7 Tips to Prepare You for an Alaskan RV Adventure
7 Tips to Prepare You for an Alaskan RV Adventure
How to plan your trip – resources, budget considerations, fuel stops, and more!
By: Katelyn & Howard Newstate
Welcome travelers and adventurers to another special series: RVing in Alaska!
We’ve been RVing full-time for three years and are currently on our second RV trip throughout the great state of Alaska! In this series, we’ll share planning tips, must-visit spots, and advice on how to maximize your own Alaskan adventures.
Let’s get started with our Top 7 tips when planning your trip to the 49th State. This video is an overview of our tips, but for more detailed information, read our guide below.
Tip #1: Budget Your Time
Make sure you have enough time to enjoy both the drive up AND for exploring Alaska!
There are SO many things to see and do before you even get to Alaska. Unfortunately, we didn’t take our own advice in 2019 and drove from Washington state to Alaska in seven days. Travel restrictions in 2021 did not allow stopping in Canada at all for tourism purposes, so we completed the drive in 57 hours. (That’s almost 2,000 miles in three days!)
Places to Stop Along the Way
If you’re planning to make the beautiful (but long) drive through Canada, we recommend carving out time for the following stops along the way:
- Chetwynd, British Columbia: Home of the International Chainsaw Carving Competition (which will be back in June 2022), where they display the beautiful works of art from past competitions throughout town.
- Liard River Hot Springs in British Columbia: Stop and visit the second largest hot spring in Canada. Take the boardwalk across the swamp to the beautiful pool areas for a relaxing soak.
- Sign Post Forest in Watson Lake, Yukon: An amazing collection of almost 100,000 signs and license plates from travelers dating back to the 1940s. You can bring your own sign/license plate/sturdy artwork to add to the collection!
Options for Less Driving
In a hurry or want to leave the driving to someone else? Here are some other options to consider:
- Alaska Marine Highway System (State of Alaska Ferry system): This is a fantastic opportunity to ride a ferry (with staterooms and food service available) while your RV rides below. Think of it as a more basic Alaskan cruise combined with freighting your RV through the Inside Passage with stops in Ketchikan and Juneau. Be warned, the ferry is completely sold out for RV space through September 2021, but consider it if you rent an RV in 2021 (see below) or for travel in 2022. You can also read this past GoLife article about taking the ferry, for more information.
- Ship your RV to Alaska: Yes, you really can put your RV on a ship and pick it up in Alaska! With two main options, the decision comes down to speed and service. There are slower options on open-air barges (8-10 days) and faster ‘Roll On, Roll Off’ service that cuts the travel time in half (5 days from Tacoma to Anchorage).
- Fly to Alaska and Rent an RV: No, it’s not the same as traveling in your own RV, but there are SO MANY choices now with RV rentals in Alaska. From traditional rental companies (Great Alaskan Holidays and ABC Motorhome just to name a few) to private rentals through platforms like Outdoorsy or RVshare, you can find almost any type or class of RV with various amenities.
Tip #2: Research Fuel Stops & Prepare for Less Connectivity
Planning includes using books to find fuel stops instead of mobile connectivity and also preparing your RV!
When you live in an era of mobile apps that can tell you almost any information about any topic, are we really going to recommend books? YES.
- First, you should be prepared for frequent long stretches of road without cell service or connectivity and having a book (or a digital copy downloaded) at the ready can prepare you for some pretty serious questions. For example, sometimes there is a distance of over 100 miles between 24-hour gas stations (both in northern Canada and sometimes inside Alaska). Great rule to follow: prepare to stop for fuel whenever your gas tank approaches half empty. That will keep you from running out potentially before the next gas station!
- Speaking of connectivity, get ready to enjoy conversation or sweet silence while driving to and around parts of Alaska. Unfortunately, there isn’t a perfect solution for a cell carrier. Of the major U.S. carriers, AT&T and T-Mobile get high marks from us for either having their own towers (AT&T) or roaming on the local Alaska carrier GCI (T-Mobile). Verizon also has a decent network, but none of them come close to covering the entire state. Plan your travel days accordingly, especially along parts of the Alaska Highway which might not have cell service for hours or even days.
- Let’s get to the books. Many have heard of The Milepost (for good reason) and the information contained within the print or digital edition is unparalleled. The guide gets its name from the literal organization of the book: EVERY minor or major element of the roads along main routes in Canada and Alaska are listed in order and with mile markers for reference. But that might be its greatest weakness: too much information. We admittedly were overwhelmed the first time we opened The Milepost (there is a section of the book to help you learn how to USE the book), which made quick questions like “what camping options are there along the route?” or “what stations have diesel fuel?” a little too long to find.
- Enter another challenger: Mike & Teri Church’s “Travelers Guide to Alaskan Camping.” This is exactly what it sounds like: a condensed guide to camping, services, gas stations across Alaska (and part of the route through Canada, too). We frequently jumped to the Church’s book for quick questions and used The Milepost for deep research about an area or attractions.
- However, for the most condensed guide, the award goes to an incredible FREE resource from Tourism Dawson Creek (at Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway in British Columbia). It’s just ONE page, folded several times, that lists camping, gas/diesel and services along the Alaska Highway. You can get it at the Dawson Creek Mile 0 visitor center, or we scanned our copy from 2019!
- Before you leave the lower 48, be sure to check out Facebook groups, like RVing to Alaska, and videos by yours truly.
