Sticker Map. Time to head north for a summer.
Thanks, Don! Stay tuned for a longer blog about our experiences in Alaska. It was a great trip, but it sure is a long one. Make sure you have lots of time if you do it. 🙂
We are planning to go to Alaska next summer with our truck and 34′ fifth wheel. Could you please list the highways/roads we should avoid? Thanks. Enjoy your blog.
Thanks for following us! Honestly, there weren’t any roads that were so bad that we’d recommend avoiding them – every road had some bad sections, depending on the time of year and how far they were into construction. I would recommend an extra tire. We didn’t bring one because motorhome tires are so heavy and we couldn’t change it ourselves, but with a trailer we’d definitely recommend it.
We didn’t drive it ourselves, but some of our friends cautioned against driving to the Arctic Circle or the road to McCarthy, AK in the RV. It’s very washboarded gravel and dirt, and it’s a drive you can do in a car if you leave your trailer closer to the main roads. We didn’t do either trip ourselves since they were one-way and out of our way. We mostly focused on the loop around the state, with the exception of the Kenai Peninsula and Valdez being a drive in and back out (our two favorite places in Alaska, too!).
If you’re afraid of steep drop-offs and narrow segments of dirt road with soft shoulders, the Top of the World Highway may not be fun for you. It’s a gorgeous drive and takes you through the wonderful town of Dawson City and then quirky Chicken, Alaska, so it’s worth it if you can take your time and are confident in your driving abilities. Don’t try it if it looks like rain, as the dirt gets slippery fast and visibility can be bad.
Be sure to check out http://www.gonewiththewynns.com, http://www.jenericramblings.com/ and http://www.ardentcamper.com/. They traveled with us a lot this summer and blogged more than we did along the way. 😉
Thanks so much for your input! It is very helpful.
If you had only seven days to spend in Alaska (coming from lower 48 through Canada) where would you enter Alaska and what would your schedule be. Also, will be traveling with a Yorkie and planning on staying in motels etc.
I’m looking at driving down in April any suggestion’s on camping arrangement’s
You might check out http://www.rvparkreviews.com, https://www.campendium.com/, the Milepost book, and our friends at http://his-hers-alaska.com/ for campground reviews. It totally depends on what you’re looking for. We boondocked almost exclusively for a 6 week stretch while we were up there, but there are commercial campgrounds everywhere too. Safe travels!
Hi, we are thinking of making a trip in a rented RV but are worried about leaving our belongings in the van while exploring. What do you think about it? Thanks!!
Hi Cecilia! I really didn’t worry at all about ours, unless we parked in an urban area or one with nobody else around. It’s daylight most of the time, and most trail heads and cities are busy enough that someone wouldn’t attempt an RV break-in where there would be witnesses.
It’s a good idea to close the curtains when you’re away to make it look like you’re in the RV. Leave a radio on if you can, you might buy a little Beware of Dog sign for the window or door, and you can leave a pair of shoes or boots outside the door while you’re away to make it look like you’re there. Most people won’t break in unless it looks like nobody’s there or will be there for awhile. They have no way of knowing that you aren’t inside napping if the curtains are closed. There are usually some good hiding places in RVs that thieves wouldn’t find during a smash and grab, like access areas to plumbing and electrical, and we put any valuables in there instead of sitting out where they’d be easy to take. Hope that helps! 🙂 Have an awesome trip.
Thanks so much for sharing your experiences driving your RV to Alaska! I’ve always wanted to travel across the country with mine, but I’m just too worried about finding places to stay, and about potential breakdowns. However, it’s nice to know that, for the most part, you should only expect the normal wear and tear, and maybe a flat tire. We’ll definitely make sure to bring along a spare tire(or maybe two) when we decide to start traveling.
