10 tips for RVing to Alaska (part 1)

RVing in Alaska last summer taught us many things. We gained not only a useful perspective but some much-needed confidence. Alaska is a lot of things but being wholly predictable is not one of them. Prior to beginning our trek from Northern Idaho through Canada toward our family’s 50th state, we had a growing list of Alaska fear factors that others had helped us build.

I’d like to take that list and work through the fears one by one separating out fact from fiction and offering up my top tips.

When I first set out to share my top 10 tips, the content quickly became too detailed for one post. Therefore, I have broken the list into two parts. Today I will cover bug & mosquito populations, road conditions, and route decisions. Next, I will follow up with weather conditions, internet access, wildlife encounters, RV and truck breakdowns, flat tires/cracked windshields, food prices, and mail retrieval. Let’s get started!

FEAR #1: BUG AND MOSQUITO POPULATIONS

We’d heard horror stories about the HUGE Alaskan mosquito population. Yes, we’ve been to the Florida Everglades. Yes, my husband grew up in the humid, lake filled, mosquito-ridden state of Minnesota. But Alaska was worse, way worse (at least that is the story we kept being fed).

Driven by my desire to survive, I purchased garlic capsules. I added “take garlic” to our morning routine hoping it would help make us less tempting to bite. In the end, the area of bugs and mosquitos was perhaps one of our top surprises. While we did find isolated pockets with a healthy mosquito population, on the whole, they were so frequently not present that we would often forget to be thankful for their absence.

Given the size of the state, this isn’t necessarily surprising. In the lower 48, Minnesota has a lot of mosquitoes but Northern Idaho does not. Roughly 1,000 miles separate these two states. However, in Alaska, you can travel 2,700 miles and still find yourself in the same state. It makes sense then that there will be areas within Alaska that are very bug-heavy (those who opted to drive to the Arctic Circle told us they practically battled bugs in hand-to-hand combat) and many areas that are not. Ironically, our most prominent mosquito memory occurred in the Yukon, NOT in Alaska.

RVING ALASKA TIP #1: Our traveling friends own an electronic, hand-held bug zapper. Not only is this useful in eradicating bugs from your area, but the kids find it to be intensely exciting to use. We also found mosquito head nets to be useful while fishing in a few locations where the bugs were thicker and our hands were busy (clicking through will take you to Amazon via my affiliate link). Our worst mosquito encounter occurred when we boondocked next to a placid lake. It’s probably best to be leery of a location that is so ideal for mosquito reproduction.

FEAR #2: ROAD CONDITIONS

Overall, roads in Alaska fall somewhere between fair and good. Few roads were actually bad. Those that were did not surprise us and were typically not a required route—we simply opted to drive them anyway due to the lure of fantastic views.

Photo: The Denali Hwy. This was one road that we regretted traveling on due to the exorbitant amount of dirt it brought into our RV.

Again, the drive to Alaska through the Yukon offered the largest stretch of roads that were in repair. I also think it’s fair to say that our scale of what makes a good road “good” was diluted slightly as our time in Alaska lengthened.

Photo: After driving the Denali Hwy. we spent several hours cleaning the entire RV from this thick layer of dust.

By the end of the summer, we certainly hadn’t driven freeway speeds in many months. However, who would want to miss all the beauty? Going slower sure aids in taking in the breathtaking vistas and animal sightings!

Photo: After taking the Top of the World Hwy, the truck and RV get a MUCH needed wash!

RVING ALASKA TIP #2: Meeting oncoming traffic while driving on poor roads was rare. We often took advantage of both lanes to weave around or between frost heaves. We traveled with another family and took turns taking the “lead driving position”. Communicating with walkie talkies, we were also able to give each other some warning if there were road conditions to be aware of. If you are following another RVer, take cues from their speed and driving.

FEAR 3: ROUTE DECISIONS

You’ve got choices! If you are planning to drive to Alaska, you have to either take the inside passage marine highway or drive through Canada.

Our route to Alsaksa was as follows:

We left the lower 48 from Northeast Washington State and went North through Banff and Jasper to Dawson Creek.

From Dawson Creek, British Columbia we began the Alaskan Hwy. This stretch of road is 1,547 miles long and ends in Delta Junction, Alaska. We took a side trip however after Watson Lake, Yukon to visit the historical town of Skagway, Alaska (click here for our YouTube video of this location). This was our first dip into Alaska. However, because there is only one road leading in and out of Skagway when we left we crossed back into the Yukon where we then followed the route of the 1896 gold rush up through Whitehorse to Dawson City, Yukon before entering Alaska for a second time from a different border location.

