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Old 07-21-2011, 11:32 AM   #1
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Alaska--There and Back 2011

Alaska Bound 2011
When Pat, THE WIFE, and I decided to go to Alaska in our RV, an EVERGREEN 31RLS travel trailer, we started researching the trip by talking to friends who had done so and surfing the internet and amassed quite a bit of information. THE WIFE spent lots of time worrying about where the sani-dumps were and where we could find water, all of which turned out to be totally unnecessary. It just wasn’t a problem or even an issue and she’s very happy about that.
Our plan was to leave South Louisiana as early as possible in the spring and to cross into Canada AFTER snow melt. We departed April 20th and eased our way north. This was a good plan as we were just ahead of most travelers.
On our arrival in Banff and Jasper National Parks in Canada there was still plenty of snow for us but none on the roads. Neat.
Of the several routes through Canada we opted to do this route and the parks on the way north as opposed to doing them on the return trip, in our opinion a good choice. We were fresh on the way up and still plenty of snow, hey, we are from south Louisiana and our last snow was in 1988!
We were determined to see all that we could as this could be our only trip to Alaska so we took the opportunity to swing over to Stewart, BC and crossed into Hyder, Alaska for the afternoon. Not much in Hyder but the trip there was spectacular----a portend of things to come.
This is not a travel log, there are plenty of those floating around, rather this is a compilation of our findings about this fantastic trip.
1. It is nowhere as difficult as it was made out to be, just was not.
2. Overall the roads were in very good condition, sure there were the ever- present repairs and construction but that is true no matter where one travels. Example, the Cassier Highway, some construction. The worst road section was Destruction Bay, Yukon Territory to Tok, Alaska. Not terrible, but one could not or should not, try to drive 55 mph on it. We, of course, opted to depart Alaska via the Top of the World Highway through Chicken. OK this is a dirt and gravel road from Chicken to Dawson City, Yukon. Can you spell “well worth the trip?” It is slow going, no shoulder, dirt, gravel and drop- offs at the road’s edge of thousands of feet. No kidding, great. Huge trucks and tankers pulling two trailers drive this every day. Again, go slow and stay in your lane, what there is of it. Even THE WIFE enjoyed it once we got started on it. The fear of what we had been told was, by far, the worst of the trip. While talking about this road, do not pass without stopping at Boundary just before leaving Alaska. It is but a log cabin bar and café but is the “real Alaska”. The roads in Alaska proper are very good and we drove just about every one of them even up to Joy near the Arctic Circle. Note that in Alaska and all of Canada there are many long; fairly steep grades on the roads, up to 10% that are often miles long so one needs a strong tow vehicle.
3. We did purchase the recommended travel books, MILE POST, WOODALLS, and TRAVELER’S GUIDE TO ALASKA CAMPING by MIKE & TERRI CHURCH. The latter we particularly liked and used, it is just Alaska but the advantage, a big one, is that it has NO ADS. Therefore no “bias”. It also lists prices for campgrounds. An experienced Alaska traveler suggested that we laminate the two maps in MILE POST and we did, a great help. Had it done at the local office supply store for just a few dollars. MILE POST was a great tool for the Canadian parts of the trip.
4. We stopped at the visitor center as we entered each state or province on the way up and got all the travel info for the area and the latest road reports.
5. One question many RVers ask is about reservations at camp grounds. We did NOT make any going or coming. One exception, we did call Denali 3-4 days ahead of arrival for a reservation in the park and got it. That is the ONLY one of the entire trip and we had no difficulty in getting into parks or camp grounds. Our practice was to, usually; call ahead an hour or so out from our intended stop, if we had cell coverage! That brings up another matter, communications. Don’t even think about using your air cards, such as Verizon, as they are prohibitively expensive, as of now. We switched our Verizon cell phone plan over to the Nationwide Plus Canada for only $20 per month, well worth it, again when one had coverage. You can switch back & forth to your regular plan when you’re out of Canada. When in Alaska you are back on the cell grid, so to speak, and can use your air card but call your carrier and make certain, the cell signals DO CROSS THE BORDER as you do not want to get caught in that trick bag.
6. Preparations for the trip were actually minimal. I always have my truck serviced regularly so not much there except that I accelerated several items so that I would not have to deal with them on the road. With 40,000 miles on the truck I went ahead and had the transmission serviced early and had the gas filter changed as well as these are 50,000 mile items. So many had cautioned me about all the rocks that would be thrown up on the roads and how I must install rock guards and all. I placed a piece of hardware cloth in front of my radiator, behind the grill, to protect from rocks. I guess that it worked as we had no problems! No dings on the windshield either. The other concession that I made was that I carried a five gallon can of gasoline in case of not finding gas. NEVER used it. As the book says, when you get to one half tank, fill up, don’t go lower, the next listed gas station may no longer be in business or you cannot get your rig into it. On the latter point this was a consideration more often than one would think, but this is true in US travel as well.
7. An air compressor, I think, is an essential piece of equipment to have on board. I always carry a small 110 volt SEARS compressor that has a bit over 100 lb. capability with a 30 ft. hose. Don’t leave home without it. Few gas stations have air these days and those that do, you may not be able to get to the air pump. We carry, as a matter of course, a HONDA, 3 kW gen set and used it several times to charge the batteries only. It was always more than cool enough at night to not need a/c.
8. In the US, we utilize the 2-4-4 Rule and did on this trip, 200 miles, 4 hours or 4 pm whichever comes first. You will not regret it. Gives time to smell the roses.
9. In both Canada and Alaska there are “turn outs” all along the highways. They usually have a trash can and sometimes a restroom. We utilized them for rests and to have lunch and on more than a few occasions all night. Note that some do not allow overnight stays. A few were actually better than some commercial camp grounds, one comes to mind on the Al-Can, with a fast running stream on one side of the road and on the other, bears coming to the stream! By the way, most all traffic on it all but ceases at dark.
10. About bears, everywhere are cautions, and rightfully so. But, and this is a big but, we would stop to photograph them on the side of the road and they would not even look up. On several occasions I would shout, out the window of the truck, “HEBERT” and the bear would look up and at us, bingo a great picture. (Ok for the uninitiated, in French/Louisiana speak; Hebert is pronounced “A bear”. We saw as much wildlife from the road on almost a daily basis as we did on a very good all day guided trip in Denali Park.
11. Not a surprise, but this is an expensive trip any way you cut it. Gas is very expensive in Canada, as it ranges from about $1.30 to $1.80 per liter which is about $6 per gallon- recall that from the US border with Canada to Alaska is about 2,000 miles each way! Food in a grocery store or a restaurant is likewise expensive, how about a $20 hamburger, you do get fries with that. Granted that was not real common, but, most of the time a burger was about $10 -you get the picture.
12. Alaska is, literally, overrun with tourists. I had no idea. Not only are there so many RVs, but tourists from the cruise ships are bussed all over the state, so even if you avoid the cruise ship ports, the ship passengers are bussed all over the interior. Trust me; once the ships designate a port “An Alaska experience” in that town is altered forever. The ships even open what appear, at first blush, to be local shops and inns, but are actually owned by the ship. Be sure to check the labels on things you buy to make sure that it’s made in Alaska and not China. We do recommend doing a boat tour or two on the Fjords to see the marine life, our tour took us to Juneau and it was great. The Alaska State Ferry was also interesting, we only did a short trip to an island, Seldovia, and back to Homer, but it took all day.

