It’s that time of year when many RVers are working away busily preparing (if not already on their way) for their long awaited trip to Alaska, the wild frontier! When talking to other RVers, the subject of “Driving to Alaska” comes up now and again as we sit around the campfire. The discussions usually revolve around “the routes, campgrounds, roads, the unknown, the tentativeness, misleading information, questions, concerns, etc.”. It makes for a fun evening with lots of giggles and story swapping. But, from this we have realized that there are some myths that people believe about driving to the Great Big North. So let’s debunk some myths….in no particular order.
Disclaimer: Any views or opinions in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the public! Take it all with a grain of salt and/or a shot of whiskey!
Fact Vs. Fiction for Your RV Trip to Alaska (or debunking some myths)
1) There’s nothing to see between the lower 48 and Alaska. FICTION
We are frequently asked by other RVers about the quickest way to get to Alaska in their motorhome without realizing that some of the best scenery, the best wildlife, the least crowded campgrounds/RV Parks, the least crowded roads, can be found in a little known country north of the border called Canada. Don’t dismiss the fabulous adventure waiting to be had in British Columbia, Alberta, the Yukon, or any of the other provinces you might drive through on your way to Alaska.
It’s not just about the destination but the journey and there’s a lot more to experience than just the state of Alaska. One of our best and favourite RV trips was driving to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. An experience we will never forget especially since Norm used to call this place home. I am just sorry that my faulty camera memory card lost over 800 photos on that trip!! Oh well, I have my memory (barely).
But if you ARE short on time then maybe you want to consider taking the ferry, the “Very Expensive Need to Make a Reservation Way in Advance” ferry, in one direction. Which direction? We would suggest taking it in the north direction. That way you can travel on the ferry on the way north and then drive south without worrying about meeting a ferry schedule which allows you to take some detours along the way. The ferry takes big rigs but you must turn off your propane during the journey so plan ahead for your fridge needs if necessary (stock up on ice). And if you want a cabin instead of sleeping on deck (like many passengers do) then again, get a reservation way, way, way in advance. A beautiful way to see southeast Alaska.
2) It’s light all night long. FACT (for the most part)
If you drive north in the summer,you will get to experience one of the greatest pleasures of the North: long, long days. There’s nothing like a summer day in the North. But this also means, for people not used to it, that before you know it, it’s midnight and you will think it isn’t even dinner time yet. The sun does set, eventually, but it does not go very far past the horizon hence you still see light.
If you are waiting till dark to light your campfire, you better forget it, it’s not going to happen. Learn to have campfires in the daylight, even though it may be 9pm. AND the beauty of the Yukon Territorial Parks is they offer free firewood. Stay up, stay out, and enjoy the light. A magnificent experience.
And if you are wanting some fabulous sunset/sunrise photos then plan on being up in the middle of the night.
3) Mosquitoes and Black Flies abound. FACT AND FICTION
Yes the North can have their share of bugs but they ARE seasonal and they ARE locational. In a single campground, one site can be full of mosquitoes and another site can be almost bug free. Learn to pick sites, if possible, that are out in the open or on a ridge where there might be a breeze, anywhere but down in the bush. AND it might be worthwhile to invest in a bug suit. They CAN come in handy and will allow you to still get out and enjoy the great outdoors. And an additional benefit is learning to drink wine through the mesh!! How accomplished. Be sure to bring some gloves or mitts. Instead of buying “official” bug suit gloves take some garden gloves or anything close fitting so you can still use your hands.
4) Caravanning is a requirement – FICTION
Many people think they must drive north in a caravan because, well,… we have never figured this one out. If you don’t normally travel in a caravan then don’t feel like the only way to get to the North is in a caravan. Only sign up for a caravan if you enjoy that type of travel otherwise the journey is really no different than anywhere else in the lower 48. And if you drive to/from the North in the summertime you may be a bit surprised at the volume of traffic on the roads and service stations and/or repair places along the way. And there are lots of Good Samaritans out there who are willing to help should you run into any kind of problem. Life is full of good people especially in the North. And, yes, there are gas stations in the north but just like going anywhere it never hurts to plan ahead.
