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Old 08-06-2016, 09:55 PM   #1
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2017 Alaska Road Report including Top of the World

I just returned from a 3 month trip to Alaska, our first, from Virginia in our 39' Coachmen Sportscoach, towing a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.

I expected very bad roads along with damage and flats. Frankly, I was surprised at the excellent shape the roads were in. Sure, there were a few sections that were gravel, a couple that were 25 to 50 kilometers long, but the problem was not the road, but rather the dust that seemed to penetrate deep into everything in the coach. Most Frost heaves had already been repaired by late May/early June. We crossed into Canada on the 1st of June and took 2 weeks to get to Tok, going through Banff and Jasper on the way.

I was warned that there would be long sections of 5-10 miles an hour max. I was routinely doing 35 to 45 on the gravel, slowing only when opposing traffic came along, to avoid glass damage. There were some occasional frost heaves in the last day before we crossed into Alaska, but they were easy to spot and usually slowing to 25 or so was all that was needed. The worst section of frost heaves was on the road from Tok down towards the Valdez road on the Glenn Highway. There were lots of frost heave repairs that had already been completed by the time we came through in the first half of June.

We took pretty much every bad road that we could reasonably travel. That included the 60 miles of gravel each way to McCarthy and back. This was definitely not recommended for RVs in nearly every guide I read. However, other than the first few miles at the beginning, which were pretty full of potholes, the rest of the road was in excellent shape and we averaged 35 to 45 the entire way. Locals told me that the state improved the road 3 years ago by adding culvert pipes as needed, but that prior to that it was impassable due to water crossings creating deep bumps. The guy at the campground did tell us that he had never seen an RV our size out there, but there were lots of little 27 footers out there.

We also traveled the Denali Highway, the old gravel highway. This is a really lovely road, almost entirely gravel. However, it is plenty wide and there are lots of places to just pull off and camp. Highly recommended. We did pick up a screw in our jeep tire, but don't know if it came from this road or somewhere earlier. My TPMS picked up the slow leak and we had it repaired in TOK, the only repair we needed on the trip other than an oil change, lube and air filter.

Finally, we headed to the Top of the World Highway. I was dreading this, but knew I had to do it. Although a pilot, I have a strong fear of heights. We had already been driven on the cliffs at Denali by the bus drivers there and I expected something similar, with narrow sections, having to pass other motorhomes and trucks and a 2000 foot drop off the side.

Well, none of that was there. Here is the deal. There is about 30 miles between Chicken and the road to Eagle that is dirt. We were lucky, there had just been a light sprinkle with high clouds that kept the dust down but didn't make it muddy and still left good visibility. Even so, they work this road constantly and it makes it feel like driving in sand in those areas. You don't want to be there when its really wet and muddy but its fine when dry. This section has a few narrow curves. No big deal, just look for oncoming traffic on the other side of the bend and take them wide and slow, but stay away from the edges. Stay at least 2 feet, preferably 4 or more, from the edge at all times. The edge may not be stable. Sections of this road are on a 45 degree hill and if you go off the edge, you probably won't hit the bottom because the trees will stop you, but will almost certainly roll the RV on its side and trash it. I hate cliffs and won't go near them. I kept waiting to get to the scary section, but never did. Most of the time there is lots of vegetation along the side and you don't even realize the drop. There are only a few short sections of this entire road where this will even be a consideration. Its definitely nothing like the bluff road at Denali.

After the turn to Eagle, there is about 15 miles of the most beautiful wide freshly paved road you've ever seen, all the way to the border. No problem. After crossing the border (we went from Tok to Dawson City on the way home), there is a long stretch of very wide gravel road all the way to the river at Dawson City. This road is wide enough to run three tractor trailers side by side. There are no steep drop-offs. Dry, I thought it was tar and gravel. It wasn't, just hard gravel and dirt. There are a couple of lovely turnouts for dry camping.

HOWEVER, the day after we went through, it rained for 2 days straight. Every vehicle coming off the road was covered in mud. In addition, none of them saw a thing since the mountains were all in clouds. In addition, that 30 mile section of dirt road after Chicken turned into a slippery mud pit. When they say to check the weather first, they mean it. In retrospect, I recommend looking at the weather on the way up. If its been good, consider going via the Top of the World. If not, reevaluate on the way back. If its bad both times, just forget it. Its not worth it in bad conditions because you won't enjoy the drive and won't see anything. Why bother.

