Campervan Trip to Alaska, a trip of a lifetime?
Let me first start by debunking the comment we heard from many along our way as they discovered the freedom and adventure of the most recent Alaska trip. “Oh wow, they would say, that is a trip of a lifetime!” After hearing this a couple of times along the trip and thinking about the fun we were having….”no” absolutely not, this is not a trip of a lifetime nor is any other, if you love it, LIVE it and “do it again” if it is a trip or adventure you enjoy.
While serving a career in the military and while never getting the opportunity to serve in Alaska, we were never short of hearing good stories form those who were fortunate enough to spend time in the “last frontier” AKA Alaska. This we knew was a place we need to go, to explore, to climb- (yes..we love the mountains!) There is just something about the ice capped mountains, long summer days, grizzly bears, black bears, moose and dog sleds, boats, ships, float planes and ski planes to get you to the most picturesque, remote places in the United States. All this brought us on “not” a trip of a lifetime, but many trips to see and do more with life’s adventures, with the low cost travels in our campervan.
Planning the adventure was the easy part step one- how long to be gone, step two, just go…don’t make plans, reservations dates etc. This is not what traveling and vacationing is all about. We knew from Minnesota to Alaska we would cover between 8,000-12,000 miles round trip depending on routes taken, side tours, and daily mileage. This being understood we knew we needed at least 3 weeks…uggggg, everyone we have ever listened to talk about their trip is don’t rush! There is more! Got it, let’s take at least 5 weeks but leave the window open for 8 weeks. Again lack of planning is the best planning- make it an adventure without constraints and for us it did come out just amazing!
Our mode of transportation for this trip was a 2011 Ford Transit Connect Campervan, our route would take us through the northern US States, passing into British Columbia Canada (BC Canada) through Banff and Jasper National Parks in Canada, onto the Alaskan Highway also known as the ALCAN – Alaskan/Canadian Highway starting in Dawson Creek and runs 1,387 miles (or so…) and runs to Delta Junction, Alaska via Whitehorse, Yukon. Our planned or not so “planned in sand” return route would be by road through northern Canada passing down through Grand Portage to MN or maybe we would take the Alaska Marine Highway system via Ferry out of Alaska with more than 30 ports available going as far south as Bellingham, WA.
Being in a campervan we knew overnights would be simple, inexpensive and beautiful, what we did not know on our first trip is the beauty of the road, route and trip getting to Alaska which was as impressive as seeing Alaska itself. (Trip point #1- plan “more” than enough time) the Northern USA, BC Canada route offered:
1) Some of the best roadways in North America- Yes even the ALCAN which many say much is gravel- fact is it is always being repaired or patched of gravel after hard winters!
2) Mountain views, some rolling, snowcapped, jagged or rugged sights on every turn.
3) Amazing places to stop, rest, fish, eat hike and camp.
4) Pristine lakes and rivers forests hills and valleys.
5) Camping opportunities everywhere from free with limited amenities and often times the very best views to first class parks with all amenities priced from very little to $$$.
6) Gas stations in areas can be far and few but antiquate, if you see a gas station on the ALCAN highway specifically and your tank is not full, get gas! Your GPS may show a gas station ahead that has been closed for many years.
7) Animal life- Yes Grizzlies, Black Bear, Moose buffalo and mountain goats are abundant and WILL be seen and often times share the road! If you see traffic on the ALCAN Highway it is likely folks pulled over observing the bears and other wildlife.
So being a NOT once in a lifetime trip but a trip we wanted to share not only via stories, pictures, Facebook we decided as we packed to go to Alaska to take a tent in our small campervan as we planned to invite family to fly in. We picked an airport in Anchorage Alaska and date window so family could fly-in and visit then fly out and miss some of the best parts of the trip - getting there! Ok, even though they did miss an awesome road trip, flying-in was due to time constraints and the fact that our campervan was built for two. Not sure about how this worked out, but we ended up in the tent! Always give your bed up for elders. As backpackers and mountaineers we did not mind giving up our comfortable bed for a tent and thin mat on the ground….in the potential rain, wind, cold or snow. We would be ok right? It’s not like we can take the campervan mountaineering! So “sharing is caring” and we did!
Jokes aside, being our visiting company enjoyed our Campervan accommodations without the expense of hotels and resorts they spoiled us in the morning breaking out the Jet-boil stove to make coffee for us and getting to cooking started before we ever climbed out of our tent.
A trip like this is absolutely bliss in a campervan, my first Alaskan trip was by motorcycle with a pop up camper- set up required, this one. Park, open beverage, take in views! Traveling to Alaska across Canada is nothing that you want to rush, it is not uncommon to make friends along the way as you see travelers in there camping rigs on the road latter meeting and socializing at the same campgrounds along the way. Many times we would BBQ and spend time at the campfire with fellow travelers sharing stories, destination and must see areas along the route…
In the states Rest area travel center are ok but are not by any means something you must stop at. If you have never traveled or stopped at the Canadian travel centers, we recommend doing it, especially before entering a new Province. They will provide a wealth of information on destinations, road conditions, gas station availability, campgrounds and things to see. Without these stops we would have missed a lot!
The Alaska Marine Highway system ~ via Ferry, if you want to see whales and sea-life, or take a break from driving or maybe you want to see the capital of Alaska Juneau. The Ferry is amazing and relatively inexpensive with a campervan. The cost to bring a vehicle of the ferry is based on the length of the vehicle. Once again, smaller has a BIG advantage. The saving in traveling our vehicle more than pays for the optional stateroom on the ferry. Although you cannot sleep or access your campervan while underway, those on a budget would even forgo the optional stateroom cost and pitch a tent on dedicated deck space on the ferry at no additional cost.
After multiple driving trips to Alaska we know all Travel in a Campervan is a wonderful adventure but will never call it a “trip of a lifetime”, as we travel we want to see more, do more and continue the adventure.
What's your Adventure? What do you have planned or what has been your favorite trip and destination?