5) The roads are terrible in the north and the roads aren’t paved – FICTION
Yes, the majority of the major roads are paved but you may run into some frost heaves (buckling of pavement due to freezing/thawing of moisture in the roadbed) in the western part of the Yukon but as long as you pay attention and aren’t in a hurry then it is no problem. We have encountered worse roads (killer potholes) on the interstates in California! If you are planning to drive on gravel roads then, just like any other area in the world, you should check the condition of the road (state 511 or provincial 511) for washouts, fires, etc. Fires can be prominent in the summer months and can cause traffic delays.
6) Alaska is part of the US so laundromats and electricity abound – FICTION
Electricity and washers/dryers can be at a premium.
Many people will have been dry camping for long periods of time (and many without solar) so when they arrive at a campground with a laundry facility and/or registration office with outlets, watch out because everyone is “Power Starved” and “Laundry Starved”. If you ever see a spare washer/dryer or an outlet, use it. Don’t wait until you really need one. You know Murphy’s Law? The worst places we encountered for doing laundry and trying to charge any electrical items were the RV parks in Whitehorse, Yukon and the campground at Denali National Park, Alaska. Who wants to waste a day in the beautiful North waiting in line for a washing machine? Time to wash clothes by hand I say!
7) The north is huge so there will be lots of space and lots of roads – FICTION
Even though The North is huge there are still very few roads and in the summer it can be more crowded than you imagine.
This part really surprises people. The north offers lots of space but not many roads which means things can get a bit crowded. It also means it can be more difficult to get to some great locations if you don’t have 4WD, a boat, or an airplane. What does this equate to? In the summer RV parks and campgrounds can be packed along with everything else. Just Google “Combat Fishing Alaska”. It can get really crowded in some areas in the North especially around Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula. Don’t assume that because you are in the north you will be surrounded by solitude and peace and quiet. Some of the worst traffic we drove in was heading south from Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula, bumper to bumper in June. Just set your mental expectations accordingly.
8) Lots of wildlife to be seen – FACT
To quote Henry David Thoreau, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see”.
The North is full of lots of wildlife. Don’t miss it. You need to keep your eyes open and look around. Keep scanning everywhere. We have seen bear and moose while the people right next to us missed them because they just weren’t looking. It takes some practice to learn to scan for animals (and/or animal tracks). It is something that many people just aren’t used to doing but you will be amazed that if you work at it you will suddenly see lots of wildlife.
9) Some of the best places are non-tourist attractions – FACT
Most of the wildlife we saw was off the beaten track, crossing the roads in the middle of nowhere, on the sides of the roads, in the ditches, etc. Denali National Park provides access to some grizzlies and LWD (Little White Dots – you will learn this on the bus ride) BUT there is so much more to see and so much more to experience. Just head out and go to places unknown and have your little adventure. One of our favorites is to drive the Denali Highway (not to be confused with the paved Parks Highway where Denali State and National Parks are) and do some BLM boondocking along the way. The gravel road is quite rough which may (excuse me, not may but WILL) shake you up a bit but go slow and you will have an experience of a lifetime. In the fall this area is known for the migration of the Nelchina caribou herd (35,000 strong).
10) Border Crossings – We only cross an international border once – FICTION
Watch out – there could be lots of them!
Know the laws for both directions (into the US and into Canada) and more importantly, be honest. Even when you have read the laws some border points have additional rules. Again, just be honest. Pay particular attention to the rules concerning firearms, ammunition, fireworks, and mace in Canada or best yet don’t bring those things. If you are a full-timer then check out some northern border towns in the US which have storage areas for items you don’t want in your possession when you cross the border(s). Declare your bear spray, it’s allowed but must be marked clearly that it is bear spray, but mace is NOT allowed! If you are driving to/from Alaska from the lower 48 you will, at a minimum, enter Canada twice, and enter the US twice. AND if you stay in Whitehorse, Yukon and drive to Skagway, Alaska and back add another US entry and another Canada entry. AND if you decide to visit Hyder, Alaska while in Stewart, BC then add another Canada entry (Note there is no US border patrol when entering Hyder but there IS Canada border patrol when returning back into Canada at Stewart, BC). And the list continues…there’s a potential for lots of border crossings. Bring your passport!
And last but not least, our recommended resources are:
1) Milepost – Your life will now be guided by mile markers
2) NorthToAlaska – maps, guides, routes, fellow traveler’s blogs, etc.
Between these three you should have everything you need besides a positive attitude and a sense of humor. Get out and enjoy!
Oh yeah, don’t forget your bear spray! – FACT