As a kid, I couldn’t get enough of the Guinness Book of World Records. After I received a thick paperback edition one Christmas, I thumbed through the pages to read astounding stats that seemed unbelievable. My friends and I marveled at the tallest man in the world — Robert Wadlow, who stood at 8 feet, 11 inches tall — and the world’s biggest diamond at 3,206.75 carats. Alaska appears a few times in the book, recently as the producer of the world’s largest cabbage, which weighed in at 138 pounds.
For record geeks like me, Alaska has a special appeal. Alaska’s wide-open spaces are unmatched in the United States. It’s the biggest state in the union in terms of square miles (570,641) and also boasts the longest coastline (6,640 miles). Visitors here can explore the nation’s largest national park with a hike in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, which takes up more land than Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island combined.
But don’t let the numbers alone convince you of Alaska’s breathtaking scale. Visit in person to witness the state’s incredible vistas and destinations. You’re bound to break some of your personal travel records, like number of photos taken, number of wild mammals seen and travel duration.
RVers can reach Alaska by trekking the 1,422-mile-long mile Alaska Highway across Canada or by taking the Alaska Marine Highway from Washington up the coast to the Land of the Midnight Sun.
For the record: The Alcan Highway is considered part of the Pan American Highway, which connects Fairbanks to a town in Argentina, making it the world’s longest motorable road, according to Guinness.
Fairbanks’ Frontier Spirit
North of Denali, the town of Fairbanks maintains its frontier identity. Once a gold rush outpost, the second-most-popular town is known for its rollicking spirit and the many festivals that take advantage of the region’s round-the-clock sunlight. COVID-19 safety precautions have canceled many of the area’s summer events, but visitors can still enjoy some of the attractions surrounding the town.
Start your adventure on the Chena River, which cuts through town and once served as a transportation artery for explorers and gold prospectors. Hop aboard the Riverboat Discovery, a paddle wheeler that chugs upriver on a three-hour journey. On the itinerary is a stop at a Chena Indian Village with craft and cooking demonstrations that shed light on the indigenous way of life. Passengers also can watch sled dog competitors go through their training paces.
If you’d prefer to do your own paddling, several points on the river give kayakers and canoes a chance to launch their vessels. At the Chena Lake Recreation Area, outfitters rent out small watercraft. Anglers can nab Arctic grayling, northern pike, whitefish, burbot, and an annual run of king salmon.
Stay: River’s Edge RV Park & Campground, Fairbanks
North Pole, Alaska
In 1952, a pair of entrepreneurs devised a clever plan to bring big dollars to the heart of Frontier State. They bought up land in a small settlement east of Fairbanks, changed the name from Davis to “North Pole,” and pitched toymakers to set up shop in a real-life version of Santa’s mythical home turf. The developers reasoned that the “Made in the North Pole” label on a toy package would help dolls and action figures fly off the shelves. What toy manufacturer could resist the plan?
Well, the factories never really took off, but today’s North Pole still attracts visitors to pay tribute to everything related to Santa. The town’s most popular attraction is Santa Claus House, a red-and-white complex that showcases seasonal gifts, collectibles, apparel and, yes, toys. If you time your visit right, you’ll be greeted by Santa himself along with Mrs. Claus. Next door, you can check out the animals of the Antler Academy. You won’t miss the 50-foot tall statue of Santa, the tallest statue of St. Nick in the world (another record broken).
Stay: Riverview RV Park, Fairbanks,
To get a true sense of the state’s grandeur, take the trip to Denali National Park, off the Parks Highway. Located 120 miles west of southwest of Fairbanks, the sprawling park is home to the immense Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley), which stands at a towering 20,310 feet. Yes, you guessed it: Denali is the tallest peak in North America.
Reaching the summit is only for serious climbers, and if you’re not inclined to join a climbing tour, you’ll find lots of reasons simply to tour the 9,446 square-mile park. Although Denali is one of the most visited and accessible of Alaska’s national parks, its rugged countryside feels practically unblemished by humans. With few marked trails, bus and car routes allow for adventures through a diverse range of habitats that include the tundra-covered ice of the Muldrow Glacier Taiga forest and the glacially fed streams of Teklanika and Toklat. Dominating the horizon, of course, is Denali itself, whose shape forms the background of many a photo op.