13.With respect to border crossing, the rules are fairly simple, but and this is important, have all of your documents OUT and ready for presentation, this includes passports, truck registration and driver’s license. Granted that we were asked for the latter two on only one occasion, and not the same occasion it is much easier to have them at the ready than scrambling to find them. Need I say holding up a line of vehicles. On our last crossing into the US, the customs officer even THANKED US FOR HAVING BOTH PASSPORTS at the ready! NO weapons, tobacco, nor alcohol into Canada. I am not saying that a small amount for personal use is prohibited but saying NO to the query speeds things up considerably. Returning to the US, neither fresh vegetables nor fruit, there are exceptions but as the customs officer said the rules change so often that it is easier to not have any. If traveling with children or pets proper documents should also be in hand.
In conclusion, I must admit that THE WIFE and I are not “outdoors people” even though we had our 45ft Trawler Style boat for many decades and spent five seasons doing the Great Circle Cruise around the eastern US and Canada. That being the case, we did this trip for the scenery and the adventure. As it turned out it was more of the former than the latter. I guess that’s good!!
I failed to mention that our rig consisted of the aforementioned bumper pull travel trailer and a Ford F-250 four door Super Duty V 8 gas pickup that did a yeoman’s job on the trip. The trip was certainly do-able and worth doing, it was lots of fun and the sights were breath-taking.

