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Old 01-24-2020, 03:38 PM   #1
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Tips from our 2019 Alaska Trip [Long]

We went to Alaska this past summer (2019) and wanted to share my thoughts. We traveled as part of a caravan-which I recommend-in a 44í class A with a toad so my observations are based on this.

We crossed at Montana/Sweetgrass and onto Edmonton where the caravan actually started. The caravan ended in Fairbanks 42 days later and we traveled on our own across Canada to Winnipeg and then crossed at the North Dakota /Pembina crossing.

In no particular order:

Do not listen to horror stories about road conditions. These people have never driven it or the last time they drove it was in the 40s. The entire length of the AK highway has been paved since the 90s. That said there is always construction somewhere. Like anywhere else slow down and follow the directions. A few times we had a pilot car.

The road is good to excellent with few potholes until you get about 30 miles north of Whitehorse. There the frost heaves and other road defects start, some stretches worse than others. You just have to go slow. It is all part of the adventure.

The rural roads in AK are similar. Frost heaves, potholes, and construction. The roads within towns and cities are fine.

Anytime you leave a paved road surface you will be on gravel/dirt/mud that will be full of potholes and will be bumpy and rough. This applies to rest areas, parking lots, fuel stations, etc.

Although the caravan made all our reservations I was really surprised that we would be able to fit in almost any spot in any campground. Most were wide open with few trees and were easy to maneuver with a big rig. This applies along the AK highway. Campgrounds in AK were similar but some were tight and we faced the usual restrictions that we did in the L48.

Expect 30A everywhere. There are are few 50A but they are rare. At one place some sites were 20A. Most wonít have sewer but will have a dump station. One place had just opened and their water was still frozen and their dump station was being replaced so we had 30A only.

Your RV will be filthy at all times. Almost no one will let you wash your RV at your site. Some will have a wash area on a per minute basis (usually $1) or a flat fee. Road dirt, construction areas, especially those that have been wetted down, and rain will keep things dirty.

Most of the campgrounds along the AK highway were outposts. These consist of an RV park that has cabins or hotel rooms, a restaurant and gas all in one spot.

Expect pay showers everywhere you go. This starts in Canada and some parts of the US before you even get to the AK highway.

We were in AK during a heat wave. The electrical grids in AK cannot handle a heat wave. Nearly everyone had a problem at some point and ran their generator. Lack of 50A worsened this.

Cell phone/internet/communications
We have ATT cell phones and a US only Verizon hotspot. Our cell phones have the Canada plan. They roam on Bell/Telus and Rogers. In areas with cell service it was excellent. I was really surprised. Fast LTE and good cell signal. Overall better that the L48.

The Verizon hotspot did not work anywhere in Canada nor did we expect it to. It worked fine in AK everywhere except Tok. In Tok we are on 3G which was absolutely useless. ATT was also weak in Tok.

Camp Wifi: Short answer-forget it. Long answer-the further north you go the weaker and more expensive it will be. If it is free or metered it will be useless. We did not try any pay options. Internet is either DSL or satellite so you are already limited.

DirectTV does not work in Canada. It doesnít work in AK either unless you have a large fixed mounted dish bigger than the one used everywhere else.

Hulu does not work in Canada if you have a US account. I assume Netflix is the same.

A friend called South Carolina from a landline payphone using a credit card. It was $10/minute. This was in Watson Lake.

There are huge stretches that have no cell service.

There are no truck stops like you are used to outside metro areas of Canada. There are plenty of ďCardlockĒ stations which can accept big RVs but the problem is they almost exclusively accept only their brand fleet credit card or other fleet cards they have reciprocity with. No consumer cards and you cannot get a fleet card for personal use-I tried. Most of them are unmanned, including the Flying J I used, or are only manned during business hours. That said we did find a few that took consumer cards. Someone called ahead and we were advised that the attendant had to be there to start the pumps. The Flying J took consumer cards.

