America’s last great wilderness, nothing prepares you for the vastness and scenic majesty of Alaska. Nearly three times the size of Texas but with a fraction of its population, large swaths of the state are inaccessible except by boat or plane. Divided by towering mountain ranges and immense glaciers, Alaska offers only a handful of state highways to lure RV travelers, yet its pristine rugged beauty makes Alaska a dream vacation destination for RVers. With Alaska celebrating 50 years of statehood this year, many special rates are available through December. But unless you enjoy the cold or yearn to see the Northern Lights, summer is the time to visit Alaska. As one Fairbanks native joked, “Alaska has four seasons: June, July, August and winter!”
With more coastline than the other states combined, much of Alaska is only accessible by boat. However, Alaska’s extensive Marine Highway System of interconnected ferry routes accommodates RVs, allowing passengers to exit and re-embark as desired. Many RVers ferry up from Bellingham, Washington just north of Seattle rather than make the arduous — and long — drive through Canada. Connecting with Alaska’s ferry system at Prince Rupert, Canada, you can boat up the Inland Passage and along the southeastern arc of Alaska before driving inland at Valdez or Whittier. Ferry passengers enjoy the same stunning scenery as the luxury cruise ships that ply the Inland Passage at a significant savings. For example, the cost to ferry two adults in a 25-foot Class C motorhome from Ketchikan to Skagway on Glacier Bay is slightly over $1,000, about half the cruise line cost. Passengers, vehicles and cabins are charged separately by duration of travel. Deck space fills up fast; so book ahead.
Most paved highways are located in south central Alaska where most people work and live. Two-lane undivided highways connect Anchorage, Alaska’s most populous city, with Fairbanks to the north, the Kenai Peninsula to the south, Valdez to the east, and Route 1 which leads to Canada and the lower 48, as Alaskans refer to the rest of the U.S. Frost upheaval during Alaska’s long winters plays havoc with asphalt so many connecting roads are dirt or gravel, making summer driving a dusty affair. We traveled with a free state map obtained from the state, a portable GPS and our bible, the 2009 Milepost, a mile-by-mile guide to campgrounds, attractions, scenic views, gas stations, restaurants, gift shops, emergency services, etc. along Alaska’s highways.
Alaska may be the most RV-friendly state in the nation. Everywhere we went, RV parks were easy to find, RV parking plentiful and close to the action. Perhaps it’s because so many Alaskans seem to be RVers themselves. Most homes had a motorhome or travel trailer parked in the yard. In a state of outdoor enthusiasts where fishing, hunting and outdoor sports usually involve a trek into the untamed wilderness, it makes sense to take your accommodations with you.
Alaska is a place to dally and enjoy the natural beauty of one of the planet’s last untamed wilderness areas. Routes between towns are often circuitous. Mountains, rivers, bogs and tundra mean getting from here to there usually involves taking the long — and only — way round. You won’t find that a hardship though; every highway we traveled offered gorgeous, heart-stopping views. A Minnesota couple we met had the right idea. They loaded up their truck camper and left St. Paul in May, telling their kids they’d be home around October.
Watch the RVT.com blog beginning August 31 for cool things to see and do in Alaska and more tips for traveling by RV.