We get many questions about what it costs and what it takes to travel with your RV to Alaska that do not fit a travel journal format. This document will cover the trip from Washington State to Alaska and back.
We made sure the motorhome was ready by doing all of its maintenance before the trip. We stopped at Cummins in Coburg, OR at the start of May for this maintenance. We also changed the front tires in May to improve the ride on rough roads, which is specific to our particular motorhome. But it is best to evaluate your RV for any modifications or improvements that might help your journey.
The other preparations we made were to leave the items we didn't think we would use at our storage unit in Washington state. We left our bikes since we figured they would be ruined by the road grime and we would have few opportunities to ride them. We left much of our reading material, we didn't think we were going to have much time for reading. We were right on both of these items.
We filled the space the items we left behind took with extra items we were not sure were that available in Canada and Alaska, like the type of toilet paper we prefer and the type of cereal Diane likes. The toilet paper we were right about, the cereal was available at Fred Meyer stores in Alaska.
We bought a small electric pressure washer at Wal-Mart to clean the motorhome and car for about $80 with tax. We were able to us it twice all summer, most places prohibited washing at the campsite.
A bunch of people recommended Transitshield to protect the front of the motorhome and car from http://www.transitshield.com . We bought it and it did not work well for us. Others were happy, maybe we did not install it well. It came with no instructions.
We also stuffed our refrigerator and freezer full before leaving the lower 48. Prices in southern British Columbia were a bit higher than in Washington, they went up a bit more in Prince George, BC and up a lot more in the small towns in northern BC and in the Yukon. Prices were higher in Alaska than in Washington, but lower than Yukon. Whitehorse, Yukon had lower prices than the smaller places like Watson Lake. We will use the price of a gallon or 4liter bottle of skim milk, with 4liters being just a bit larger for comparison. In Washington state a gallon of skim milk was about $2.50 in a grocery store, just across the border in British Columbia the price was $3.09CDN for a 4liter bottle or about $2.71US/gallon. In Prince George, BC the price was $3.19CDN/4liters, in Whitehorse, YT the price was $4.89CDN/4liters or about $4.30US/gallon. In Alaska we were paying about $3.25US/gallon.
Buy the Church's camping book, Traveler's Guide to Alaskan Camping, info at http://www.rollinghomes.com/. We used this book a lot, it covers camping in Alaska and the north very well. Buy the latest addition.
Buy the Milepost. http://www.themilepost.com/, it will tell you about every road and attraction on the way north and south. We were very happy it listed the rest areas and pull offs so we could plan our lunch stops. It comes out in early spring, we bought ours at Barnes and Noble in May.
For a couple we also recommend the Alaska Toursaver book, http://www.toursaver.com/ . It took two days to arrive in Washington state when we ordered it online in May. The book is full of two-for-one coupons for tours and hotel stays and costs about $100. One or two tours and you will have paid for the book.
A bunch of us compared our costs for our 2006 Alaska trips, counting expenses in Canada and Alaska. The numbers for a couple ranged from about $7,700 to $11,300 with ours about $9,900. For about everyone the biggest single expense was fuel since we had to drive further than normal and the prices were higher per gallon. About everyone spent more on tours and such than normal, it is part of the journey. Campground prices were comparable to the lower 48 for private and public campgrounds, but those of us who use membership campgrounds found our campground costs higher. Food prices were higher, but most found a way to stay in budget by being more picky about restaurants, eating out less, and buying large quantities of groceries where the prices were more reasonable. Salmon was reasonably priced in Alaska, but halibut was not for some reason. We estimate our extra cost of taking the trip was about $3,500 to $4,000 comparing to how we spent the same time in 2004 and 2005.
There are bad roads on the trip. Some are good roads with bad construction zones, some are bad all the time. Most of the roads are in good shape. The main rule is do not be in a hurry and if you know it is gravel or a construction zone, don't expect to go far that travel day and don't take it in the rain. It is not the lower 48, you you cannot expect to drive 500 mile days. In the bad areas slow down, some places that does mean 20mph, mostly it means 30-45mph depending on conditions. People said they were slowing down, but they were used to driving 70mph and slowed to 50mph. You can break trailer springs and towing equipment driving on bad roads at 50mph. If you drive gravel in the rain you won't enjoy the scenery, you will clog your radiator and air cleaner with dirt, and you will be more likely to lose traction.
There are three main "bad" roads, but road construction can add to this list. The three are the Alaska Highway between Destruction Bay, Yukon to Beaver Creek, Yukon, the Top of the World Highway between Dawson City, Yukon and Chicken, Alaska, and the Cassiar Highway between Watson Lake, Yukon and 37A junction in BC.
The Alaska Highway is paved all the way except for construction zones, which you will encounter. Some people do not like the section between Beaver Creek, Yukon and Tok, Alaska but we found it fine to travel between 40 and 50mph. The always bad section is between Destruction Bay and Beaver Creek, Yukon. This section is best between 25 and 40mph due to the frost heaves, where the permafrost has caused the road to buckle. With ice only a foot below the ground the road is always bad and at 50mph you will go airborne.