Stay: Denali Rainbow Village RV Park, Denali National Park
Palmer: Home to Colossal Veggies
What do you get when you combine round-the-clock summer sunshine with fertile soil? In the town of Palmer, about 300 miles north of Anchorage, the answer comes in the form of record-setting vegetables, like strawberries the size of baseballs and heads of cabbage that regularly tip the scales at over 100 pounds.
Local growers say the ample summer sun can be credited for the size and sweetness of the crops. Many of these freakish veggies are displayed in the annual state fair, which sadly has been canceled because of Covid fears. Nonetheless, many farmers’ markets sell these big veggies. If you prefer hitting the trails over browsing food stands, the surrounding Mat-Su Valley boasts plenty of outstanding hikes. Set out on the Hatcher Pass Road, a scenic 49-mile rugged mountain pass originally used by Alaska gold rush miners in the 1930s and 1940s. This area is now a recreational playground, perfect for a full-day outing.
Stay: Mountain View RV Park, Palmer
Anchorage seamlessly blends urban living with outdoor adventure. Located on the Cook Inlet in southern Alaska, the state’s largest city puts visitors within reach of hiking in the Chugach Mountains to the east and enjoying watersports in the Cook Inlet waters to the west. The walkable town is home to independently owned stores and restaurants, and it’s not uncommon to see wild animals like bears or moose ambling into town. Anglers can catch salmon steps from the city at Ship Creek, where kings and silvers run. Hike into the Chugach Mountains to see Dall sheep clambering on the rocks.
Of course, outdoor activity is the name of the game here, and Anchorage has it all. Ice climbing, white-water rafting, paragliding, mountain biking, kayaking, zip-lining, skiing, snowboarding and heli-skiing options abound for the more adrenaline-prone adventure seekers.
Stay: Anchorage Ship Creek RV Park, Anchorage
Big Ice Near Seward
Some of the most spectacular glaciers on the planet lie just outside of Seward on the southern shore of the Kenai Peninsula. The 601,839-acre Kenai Fjords National Park preserves several glaciers, including the formidable Exit Glacier, a half-mile wide river of ice. On the park’s coast, visitors can explore beautiful tidewater glaciers and rich marine life, including sea otters, porpoises, sea lions, harbor seals and whales.
Glacier hunters can venture north to the Harding Icefield, the 700-square-mile source of the glaciers and the largest icefield contained entirely within the United States.
Stay: Ocean Shores RV Park & Resort, Homer
Also in Seward, the Alaska SeaLife Center displays the region’s diverse animal life in a state-of-the-art facility. Part research center, part animal rehabilitation center and visitor center, it provides an opportunity to learn about the area’s biodiversity through a series of interactive tours and displays.
See exotic animals stellar sea lions, wolf-eels and red king crabs swim and crawl in carefully maintained environments. Learn about the efforts taken to ensure the survival of these amazing creatures.
Stay: Ocean Shores RV Park & Resort, Homer
Along many stretches of the Kenai and Russian rivers, the banks are lined with anglers fishing for the hefty salmon. Some folks have used “combat fishing” to describe the competitive conditions, while others say that the big crowds foster a community spirit. One thing everybody agrees upon: there’s plenty of fish to go around, with big catches regularly getting hauled in and put into nets.
If you prefer ocean fishing, Seward is a good location to hop aboard a professionally guided fishing charter. And if you want to avoid a stream or lake without the crowds, you can find a guide who will help you find fishing spots without fighting for bank space.
Stay: Klondike RV Park & Cabins, Soldotna
Strike Gold in Valdez
About six hours east of Alaska on the state’s south coast, the town of Valdez is a jumping-off point for adventures in the beautiful Prince William Sound and surrounding mountains. Hikers can pick up the Mineral Creek Trailhead that is just a few blocks from the town center and follow it to abandoned mining ruins deep in the thick boreal forest. The Shoup Bay Trail follows the coastline of Port Valdez, offering unparalleled views of nearby glaciers.
Day cruises to Columbia Glacier, which sits 25 miles east of Valdez, are among the town’s most popular activities. Columbia is the second-largest tidewater glacier in the world and sports a front face that’s as tall as the length of a football field —it’s a must-visit and includes a stunning boat journey.
Stay: Eagle’s Rest RV Park & Cabins, Valdez