To most people, the largest state in the nation conjures up visions of natural adventures, untamed places, and wild people. Alaska is a BIG land. If you overlay the state of Alaska with the contiguous US, it would stretch from the California Coast to the Florida Panhandle and north to the Great Lakes.
Even with its large land size, Alaska ranks 48th in population with fewer than 700,000 people living here, making it one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world (approximately 1 person per square mile). Roughly half of Alaska’s population lives within Anchorage, leaving the rest of the enormous state vast and unpopulated. Alaska is considered to be the “Last Frontier” and truly, it is.
You have to be pretty hearty to deal with the harsh climate, wildly changing length of day from season to season, the raw wilderness that composes so much of the state, and also the remoteness and isolation.
Those who do well in this environment are self-reliant, possess plenty of patience, and have an ability to adapt, improvise, and create in order to best experience all that Alaska has to offer. Keeping all of this in mind, here are some tips and advice to consider when planning your Alaskan RV trip.
Unless you’re already IN Alaska, getting TO Alaska can be its own adventure.
You either have to drive through Canada and take the legendary Alaska Highway, or ferry north via the Alaska Marine Highway. Either route will require time (the better part of a week or more) just to get to Alaska.
A third option would be to fly to Alaska and rent an RV to tour the state. However you plan to get there, it is highly recommended to get a recent copy of The Milepost which gives an annual list of campgrounds, gas stops, and services along most of the road to and through Alaska.
It is also wise to have paper maps available for route planning in the event that you are not within signal range of digital/cell/satellite navigation methods.
You won’t get to see much of Alaska from the road.
Not to say you won’t see amazing things, but in addition to the logistic constraint in the time it takes to get around Alaska, the road access is to only a very tiny portion the 49th state.
To see the rest, you have to venture by foot, plane, dogsled, snowmobile, or boat. Of the 570,380 square miles that make up Alaska (more than twice the size of Texas), there are, in total, only about 14,000 miles of roads – including more than 1,800 miles of roads that are located within national parks and forests.
The communities of Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Seward are linked by the road system, however, Juneau is not. To visit the state capital, you have to either fly in or arrive by boat. There are many flight-seeing companies throughout Alaska, so consider investing in a flight to see Alaska from the air or visit a village off the road system.
Gear up and be prepared for anything!
Alaska’s weather is as varied as Alaska is, and it is quite possible to have it rain, snow, blow, and shine all within 24 hours. Be ready with the right gear to stay comfortable.
Have an adequate tool kit, a jack that can get the job done on your rig, spare tires (with air), extra fuel cans, First Aid kit, bear-proof containers, and some extra food on hand when you head out.
Since cell service is sparse through much of the state, make sure you give someone an idea of where you are headed, and when an approximate return date is in the event they need to send help your way.
If you are traveling on the fringe seasons (spring or fall), be aware that many services may not be open, and that weather can change rapidly. Also keep in mind that you are likely a long way from emergency help, hospitals, or towing services, so be over-prepared and avoid taking unnecessary risks, especially if you have a medical condition or are accident-prone.
Pack plenty of patience and let go of rigid schedules.
Alaska (and the people who live there) run on their own time, fondly referred to as “Alaska Time”, which is more in tune with the natural flow of Northern life than a clock.
Things happen: supplies are hard to get and take time to order, roads get rough, and rivers move their course. And while it can be frustrating that your plans are delayed because the salmon are running, take a lesson from the folks that make Alaska home and let it all be a part of the adventure.
Build plenty of extra time into your schedule for these unexpected divergences and use the downtime to chat with a local or just watch the day unfold.
Know Canada’s rules.
If you are driving up from the lower 48, be sure to have a current passport and know what you can and cannot take through Canadian Customs.
Getting into Canada and then back into the US (either on the Alaska side or the lower 48) will require patience and preparation. If you are traveling with pets, you will need to pay attention to special requirements for their health certification, food restrictions, and vaccination records.
Many items that are permitted in the US are not allowed in Canada (specifically many weapons, radar detectors, fireworks), as well as many food items.
If you aren’t comfortable with vast wilderness, impressive landscapes, wild animals, and not being “connected”, then you might consider traveling elsewhere.
A friend recently overheard a couple in an Alaska filling station say this with dismay: “We didn’t see ANYTHING or ANYONE for the past 400 miles—there are NO attractions along this road, no radio stations, and I STILL don’t have cell service!”
Alaska’s beauty and wonder stem from exactly that—the isolation and wilderness are not far removed as how it has been throughout history, and that IS the attraction. Unplug, take pleasure in the natural scenery, and enjoy your thoughts. And… HAVE FUN!
Can’t wait to start our RV trip North! More information about the Alaskan Highway would be great! Maybe some pictures?
Dean Combs says
I have a ton of pictures of AK and the Alaskan Highway from Dawson to Anchorage from my trip up in December of 2003. If you would provide contact information I would be happy to share a CD I have with you.