Epilogue: Question about a Guided Tour to Alaska
This is a perfectly doable trip. It is fun and exciting.
We see NO need for a Guided Tour expense, recall the big HUGE EXPENSE IS FUEL and Good Same nor the other Tour Companies provide that. I forgot to mention that until you have put a HALF of a tank of gas in your vehicle and it is over ONE HUNDRED BUCKS you have not lived.
We stay as long as we want in any place and if we do not want to get up and travel we dont. With a group you Must travel.
Borrow a MILE POST and read it. The ROUTES are laid out for you, take your choice.

This is a big trip and you want to ENJOY it, not rush thru on someone else's schedule.
We would see something and detour immediately, try that with a group.
We examined the tours and QUICKLY disabused ourselves of that.
Now that we have completed the trip, the Canada-Alaska portion anyway, we are CONFIRMED in that belief. Not even a close call.
The TOP OF THE WORLD HIGHWAY, Pat noticed that a SIGNIFICANT percentage of the drivers were WOMEN!!!
The Canadian portion of the trip is 4,000 miles alone plus what we did in Alaska (2,718 miles) you want to have the ability to SEE what interests you and dwell if you wish, most will do this trip one time! As we said we did not want to miss anything.
We are in Idaho right now, taking the LONG way home, trying to wait out the hot weather in Louisiana, and have run up 11,333 miles on this cruise.

All through Canada and Alaska we were taken at the HUGE PERCENTAGE of the vehicles on the roads that were RECREATIONAL VEHICLES. An infinitisimal percentage were on "tours". You want a tour, take a cruise ship, their tour busses are like gnats, everywhere!!



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Old 07-21-2011, 11:52 AM   #2
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Very nice reading. Thanks for sharing it with us. Did yall take alot of photos?

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Old 07-21-2011, 06:08 PM   #3
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Thanks. I've been following your posts as we are planning this trip next year from the Houston area.
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Old 07-21-2011, 06:16 PM   #4
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Thanks for your insight. So you are bumper pulling a 31' trailer? Did you find much issue as far as length? We want to do Alaska sometime and one of the things we've debated is length (I figure we'll have a newer motorhome by then) since we don't actually own towable vehicles (currently, with a 30' gasser we've not had issues).

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Old 07-21-2011, 06:29 PM   #5
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Thanks for the post. We'll be doing this from Dallas next year.
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Old 07-21-2011, 08:15 PM   #6
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No problem with length at all. Some National Parks have small sites but we managed.
We are migrants from a boat, cruised several decades on it and pur the TT last yr. Did several multi month trips last summer and winter. This one is long, 3 months yesterday and abt 3 to go before home.

THE WIFE and I agree that this length is really more than we need!
We did not take the TT nor the truck on the Alaska State Ferry and after watching a loading and unloading will not. Expensive and the TT must be BACKED into the ferry and then backed the length of the ferry! Not fun that I could see and EXPENSIVE. Ck the ferry tarifs.
As mentioned we did take a state ferry on a day trip as walk on , it is a great trip.
Took a private, fast ferry from Skagway to Juneau, DONT MISS that one.
Saw plenty of BIG DP's all over Canada and Alaska.

Took a ton of photos and they are on SNAPFISH, I will attempt to put the link in this, dont know if the system will accept it.

A note from Charles:

I thought you might like to see this Album!

Click in the area immediately under the foregoing and see if it works. If not and anyone knows how I can make it work please let me know.

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Old 07-22-2011, 12:40 AM   #7
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Thanks for the post, this should really help those that are planning for an Alaskan adventure and I agree with all that you've said. Just like to add a little to the Top of the World Hwy. We did TOTW from the opposite direction that you took.