The Top of the World Highway is a mix of gravel and paved on the Yukon side and narrow and dirt on the Alaska side. When it rains the potholes get bad on both sides and everything on the vehicle and RV ends up with dirt in it. On a clear and dry day the drive is very scenic. This is not a road to take fast, some people take two days on it. With a wide-body RV the Alaska side is a bit nerve wracking, there is little margin for error when meeting a vehicle going the other way, especially another wide-body vehicle.
Most of the Cassiar Highway is now paved. But the gravel sections can be messy in the rain with the longest section at 16 miles in 2006. The northern 2/3rds is narrow and bumpy, too narrow to have lines on the road. Further south it has lines painted and is quite good road.
Construction zones change everything, they are often a real mess. They normally strip down to rock and dirt and start over in Alaska, Yukon, and northern BC. They use huge trucks that throw big rocks as they drive by. Expect to get dirty in construction zones. If a big truck throws a rock you might take some damage.
We cracked one half of our motorhome windshield in Alaska from a rock. The car windshield got a few rock chips, all while driving it and not while it was being towed. In the previous year we had to replace both sides of the motorhome windshield due to rock cracks, these were caused by a rock in Washington State and another in southern Saskatchewan.
We recommend going north as early as possible and taking the Alaska Highway. Don't try to see the Canadian Rockies, the Frazier River Valley, or anything else in Alberta, southern and central British Columbia. Save those places for another trip, they are doable in a shorter journey and worthy of more than a side trip.
For the first trip do stop at Dawson Creek, BC, and take those pictures at Mile Zero. Visit the Visitors Center and get the info. Fuel is high priced in Fort Nelson, try to get it further south. The first interesting part of the Alaska Highway is after Fort Nelson as you head into the mountains and see Muncho Lake, Liard Hotsprings (worth a stop), etc. This area is where you should see a lot of wildlife early in summer including wood bison (huge), moose, bears, stone sheep, caribou and maybe elk.
Take the time in Watson Lake to really see the Signpost Forest.
Some caravans go to Skagway, AK first, that would be a good idea. Have your U.S. mail sent to Skagway, stay a couple days and see the sights and the craziness of a major cruise ship port.
Whitehorse is a nice city, it has higher grocery prices than further south but better than any other place in the Yukon or Skagway. It is also a good place to fuel up.
Our recommendation is to then go on to Alaska proper via the Alaska Highway and remember the last 150 miles in Yukon is bad road.
Tok, Alaska is the cross-roads. It has decent fuel prices, a decent grocery and a couple decent places to eat. We like the Salmon Bake.
Next we would recommend going to Valdez. Early season Valdez is normally dry and scenic. Later you might be in the rain a lot.
From Valdez you have a choice of heading next to Fairbanks or Anchorage. Most years Anchorage would be the first choice since it can get wet in August, but in 2006 the best route was to go to Fairbanks first because the weather was better in Fairbanks and Denali early in the summer. If you get up into Alaska early you can also revisit Anchorage and/or Fairbanks later in the summer, they are a long days drive apart.
Visit Kenai/Soldotna, Homer, and Seward. They are all worth the effort.
If you can fit it in the Denali Highway is a good day trip in your tow vehicle if the weather is good, it is gravel and RVs are not recommended.
Have your food and if possible a full water tank before visiting the Denali area, the stores are expensive and the water can taste bad.
On the way out of Alaska wait it out in Tok until the weather is good enough to take the Top of the World Highway. Take the Top of the World to Dawson City, YT and enjoy this interesting town. Take the Yukon Queen boat trip to Eagle, AK, something we regret not doing.
It is a bit over 300 miles between Dawson City and Whitehorse and a good road, but there are interesting stops on the way so take your time.
Restock in Whitehorse.
It is 250 miles from Whitehorse to Haines, AK, all good road. In late summer the bears and eagles come to catch the spawning salmon in Haines, it is worth going to. This is a good time to take the tour boat to Juneau.
From Haines you have two choices, drive back to Whitehorse or arrange a ferry trip to Skagway. If you haven't been to Skagway take the ferry, but you will have to back your RV off the ship. If you haven't taken a few days to visit Whitehorse this is your chance.
It is now later in the summer, some of the roadhouses and campgrounds on the Alaska Highway are already closed for the season.
From Whitehorse (or Skagway) head to the Cassiar Highway. The Cassiar is about a two day drive to the junction of Highway 37A, the Stewart Highway. Stop at the two jade shops in Jade City, they have different selections.
Take the Stewart Highway to Stewart/Hyder. Hyder is in Alaska and is where you will see more bears and eagles eating spawning salmon. The Salmon Glacier is a wonderful one to see since you are above it on the road.
Stewart/Hyder is 900 miles of good road back to the border.
Would we go back and do it again? Yes, but we will wait a few years. It takes a big commitment of time to go to Alaska and it does cost more for the trip. People were friendly and very helpful, the scenery was amazing, the wildlife was great, and an RV is a wonderful way to see it.
Since writing this guide originally we have been asked multiple times if people with motorhomes should tow their car behind them. We did and were very glad to have it. We went multiple places with the car that we would not have taken the motorhome and the campgrounds were rarely convenient for groceries and tours. Protect the car as well as you can but it will probably take some rock dings.
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