Since most card lock stations are out you will need to fuel at regular stations, some may have truck lanes, or at the outposts along the AK highway. You can fit into any outpost station as they also service the semis.

The most expensive diesel fuel was at Tetsa River at $1.89/L which is US $5.42/gallon. They had a sign on the unleaded pump (see pic) that said ďNo SnivelingĒ. The best price was at Costco $.99/L or $2.87/gallon in Grand Prairie. The pump area itself was OK but it was a nightmare getting through the insane parking lot traffic with a big rig to get to the pump. Never again.

There is no DEF at the pumps anywhere north of the metro areas. Walmarts do not sell DEF in Canada. It is readily available at gas stations, stores, NAPA etc. but it is very expensive compared to WM.

Almost no one posts their fuel prices on a sign along the AK highway. Those that do tend to be a little cheaper. Apps like Gas Buddy are useless as many stations are not listed and those that are donít have current prices. This is especially true where there is no cell service. Almost all fuel is unbranded along the AK highway.

Over and over we heard donít bother with Canadian money just use your credit card they will do the conversion. While this is true I realized I needed Canadian money when I wanted to buy a $.25 post card and did not want to charge it. I wound up going to the exchange booth at the Edmonton Mall and exchanged US$100. They only accept cash; you cannot charge the amount you want to exchange. Before I did this I went to an ATM but declined the outrageous fees. Make sure your card does not charge transaction fees and is activated for Canada. I did not find any stores, even those near the border, that accepted USD$.

RCMP presence along the AK highway is extremely scarce. We did see quite a few as we drove through this area a day or so after this happened:
AK Highway Murders

Rest areas along the AK Highway
There are plenty of places to pulls off to rest, take pictures, walk the dog etc. These come in varying sizes ranging from one or two cars to a multiple RVs and semis. They all are gravel/dirt and will be rough. Those with toilets will be pit toilets with no power, water or sewer.

Bonus trip to the Northwest Territories
This was the highlight of the trip on our way back down. We took Liard Highway north into the Northwest Territories so we could get the decal for our map. This is between the Tetsa River Lodge (where we bought that expensive fuel) and Fort Nelson.

The Liard Highway is 85 miles one way to the NWT border. It is two lane, paved and in excellent condition. There were a few frost heaves that were marked and they were very rough. There is NOTHING on this highway except a few roads that I assume lead to oil fields. Surprisingly there is good cell service in the middle but not on either end. We probably saw ten cars total on both ways of the trip.

The welcome area is suitable for pictures but not overnight parking. It is fairly narrow and on a slope and would be hazardous in the dark especially with a slide out. I found this field just north of there on Google:

Nortwest Territories Field

Plenty of room and it was just us and the mosquitos. We spent one night. In the morning a herd of Bison walked right through our camp sight. It was awesome. See pic.

Lessons for next time
I would buy or rent a satellite phone. The last RV in our caravan had one and although I donít think it was ever used it was a security thing. Once the caravan disbanded we were on our own outside of cell areas.

Exchange more money for Canadian. Although some in our group used cards for EVERYTHING I found it a PITA not to have some Canadian $ for small purchases and tips.

Stock up on DEF at WalMart in the L48.

Useful link to convert fuel prices:
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Old 01-25-2020, 12:37 AM   #2
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Thank you! Great info for our trip next summer!
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Old 01-26-2020, 07:18 AM   #3
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Great tips !! Thank you...will be north bound later this year, these tips will sure help a bunch !!
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Old 01-26-2020, 08:21 AM   #4
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Thanks for your information. A couple of question if you donít mind.
1- would you do it again? If so alone or in another caravan?
2- when all costs are included what did it cost per day?

Thanks for sharing.

Enjoy the journey
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Old 01-26-2020, 11:12 AM   #5
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A few tips to add.
Most any Ford dealer will have 2.5g jugs Of DEF.
They are usually sold 2 per case.
I assume GM and Dodge dealers will have it as well.
Any Canadian bank or credit union can exchange US currency for Canadian.
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Old 01-26-2020, 01:12 PM   #6
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My links do not work in the OP.