- All of the books and resources above speak about the road conditions, but we wanted to share our real-world assessment after driving over 20,000 miles around Alaska and Northwestern Canada. Take it slow in construction areas, and you’ll be fine! There’s a LOT of talk in the RV world about how terrible the drive is. Are there rough spots? Definitely. Will it destroy your rig? That depends on how you drive. You can also consider upgrades to your suspension.
- Let’s start by sharing that any upgrade is of course optional. In fact, our 2019 trip up and back from Alaska was completed with a stock suspension and the original tires that came with our 2019 Winnebago Navion 24D.
- After our trip, we decided to upgrade our shocks and sway bar primarily because we wanted to make our search for off-grid camping more comfortable when traveling on forest roads.
- In 2021, we drove North to Alaska with our new suspension. No surprise, it makes all driving better, but especially when coming across frost heaves (the result of the ground thawing and freezing forces the roadway to rise and lower dramatically in the region). It’s a dramatic improvement with far less rolling and swaying!
Tip #3: Mandatory Pet Health Certificates
Alaska requires a certified Health Certificate from a vet prior to entering the state.
If you’re like us, traveling with your furry companion is one of the best parts of RV life and it’s always good practice to travel with their up-to-date vaccination records. While Canada only requires proof of rabies vaccine for dogs (and Border Patrol may not even ask to see it. They’ve never asked for ours, but you must have it with you just in case), Alaska requires a current Certificate of Veterinary Inspection or Health Certificate to enter the state.
(Side note: we’ve also never been asked for ours, but typically the vet issuing the certificate automatically sends a copy to the State of Alaska).
These can be acquired at just about any vet, but they must be issued within 30 days of when you’re planning to enter Alaska with the animal. The State of Alaska has a full page dedicated to the requirements for bringing cats, dogs, and ferrets (if that’s your thing) into the state. We highly recommend referencing this site to ensure that your vet is using the correct form.
Alaska will not accept the generic downloadable form found on the internet. It must have a unique, trackable number on it.
Tip #4: Public Lands Are Great for Camping
In addition to lots of campgrounds, you really can camp almost anywhere in Alaska on public lands.
Are reservations needed? Depends on your style of travel and where you plan to visit in Alaska!
A couple of locations to start researching and consider booking:
- Campgrounds inside Denali National Park: These fill up quickly, and particularly with Teklanika River, it is the ONLY way to drive further down the park road in summer!
- Seward public campgrounds: Located along the waterfront, these are ideal locations to walk and explore the town. In 2020, Seward switched to a mostly reservations-only approach. Consider a reservation to lock in a site.
- If you’re willing to chance it, there is excellent first come, first served camping on the Homer “Spit.” This long peninsula of land offers excellent shopping and dining, plus it’s where fishing/sightseeing charters depart. Alternatively, there are several private campgrounds which allow reservations.
- Alaska is a great state to try a variety of camping styles! There are fantastic free camping options near lakes, mountains, rivers and oceans. Some of our favorites include locations near Valdez, Moose Pass, Anchor Point, and Chickaloon.
- Download the iOverlander and Campendium apps to find more great free campsites.
Tip #5: Costs Can Be Higher for Certain Things
Be prepared to pay a bit more on certain items, but prices in Anchorage and Fairbanks are very comparable to prices in the lower 48.
- Chain stores like Target, Walmart, Costco, Bass Pro, etc. are available in Anchorage and we found that they have similar pricing on most items.
- Where you’ll see the biggest difference and can definitely expect to pay more is on fresh produce. Here in Alaska, it is a bit higher than average. But it makes sense when you think about how far it all has to travel to get here. For example, bananas in Alaska are 89-99 cents a pound but in the rest of the U.S., the average is about 60 cents a pound. The highest we paid for avocados was $6.00 for two!
- Once you get outside of Anchorage or Fairbanks, the cost of fuel and food can be much higher, so we always stock up on what we can before venturing out to more remote areas.
- You can find almost anything you need in either Anchorage or Fairbanks. If there are specialty items that you just can’t live without, make sure to pack them ahead of time (just check the Canadian border lists of prohibited items first).
- If you plan on dining out, be prepared for higher prices. We highly recommend budgeting so that you can enjoy the great restaurants here. If you love seafood, you’ll want to try the fresh halibut, rockfish, and cod that is caught locally. Just keep in mind that since most restaurants operate seasonally and can only serve customers 3-4 months out of the entire year, prices are often elevated to reflect their shorter season. But in our opinion, it’s definitely worth experiencing some of the local cuisine!
Tip #6: Be Prepared for Almost 24 Hours of Daylight!
There are both pros and cons to the midnight sun that can be found in Alaska!
Depending on the area you’re exploring and the time of year, the sun may never actually set or you’ll get about 1-3 hours of “dusk” before it rises again.
- The benefits: there is so much daylight that you feel like you can keep hiking, exploring and adventuring all night long. We recently did a hike at 9:30 at night and it was great!
- The negatives: If you’re a light sleeper, experiencing never ending daylight can be an adjustment. Blackout shades or sleeping with an eye mask definitely helps make it bearable.
Tip #7: You Don’t Have to Plan All This Alone!
It’s understandable, particularly if you haven’t planned a trip like this before, to want to leave the planning to someone else. Lucky for all of us, Winnebago Outdoor Adventures is here to help. They take the guesswork out of a RVing dream trip to Alaska and offer complete turn-key caravan tours to explore destinations across North America.
That’s our seven tips, and certainly the tip of the iceberg for planning your Alaska RV adventure. In future articles, we’ll share some can’t-miss adventures in the 49th state and have our own Alaska-style Mythbusting session to help set the record straight on RVing in Alaska.
What are some questions you have about exploring Alaska in an RV?