We returned on the Cassiar. This is a little bit narrower than most of the Alcan, and there is the occasional frost heave. Not much of a shoulder. However, by this time it was an easy drive and thoroughly enjoyable.

That's it. The bottom line is that the roads were not nearly as bad as I anticipated. Now admittedly, I don't worry about keeping my bus as pristeen as some I see, but I don't like to damage it either. I didn't lose any glass in Alaska, I had no damage to the bus, other than when my wife directed me into a rock while parking (Argggh), and the only maintenance I needed was an oil change, lube, and air filter at 9000 miles, which I had done in Whitehorse. The air filter was full of dirt. If I had to do one thing different, it would have been to bring a spare air filter, but they had one in stock and it was no big deal. But again, I took a lot of dusty gravel roads that most won't.
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Old 08-06-2016, 10:48 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CHS32 View Post
I just returned from a 3 month trip to Alaska, our first, from Virginia in our 39' Coachmen Sportscoach, towing a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.

I expected very bad roads along with damage and flats. Frankly, I was surprised at the excellent shape the roads were in. Sure, there were a few sections that were gravel, a couple that were 25 to 50 kilometers long, but the problem was not the road, but rather the dust that seemed to penetrate deep into everything in the coach. Most Frost heaves had already been repaired by late May/early June. We crossed into Canada on the 1st of June and took 2 weeks to get to Tok, going through Banff and Jasper on the way.

I was warned that there would be long sections of 5-10 miles an hour max. I was routinely doing 35 to 45 on the gravel, slowing only when opposing traffic came along, to avoid glass damage. There were some occasional frost heaves in the last day before we crossed into Alaska, but they were easy to spot and usually slowing to 25 or so was all that was needed. The worst section of frost heaves was on the road from Tok down towards the Valdez road on the Glenn Highway. There were lots of frost heave repairs that had already been completed by the time we came through in the first half of June.

We took pretty much every bad road that we could reasonably travel. That included the 60 miles of gravel each way to McCarthy and back. This was definitely not recommended for RVs in nearly every guide I read. However, other than the first few miles at the beginning, which were pretty full of potholes, the rest of the road was in excellent shape and we averaged 35 to 45 the entire way. Locals told me that the state improved the road 3 years ago by adding culvert pipes as needed, but that prior to that it was impassable due to water crossings creating deep bumps. The guy at the campground did tell us that he had never seen an RV our size out there, but there were lots of little 27 footers out there.

We also traveled the Denali Highway, the old gravel highway. This is a really lovely road, almost entirely gravel. However, it is plenty wide and there are lots of places to just pull off and camp. Highly recommended. We did pick up a screw in our jeep tire, but don't know if it came from this road or somewhere earlier. My TPMS picked up the slow leak and we had it repaired in TOK, the only repair we needed on the trip other than an oil change, lube and air filter.

Finally, we headed to the Top of the World Highway. I was dreading this, but knew I had to do it. Although a pilot, I have a strong fear of heights. We had already been driven on the cliffs at Denali by the bus drivers there and I expected something similar, with narrow sections, having to pass other motorhomes and trucks and a 2000 foot drop off the side.

Well, none of that was there. Here is the deal. There is about 30 miles between Chicken and the road to Eagle that is dirt. We were lucky, there had just been a light sprinkle with high clouds that kept the dust down but didn't make it muddy and still left good visibility. Even so, they work this road constantly and it makes it feel like driving in sand in those areas. You don't want to be there when its really wet and muddy but its fine when dry. This section has a few narrow curves. No big deal, just look for oncoming traffic on the other side of the bend and take them wide and slow, but stay away from the edges. Stay at least 2 feet, preferably 4 or more, from the edge at all times. The edge may not be stable. Sections of this road are on a 45 degree hill and if you go off the edge, you probably won't hit the bottom because the trees will stop you, but will almost certainly roll the RV on its side and trash it. I hate cliffs and won't go near them. I kept waiting to get to the scary section, but never did. Most of the time there is lots of vegetation along the side and you don't even realize the drop. There are only a few short sections of this entire road where this will even be a consideration. Its definitely nothing like the bluff road at Denali.

