Alaska: America’s Switzerland
Everywhere you travel in Alaska, it seems you’re likely to encounter lush forests, breathtaking mountains, pure white glaciers punctuated by light blue ice, spectacular waterfalls and a menagerie of wildlife from soaring bald eagles and leaping salmon to lumbering moose.
Its 656,425 square miles of pristine environment beckons to the adventurer in all of us. There are many ways to tour Alaska — car, train, boat, plane — heck, I know a guy who biked 500 miles from Fairbanks to Anchorage. But, the absolute best way to experience Alaska is in an RV.
Because of the extreme distance between communities, the ability to visit restaurants, hotels and even restrooms can sometimes be hours apart. Yet, on any Alaskan highway, there are ample places for RVers to pull off to enjoy the view, catch a nap, make a meal or simply to let other vehicles pass in order to continue a leisurely journey.
Before beginning an Alaskan adventure, the essential first step is to acquire the most recent copy of Milepost. The annual trip planner and guidebook literally lists every possible thing you’ll encounter along all of Alaska’s major highways.
Over the years, Editor Kris Valencia and her team have meticulously researched every turnoff, restaurant, store and out-of-the-way scenic spot to the closest one-tenth of a mile. So, when the book suggests that you look for moose in the evening at milepost 101.4, bring a lawn chair and wait for them to arrive.
The book is available for $29.95 at shop.milepost.com, or for $18.62 plus shipping at Amazon.com. Rather than check one out at your local library, you’ll want your own copy to highlight places you’ll want to visit.
The Alcan Highway
There are two primary ways to get to Alaska – either drive up from Canada on the world famous Alcan Highway, or fly up and rent an RV in Anchorage.
Driving up is an adventure in itself. It all begins at Mile 0 in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. RVs travel on a two-lane highway through some of the most primitive wilderness areas in the world. Although the road surface is paved, road conditions vary greatly. Heavy winter frost can severely damage the road and leave its surface rough enough to cause stress on motorhomes and trailers. RVers who traveled the highway said visiting in summer is often better than in the Spring.
RaeJean Brown, an RVer from Simi Valley, Calif., traveled to Alaska from Dawson Creek in a rented Class C motorhome. “There is so much to see and do. The best you often do is stay a day and get a flavor for the area before moving on.”
TIP: If traveling to Alaska in the Spring, check with the rental companies in Anchorage first. You may be able to get a special deal, and longer rental period, by bringing an RV one-way from Elkhart and flying back to your home.
When planning your route, be sure you check with locals before you head out. They’re likely to know what roads are best for RV use. For example, the State of Alaska dares to call the 133-mile gravel road between Paxson and Cantwell the Denali “highway.”
Traveling on gravel roads can be problematic for RVs, dealers in Alaksa explained. Not only will the dust permeate every crevice of the vehicle, the shaking, rattling and rolling as drivers navigate around potholes, washboards and fist-size “gravel” can put stress on the RV’s windshield and suspension.
Towing on gravel is even more challenging due to added stress on the tongue and towbar, requiring both vehicles to travel slower than 20 mph.
CAUTION: One dealer in Anchorage said that almost every RV that drives up the Alcon Highway arrives with cracked windshield. Although it used to be that drivers had to “pick their rut carefully” because they’d be using it for 500 miles, that is not the case today, Yet, pavement problems and off-road RV use can pose problems. Slowing down can help immensely.
Near constant daylight in summer
The near constant daylight is almost an unworldly sensation the first few nights in Alaska. Anchorage has nearly 19 hours of sunlight daily during summer months, while Fairbanks will see the sun 21 hours a day. If you’re a light sleeper, the sunlight is likely to make snoozing a challenge. Who thinks it’s time for bed when you can still see across the campground at 12:30 a.m? Experienced RVers recommend picking up an inexpensive eye mask at Walmart for less than $15.
Even with the seemingly endless sunlight, you’ll find there’s more to do and see than time allows, especially if you are an outdoor enthusiast.
Fishing is one of the largest industries in Alaska and sport fishing is a popular tourist activity. Trout, pike and halibut can be fished year round, while salmon are generally caught in early spring or mid-summer.
I remember a brilliant Alaskan tourism commercial that aired several years ago where two older men decked out in fishing gear stood before the camera and claimed, “There’s no fishing here, it’s too cold!” as dozens of salmon were jumping out of the water behind them.
There is so much water in Alaska that it’s a kayaker’s and canoeist’s paradise. The mountain streams, interior lakes and ocean coves offer splendid opportunities to explore the state and view wildlife in their natural surroundings.
Investing in a pair of quality binoculars will greatly enhance your experience and allow you to zero in on roaming wildlife that might be a half-mile away.