Frank Ruffa says
Just returned from a round trip (7,300 miles) to Fairbanks via Canada. I have nearly 600 pictures. Feel free to peruse my online album (see link below).
Depending on what you intend to do along the way or at your destination you may need to adjust your level of preparation. We over packed, but felt ready for most contingencies; it was a learning experience.
If you have an expensive RV, I would seriously consider AVOIDING the Dawson City, Yukon to Chicken, AK route. As astoundingly beautiful as it is, if I do it again, I will unhook my trailer and park it somewhere, do the route in in my Jeep and return to collect the trailer and take another, smoother route.
Any question, I would be happy to share any of our experiences …
That is our plan as well. We have resolved to take our fifth wheel trailer on paved roads ONLY and travel in our 4×4 truck to see other attractions which are off road. Can you give us an idea about how much pavement is torn up for construction in a typical year? Will our truck and trailer end up looking like the one in the photo in this article?
I took our Travel Trail on the Top of the World Highway from Dawson City, Yukon to Chicken, Alaska there is no pavement there but take your time and you will see magnificent views. Sure you will look like that truck and trailer in the photo but it easily washed off. You can leave your trailer in Chicken, then drive that highway if you want. There are places that are not paved do to frost heaves on the highway, That is part of the adventure, there is all kinds of car washes to use if you are that particular. Frost heaves, you must I say must not travel like a bat out of hell cause you never know where they are on the highway. Travel at about 80-90km/hr (50-55mph) you will have no problems. I’m not trying to scare you but be prepared for gravel sections on the Highway to Alaska or in Alaska, the government does it’s best to keep the highway in great shape do to the environment. You will never ever regret taking that trip. We are going again this summer, and I’m not worried about getting my trailer dirty as there is plenty of car washes around to use. Go have fun and not worry. I to have a 4×4 never used it once unless you really go out of your way. Say from Chicken to Eagle Alaska, that’s part of the Top of the World Highway which is not paved all gravel but it is maintained. Like I said earlier go have fun and not worry. Vehicles can be washed.
carl newton says
the milepost book they mentioned has info on coming from several points in the US. I highly recommend you get that, even a two yr, old book will have a lot of info.
Yes that’s true, like I said when you drive the Alaska Highway do about 50-55 mph do to frost heaves you won’t have problems. Good tires help. Carry extra gas due to fuel stops are far and between. The only spare tire was on the truck and trailer. We did not have any issues.
I really like this writer!
The Alaska Highway will be rough with heaves in May and June. July and August they will be working on the road and in September/October at the latest you’ll be back in pretty good shape.
Slow down and enjoy the scenery. Speed will cause you LOTS of problems.
It is a great trip.
Carol Dyke says
Very interesting, informative, great article.
Shortly after towing our travel trailer across a rough-graded construction zone on the Top of the World Highway between Chicken, AK, and Dawson City, YT, both rear tires on our truck went flat. We had only one spare truck tire, a 12v compressor, and some tire plugs from Walmart. Before I could do more than take the first flat off the hub, an incredible low-boy truck driver and his two hitchhikers stopped to help. He used 5 plugs in one tire and 2 in the other, inflated both with his big compressor, and we were on our way again in 30 minutes. We were prepared, but the same repairs would have taken me several hours. And the trucker would accept neither cash nor a quick lunch in our trailer in payment for his help. That’s just one example of the helpfulness you will find in Alaska when locals see a traveler broken down along the highway, likely because they have had a similar need for assistance in the past..
Barbara Dobree says
Yes, the locals are very helpful along the way. But, I would suggest you use newer tires on both your rig and TV. As well as carrying 2 spares for each set of 4 tires for both. Saw quite a few shredded tires on the sides of the gravel roads up there on my last trip of 3 months in 2015.
Also, make sure your sure your TV mudflaps are close enough to the roadbed to protect the front of your trailer if towing. And some sort of protection on the lower trailer front surface as well. Professionally applied truck bed liner material of a good thickness works really well.
Take your time, and enjoy the journey.
Hal Meadows says
Cruised to AK, Picked up pre arranged motor home rental unit in Anchorage. Spent three days seeing sights including Denali and Anchorage and Fairbanks area and then drove Alaskan highway and Canadian roads back to Seattle where we had left our van. All campground reservations were thru the rental co. Saw all sorts of wild animals including a bear cub that had been struck by a vehicle and was badly wounded. Would do this again in a heart beat. This trip wound up in San Diego where we attended an international Lions Club convention before heading back to GA. Great memories!
My life-long mentor and friend, Dick and I cruised the AL-CAN-to US Hwy in Oct 1997. As a military member, AD USAF, they paid me to drive, pulling my 1986 Lil-Big Foot, 16′ pull behind camper behind my 1995 Ford Ranger 4X4 pick-up. We had one incident during the entire 2000+ Mile trip, a flat tire in the Canadian Rockies. We were not pulled over 30 min. until we had 2 other travers stopping to lend a hand. We changed the tire and made the trip out of Toke AK across Canada to Edmonton then down into the USA. The trip took 2 weeks from Eagle River Alaska to Prattville Alabama/Maxwell AFB. It was a wonderful trip filled with many fond memories, great scenery, and good company. I would recommend both the Big Foot brand camper and Ford trucks for the trip to anyone. Its a trip of life-time and anyone having the chance should take it and enjoy all God’s wonder along the way.
