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Old 01-31-2012, 01:52 PM   #1
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Overwhelmed @ planning this trip from S. TX to Anchorage

My husband got orders to Alaska. I am working on our itenerary now so we'll have reservations and budgets all in order. I am now stuck and not sure where/how to go. We will be pulling our 35'tt. The military says 350mi/day is a good amount to cover. I'm going to try to stick to around 300 because we have small kids....lots of potty breaks! I'd prefer to not drive super mountainous terrain in the dark; actually, I'd rather be parked by nightfall, giving the kids time to run before bed. We will have 3 weeks (maybe 4, if we get really lucky, but I'm not counting on it) to complete this trip. I don't want it to be boring. We homeschool, so this is an amazing opportunity for our kids to see places and things they've learned about. This will be May-June time frame.

Day 1: San Antonio to Ft. Stockton; overnight here & leave early in the morning
Day 2: Continue to Carlsbad Caverns (3hr stop); overnight in Vaughn, NM area
Day 3: Continue to Great Sand Dunes NP & camp here
Day 4: overnight in Cheyenne, WO area
Day 5: ????

So, I need somewhere to stop in the Vaughn, NM area- I don't care if it's a boondock kinda place; just wanna fix dinner and sleep! Days 5-8 or 9 I'm planning to spend in Western South Dakota. I just can't figure out a good itenerary or where to stay. I keep going round and round, and I know to avoid the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway with the tt, but I need a good base camp. I'm looking at the Rafter J Bar Ranch, but how to get there from Newcastle WY? We want to see: Black Hills NP, Custer SP, Mt. Rushmore NM, and the Badlands NP. I need one good base camp to drop the tt, preferably with trees. (I like trees! ) I'll have our cats with us and am contemplating buying a backpack style pet carrier to carry them in for any walking excursions we take (except Mt. R)...depending on weather. Leaving them in the tt makes me nervous; I'm a worry-wort.

When we leave that area, I would like to see Devils Tower NM, but I don't think it's going to fit in the schedule. We're going to Great Falls, MT, to cross the border at Sweet Grass/Coutts. I've started planning that part of the trip, but I have to nail down our SD adventure first! I want to spend most of our time in Canada since that's the longest part of the trip....and I've no idea when we'll get the chance to do this again! I'm looking forward to the trip, but I want it to be incredible. I know we're going at the peak of tornado season and I know that when traveling, especially with kids, that which can go wrong, will. I'm perfectly okay with that sort of stuff. I just want to know where we're supposed to be each day of our trip, how many days it will take us to get out of the US (so I can figure out how many days we can play tourist in Canada), and still have a built in buffer of 3-4days for other The Unexpected. I also want to know what to expect from the roads we will be travelling.
Any input would be appreciated. Especially regarding roads to take and avoid, % grades to expect, a good base camp, and so on.

*I wasn't really worried about roads until our most recent trip went haywire. Our GPS was supposed to be taking us to a state park for the night. It was rainy and dark and cold. We climbed up a narrow, windy road, starting crossing a loooooooong bridge, and saw a sign posted on the other sign of the bridge: ROAD CLOSED. Tail lights do not provide sufficient illumination for backing down a mountain road, so dh backed down the road with me running along yelling, Turn Right! Turn Left!! SToooooop!! After that, we have decided that if we aren't there by night fall, we'll stop at a rest area/truck stop- somewhere else rather than risk it. I will be getting our GPS updated before we leave, but I'm not going to trust it ever again.
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Old 01-31-2012, 02:26 PM   #2
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Get a new GPS that caters to the RV traveller. Gives bridge heights, narrow raods, etc.
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Old 01-31-2012, 02:53 PM   #3
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Beware - there is NOTHING in Vaughn, NM. It's a virtual ghost town. In fact, there is very close to nothing along US 285 between Roswell and Santa Fe.

I would suggest you skip Fort Stockton and overnight in Carlsbad (there's a very nice KOA north of town and an older RV facility on the road to the caverns). San Antonio to Carlsbad is a long day (450 miles), but is doable.

Remember, you're traveling through very sparsely populated areas where even basic amenities can be few and far between. Don't assume that even though a town is listed on the map that there is anything there - even a gas station.

You need to get a good RV guide such as Woodals and/or the Trailer Life guide. if you are going to be traveling with a lap top computer, Microsoft Streets and Trips is a very good travel planning tool.

Also, keep a close eye on the enroute weather. May/June should be good travel weather times.

Good Luck!!
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Old 01-31-2012, 02:54 PM   #4
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Hi maconswife,
Looks like you have about 4400 miles to Anchorage.

