Part 1: Preparing for an RV Trip to Alaska
Our long-awaited RV trip to Alaska is about to begin. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to drive from the lower-48 states to Alaska (through Canada) and explore most of the places in Alaska that you can drive to, we hope you’ll join us on this journey.
This blog post details the work we did to get to this point, useful if you too are planning to drive there one day. Even if an Alaska drive is not in your plans, we think you’ll enjoy reading about our plans and getting an overview of what lies ahead.
Figuring Out the Route
One of the biggest decisions we made was how we would get to Alaska and back. When we started planning this trip back in 2018 (yes, 2018!), for a 2020 departure (delayed multiple times by Covid), we knew almost nothing about routes to and within Alaska. What do you mean we can’t drive to Sitka, Ketchikan, or Juneau, Alaska’s capital? Sitka is on an island? Juneau has no roads that lead to it, even though it’s on the mainland? There’s a difference between Dawson Creek and Dawson City? Wow! We had a lot to learn.
Hank investigated some of the caravan trips out there. Fantasy RV Tours is one of the best (https://www.fantasyrvtours.com/RV-Tours/Alaska). Being a bit independent ourselves, we didn’t really want to join a commercial caravan—some of their choices just are not our cup of tea—but we did take a look at their route, which was very helpful. Hank’s direction to me, the main trip planner in the family, was to get us to Tok, the first town in Alaska when you drive in on the Alaska Highway.
I had heard of the Alcan Highway, but apparently the preferred name is the Alaska Highway. That seems odd, since the vast majority of this highway is in Canada. Planning to drive the entire Alaska Highway was one of our first decisions. So, we had to get ourselves to Mile 0 in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and then to Tok, Alaska (pronounced “toke”).
I love to put my research skills to use in trip planning (much more fun than doing research for a dissertation). Given the famous Milepost book as a Christmas present back in 2017 (thanks, Laura and Chris!), we also purchased several travel books on Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon Territory, and used the trip planning software from Good Sam and RV Trip Wizard, cross-referencing with the AllStays app to read campground reviews.
2. Driving 1,256 miles on the Alaska Highway from Mile 0 in Dawson Creek, BC, to Tok, Alaska (we would complete the remaining 108 miles of the Alaska Highway after leaving Fairbanks later in the trip).
3. Traveling a (mostly) clockwise route of 1,664 miles through south and central Alaska to visit several national parks, explore all the major cities you can drive to, and maximize our opportunities to see wildlife (Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Valdez, Matanuska Glacier, Anchorage, Seward, Kenai Fjords National Park, Homer, Katmai or Lake Clark National Park [via air], Kenai, the Mat-Su Valley, Denali State and National Parks, and Fairbanks).
4. Visiting two more tips of Alaska on our way back—Haines/Skagway and Hyder (next to Stewart, BC off the Cassiar Highway) for an additional 1,768 miles.
5. Mostly backtracking on the remaining 1,712 miles from Prince George, BC, with a stop-off at our summer family camping grounds on Harstine Island and McMicken Island, Washington, before heading back to the L.A. area.
Total Miles in the motorhome: 8,303 (and that doesn’t include day trips in our tow vehicle). You can see on the maps that it’s a long way to go from Southern California through Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, the Yukon Territory, through a big portion of Alaska, and back home. We knew we needed plenty of time: 11 ½ weeks, or 80 days!
Finding Travel Companions
We also knew we didn’t really want to drive alone because if we were to break down in the middle of the Yukon Territory a hundred miles from a town, we liked the idea of a safety net in traveling with other people. At a family party before we had even completed our travel route, I shared our idea with the other family members who have an RV (and are retired), Hank’s sister Judy and her husband Allyn. Their response? “We have always wanted to drive to Alaska. We watch every show we can on TV about Alaska! Yes! Yes! Yes!”
Then a cousin said he also wanted to go, driving from the Phoenix area, and buying a trailer just for this trip. Tom then recruited another Phoenix couple who wanted to get out of Arizona for the summer with their RV.
So we had our mini-caravan of 7 people, 4 RVs, 3 dogs, and 2 cats, and after multiple delays and cancellations for 2020, 2021, and 2022, this is the year. But even with all the maps, books, and trip planning, we couldn’t just take off. Driving to Alaska is no joke and we needed to get our vehicles into shape.
Maintenance and Preparation
For starters, Hank and Allyn welded and installed a spare tire bracket under our Class A motorhome (they don’t usually come with a spare tire, but now we have one) and changed out our uncomfortable original sofa for two recliners that we LOVE! We got new tires for both the motorhome and the CR-V and had both vehicles checked out by our maintenance folks.
Hank drained our RV hot water heater to fix a leak. Then he installed a brand-new toilet in the RV (not his favorite job)! He also took care of getting a car shield for our car while it’s towed behind our motorhome, and made sure all of our insurance policies would cover us in both Canada and throughout Alaska.
I planned meals and shopping lists, made and printed out reservations and travel directions, and organized all the stuff that we would bring in the RV, including anti-mosquito equipment and 80 days worth of cat food. I also made sure our cats got rabies shots and documentation (necessary to enter Canada with pets). I sewed skylight covers so we can sleep when there are 20 hours of daylight in the north. And we made sure that our house sitters, house guests, mail collectors, and house cleaner had keys and instructions so that our condo would not be left unattended (though this is when we’re really glad we don’t have a yard to care for).
We came up to the RV a couple of times to bring supplies and work on a few mini-projects. And now we’re off on our 80-day adventure! (Okay, spoiler alert. In order to make it a full 80 days [à la Around the World in 80 Days], I had to count two prep days, so here they are!)
Hank and I got our motorhome out of storage, verified that we had a full gas tank and propane tank, drove the RV 2 miles, and set it up in our home campground (which is actually 40 miles from our condo), unpacking the third load of stuff from home.
Back home at the condo, we packed the remaining stuff into our CR-V, along with 2 not-happy cats, and returned to the campground.
Here we are at Valencia Travel Village, getting settled. And here are Judy and Allyn, who arrived today in their RV, towing their Jeep.
We leave the campground in Valencia tomorrow morning! We’ll meet up with Tom, Ron and June in Dawson Creek, BC (at Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway), as they are taking a different route north from Arizona. In the meantime, we’ll travel up Interstate-5 through CA, OR, and WA, recording any adventures along the way.
If you haven’t previously subscribed to our travel blog (https://trail2blaze.com), and you’d like to follow each step of this trip (I’ll publish a new blog about once or twice a week), it’s easy to subscribe by entering your email where it says “Subscribe.” We promise: there are no ads, and we try to keep politics out of our posts. It’s just pictures and text of our travels. You’ll receive an email notification when I post, and you can Read More, scan the pictures, or delete, if that particular post is not of interest.
We hope you’ll join us on this journey, as we travel To Alaska and Back in 80 Days!