Darlene Helsius says
I don’t see a way to subscribe to this site..,,, good articles here.
Roger Struthers says
Sure don’t like all the pop-ups on this site interrupting my reading !
Wife and I had a great time driving the Alaska highway. We did the Top of the World Highway with a 30ft. TT.. from Dawson City, Yukon,thru Chicken, Tok,Anchorage, to Homer. Great scenery on Top of the World Highway, no pull outs to stop, stopped when we could. speed at 40-50 mph due to the road. There is so much to see in Alaska, planning on going again. Liard Hotsprings great spot, woke up one morning a buffalo was walking through our campground grazing. Fuel stops when we had a half a tank of gas, cause never know where the next fuel stop was. A great time anyone should drive it. No problems with trailer/truck tires as we didn’t beat the heck out of our stuff. Frost heaves be careful, never know where they are so take extra care when driving, you could pick up speed then bang you hit a bad spot. Travel about 50-55 mph you will have no problems. otherwise a great trip for anyone.
Ken Bone says
Most towns have a dump and water so there is no problem with dry camping and really enjoying the state. Have more good memories than this space allows. Toured in 2007 and went all over the place including the Oil Line road past the Arctic Circle. .
Leonard Shultz says
All the replies were valuable. I also would like to know where to subscribe to this mag..
Bruce Booth says
I have lived in Alaska for almost 30 years and have traveled the alcan many times, a little planning and common sense and everything will be fine.
I bought the latest copy of the Milepost and it was useless. They listed a gas station (important) as being open when there were trees growing through the roof. There was lots of that. I’d save my money.
Roxanne LeBlanc says
Go on the theory to empty when you can and fill up when you can. Even if you still have 3/4 of a tank, top it off. May be a long ways to the next service station. We boon docked 99% of the time by using this theory. Freddy Myers stores are great! They have dump stations, water fills, fuel and you can overnight in their parking lots. Be sure to restock your groceries while at Freddie’s. Gravel pits are good places to boondock. Most any pull off is good. Pull in and by morning there will be several more with you. Make sure you have time to explore Alaska. This is not a two week vacation. When on the road, you will see this a lot, “Be prepared to stop”. On gravel roads when being passed, slow down to a crawl and face your windshield to the right side. This will help save your windshield. Pull off and take hikes. This will showcase Alaska. Have fun!!! The problem is, “Alaska will grab you and you will HAVE to return”. Once is never enough. We’ve been there 5 times….
Looking for some help, I am handicapped as I cannot walk any distance or stand for any length of time.
I do have a four wheel scooter with bigger tires and wheels. My question, finally, on the trails that lead to
various sights, am I able to use my scooter?
I need three feet in width and not a lot of large rocks.
Clifford Smith says
There will be some you can’t and some you can. My suggestion is to write to the entity that is responsible for maintaining the trail, ie Alaska State Parks, Chugach National Forest, Denali National Park, etc and asking them which trails are wheelchair accessible. I recommend the Resurrection Bay boat tours out of Seward Alaska which are wheel chair accessible. Whales, sea otters, puffins, dolphins, etc.
Robert See says
If you take the Alaska Highway and are pulling a TT or a toad, be advised that the road is rolled gravel in many spots. You’re tires will sling gravel and will destroy the front of your camper or the paint job on your tow vehicle. Rock Guards are the order of the trip. I drove it and had dents and dings in the front of the trailer that I had to repair when I got home. Tow vehicle was 2003 Ford F250 Super Duty Diesel. I had a farm fuel tank that held 100 gals of Diesel, I used it a few times on the trip.
Deb Bonine says
We plan on going in 2020, We plan on purchasing a Class C plus prior to the trip and will tow a Jeep. Are there any recommendations for new RVers taking there maiden voyage from Texas?
Jim pickel says
I have a dynamax Isata 3 and a 2500 Dodge Ram I have driven both from the North Slope to key west and the best advice is know your vehicle s abilities ie fuel consumption and best condition tires then throwing a lot of preparation for get the latest information on Canada’s rule ( milepost booklet), be flexible with timing and a lot of common sense. It is a beautiful trip and each time I have driven those trips especially from my home in Eagle River to my daughter’s home in Houston, it is a different adventure. Weather, equipment functions , road conditions, animals, traffic and on and on . I have lived here for 30 years and haven’t regretted the adventure that me and my family started those many trips and years ago.
Ken Bone says
Go everywhere and if the M/H won’t, then take the jeep. You can dry camp at a lot of places and save paying the high prices for campgrounds. Don’t be afraid of the roads and get a “Milepost” book. Don’t be in a hurry and enjoy!