5 Tips for Your Rugged Alaska RVing Adventure
From boondocking and off-road fun to important travel considerations.
By: Kelly Laustsen & David Somach

With long days and moderate weather, Alaska is the perfect place to spend the summer, especially in an RV or van. Last June, we drove our Revel to Alaska to spend three months hiking and enjoying Alaska’s wealth of breweries, museums, and restaurants. 

Hotels and other rental accommodations can be expensive during the summer in Alaska, and the weather fickle. Therefore, RVing provides an option that lets you plan on the go and take advantage of the many beautiful camping opportunities. We went to Alaska with a list of potential activities, starred hikes on the phone app All Trails, and lots of saved destinations on Google Maps. We knew the weather could be unpredictable and rain frequent, so we made our itinerary as we went, allowing us to react to the weather and be flexible. 

We met lots of other travelers and saw vans and RVs that ran the spectrum in terms of off-road capability, so we think Alaska is a great adventure, offering an easy lifestyle, regardless of how off-road worthy your rig is. 

5 Tips for Alaska RVing

Below we’ve shared our five tips for other RVers heading to Alaska, both for those looking to leave the pavement and those who prefer a paved parking spot.

1.  Anchorage is an easy base camp for adventuring in Alaska.

We started our summer in Anchorage and returned repeatedly throughout the summer, chalking up over sixteen nights in Anchorage during our three months in Alaska.

Although Alaska is a big state, about one-fifth the size of the entire Lower 48, most of the destinations we wanted to visit were only a few hours from Anchorage. When we first started planning our trip, we didn’t realize how central Anchorage is and that we’d naturally pass through it so frequently. 

It provides everything an RVer needs, including a beautiful library with fast wi-fi, laundromats, a community rec center with showers, numerous dump stations and water fill ups, mechanics (we got our tires rotated there), grocery stores, restaurants, and breweries. 

Anchorage came to feel like our home base and we developed our favorite places to go when in town; we even had a favorite table at the city library! 

2. Where there are roads in Alaska, they are in good condition.

We decided early on not to take any flights while in Alaska and to stick to destinations we could drive to, which did put some limits on our trip. Much of the state and remote wilderness areas are only accessible by plane or boat and there are lots of companies offering tours from Anchorage. Other RVers we met over the summer had taken short trips to see top destinations for wildlife or glaciers, so this is an easy option if you aren’t sticking to your RV. 

We still found plenty of places to fill our time over the summer and have lots of destinations earmarked for a future trip. While we expected to encounter lots of unpaved and rough roads, we were surprised by how well-maintained the roads are in Alaska, even when we did leave the pavement. We did several longer off-road drives, including the Denali Highway and McCarthy Road, but even these roads were in better shape than many forest roads in the Lower 48.

3. Lots of public land means lots of camping opportunities.

Public land abounds in Alaska, which means tons of opportunities for boondocking. We only paid for a couple campgrounds and found camping spots easy to come by. We also spent numerous nights urban boondocking at Walmart and Cabela’s, and even stayed at a few Harvest Host stops. 

While some spots we stayed in required 4x4 and were a bit farther off the beaten path, we found lots of public land spots just off the highway. Make sure you check public land maps in Alaska to confirm where you are allowed to camp, as spots listed on apps like iOverlander aren’t fact checked. There is a lot of Native Land in Alaska not open to camping, commonly adjacent to public land that does allow camping.

4. Winter comes early in Alaska.

One of our favorite aspects of spending the summer in Alaska was the long evenings, with daylight easily lasting until midnight. However, the weather in Alaska in the summer is unpredictable, and we spent many days waiting out the rain and hoping for better weather. When we visited Denali National Park in early September, the park was already starting to shut down, with most restaurants and hotels closed for the season. However, the fall colors more than made up for the chilly weather. 

We experienced snow our last week in Alaska in mid-September, and it can snow even earlier than that. While we had brought plenty of warm clothes and bedding with us, we overlooked our winter items for the van, like a snow brush. We learned that even when summering in Alaska you always need to be prepared for winter weather.

5. Alaska is about more than the outdoors.

We planned our trip around hiking destinations, but ended up finding so much more to do in Alaska. We learned a lot about Alaska’s history and were impressed by the number of museums, with some of our favorites including the Valdez Museum, Norman Lowell Gallery, and Museum of the North. 

We also visited numerous breweries, farmers markets, historic mines, and cultural centers. We became avid berry pickers for the few weeks blueberries and salmonberries were in peak ripeness and hope to return for many more berry seasons.

We left Alaska with lots of memories and an appreciation for the epic scenery that surpassed any experiences we’ve had in the Lower 48. We can’t wait to go back there in the van and have talked about making summers in Alaska somewhat of a regular thing. 

When we tell friends and family about our summer, we always encourage people to make the trip, even if just flying there for a long weekend. We had several visitors come for four days, and you can cover a lot of ground in that time, even in a state as big as Alaska! 

Comments

User commented on April 3, 2022 6:30 PM
Do people on Social Security own Winnebago's like the one in the picture? My hubby and I are on Social Security and we're looking for reasonable price on a new/used Solis or Zion or Thor Scope. We have not had much success in our search even though we offered to trade in our 2019 Nissan Versa S Plus appraised at $19, 897! Could you get in touch with us at (916)519-2674 to help us find at least one of the above or any other Class B camper van at a Retirement income price. Thank you, safe travels! Tee Payne
User commented on April 24, 2022 10:54 AM
@Tee Payne I searched for 2 years on YouTube and finally purchased a 2021 Winnebago Micro Minnie 2108DS. I’m on Social Security so a low payment was paramount. I got a 15 year 5.99% loan for $254 a month for a loan of approximately 30,000. I’m here in Manteca, CA and the folks at Manteca RV & Motorhome are more than accommodating. I see their new inventory includes many beautiful Class B vans like Solis and others. Ask for Frank Cope. Their website is www.mantecatrailer.com Good Luck in your search for your perfect RV.
User commented on April 24, 2022 11:28 AM
Unless you have a pot of cash or other income the answer is no. We looked at the model shown in the showroom here in Anchorage. Base before you start adding all the features such as upgraded bumper, ladder, winch etc was $160K. The vehicle in the photo's is probably around $200K with all the mods. Then there's maintenance - this vehicle is diesel (which is nice) and the services cost about $1200 each time. But, it is 4wd and has higher ground clearance so you can explore off the beaten path, take on gravel beaches, chase the northern lights in the winter and use year round. We have a View that is built on same chassis but only 2wd and are pretty much limited to roads and April to September for our road trips here in AK.
User commented on April 13, 2022 7:47 PM
I drove to Alaska in 2018 and the roads were NOT in good shape--lots of potholes and frost heaves on many of the roads, which your writers should have mentioned. Yes, a great place to drive to and visit (I have RVd there three times), but you have to watch the roads carefully. The roads in the Yukon and Alaska were in better condition in 2011 than they were in 2018. Several good books available on "What to see and do in Alaska" as well as the Milepost, which I don't remember your writers mentioning. Good RV Parks in and around the major cities, but very expensive around Denali.
User commented on April 24, 2022 11:32 AM
Is it better to take the Alaskan Hwy. through Canada, or take the ferry out of Seattle? Also, which is less expensive?
User commented on April 27, 2022 12:35 AM
The drive through Canada is beautiful with plenty of places to camp. We took 4days & 3 nights of steady driving. While I have not taken our 25’ 20J View on the ferry, I got a quote of about $4k from Anchorage (Whittier) to Bellingham. The ferry can be beautiful and relaxing but if you travel with pets, they’ll have to stay in the vehicle.