Here is the one for the AK Highway Murders

and the NWT camping spot,...06831,0.015631

Originally Posted by Trapperbob11 View Post
Thanks for your information. A couple of question if you donít mind.
1- would you do it again? If so alone or in another caravan?
2- when all costs are included what did it cost per day?

Thanks for sharing.

Enjoy the journey
I would do it again but probably not alone. Maybe not in a caravan but in a group of at least a few others. There is security in numbers, not necessarily crime related, but help with the glitches that happen along the way. I had mechanical problems, as did others, so folks helped me and I was able to help others along the journey.

The caravan was $7K for 42 days (two people) from Edmonton to Fairbanks. That included all campgrounds, some meals, and many side trips. If I had to guess I would add a few thousand for fuel and other stuff. This doesn't include expenses to and from the actual caravan.
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Old 01-26-2020, 01:35 PM   #7
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Canadian Tire has def.
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Old 01-26-2020, 11:00 PM   #8
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We did it alone twice and had absolutely no problems. The highways are filled with other travelers and they along the the locals are eager to help, if needed.

Being on a caravan schedule would not be pleasant for us. Everyone goes to the same places and there are very few roads so you're not going to miss things or get lost if you go alone. Even by talking to locals we got offered by them some very unique experiences at their homes - sled dogs and lovely gardens. They even shared salmon with us.

If you don't like a stop you can move on and if you want to explore more you can stay.

We didn't make any reservations for the trip except for the July 4 weekend (locals like to camp, also) and also for 5 nights in Denali Nat'l Park. For those we only made them a couple weeks out when we could better judge when we'd be in the area. As it turned out we were early for our Denali reservations at Teklanika campground so on a whim we boondocked nearby the previous night and pulled into Denali early morning and easily secured an additional 5 nights in Denali's Riley Creek campground. 10 nights in Denali and we saw 'the' mountain 7 of the days and saw every one of the big animals.... more than once.

There are gorgeous boondocking spots along rivers or lakes so campgrounds weren't used much.

Plan for the 3 months of summer depending on how often you think you'll make the trip.
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Old 01-26-2020, 11:40 PM   #9
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RMD3819s information and advice are spot on. We driven the Alaska Highway
a dozen times since the mid 1970s and the road has improved constantly. Any horror stories you may hear are inevitably from long ago

Its not a difficult drive at all, but it is long. Expect to be on the road for 5 full days between the Montana/Alberta boarder to the Alaska border. Except for the stretch from south of Calgary to north of Edmonton, you'll be on 2-lane highways - and they are generally well built and maintained, and you'll be able to average 60 mph. The rest of the highway is primarily 2-lane and once you're on them you'll see they are reasonably good for the far north conditions. For the most part you will only be able to average 45 mph. Don't push it beyond that because there will be bad spots in the road. They are usually marked with orange flags or cones, so be watching for them and definitely slow down when you see them. The bad spots can range from a simple pothole or washboard, but it can also be a major frost heave or dips caused by partial roadway collapse. Its never dangerous, but it will rattle your bones or bounce your coach to the suspension limits if you don't slow down.

We live in Alaska and ashamed to admit the worst roads on the trip are in Alaska. Maintenance and repair has been deferred for years and roads that were repaired only a few years ago are starting to heave badly again.

I know this sounds bad, but if you don't drive with your hair on fire you'll be fine. Besides, if you drive at reasonable speeds you'll be able to enjoy the spectacular scenery!
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Old 06-19-2021, 03:40 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by rlott2k View Post
A few tips to add.
Most any Ford dealer will have 2.5g jugs Of DEF.
They are usually sold 2 per case.
I assume GM and Dodge dealers will have it as well.
Any Canadian bank or credit union can exchange US currency for Canadian.
Better late than never. DEF is sold in Walmart Canada, and has been since it became a mandatory SCR requirement a decade or more ago.
All comments are my opinions, and worth exactly what you paid for them.
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