Winter. Time to gaze out the frosty window at the blowing snow and dream about a fabulous RV adventure in—Alaska?! Yes, Alaska. America’s biggest state is a wonder world of soaring peaks and verdant valleys, of warm days and cool nights, of caribou and salmon, glaciers and Northern Lights and an endless roster of discoveries. And midwinter is the right time to start dreaming.
Buy the Book
Find a good bookstore, in town or online, and buy a copy of The Milepost, a gusher of information about every curve and slope in the roads you’ll be driving, and every campground, gas station, attraction, photo op, and anything else you’ll want or need to know. You may also want to buy DeLorme’s Alaska Atlas & Gazetteer, a fascinating eagle’s-eye view of every speck of the state. Symbols show you campgrounds, fishing spots, scenic drives, even shipwrecks and cave entrances. You’ll love the place names; there’s a Wrong Mountain next to Right Mountain, and the two aren’t far from Snoring Inn. You’ll love the contour lines, too; they warn you where the driving or hiking gets steep. And if you love fishing, you’ll love the index; it lists 27 entries for Fish Creek.
Driving the Alaska Highway
If you have plenty of time, an adventurous soul, and a lot of faith in your RV, you’ll earn serious bragging rights if you drive to the state nicknamed “the Last Frontier” on the famous Alaska Highway. You’ll log more than 800 miles from either Great Falls, Montana or Seattle before you even get to Mile 0 in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. The mileage from there to the far end is-well, debatable. Most people say the highway ends at Fairbanks, 1,486 miles to the northwest. But the last leg, from Delta Junction to Fairbanks, was already there in 1942 when the Corps of Engineers and some 20,000 civilians built the 1,422- mile main stretch in only eight months. And even that mileage keeps changing as workers straighten the road’s infamous twists and turns.
“If time is short, make the most of it; fly into Anchorage or Fairbanks and rent an RV that’s already there.”
However you measure it, the Alaska Highway is more than a road; it’s an experience. Though now paved almost all the way, this legendary ribbon through the wilds still will have you dodging frost heaves, groping through dust clouds with lights on and waiting for bulldozers to move aside. Watch for eagles, bears, and wolves as you drive, and listen for distant glaciers booming and groaning. When you come to a fuel station, better top off your tank– the next one far ahead might be closed.
Fly and Drive
If time is short, fly into Anchorage or Fairbanks and rent an RV that’s already there. Reserve one well in advance, and make sure you know what comes with it. Most are well equipped, but sometimes “extras” can include necessities such as bedding and kitchen utensils. Allow a day to settle into your unfamiliar home on wheels. Check out how it works, shuffle through the paperwork, load your stuff aboard, stock up on Courtesy of TraveiAiaska.com Photo by Frank Flavin groceries, and you’re ready to hit the road. You won’t get far that first day, so look up a campground you can reach before dark -which comes very late at these latitudes in summer and doesn’t last long before it’s daylight again. If light keeps you awake, bring your sleep mask.
There’s another option for getting to Alaska, and for some it’s the best. You can drive your RV to a port city, such as Bellingham, Washington, and then right into the belly of a ferry that threads through Alaska’s spectacular labyrinth of islands called the Inside Passage. Or, opt for a cruise package combined with a rental RV once you reach your Alaska destination. Some cruise travelers get off at Skagway or Haines and finish the trip on the Alaska Highway. But that’s not an option from the state capital; you can’t leave Juneau by roads to the outside world because there aren’t any, so plan carefully.
Once you arrive, the choices are endless. From Fairbanks you can drive a counterclockwise loop to Denali and Anchorage and back to the Alaska Highway at Tok for the long drive home. From Anchorage you can do the loop in either direction. Prepare to hit the brakes and the shutter button at countless vistas and critter sightings. Stop at Denali National Park and take the shuttle into the park to spot bears and glaciers, and gaze up at North America’s lofty cupola, Mount McKinley. Roast s’mores in shady campgrounds, dabble in sparkling cascades, wet a line in mirror lakes, and marvel at the Trans-Alaska Pipeline that parallels some of your route.
Off the Beaten Path
The more you see and do in Alaska, the more you’ll hanker to extend your adventure beyond the beaten loop. Here are a few favorite side trips worth taking:
Chena Hot Springs, two hours east of Fairbanks. Huge boulders ring a big, steamy outdoor pool, and there’s another pool indoors. Either will have you sleeping well in the rustic resort’s campground. Keep the camera handy, and don’t say cheese; say Chee-nuh.
Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage. Which is better, the heart-stopping scenery along the shore of Turnagain Arm and down the Sterling Highway to Homer? Or returning the rental RV in Anchorage and enjoying the unforgettable train ride to Seward to catch a cruise ship home? Answer: Do both, then decide.
Dalton Highway, north to Deadhorse-a name that should tell you something. If it doesn’t, drive the Dalton for a half hour. If that doesn’t either, pack emergency supplies and two spare tires on rims, and keep going for a snapshot around the sign marking the Arctic Circle. Still game? Then push on, dodging the mammoth trucks and the wild animals moseying across the stony roadbed. Just when you’re within spittin’ distance of the Arctic Ocean-stop. This is oil country, so only the tour operators can take you through it to the shoreline. Make it back with whatever sanity you had when you started out, and you can out-brag even the Alaska Highway crowd. And if they call it the Alcan, set ’em straight. True, most of it is in Canada, but that old wartime nickname fell into disfavor decades ago.
Anywhere a bush pilot takes you. Hire a plane and have your bush pilot fly you far up the Knik River to a silent neverland of glaciers crawling down craggy peaks to melt into a crystalline lake. Nibble iceberg chips that fell as snow centuries ago. It’s just one of the once-in-a-lifetime experiences you’ll enjoy on your Alaskan adventure.
Okay, that’s enough dreaming. A trip to Alaska is not a spur-of-the-moment thing, so start planning, if you want to be ready by summer–or better yet, by May, before the bulk of the tourists arrive. Get online and go to travelalaska.com, for a wealth of information and brochures. Tail or your trip to your time frame and special interests. As the website says, your horizons are unlimited in Alaska.