Experienced old-timers know that Alaska Highway RV driving is better ever. But as we discovered last year when we headed north, the journey is still one of the most challenging RV trips in North America. If you’ve dreamed about doing the drive, here are the top three Alaska Highway RV driving tips to know before going.
The Top Three Alaska Highway RV Driving Tips for Newbies
From the endless parade of wildlife to the day we broke a leaf spring near the appropriately named Destruction Bay, a year’s worth of planning still didn’t prepare us for the unforgettable highs and lows we experienced on the Alaska Highway. Everyone’s experience RVing to Alaska is slightly different, but here are the three things I think everyone who tackles Alaska Highway RV driving needs to know.
One: The Milepost will be your bible.
Many great RVing to Alaska books have been written through the years. But none come close to providing the indispensable information contained in The Milepost. In a place where cellular service is a surprising luxury and only a fool relies on the internet to chart a course, The Milepost is the complete guide to the Alaska Highway. You’ll know about everything from RV parks to historic locations to what to expect every mile of the way.
The sheer size of the Milepost is daunting. But once you get to know how the information is laid out, you’ll understand how it can help make your journey less stressful and more interesting. We carried multiple electronic and print books for the journey. The Milepost was the only one we used on a daily, sometimes hourly basis.
Don’t skimp, get the newest edition before you go, since Alaska Highway RV driving information changes more than you think.
A roadside emergency assistance plan is critical.
Much of the Alaska Highway is now paved, but vast frost-heaved stretches of gravel remain. It is within those sections that your RV is most at risk of flat tires, a blown leaf spring, bent trailer hitch or other RV disaster.
We were five hours from any kind of real town when the weld broke on our trailer leaf spring. It severed our hydraulic brake lines and slashed a tire too. Without a roadside emergency assistance plan, our five hour RV tow to Whitehorse, the closest town with a decent RV welding shop, would have cost about $3,000 Canadian dollars.
We needed our plan three times on the journey. Since some roadside assistance plan companies will cancel a policy holder who files too many claims in one year, I would go as far as recommending buying two different roadside assistance plans for the trip in case you have multiple calamities while you’re up there.
Three: Your RV will get beat up.
Talk to people who have done Alaska Highway RV driving. You’ll quickly realize that everyone has a damage story. The road certainly isn’t as bad as it used to be. But the risk to your rig remains. Your home on wheels may get banged up at least one of several ways. Kicked up gravel that breaks windshields, to tow bars that break on frost heaves are just two common occurrences.
Our Arctic Fox fifth wheel body endured the journey. But our windows are permanently pockmarked from flying rocks on the gravel roads. Carry appropriate comprehensive insurance coverage in the event of extensive damage.
Whatever you take away from this, I hope it doesn’t scare you from an epic trip to the North Country. We experienced a few good mishaps on our trip. But still think it’s well-worth all the time, money and effort anyone puts into getting there.
Just be prepared by hoping for the best and planning for the worst. And remember that when it comes to Alaska Highway RV driving, it’s all about the journey, not necessarily the destination.
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.
I carried extra fuel not knowing where the gas stations where. I didn’t carry extra tires as I checked them whenever we stopped making sure there was not a problem with them. You don’t go warp speed on that highway do to frost heaves as you do not know where they might be. I traveled about 50-55 mph and I did well with no issues sure you get a dirty truck and trailer but that’s half the fun and you see great sites. The mile post is most definitely the way to go as it will tell you places to go to and see. Other than that a great trip.
Lee Ensminger says
With the exception of cracked/broken windshields, which can be caused by circumstances you can’t control, namely locals traveling the other direction, all of the ailments you mention are typically caused by one thing: Going too fast. If you need to go fast because of vacation time constraints, postpone the trip until you have time to do it properly. If you’re someone who just has to go fast, you’re wasting the beautiful scenery and maybe not spotting some of the wildlife you’re there to see. I’ve made two RV trips to western Canada and Alaska, the first in a class A diesel pusher pulling a Honda C-RV. Total damage: One cracked windshield on the motorhome, and a star on the Honda windshield, both caused by vehicles going in the opposite direction at high speed. The locals do not slow down for you, and often their vehicles look like they’ve been in a shootout. They’re not worried about yours. The second trip was with our 24′ TT and our pickup, with the idea of doing more off-grid camping. Total damage on the second trip: One trailer tire, sliced by some razor rock used in a section being “repaired” on the Top of the Sun Highway. I met a nice, seemingly intelligent man near the Alaska/Canada border who was waiting on an insurance adjuster to come and look at his 5th wheel because he’d jammed the kingpin up into the bedroom of his coach. The cause? I think you know. There are frost heaves everywhere, gravel roads with potholes everywhere, but the key is staying alert [often a red bandanna on a stick signals a frost heave] and SLOWING DOWN.