After the turn to Eagle, there is about 15 miles of the most beautiful wide freshly paved road you've ever seen, all the way to the border. No problem. After crossing the border (we went from Tok to Dawson City on the way home), there is a long stretch of very wide gravel road all the way to the river at Dawson City. This road is wide enough to run three tractor trailers side by side. There are no steep drop-offs. Dry, I thought it was tar and gravel. It wasn't, just hard gravel and dirt. There are a couple of lovely turnouts for dry camping.

HOWEVER, the day after we went through, it rained for 2 days straight. Every vehicle coming off the road was covered in mud. In addition, none of them saw a thing since the mountains were all in clouds. In addition, that 30 mile section of dirt road after Chicken turned into a slippery mud pit. When they say to check the weather first, they mean it. In retrospect, I recommend looking at the weather on the way up. If its been good, consider going via the Top of the World. If not, reevaluate on the way back. If its bad both times, just forget it. Its not worth it in bad conditions because you won't enjoy the drive and won't see anything. Why bother.

We returned on the Cassiar. This is a little bit narrower than most of the Alcan, and there is the occasional frost heave. Not much of a shoulder. However, by this time it was an easy drive and thoroughly enjoyable.

That's it. The bottom line is that the roads were not nearly as bad as I anticipated. Now admittedly, I don't worry about keeping my bus as pristeen as some I see, but I don't like to damage it either. I didn't lose any glass in Alaska, I had no damage to the bus, other than when my wife directed me into a rock while parking (Argggh), and the only maintenance I needed was an oil change, lube, and air filter at 9000 miles, which I had done in Whitehorse. The air filter was full of dirt. If I had to do one thing different, it would have been to bring a spare air filter, but they had one in stock and it was no big deal. But again, I took a lot of dusty gravel roads that most won't.
As I read your details, it brought back fond memories of the trip we took in our new Fleetwood Terra pulling a Jeep Wrangler. The dust and dirt was so thick on the Jeep windows we were able to write Alaska probably a quarter inch deep. Stayed at the military family camp at Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Seward. We left Texas in May and returned in September. This was in 2012 when they had 72 straight days of 100+ temperatures. Glad we were in Alaska during that summer.
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Old 08-07-2016, 12:28 AM   #3
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We only tested the road week before last going up to Watson Lake from Stewart BC on the Cassiar Hwy to Watson Lake and then coming back down to Dawson on the Alaskan Hwy.

X2 on the dust in lengthy gravel sections. Also, expect a lot of side rock hits to you RV from folks going the other direction at that 30-35 mph.

Don't bother to wash until you're back to Dawson Creek...just too much mud, and they have been getting rain this last week.

A lot of wildlife warning signs, but we only saw wildlife on the Cassiar Hwy. Surprisingly, the most unusual was a lynx siting as it ran across the road in front of us about 10AM.
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Old 08-07-2016, 01:01 AM   #4
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Just wondering why the Alaskan Gov. wouldn't of paved all there roads by now, since they have so much money from oil that they pay each Citizen a certain amount of $$$$ each year just for living there????? Yes jeously is living in California and paying and paying road taxes while hitting all our potholes in my Motorhome!!!!!!!

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Old 08-07-2016, 04:32 AM   #5
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Here's what my toad looked like after we drove the Top of the World Highway. I see not much has changed since I did it in 2004. All things considered , it was part of the best trip we ever made.
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Old 08-07-2016, 08:28 AM   #6
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Amazing that you had no problems on the road to McCarthy, we had a flat on the way in and a flat on the way out on a wrangler.But that but that was in 2008. In 2012 had a flat on the denali hwy on a wrangler as well.Maybe the roads have improved however I do not regret the trip and would do both again. In my jeep!!! By the way we took the road to Eagle, in a jeep!!!
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Old 08-07-2016, 08:55 AM   #7
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We just completed the same trip. The one thing no one mentioned before we went was the unbelievable amount of dust intrusion into the coach and toad.
I spent 2 days in Fort Nelson foaming the places where the Mfg should have and cleaning.
Both windshields broke and one tree branch scratch later we made it.