Photo: Dawson City is the famous location for the Alaskan Gold Rush.

After following the gold rush route North, we traveled a road called the “Top of the World Hwy” from Dawson City, Yukon to Chicken, Alaska. The Top of the World Hwy is certainly not the only route option into Alaska but it is a unique one offering long reaching views as the road snakes along the top of the mountain range. We found the Canadian side leading up to the Alaskan border on the Top of the World Hwy to be in better condition than the Alaskan portion. If you have time, we recommend staying overnight on the Canadian side for some amazing vistas.

Photo: Celebrating reaching Alaska via the Top of the World Hwy.
Photo: I loved this eclectic signpost in Chicken, AK pointing to various town locations around the world that follow a “chicken” themed name.
Our route through Alaska was as follows:

Now we were in Alaska for the second time and from this more Northern location, we were able to move about the state freely. From Chicken, Alaska we headed towards Fairbanks and then traveled south to Denali. Instead of taking the typical paved route to Denali, we went back to Delta Junction in order to drive 110 miles on gravel using the Denali Hwy (not really a highway). This was probably the one major route regret of the summer as the lack of wildlife was disappointing and the road conditions failed to make up for the views (see previous dirty table photo as proof).

Photo: Although pretty, the dusty Denali Hwy was so hard on the interior of our rig–we wouldn’t do it again.
Photo: After 4 1/2 hours of cleaning (including ALL our dishes, silverware, cooking utensils and spice jars) we were finally ready for bed at 11:46 PM on the 4th of July.

After Denali National Park (click here for details on that), we proceed to Anchorage. From here we visited the small town of Hope where we enjoyed several days of pink salmon fishing before heading to Seward.

Photo: Truly a highlight for all the kids, Hope, Alaska offered effortless salmon fishing in a picturesque location.
Photo: Hope, Alaska

Seward is right on the ocean and welcomes you to explore many nearby glaciers by land or sea. It was here that Trent and I went ice climbing and saw puffins for the first time.

Photo: Ice climbing on Exit Glacier

Leaving Seward we spent time at the Russian River for more salmon fishing. Here, Trent was able to fish in the company of both a black and grizzly bear.

Photo: Russian River fishing alongside the bears.

After the Russian River, we drove to Homer. Known as the halibut capital of the world, we filled our freezer with this local fish after making a fantastic connection to a local fisherman (thanks Craigslist) who was willing to take us out in his boat.

Photo: The Homer Spit
Photo: The Alaskan State Fair

After a quick return visit to Anchorage to attend the Alaskan State Fair, we made our last major stop in the town of Valdez. Here, in the town most notably known for the 1989 oil spill, we boondocked in one of the most unique locations to date, kayaked in waters filled with glaciers and plucked salmon out of the river with our bare hands.

Photo: Our dear friends Nicole and Jeff Sloan getting ready to explore the glacier filled waters.
Photo: Arial view of our boondocking location (can you find our RV in the left of the photo)?
Photo: Can you see the water thick with salmon by the bank where we are standing? Ashlyn has a salmon in her hands that she grabbed right out of the water!
Our route out of Alaska:

From Valdez, we drove to Tok Junction. This 254 mile stretch of road was the worst of all the roads we traveled due to the uneven frost-heave surface forcing a driving speed that at times was as low as 15 miles per hour.  However, unless you are willing to backtrack a considerable distance, it is the only option from Valdez to Canada and back to the lower 48.

From Tok Junction, we reconnected with the Alaskan Hwy and traveled to Watson Lake (it is here that you find the Signpost Forest) before splitting off on the Cassiar Highway and then onto our final destination in Northern Idaho.

Photo: The Signpost Forest. Click here to see our YouTube video of this location.

RVING ALASKA TIP #3: Consider taking one route to Alaska and a different route back allowing you to see more. You will find the Milepost (which is published each year with updated info and available both on Amazon as well as multiple in-route locations) to be an invaluable planning tool.

FEAR #4-10: TO BE CONTINUED…

Don’t miss my next post where I talk about weather conditions, internet access, wildlife encounters, RV and truck breakdowns, flat tires/cracked windshields, food prices, and mail retrieval!


QUESTIONS ABOUT RVING IN ALASKA IN THE SUMMER?

I hope you’ve found these tips to be helpful as you consider your own RV trip to Alaska! Do you have any questions I didn’t answer? Perhaps you have a tip to add to mine. If so, please leave your comment below!

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