Overall, we were genuinely pleased with the way the trip turned out. After all, this was our first trip to Alaska and the first time we would be on the road for such an extended period of time (47 different stopovers over a 4-month period). But hindsight is a wonderful thing, so here is a retrospect of our trip and a summary of what we would do differently.
If we were traveling by ourselves as was our original plan from December 2014 to September 2015, we definitely would have boondocked more and we certainly would not have made all the advance reservations. This is especially true now that we are aware of all the roadside pull-offs in which we could fit our set-up with no problem. And we learned that although a campground will allow you to make a reservation, it doesn’t mean they actually keep a site aside for you in which you will fit, despite you giving them your length and sending photos! Furthermore, only a couple of the hook-up sites had 50 amp electric, and a few offered no sewer connections. Most had NO or EXTREMELY limited Wi-Fi as well. Ironically, it seemed the more we paid, the worse accommodations/amenities we received overall. We found we had easier access and larger sites while boondocking in Canada’s Provincial Parks! We also found that although some campgrounds displayed the Good Sam logo, they did not offer Good Sam discounts. And we did not qualify for any other discounts. Unlike our traveling companions, we are not military nor eligible for the senior rate yet.
Another thing we noticed was that many campgrounds did not take a deposit at the time we made the reservations in 2015. We realized afterwards that this was probably done intentionally so that we incurred the 2016 rate increases.
Once we agreed to have traveling companions and began trip discussions with them, we realized we would need to alter our original plans. Like us, they had a very long rig. We figured a campground might be able to accommodate one large rig on a walk-in basis, but were concerned most places would not be able to accommodate two of us. More importantly, they were not as experienced or adaptable to boondocking as we are. (At that time, their boondocking consisted of Wal-mart one-night stops getting from one planned location to another.) So Dad reserved/booked hookup sites at campgrounds at most planned stops for both rigs starting in November 2015.
While having reservations gave us a certain comfort level, it also became a hindrance, particularly if we wanted to make changes to our plans. For example, we lost money when we departed early from Denali National Park and when we were detained from arriving at Laird Hot Springs Provincial Park as scheduled. Additionally, we had booked 5 nights at Copper Center on the premises we would spend considerable time at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Dad would fish to his heart’s content, both on a charter and from the campground riverbank behind our site. Unfortunately, we already paid a non-refundable deposit for the campground and the charter by the time we learned salmon fishing was prohibited. And we learned that most of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is wilderness and inaccessible to the average tourist (despite what the tour books and tourism agents may tell you).
Of the 30 days we did spend boondocking, 6 of them were inside Denali National Park (Teklanika Campground) and 6 were one-nighters as we traveled home by ourselves from Washington to Texas.
I should note that we are well equipped for boondocking. We have solar energy, wind energy, generators, a 150-gallon water bladder, a 32-gallon blue boy, and a triple-canister filtration system, so we could be (and have been in the past) “off the grid” for considerable time. Furthermore, we have our own Mi-Fi and have no qualms about not watching TV (we were in Alaska to indulge in its beauty, not sit in our rig and watch the boob tube), so having internet and cable amenities at campgrounds is not a top priority for us.
Our wind and solar set-ups in Quartzsite, AZ.
Our water bladder sits nicely within Big Boomer's garage.
Yours truly with the stinky blue boy. To quote Cousin Eddie in "Christmas Vacation, "the shitter is full!"
Therefore, next time around, we would boondock at some Alaska State Campgrounds. For example, instead of staying in Big Bear RV Park in Wasilla, we would opt for Eklutna Lake Campground within Chugach State Park ($18/night). It was quite lovely and had sites that could accommodate us. Denali State Park would have been a fine alternative to paying $52/night at Denali RV Park and Motel. We also would boondock at Pioneer Village in Fairbanks for $15/night in lieu of paying $47/night at Riverview RV Park. And while our $50/night waterfront site at Baycrest RV Park in Homer was lovely, we could have enjoyed a similar view for far less money boondocking on the Spit. Similarly, we would trade our $43/night site at Stony Creek RV Park outside Seward for boondocking at one of the City-operated waterfront RV parks. We would also partake of more of Canada’s wonderful Provincial Parks.
As you know, Dad had some disappointments with his dreams of fishing in Alaska. They shut down the ability to fish for salmon early on in our trip, and it resulted in the cancellation of the salmon fishing charter he reserved back in December 2015. Now that we know the fishing regulations can change dramatically in a matter of days, Dad would not have purchased his annual fishing license ($145) immediately upon entering Alaska. In hindsight, it would have been more economical to just buy daily licenses, based on the limited number of times he was actually able to fish. Furthermore, he certainly would not book a charter 6 months in advance! Thankfully, he didn’t buy his annual King Salmon stamp in advance ($80/annual).