One piece of advice: change your glass deductible before you start the trip.

later
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Old 08-07-2016, 09:13 AM   #8
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Thanks for a great write up on the roads. Sounds like the TOW is getting much better. We ran it in 2006 and it was all dirt from Chicken to the Canada border. We had a load of dust but nothing else. How was the stretch from Beaver Creek to the US border? That's been bad since 2006 (an before) but last year it looks like they made some improvements that may or may not hold up. We go up every second year (2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, and plan to go again in 2017. I just can't get enough, and we both love to fish.

Thanks again for the update. If anyone's thinking about the TOW, go in late August. The place is a riot of fall colors and every time you go around a bend, the mountain sides are a different color. Just breathtaking. I could tell you a story about the Mc Carthy road (three flats on a tour van) but that's for another day.
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Old 08-07-2016, 06:16 PM   #9
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Excellent road report. We also took our 40' motorhome towing the Jeep and spent the whole summer. We didn't have any damage to either and no dust intrusion inside our bays or motorhome. We did drive slow and I'm sure it helped.

The road around Destruction Bay (rightly named) will never be a smooth highway because of the Permafrost under the road base. They do the best they can each year. This is probably the slowest section of the highway. That road also washes out completely at times and since it's a major road it's repaired very quickly.

Overall, the trip is awesome and no one should be afraid to drive it. Millions have done so already and many before the Alcan was even paved. You're not going to a foreign country. Fuel is readily available as is anything else you'd need. Awesome boondocking spots by rivers and lakes. It's truly an adventure.
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Old 08-09-2016, 05:02 AM   #10
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Thanks for the post, loved all the detail and this is something my wife and I really want to do. I actually pulled up Google Earth and "followed" your progress, amazing part of the world.

Can you give a little more detail on the logistics of the trip? Route planning, fuel stops, etc. And what in the world would you do if you had a flat somewhere up there? Fix-a-flat and an air compressor?

Also is there any kind of cell/data reception up there? I'm still working full time so on a trip of several months I'd still need to connect.
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Old 08-09-2016, 12:05 PM   #11
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Route planning, fuel stops, etc. And what in the world would you do if you had a flat somewhere up there? Fix-a-flat and an air compressor?

Also is there any kind of cell/data reception up there? I'm still working full time so on a trip of several months I'd still need to connect.
Route planning? Cross into Canada at a convenient spot for you and just start heading north. All beginning routes are good. Once you get to the Yukon you really only have two choices: The Alaskan Highway (Alcan) or the Cassier Highway. Most folks take the Alaskan going up and the Cassier on the return to catch the bears feeding at Hyder, Alaska in August.

No need to make reservations generally. Pull in before 1pm and you'll get a site. The only reservations we made for the whole summer was for the July 4 weekend - Alaskans like to camp, too, and for our stay in Denali National Park.

If you carry a spare for a smaller RV then yes, change the tire. The bigger motorhomes don't come with spares - too heavy and big. In that case, travelers and locals are very helpful on the highways getting you to phone reception or a service place. Regardless of what you may hear, very few RVers have problems on the trip. Think of it just like a cross-country trip across the lower 48 - long.

Cell reception if you need to work along the way will be your biggest problem. First, you need to have your own hot spot - don't ever rely on Wifi. You'll have high cost and no signal in many places of Canada and the Yukon. Once you get into Alaska, you will only get cell in or near the bigger towns. If you are at a place with Wifi - that's meant for quick emails, etc. It's not meant for doing a job, financials or streaming.

Start reading any post concerning Alaska and many of your questions will be answered in the coming year or so. Woodalls.com has an ongoing yearly Alaska post in their Alaska forum of folks going that year. They contribute to it before the trip and as they're traveling to alert folks for any delays, etc.

It's definitely not a difficult trip. It's just a long one and it's best to have at least two months, preferably three months for the trip. It's not one that you'll take repeatedly, although many folks do. Break it down into small segments and don't think about it in terms of the whole trip. Plan to travel at slow speeds. It's not a fast one. Just enjoy the scenery and animals along the way.
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Old 08-10-2016, 11:38 AM   #12
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The response above is on point. I chose not to take a spare, other than the one on my toad, because it is simply too large, wouldn't fit under my bus, and I couldn't change it myself anyway. Frankly, this is only one of many breakdowns that is possible on any trip, anywhere. I took some engine related parts, such as belts and filters, and of course a large assortment of tools. I replaced all of my 10 year old tires with new Michelins the year before my trip.