For the SW SD area, consider Heartland RV Park & CG (605-255-5460). It is right on highway 79 (four lane highway). Unfortunately, no trees. However, from the CG you can easily do the SW SD attractions. If you approach from the south, consider stopping at the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs. It is an active archaeological site. It is indoors. It is about a 1/2 day stop. Other than that, all the sights you mentioned are available on a circular route from the CG.

For the Badlands area, consider the Badlands White River KOA (it has trees). 800-KOA-3897. It is on highway 44 south of the Badlands National Park. Approaching from he North, you will need to through the park to get to the CG. Some things you might not know about this area:
1. If you hike in the Badlands, the biggest person is the last one up the hill and the first one down the hill. The ground will crumble even with the best hiking shoes. Footing can easily be lost. The biggest person's job is to listen for the scream and brace one's self as the person slides into them. They are there to stop the fall.
2. If you are lucky, you'll be there on a clear night with no moon. Take the family to the amphitheater at the south entrance to the park. About 60-90 minutes after sun down you will see more stars than anyone would think possible. There is almost no black sky, the sky is all stars! You can even see the Mikey Way, our home galaxy. There may be a ranger talk with telescope and lazer pointer. You can watch Russian spy satellites pass over the area (old satellites to watch our Minuteman Missiles). Take flashlights, but leave them off until you leave. It will be so dark you will not be able to see our hand in front of your face.
3. Go to Minuteman Missile National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service) and read about this site. It is at exit 131 on I 90. You will already have been at this exit, but may have passed by the trailer housing the National Site ranger station. The web site will tell you how to make reservations for a tour. Reservations are a must. Tours are very small (6 people). One gets a guide that takes you down into the command center for the missile sites. You will also be able to drive to a silo that has a missile in it (deactivated). You can look down into the silo.
4. One must stop at Wall drug. If you don't, people will look at you a bit strange. Everybody stops at Wall Drug. If you time the stop so you can have lunch or dinner there, the best Buffalo burgers can be had there.

As you head west on I 90, cross over into Wyoming and you'll be near Devil's Tower National Monument. Two CG are close to the Tower. Mountain View RV Park & CG is 800-792-8439. Is is close to I 90. Devil's Tower KOA 800-562-5785. The KOA is within sight of the tower. However, one does have to haul the TT out there and back. The roads are okay and it should not be a problem.

Go on I 90 to exit 9, Ranchester. The CG is Lazy R CG & RV Park. 307-674-2600. There are other CGS at Sheridan (exit 21). Do not take the TT past Ranchester. Per the OP, the road turns into quite and up/down and around adventure. This is an out of the way National Historic site. It is the Stonehedge of the USA. Go to and read about the Medicine Wheel NHS. Because of the windy and climbing road, this is an all day adventure. At the intersection of route 14 and 14A there is a very good and very local restaurant. If you go take warm clothes. The site is at 10K' elevation and there is snow year around.

If you have the time, in Montana, on your way there is Little Bighorn Battlefield Nat. Monument (Custer's last stand). Go to and read about it. Also there is Glacier National Park. Go to and read about it. You'll be on the east side and that is the side I stay in (St. Mary's).

Good luck and happy miles.
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Old 01-31-2012, 02:57 PM   #5
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Being from Alaska I say welcome "home"!

We have driven the Alcan and Cassiar highways quite a few times both winter and summer please let me warn you this is a LONG TRIP. (about 4500 miles depending on where you start and end your trip) Once you hit the Canadian border you are not quite half way!! While the northern half of your trip is going to be very scenic the area is far more remote than you will have been used to!! Make sure you top off your fuel in the areas around larger cities. Keep a bit closer eye on tires and guages and things as IF you were to have a breakdown or failure ... Help/repairs can be much more than just 20 miles back or forward. (basicly services are further apart) There are sections of the road north of Watson lake that are rough! SLOW DOWN! Last year some of the frost heaves were like waves! We took flight on a 37' Itasca w/workhorse chassis a few times! LITERALY!!
You should plan on a slightly slower average speed in sections as you get further north. Summer time is construction season be prepaired for delays. IF you can dry camp a few nights it will really open up areas to where you can stop along the route and set up camp.
When ever taveling cross country remember the time zone changes. (Alaska is 3 hours later than Texas) While it's isn't as much an issue traveling west ... Going East your day can be shorter than expected! Also realize as you go north you will have more daylight each day. Both the sun will rise earlier and it will set later, and you could be driving into a setting sun IF you do put in long days!