Hi Maggie! Crazier things can and do happen – some friends of ours had some major mechanical issues up there, but the local shops were able to order parts and get them fixed up pretty quickly. It’s a good idea to have roadside assistance (CoachNet is a popular one with RVers), make sure people know where you are (we use an app called Life360 so family and friends can see our current location based on our phones, but that depends on having cell service, so a GPS tracking device would be better in the wilderness) and to have a rough plan of where you could get help on your route if you needed it, as well as basic tools and supplies to fix something minor yourself. Finding a place to stay is the easy part – we’ve never had a problem there! 😀
Loved your website. Planning a trip from Florida to Alaska. Would you consider it worthwhile to pull a toad behind our motor home or would it be more trouble than it’s worth? Thank you, Tim
Hey Tim! How exciting!
If you plan to stay in campgrounds for a few days at a time and do your sightseeing from there, I’d definitely bring the toad. We used ours a lot to get around, and liked having it in case the RV had mechanical problems or a flat tire and we needed to get help. It’s really remote on the drive there and back! There’s not much public transportation in Alaska either, and most places are too spread out to be biking or walking friendly, unless you stay right in town. We used our car a lot. I’d get a protector for the windshield, and the front end if you care about rock chips. A lot of people used yoga mats across their windshields. Let me know if you have any additional questions! 🙂
Just came back from Alaska last month. Your observations are exactly on. We traveled in a caravan and to was just fine.
Of course, rv campgrounds can be less developed and few have upgraded to 50 amp service, but you can make it work with a little common sense.
Thank You folks so much for taking the time to share your expriences , very helpful,it has been on my bucket list to make the drive in the R.V. We don’t want to leave our 4 legged kid behind so we are planning a trip next spring, I have been leary about bringing our new Seneca super c , but you made me feel better about the roads, and you only live once right?. We are not on a schedule ,thinking going up from North Eastern Wa. next june up through Banff and Jasper to Anchrage and see as much as we can and coming back about August, I will keep checking your updates on the web. Thanks again, Kenan and Melody,cant forget Shelby our little Ausie.
Great info!! What would you think of traveling up there in a 45ft Prevost?
Hey Bill! We saw many people doing the trip in 40+ foot RVs, but I’d be sure to read up on any special considerations for yours on any dirt and gravel roads. We’ve heard that diesel pushers have some exposed engine parts that rocks can be kicked up into and potentially damage things. We don’t have any friends who did the trip with us in a pusher to ask, but I’m sure many have blogged about it, and you shouldn’t have any trouble finding some information. Let me know if you have any additional questions!
My wife and I want to make the trip next spring from Texas. I have been reading the log and see the term “toad” just what are you talking about? Is this a type/brand of atv?
Hey guys! The ‘toad’ is slang for a towed car, which you’d pull behind the motorhome to have a second vehicle, so as not to drive the RV everywhere when you’ve set up camp. We don’t have one anymore, now that we have a tiny RV, and it’s easier to drive not towing something behind us. Hope that’s clearer! Happy travels! 🙂
What a detailed and compact “how to” guide. Great job. I found a lot of similarities with driving in Alaska versus driving around in Iceland in a camper. The 24/7 light is one thing, the weather is another but our weather might be more like a teenager, very spontaneous and changes very fast. We of course don’t have the lengths to drive here and not the wild animals either. We do have free roaming sheep everywhere that causes problems but that’s about it. We are a camper rental in Iceland in case you wonder! 🙂 This is us:
Happy & safe camping!
Thanks for reading, and for your comment – one of our dream trips is to go to Iceland and rent a camper! We’ll definitely reach out to you if that plan starts to come together. When is the best time of year to visit?