I simply decided that any major breakdown would require that I be patient and wait for parts and service, even if that took several weeks. Fortunately, that did not occur. I did sign up for AAA RV service, as well as Good Sam's roadside plan, so that I could get towing service if needed.

Other than 5 days at Teklanika (strongly recommended) and 1 day in Jasper (we arrived on a weekend), we had no reservations. We only stayed in 1 commercial campground, dry, in Seward. Generally, we stayed in Yukon government campgrounds or Alaska state parks. We never had a problem getting a spot, although we were close with a couple of late arrivals.

Cell phone and internet. Great Question! We are still actively working and needed regular access. The good news is that a canadian company recently added cell towers all up and down the Alcan. We carried phones and tablets from ATT, Verizon, and T-Mobile. We used T-mobile exclusively in Canada, since it includes Canada in its free coverage zone, with the other phones and tablets either turned off or using the T-mobile phone as a hotspot. You don't need a separate hotspot other than a good phone that supports that. We were expecting terrible coverage and were surprised to find that while we may have periods of no coverage, we generally had coverage multiple times during the day while traveling. If we really needed to do something, we would just stop, take care of business, then keep moving. This was not an inexpensive approach, but was far cheaper than some kind of portable or mounted satellite system. Once in Alaska, we also had access most of the time (nothing in Teklanika) wherever we were, as long is it was close to some kind of town.

I did install a WEBoost RV system prior to leaving. I mounted the RV antenna with its own ground plane on the rear ladder and upgraded the inside antenna. This system generally added 2 bars to whatever signal I had, provided that the phone was within a few feet of the inside antenna. We just put the phone on a small shelf near the antenna and used that as our hotspot for everything else. This antenna was just behind the passenger seat on the sidewall, so anyone sitting in that seat got a good boosted signal.

I use the Allstays campground app, paired with Alaska and Yukon campground directories and the milepost, to find a campground. Usually, around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, I'll start figuring out how much further I want to drive and start looking at options at that distance. We rarely stayed in pullouts, but did find some very nice ones. Our favorite was a closed provincial campground in BC that was entirely empty but completely accessible. This one was found using the milepost. The Milepost is very good at helping you find stuff like this, as well as for pullouts. We were planning to stay also at the provincial campground at the Stewart/Hyder intersection on the Cassiar, but it was jammed full. Looking at the milepost, we found a pullout just a mile up the road that was well off the road, great, and free. We camped there for 2 nights while checking out Hyder in our toad. In retrospect, I would stay at the city campground in Stewart, but I didn't really have a plan and didn't want to drive all the way there and not have a place to stay. BTW, great free and fast internet at the cafe's and restaurants in Stewart.
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Old 08-11-2016, 05:42 PM   #13
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Still in AK (Fairbanks). Only issue was I picked up two screws in my trucks rear tire while in the TOW ( top of the world). Was a slow leaker. Tire was replaced in Fairbanks. Buy a good air pump. I knew about all the dust getting inside so before we started our trip I undercoated any seams under the trailer. Just had to tighten some screws here and there. I did bring a extra air filter for my truck and a extra cabin filter too.

Before we left a applied some 3M clear mast stuff to my headlight lens, chrome grill and the leading edge of my hood and fenders. Did a real good wash today while at a Fairbanks campground with a free RV & truck wash and the only thing I see is a slight speckles of road tar on the drivers side. After washing my truck I finally have my blue truck back. It's been a tan colored mess for the last month.
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Old 08-11-2016, 09:37 PM   #14
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Thanks for all the great info, really good to hear. Honestly the scariest part of this new adventure isn't the rig itself, driving it, leaving the house and community behind, etc. It's the logistics of the thing - where we're going to be, how we should be prepared, what to do when things happen. But hearing all the stories you folks have, how you have handled things, is really giving us the confidence to do it.

Alaska is a bucket list item for us, and I can't wait to make it happen.
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