After experiencing that blizzard outside Fort Nelson, we can safely say we would not cross the border into Canada until late May next time around. This would also give us access to places like the Tea House at The Fairmount in Jasper and Waterton Lakes Lodge, which were still closed for the winter season when we visited these areas. And seemingly, we were always one week ahead of an upcoming festival or event everywhere we visited (although the tour books we used as reference in planning the trip never gave specific dates for festivals—they just listed the month).
For reasons noted in my post of 6/25/16, we most definitely would reduce the time spent at Teklanika Campground inside Denali National Park from 6 nights to a max of 4 nights. We would tour Denali State Park, Denali Highway, and surrounding areas with these additional 2 days.
Seward hosts various special events for the Independence Day holiday, which attracts tourists and locals alike. We spent an entire day enjoying the company of our fellow RVillagers, which left us just 2 days to tour Seward. Next time around, we would either avoid visiting Seward on July 4 or add a day to our stay.
Similarly, we would avoid Jasper on Victoria Day Weekend. Because our visit fell on the holiday, we could get reservations only for 2 nights instead of our preferred 3 nights.
We would reduce the time spent in Stewart, BC/Hyder, AK from 5 nights to 3 nights. Once you see the glaciers and view the bears at Fish Creek, there are limited tourist attractions, including shopping. Hyder has only one gift shop nowadays, despite tour books touting 5 of them.
We spent 2 nights in Tok as we entered Alaska. If it weren’t for the fact we had to pick up a parcel at Three Bears Outfitters, we would not have stayed here at all. Instead, we would do what we did on our return trip: Spend time at Discovery Yukon Lodge in Beaver Creek, Yukon.
Knowing what we know now, you can be sure we would never eat at Big Daddy’s in Fairbanks! And we would forfeit taking that snoozer Talkeetna to Hurricane Alaska Railroad Train Ride, opting instead for the more exciting Mahey’s Jet Boat Tour (both were B-O-G-Os offered in our Tour Saver Book.)
Between long traveling days and an effort to be inclusive, we did not log anywhere near the hiking miles we normally would. So more hiking would definitely be in a future itinerary. I have to keep my trim figure, you know, especially if I want to visit the "Clothing Optional" community in Quartzsite next year!
Next time around, we would love to stay at the Lake Clark National Park Lodge, thereby giving us more time to trace the steps of Dick Proenneke and relish in his simple life “Alone in the Wilderness”. We were disappointed we did not have the opportunity to visit more remote areas like Kennecott Mine in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Telegraph Creek in British Columbia for fear of damage to vehicles. Perhaps next time we can accomplish these things by renting a truck camper rather than bringing our huge full-time set-up with us.
We brought $1,400 Canadian with us for use over a 7-week period, making about 25 cents on the dollar due to favorable exchange rates in February 2016. (We wish we did this in December 2015—the rates were more like 45 cents on the dollar). We also used credit cards, but incurred a 2% foreign exchange transaction fee. Bear in mind that Cottonwood RV Park and Canada’s Provincial Parks do not accept credit cards. We found one of the grocery stores in Stewart, BC, would not accept credit cards. They would take U.S. dollars, but change received would be in Canadian currency, thereby costing you more for your groceries. One campground, Mountain View in Iskut, offered a discount for cash. Knowing these tidbits now, and assuming the same favorable exchange rates, we would have brought more Canadian currency.
Trekking to Alaska is a long and grueling trip for everyone, pets included. Planning the trip is time consuming, with many factors to be taken into consideration. Every RV has different fueling, heating, and energy requirements and every owner has different usage. Each RVer has a different living schedule and driving tolerance. Coordinating every aspect of this trip for two rigs and planning mutually-convenient timelines was a big responsibility and became somewhat burdensome. We learned one thing: we would never want to work as Wagonmasters of a Caravan! So although things worked out fine, we would refrain from traveling with others on a long-term basis in the future.
Again, we feel blessed and are eternally thankful for the opportunity to see The Last Frontier and Land of the Midnight Sun, fulfilling a “bucket list” dream! My hope with this post is to provide assistance to others in planning their own Treks North to Alaska.
May you have as much fun as my family did!
PS: If anyone has any specific questions about traveling to Alaska, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.