Enjoy your trip! And bring bug dope!
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Old 01-31-2012, 05:09 PM   #6
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my big sis lives in la feria south texas
they summer in Wyoming near thunder bay near Gillette
your route seems odd to still take in devils tower
they run up through ok city to Kansas to I 70 them over to Colorado

they loop around Denver in a northerly direction and pick up 25 near Thornton co.
then straight up to wyoming on I 25

there place is a hop skip and a jump from the tower and mt rushmore

this way it avoid denver and the long mountain climbs on I 25 through lower nm and then into co.

maybe it will help
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Old 01-31-2012, 05:31 PM   #7
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Once you hit the AlCan there is only one road so you won't have a problem. You don't want to hit Alaska till late May because of Break up and Frost Heaves. When you hit the Gravel section, if it is still Gravel and not Asphalt, I would recommend not going over 50 miles an hour. Stay way back behind any big rigs for more then likely you will loose a windshield or a head light lense on the trip, pretty common occurance. You will go through Whitehorese, when you get to Tok you head for Glenallen and then split North/west at Glen Allen to Sutton, Palmer and straight ahead to Anchorage. This Higway is all one lane each way from Glen Allen and you will go through some fantastic country.....If you have time instead of going to Anchorage go straight from Glen Allen to Valdez and you will se two beautiful water falls, Bridal Vale and Horse Tale and also the Alaska Pipe line and Worthington Glacier...If you don't have the time you will pass the Matanuska Glacier on the south side of the Hwy about 30 mile from Sutton. Once you get settled you can River raft all the Rivers depending on the class of river you so disire to raft...The rafting Company Nova is just east of Sutton and would be on your right hand side just before Sutton...Stop and get some brociierce. They have family rafting right on the Matanuska river that depart from the Glacier. I lived there for 12 year and really miss it...Have to Children and two Grandchildren still living in Wasilla. Good luck and enjoy you trip, you will love it.
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Old 01-31-2012, 11:53 PM   #8
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this free allstays website has good info particularly about walmart overnight parking. it is kept up to date by users.
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Old 02-01-2012, 12:38 AM   #9
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I think you are going to hit a lot of road repair so plan on some delay, perhaps a bit more than you already planned.
When your fuel tank is down to half a tank start thinking about fueling up.

Sounds like a great adventure and your kids will really benefit from this trip. Plan for the worst and hope for the best.
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Old 02-01-2012, 12:57 AM   #10
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I would like to make a suggestion for camp spot in western SD. Beaver Lake campground is just a few miles west of Custer on hiway 16. It has a great waterslide for the kids, spacious, mostly level campsites, nice restrooms and is close to Crazy Horse park, Custer State park, Needles hiway and Mount Rushmore just to name a few. I'd avoid the Flintstone park in town. It is near a major intersection and all you hear all night is trucks using brakes and jakebrakes stopping for the intersection day and night.

Also, if time is not a factor, get off the freeways. Most we have been on are rough and will raddle the crap out of your rv. We have traveled many 2 lane roads and find them, generally, in better condition and they take you through towns and areas with "personallity" and scenery, not the same old monotany of freeways.

Good luck and enjoy the adventure of cross country travel.
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Old 02-01-2012, 07:15 AM   #11
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For your trip through Canada and Alaska you need an Milepost trip planner.
The MILEPOST: Alaska Travel Guide and Trip Planner
Most bookstores.
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Old 02-01-2012, 08:51 AM   #12
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We have traveled in every State with three exceptions, and the only ones we did not take a RV is HI, and Alaska! Did not have time available to drive Alaska and Hi offered another problem.
With the exception of our winter stays that required extended time in one spot we never make reservations before hand. We have never had a problem finding a place to stop! We also tend to limit our days to less than 300 miles. Occasionaly, when in remote areas that needs to change with either shorter or longer days!
We do travel with a couple of RV guides and they are now nearly 5 years old. For the most part camping spots do not change from year to year. The phone numbers may as well as the campgrounds owners or roads under repair, etc.
We will attempt to reserve a spot at mid day using our cell phones. That way if we happen to hit an area that has some type of special occasion going on we will have time to adjust.
What we do do is plan our stops around the attractions that we want to see. In other words, if we want to see Carlsbad we look into available campgrounds before the trip so we know what is available. We also pay attention of things like spring break, that limits what is available.
The trip to Alaska will be fun! Schedule it around the important spots that you want to visit and do not over plan the rest or you will lose a lot of hair!
I agree with your decision of driving during daylight! That's how I do it. The only time my headlights work is when I check them at the start of each day or during bad weather! Then I cut my day even shorter! Yes, I can do that because I am Retired.
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Old 02-01-2012, 09:41 AM   #13
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I'm using italics on my questions for simplicity.