When we got to Dawson City it had been raining for almost a week and everything (mostly the city streets) were a slurry of mud...kind of added to the charm of the ole mining town. After crossing the Yukon River on the free ferry(might get there around 7AM and have the ferry to yourselves...heard reports of 3 hour waits at later times), we were unable to see Dawson from the TOTW because of the low lying clouds and rain...no biggie. We stopped for breakfast on a pull off and the weather cleared somewhat and the views were indeed spectacular. The road from the Canadian side was OK/good with some 'breaks' and a few rough spots. After we crossed into Alaska, with all the rain, the road had turned to pure dirt/mud. This is where future travelers need to use some caution. When this part(US) of the TOTW gets alot of rain, it becomes what some would describe as trecherious...I would agree with that.

Immediately after going through US Customs, the road becomes almost a one lane dirt road with, what I could tell, no underlying base to support or keep the dirt firm to support vehicle weight. With all the rain, there were spots what I could feel our MH loose some direction stability. After passing the little café in Boundary, that section going up the hill was especially slippery and we experience some wheel spin towing the toad up that section...not a comfortable situation. After that little episode, the road seemed to have a more solid base under all the mud but had some medium to large pot holes that rattled our teeth(5, 10 & 15mph). There were some DPs and 5'ers that doing at least 35 to 50 mph through all that mud and potholes. We had so much mud build up, what it's weight cause the loss of one of our mud flaps between the border and Chicken. We stayed at Chicken Creek RV (it IS a Passport America CG and gives a fuel discount for staying there as well) for the night and when we were topping off the fuel, I kept hearing these loud 'plops' and at least 20 lbs. of mud fell out of each wheel well...the Jeep was covered up and from the belt line down, you could not tell what color the MH was.

Two miles south of Chicken, you cross a paved bridge and the road is paved (with the prerequisite gravel breaks and occasional rough spots)all the way into Tok. Personally, I think the US could do better...after all, IT is the TOTW Hwy for crying out loud! Tok's motto is 'The RV Washing Capitol' and it took four hours of cleaning to find the RV's colors were the same as we remembered.

Moral of this little story is 'If it's been raining for a week on the Top of the World Hwy., do it ANYWAY, but use extreme caution'. If you've never driven it, it is a must do...ONCE! We did talk to some fellow campers in Tok RV, that came up the Cassiar and drove over to Dawson City(stayed the night) from Tok in their toad...that's an option as well.

As a side, a week after we made the trip, they had a diesel pusher loss over the side with all the mud...no report as to pax injuries. Also in Chicken, all buildings and businesses are powered by generator. The power is not 'clean' and they usually shut 'em down around 8PM for maintenance and to save on diesel costs. We used our gen-set when needed for fear of damaging the RV's systems due to low power output. No phone, no pool....After all, Alaska is the "Last Frontier"... more so in some places. But all...BEAUTIFUL! Bob
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Old 07-22-2011, 06:46 AM   #8
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We are in the planning stages of a 2012 voyage to "The last Frontier" and appreciate all the comments (I'm copying them too).

Is it possible dates be included in the summaries? Also, we hear a lot about bugs. Any comments on that?

Please, keep 'em coming.
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Carry on, regardless..................
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Old 07-22-2011, 07:39 AM   #9
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Pat & Charles:

GREAT DESCRIPTION of your Alaska trip. THANKS.

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Old 07-22-2011, 08:20 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by SteveLevin View Post

Thanks for your insight. So you are bumper pulling a 31' trailer? Did you find much issue as far as length? We want to do Alaska sometime and one of the things we've debated is length (I figure we'll have a newer motor-home by then) since we don't actually own tow-able vehicles (currently, with a 30' Gasser we've not had issues).

Back in 2010, I have made one trip to Alaska for the entire summer, May through September. Left CA on May 7th and returned to CA on October 1st. We own a nearly 41 foot coach towing a 30 foot trailer including the tongue. Never experienced any length issues, YET. Doesn't mean that it may not occur sometime in the future.

We are planning to return to Alaska for the summer of 2012, this time leaving Florida around the first of April and arriving in Anchorage by May 17th or so. I have sons that live in both Anchorage and Fairbanks so we stay at each location for 2 months. Always try to leave by the 15th of September. Fairbanks usually has their first snowfall later in September. In Anchorage, we stay at one of the closed schools working as a Camper Host for 2 months and while in Fairbanks, we are Workampers at one of the local RV parks for two months. Helps save on expenses so I can pay for the fuel up and back which is the MAJOR expense for this road trip.