Ken Baxendale says
The only frost heaves are between Destruction Bay and Tok Junction ( about 150 miles ). With Climate Change they will get worse. Scientist from all over the world are working on this. I am a local and I drive a 2017 GMC 3500 pulling a 35 foot fiver. Last I looked it didn’t look like it had been in a “shootout”. Been on some worst roads in the lower 48…. and some towns I wouldn’t stop in. Slow down and enjoy the scenery.
Jim Haigh says
I have made the trip twice and my only problem was one broken windshield on North Dakota. Just go slow and enjoy.
Harry Palmer says
Back in 2004, my wife and I traveled up the ALCAN to Fairbanks. We left home in New Mexico on the last day of April and returned home by the 14th of May. Almost everything was still frozen, so our stays in the RV places was without the use of any sewage. We had a truck sleeper unit and we towed a popup trailer. The road was under construction in many areas so we had to slow down.
We spent a week in Fairbanks so my youngest son could get his stuff out of the dorm at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Great trip, but we also had some breakage. No problems with the truck but the trailer was another story. In all, the doors on both sides needed repairs. The entry door screws came out, so we could not keep the door closed till I duck taped it. Then the other door broke when the rivets wore through the metal, this was followed by the rivets holding the sidewalls on breaking through the metal.
We got everything repaired, but my suggestion is for everyone making the trip to carry these items: 3 rolls of duct tape, battery powered electric drill and drill bits, at least 100 ft. of good rope, clear tape (for windows), Superglue (for windows), and a tool kit with enough wrenches to fix most anything that breaks or comes lose, and an air compressor to inflate tires. We had new tires on the truck so no problems there but we had to replace three tires on the trailer. We couldn’t find replacement tires till we were near Calgary, but then we installed commercial tires which fit our trailer. I think the commercial tires (these were very heavy duty ones used on semi-trailers) are great to use since they are very heavy duty.
Going to Alaska should be on everyone’s bucket list. I plan to go back but I want to take one month to travel up, one month to travel around, and then maybe another month to return home. This will allow us to see a lot of the National Monuments and other special places as well as allowing me to do some fly fishing.
Wow what a great article and comments from readers. This is my bucket list. I will be doing as much research as possible! Thanks!
Climate change also known as:
Skip Close says
Thanks for the article and the comments. We left Calif. on May 1st. and we are now (7-1-19) in Valdeeeez 🙂 after seeing about half of Alaska. Our strategy is to only take our fifth wheel on paved roads and leave it in a park if we wish to venture off in the wild to see the sites in our GMC 4×4. Sometimes we will get a room in the outback before returning to our rig. So far so good!! One still must proceed slowly in the construction zones where often several miles of pavement are torn out and constantly be on the look out for roller coaster frost heaves which are not often marked in Alaska but almost always well marked on Canada!
Joe Sesto says
The author recommends “adequate Comprehensive (Comp) coverage in case of extensive damage” which implies that if your paint/windshield get dinged a bunch of times it will be cover. That is not the normal result, but some insurers will go along with it. The issue is Comp is often subject to a deductible, which the policy holder selects to determine the premium. The higher the deductible…the lower the Comp premium will be. Now the deductible applies per occurrence, i.e., your vehicle gets sandblasted in a sandstorm, that is a single occurrence. If you accumulate 300 rock chips on a 5000 mile trip that TECHNICALLY constitutes 300 deductibles. YMMV. Glass breaksge is covered no matter how it occurrs and most carriers will replace the windshield if pitting is so severe it will create a hazard. But Comp is the broadest coverage available for damage to a vehicle, there are no degrees of Comp coverage excepting the deductible.
Preparation is important!
Joe Sesto says
One of the advantages of the Comprehensive coverage is that the cost is not effected by driving record while Collision is…i.e., if you get a ticket or minor non-injury accident on preferred risk policies…the Collision premium may increase but normally Comp will not. In many cases that means lower Comp deductibles can be reasonable. Acts of nature are covered under Comp (quake, flood, hail, etc.) and that includes collision with animals or birds. And those bird/animal collision claims are not chargeable under most policies, however this may vary by state, insurer or policy type. Check with your insurance professional respecting your coverage.
The speed limit is 50 kilometers an hour. If your doing50 mph your speeding. Take your time. The roads near both borders are screwed up. With the 7 million dollars that we allocated for the AlAska Canadian Highway, you would think the border roads would be in excellent condition.
I drove both the summer and winter times. My only problem was with the vehicles speeding on the highway. They forced you off the road, damage your vehicle with flying debre and run into
The animals walking the highway. No excuse. It’s posted in kilometers for speed not mile per hour.
“Whatever you take away from this, I hope it doesn’t scare you from an epic trip to the North Country. ” Scare me away? Absolutely. For fun instead, I going to slam the car door on my fingers a couple of times. Pal, no way am I taking a 100K rig on those roads/conditions. This is dually, diesel, “slide in” country. Unfit for the gentrified RV set.
We found just the opposite on several trips from Texas to Alaska.
