For many years I’ve kept a “life list.” Some may call it a bucket list but I prefer to think of it as experiences that enrich my life, rather than a list of things to do before death. It’s a long list, and we ticked off quite a few experiences this summer in Alaska. Now that we are headed back to our home base, it’s time to recap this epic summer adventure and offer some tips for anyone heading to Alaska in an RV.
We had expectations for what would be the big highlights this summer; some didn’t disappoint, others surprised us. The lesson: be open to whatever experiences are presented to you along the way. You never know what (or who) is going to really have an impact.
Here are a few of our top experiences:
Driving the Alaska Highway – While the drive itself was not originally on my list, we knew from research that this is an epic drive, from Arizona to Alaska, over 3,200 miles. We took a full month to make the journey, stopping at Banff, Jasper, and all of the main towns along the highway through Alberta, British Columbia, and the Yukon Territory.
Joined by our friends Russ and Susan, we hiked, biked, shopped, and ate our way through some of Canada’s most beautiful areas. Along the way we spotted 14 bears, 21 caribou, 10 moose, 3 fox, 6 porcupines, and countless bison, bald eagles, and trumpeter swans.
Rubbing shoulders with bears – Once we got to Alaska we splurged on the flight to Katmai National Park to see the bears at Brooks Falls. The iconic shot of the bear catching salmon on the falls is real and we got it!
Walking through the park and seeing bears just off the trail was a little unnerving at first and then just awe-inspiring. For me, this was one of the biggest highlights of our summer. Steve, however, saw bears numerous times while out running (in Jasper and in the Yukon). One large grizzly even followed him back to the camper, which allowed me to see the big guy from our back window.
Catching trophy fish – Okay, this wasn’t on my list, but Steve set out to make this a summer of fishing and he was very successful. He caught King Salmon on the Klutina River with Mitch, Red Salmon on the Kenai with Dave, and Halibut from Resurrection Bay near Seward with Sam.
In all we shipped about 50 pounds of fish home and cooked the catch at least twice a week most of the summer. Besides catching the trophy fish, Steve spent some quality time with some of our favorite people.
Seeing the northern lights – The Aurora Borealis has been on my list for decades, but we didn’t really think we’d see them with so much daylight in the summer. Sometimes the best things happen when you least expect it. When our ferry to Skagway was cancelled we were re-routed through Whitehorse, Yukon. Steve just happened to look out the window at midnight and BAM! The lights were making their first appearance of the year and we caught it at just the right time. Breathtaking is just one word that comes to mind.
Our list of highlights could go on and on and previous blog posts have captured most of them in great detail. Instead we’d like to offer a few tips for anyone thinking about making the epic journey to Alaska with an RV.
Tip #1: Take your time. It’s a long drive and there’s so much to see along the way. While there are RV parks along the way, we highly recommend staying at Canada’s Provincial Parks. These beautiful government facilities are in picturesque locations and cost less than $20 a night. British Columbia and the Yukon Territory both knocked our socks off with beauty and warm people.
And, while you’re taking your time, drive slowly, especially where the road is not in ideal condition. In the north you’ll encounter frost heaves, potholes, and road construction. We took our time, rarely driving over 60mph. While others reported broken axles, shredded tires, and chipped windshields, we only experienced one flat tire on the truck all summer.
Tip #2 – Reservations not needed – I’m an over planner and had reservations for most of our summer. We learned quickly that it really wasn’t necessary with the exception of the popular places at popular times (Seward at 4th of July, Denali, Homer). Part of the fun of seeing Alaska with an RV is discovering new places and being surprised by where you’re spending the night. We are glad we booked the two campgrounds in Denali National Park, Savage River and Teklanika. Both gave us more time in the park than we otherwise would have had. It was also good to have a place to land in Seward and Homer. Other than that, you can totally wing it and find inexpensive or free places to camp with no problem.
Tip #3 – Roll with the punches – As much as I like to plan, in Alaska some things can’t be controlled. Our original bear trip to Katmai was cancelled and we had to reschedule to another day, our ferry from Haines to Skagway cancelled at the last minute, and on some days it just rained and rained. The more time you have, the more flexible you can be to adjust to the curveballs that will inevitably be thrown your way.
It really was a summer of a lifetime, one that we won’t soon forget. Our recommendation: do it! And if you need any help with planning, just let us know!!!