Going and coming back during those months is usually BEFORE and AFTER the major tourist traffic times. That way we generally have the road to ourselves. We never made any reservations and always found places to pull off for the night or if we wanted to rest for a bit, catchup on laundry, email, etc. we would book into a place for two nights before moving on.

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Old 07-22-2011, 08:25 AM   #11
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Excellent advice and well written. We did a 3 month tour of Alaska in 2002 and it was indeed the experience of a lifetime!

By the way, there actually is something to do in Hyder, AK. The Forest Service maintains a bear viewing area a few miles north of town and it is a real treat when the salmon are running and the bears come down to hunt in the streams. You are very, very close to grizzlys and black bears, not to mention a zillion fish. One can also continue on up the mountain road to the Salmon Glacier, where the view is pretty spectacular.
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Old 09-06-2011, 04:51 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by SteveLevin View Post
Thanks for your insight. So you are bumper pulling a 31' trailer? Did you find much issue as far as length? We want to do Alaska sometime and one of the things we've debated is length (I figure we'll have a newer motorhome by then) since we don't actually own towable vehicles (currently, with a 30' gasser we've not had issues).

I travel Alaska quite often, I live here. Have done it in a 31' Class C and now doing it in a 40' Class A. Both have traveled the ALCAN. Been to Seward, Homer, Fairbanks, Valdez and points in between. No issues.

It would be nice sometimes to have a 5er or TT to leave at the camp site and go exploring in a 4wd. But since I live here 8 months of the year, I get the opportunities to explore.

Hope to see you here in the future.
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Old 09-06-2011, 05:48 AM   #13
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Great post and very much the same experience we had this summer. We crossed the border into Canada mid-May, and just returned mid August.

We also did the Top of the World, it was early and it was very dry. No problems at all. We did hear later in the summer from some people who drove it after a heavy rain, it sounded like a totally different and somewhat unpleasant experience.

For me, if future Alaska bound travelers can take only one or two things from this thread, it would be these.

First, all of the stories about how bad the roads are, simply are no longer accurate. My theory is that they probably all were accurate in years past, but people who were up there 20 years ago (or maybe even 5 or 10 for all I know) , are really working on old tapes. And those stories just continue to circulate. Even last week, I talked with a fellow in a park we were at when our trip came up. He couldn't believe we had taken our nearly 38 ft fiver. They are planning next summer and are getting a truck camper to go up with, even though they are traveling in a nice 36 ft Carriage. He said they would rather take the fiver as they know they would be more comfortable, but just wouldn't take it up on those roads.

It turns out they were up there in 1991-so he knew what the roads were like! I have no doubt what he was saying was correct, but I did mention that was 20 years ago and they just weren't like that now. When I suggested that many of the roads were better than some that we have traveled in the lower 48, I could tell he thought I was just "blowing smoke" somewhere. We had NO dings, no issues. Take it easy over the frost heaves, and the construction areas, and all is fine.

The second is the comment about the Mike and Terri Church "Alaska Camping" book. If someone told us we could only take one travel book--that would be it. Thats not to suggest its not worth buying The Milepost--its just that if I could only depend on one, it would be the Church book. As the original poster, we made no reservations, excepting Denali. And there were two things that we really loved about the Church book.

Mike and Terri actually have visited the RV parks. And because its not advertisements, it tells the real scoop on each of the various parks. If you have a big rig--you will really know if a particular park is "Big Rig friendly". Many claim to be-not all are. Same goes for many of the stop offs you may consider pulling into. They will actually tell you if you can reasonably expect to pull into a viewing area or whatever, park a big rig, and drive back out.

The other thing we liked about the Church book is the maps. Very simple lines drawn of the particular area or road, with each of the RV parks identified on the map with big rig friendly identified. So as we were moving to a new area, we could easily look and see what parks we might be passing on the way, in between towns or in town. (I know I am starting to sound like an advertisement myself, but I have no connection with this book, just loved it for RVing in Alaska).

Again, the OP did a great job on the post--and we would agree with all of it from our experience this spring and summer.

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