Wow- thanks for all the suggestions. We do have time constraints, unfortunately. We have less than 30 days and our first day on the road, we will only be able to drive in the afternoon, so that must be a short day. We already have a copy of the milepost. It is last year's, but I ordered the 2012 copy, too and am waiting (impatiently) for it to arrive in March. I just got a copy of the Trailer Life Directory. Between it and Google, I'm able to get a sense of each RV park I've considered.

I printed out a list of safety and mechanical things for my husband- that's his department. I'll make sure it's all done before we go, but knowing his Type A personality, he'll have thought of things I didn't...I'm a bit surprised he isn't trying to figure out a way to hook his toolbox to the back of the tt and pull it with us. We do need a new hitch. Our Equalizer hitch has been giving us fits- a bolt sheered off, the sway bar slot is cracked, the weld appears to be failing. I'm very disappointed. We're considering a Pro Pride hitch, now. I don't trust Equalizer and I refuse to undertake a trip where I'll be nervous the whole time- it won't be fun for any of us that way.

My main concern right now is road conditions...especially in the US. We don't have a Milepost to warn about switchbacks and steep grades. As I have it planned right now, we will take 10 days to get through the US and to the border. I'm going to lay out our highway route here. Please tell me if you think any highway we'll be on is not a good idea. As I said, I have the most precious cargo in the whole world- my kids- along for this trip, so safety is my priority! I'm using italics on my questions for simplicity.

Day 1: San Antonio to Ft. Stockton along I-10W

Day 2: Ft Stockton to Carlsbad Caverns via US-285N for morning tour and lunch, then on to Vaughn, NM (found a hole in the wall RV park there)

Day 3: Head to Great Sand Dunes NP via US-285 to Alamosa, CO then onto US-160E, then Hwy 150.

Day 4: Back to US-160E (6% grade ahead) to I-25N to Cheyenne, WY (I have no idea what to expect here or if these 336mi I have planned for this day is too much because of terrain. I expect to go around 50mph.)

Day 5: Cheyenne, WY to Custer, SD via: US-85, US-85/26, US-85, US-85/18, US-18, SD-89, US-385, US-16/385 *I'm saying Custer because I have yet to decide on an rv park; I have 2 days max for this area, heading out on day 8. Yahoo Maps gave me this highway route. Has anyone driven this? Is it a no-no or would it be okay with a loooong tt? (The Excursion is almost as long as my van, so I'll guesstimate 18'+hitch+35' of trailer....yeah, it's a long combination.)

Day 8: Head to Devils Tower NM via US-16/385@ Hill City to Deadwood, US-85 to I-90W, US-14, WY-24, CR-174/WY-110 Has anyone gone this way? Or know if the roads are tt friendly?; I plan to spend about an hour here, then head to Hardin, MT for the night via: WY-24, WY-112, US-212, I-90 W, /I-90-BR/Hardin. It'll be a long day, I think.

Day 9: Hardin to Conrad, MT: I-90 W/Billings, I-90-BL W, US-312 E/US-87 N, MT-3 N, US-12, US-191, US-191, US-87, US-89 N, I-15 N. Any pointers on this route- take it, avoid it, etc?

Day 10: Clean out fridge and prepare to cross the border via I-15N in Sweetgrass, MT. I am still working on this portion of the trip, planning our stops. I want to stop everywhere and see everything! I've already crossed out the carriage museum (), but we're going to see the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller. I have boys; you can't pass up dinosaurs when you have boys! Then, I'll backtrack to Calgary and take the Icefields route to Yellowhead at Jasper and back to Edmonton. My anti-shopping husband wants to see the mall there. I may bypass that if I can talk him into it.Is the museum in Drumheller worth the 120mi trip out of the way? Is it small? We are planning to stop at the Mammoth dig site, mentioned above by another poster.

* We are both from rural areas; my nearest neighbor was just over 5mi away when growing up. Although we live in a big city now, we are not city people. Actually, we're a bit antisocial by most people's standards.
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Old 02-01-2012, 09:56 AM   #14
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Don't over plan you have ample time. Once you reach the Alcan there are mega pulloff so when you tire stop. Light in may will be no problem, more hours than you want to drive. You will be slower into Canada and the Alcan because of road conditions. If you have guns aboard have the paper work for Canada and the Alaska crossings and no hand guns.

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