We’re planning on leaving WI the second week in May for approximately 3 months in Ak. We plan on pulling our 24′ lightweight travel trailer, which we’ve pulled all over the US and to New Foundland. It seems most people are driving motorhomes or truck campers or pulling 5th wheels. Any downsides to pulling a travel trailer? Also, do you think we could even leave WI sooner than the second week in May. We want to get in ahead of the rest of the crowd or isn’t that even a problem? Thanks for your help! April
Hi April! We had a few friends go up in bumper-pull trailers, mostly Airstreams, and I don’t see any real downsides over taking a motorhome. I’d bring a spare tire if you don’t already have one, and a 12V compressor. We know of a couple people who had flats up there, but usually they were slow leaks. I’d also check the trailer shocks, grease the hitch and bearings, and keep the weight as balanced as you can inside. Anti-sway bars are a great idea on the bumpier parts of the roads, if you have them. There’s a lot of dust and oily dirt on the roads that will end up all over your vehicle and trailer, so I’d also be sure to clean the hitch and wiring connections regularly. Our wiring stopped working at one point to our towed car, and it turned out we had a lot of dirt built up in the plug portion. Other than that, the same tips apply really!
As for timing, you can head up earlier and many people do, but some of the campgrounds won’t be open yet if that matters to you. We crossed over into Canada at the end of May/early June and had no problems getting places to stay with no reservation on the way, and the roads weren’t busy at all. There were tons of places to overnight off the sides of the road, which are easy to find using the Milepost. It had just started to warm up, so the mosquitoes were bad in some places in BC already. Denali, Seward, and Homer would be the only places I’d recommend making a reservation, and maybe Valdez, if you want to stay right in town. I hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other questions, and happy travels!! 🙂
So nice to read your tips. After living in Anchorage (military) for a couple of years, we drove to the midwest in May, 1973 in a Ford Econoline van that we could sleep in. Boondocking was just about the only choice. The Alcan was only paved for part of the way, so we had tires strapped on top of the van. We were stunned by all the beautiful sights in Canada along the way, and took our time to sightsee as much as possible. Also want to mention that we drove around in SW Alaska as much as possible while we lived in Anchorage, and took advantage of as much scenery as we could (Homer, Denali, Matanuska, Valdez, Independence Mine, Seward, Hope, Alyeska, etc.). We have SO many memories, and would love to return!
I am planning a July depart from AZ to Anchorage. I estimate arrival 1st week of August. Would like to stick around until mid Sept but concerned about low temps freezing my water tanks. (My toyhauler isn’t all-wx, tank area not enclosed). When I return to lower 48 I plan to depart (take ferry) from Haines to Prince Rupert on return to get ahead of nightly freezing wx. Do you believe a mid Sept departure from Haines is safely ahead of the freeze temps for my water tanks on the toyhauler? Would I be better off departing last week of August? Would I be better off waiting another year when I would depart AZ late May or early June?
Our friends that were going to drive up there with us (RV’s) told me that they changed their mind because they were told it would destroy their new motorhome with broken windshield, dents and broken cabinets. We have a new fifth wheel trailer and new pick up. We do not want to damage our new equipment either but we were expecting to just stay on the main paved roads while towing. Still not sure about our chances. Should we reconsider?
Hi Sam! We and most of our friends had some damage, but nothing that was so major a windshield repair person couldn’t fix it when we got to Alaska or back in the states. I will warn that even the ‘paved roads’ are not always actually paved: there’s road construction going on nearly constantly, with many major roads down to dirt and gravel for long stretches. I wouldn’t be afraid to go, but it is a long, expensive (gas costs), tiring trip, so that’s much more a concern I’d warn about than any vehicle damage. A cover for your towed vehicle’s headlights and windshield is highly advisable, since most damage we heard of was rocks coming from other peoples’ vehicles as they passed by.
Hi Kristen. My wife and I purchased a class A in the states and want to drive it up. Is the first week of October too late? Worried about the snow and of course damage to our brand new RV. Thank you.
Hi Kevin! I’m sorry I just now saw your comment. I’m not too well versed on the seasons there because I drove back in September, but I’d recommend checking out this group on Facebook, if you use Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/667926326628373/
Many of the members there live in or travel through Alaska often, and are more experienced. They’re very helpful! Best wishes on the drive!