The paved sections are the worst and the gravel sections are the best. The worst decision was to pave the Alaska Highway. When pavement buckles or gets potholes the repairs are difficult, they take a lot of time which means it’s a long time for most of them to get repaired, the potholes are drastic with sharp edges, and you are usually going faster when you hit them. it’s also very hard to distinguish between the dark shape and color of a repair and the same appearance of a new pothole. You can’t tell if you’re about to hit a big pothole or a big (and smooth) repair. The gravel roads can be freshly graded for hundreds of miles in the time it takes to fix a half mile of pavement.
And we found the Milepost publication to be virtually useless. It’s packed with information but way too difficult to wade through and find anything useful. There’s only one or two turns to make in several thousand miles of highway and you won’t miss them so all you need is a map. We found the free AAA maps were quite adequate. You can deal with the experience the same way whether you have the book or not.
Alaska is on my Bucket List, I just haven’t decided when yet. Thanks for a great article and all the comments.
This article makes the trip sound much more challenging than it is – don’t let it convince you not to go. Start with a rig in good shape with good tires and suspension, keep speed down and you should not have an issue. This is a trip of a lifetime and should not be missed. Take your time and stop to smell the roses. We found the Milepost to be a great tool for planning and to help find food, fuel and points of interest along the way.
I’ve driven the Alaska Highway since 1969. The first years I pulled an Airstream 18 foot Trailer with a 3/4 ton Chevy 2 PU. After the kids were grown we drove it in a 28 foot 1991 Winnebago Super Chief. Since 2014 we have driven it twice a year in a Winnebago View. We’ve had few problems. Never had a flat. Have lost a windshield. I travel at the speed limit. I always have tires that are in good shape. I used to carry spare gas and tires but found carrying extra gas was dangerous and the extra tires took up too much space. The Highway is beautiful in the fall after the 25th of September.. I generally leave the lower 48 states just after May 1st. The first years we drove it the road was mostly gravel with lots of dust. Now the entire Highway is paved. Watch for frost heaves especially on the Alaska side of the border.
John Sproat says
We drove to Alaska in 2016 in our Class A . Put new tires on it and the toad. We did 16500 miles and 6000 on the toad with no flats and no problems. Got a windshield star in Arkansas and a paint chip in British Columbia. Probably go again in 2022.
Jim Huff says
We’ve only driven to Alaska a couple of times, and I would agree that the MilePost publication is a must. It literally tells you everything you might want to see as you go along, except for animals, and they can be everywhere.
That said, I would definitely add a GPS as a valuable tool. If you don’t already have one, make sure to get one that has the whole of North America maps on it. One of it’s most valuable features is letting you know distances to fuel! You do not want to run out of gas (or diesel), and on some stretches of the road gas stations are somewhat scarce. A good rule of thumb is don’t pass up a chance to take on fuel. The Yukon is very rich in quantity of animals. For quite a stretch we saw bears every two to three miles (mostly black bears). Again, nice to not run out of fuel.
Another thing, take multiple credit cards. Some fuel stations are unattended and we had multiple occasions, even though we pre-advised the credit card companies of the trip, where the filling would stop at $100, and when you tried to continue filling with the same card it would lock out (presumably assuming fraudulent usage).
Lloyd Kurtz says
I drive a Monaco DP and pull a Jeep. Lost a radiator on the Monaco due to rocks in a road construction area. Locals told me how to prevent this. Hail screen from frame rail to frame rail and from radiator to as far forward as you can. Attach with zip ties. This will knock the rocks back down before the fan can blast them into the radiator.
Mike Clayton says
Your article makes driving the Alaska Highway seem much more challenging than it is. Sure, conditions vary year to year, but in general the Alkan is just like a farm-to-market road in Texas. Your article is way ovserstated. Yes, you can have problems, but you certainly do Not need two roadside assistance plans. Yes your rig will get dirty, yes, there is a chance of cracked windshield, but if you slow down, in marginal road conditions, not so much; and definitely your rig will not get beat up. We have had 2 very pleasant and uneventful drives along Alkan and Cassiar. Only one broken plate turning into an Alaskan SRS campground where the road was worse than anything on all other roads we drove in AK. Yeah, keep the crowds down with more articles like this one.
Michael Clayton says
Forgot to mention in previous post. We find Milepost basically useless due to TMI. If you are really have to know 0.1 mile by .01 mile where every pull out or cross road is, by all means carry the 5lb Milepost. By far the most useful reference is Mike & Terri Church’s Alaskan Camping.
Jack Strebel says
I have driven from Denver to Alaska, and back,15 times pulling a ’73 Airstream with diesel Dodge Ram. However, first year pulled a Scamp with a 4 Runner and frame on Scamp broke after hitting road heave. Welding shop in Delta Junction told me that in 35 years they never had to repair an Airstream trailer. When I got home I bought the Airstream. Keep an eye on white line on side of pavement as warning for heaves, never assume flagged areas have been repaired, always slow down, always check tire inflation and
regularly do a walk around check of vehicle and trailer.