Dave Yale's tips for going to Alaska
Or how to go 13,000 miles in 6 weeks and love it!
I've had several people ask me for travel tips so I'm adding them online. I'd be happy to answer any specific questions anyone has also. Keep in mind I went in 1995, so things change.
Although I drove, my wife could only get 1 week off, so she flew up
to Anchorage and met us for a week in the middle. I'm told if you're
going to fly, to call some Anchorage travel agents first and see if
they can get you better rates. They are right there and know all the
deals. My wife, who is not a scenery nut like myself, says the
flight out was the most beautiful thing she has ever seen.
Generally, the roads can be rough, but I didn't have any terrible
incidents. I talked to people who broke brand new Class A motor
homes, but I drove a 21 foot 1978 class C chevy motor home, with a
frame that sort of worried me, and had no major problems. I did have
to fix the over cab section where a 2x2 wooden stud in the wall came
loose, but it was dry-rotted to an extent already.
I have a picture of a nice little pickup with a bumper mount tow bar that tore on side of the bumper off the truck, and I'm told it's rough for conventional trailers, but I saw quite a few 5th wheel trailers that made it through the trip. I think the key with any rig is to watch the road, and especially if there's a vehicle in front of you watch him to see if there's a frost heave- you'll see him bounce.
Get a copy of the Mile Post Guide. I got mine at Barnes and Nobles. It's full of ads, but does include very useful info on ferries and roads. I sent off about 75 letters to addresses that interested me, and I got a ton of mail, much of which was very helpful.
Some of the places I went to, roughly in order. There are lots more, but I only get 5 megs of storage:
Sheep Mountain in the Yukon. This is on a beautiful lake and there's a camp ground down the road on the lake. When we stopped it was a great day. The camp ground is unmanned, I believe it was a Yukon provincial park, but the setting is unbelievable. There's a picture link on the previous page.
Skagway. We drove down to Skagway from the Alcan. The scenery in the pass above Skagway is like another planet. The town is a bit "touristy" because the cruise ships stop in, but it's still a neat place. If you have a small enough rig you can go over to Drea, which used to be a gold rush town, but is now completely gone. If you're a hiker there are the old goldminer trails, which are quite challenging.
We took the ferry to Haines. Haines itself is not "touristy", but has a nice flavor. It's a "real" town. The pass through the mountains is another fantastic trip. You think you've hit the top of the world.
Valdez. Don't miss it. I went out on a small ship called the "Blue Bell" and highly recommend it. The captain was very entertaining, talking about the Exxon Valdez spill, and local politics. Even though we couldn't see the Columbia glacier because of fog I thought it was a great trip. Again the pass in through the mountains is unbelievable.
Anchorage. A lot like a city anywhere else, but it has all the stores you are used to (Sears, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, etc.) and the cheapest prices for normal supplies in the area. We went to Costo and stocked up on soda and all types of non-perishables. We ended up going through three times during the trip and stocked up every time. I also went to an outdoor flea market downtown on the weekend. Got some souvenirs much cheaper than other places including T-Shirts, framed bear photos, and some other stuff.
If you like small planes, there are tour operators at the seaplane
base (busiest in the US) that will take you towards Denali, stop on
a remote lake for lunch (and fishing if you want), and go by the
mountain for about the same as a much shorter flight from right
outside Denali Park. A much better bargain overall.
Denali- Yes. Take the bus trip, just do it. We saw the mountain on the trip up (cloud covered 80% of the time), but it was fogged in when we actually got to the park. We took the medium bus trip and it was about right. I think the longest would have been awful long, but if the weather nearer the mountain had been better I probably would have tried to convince people. Go to the sled dog demonstration too.
Fairbanks. I like it. We went to Alaskland, if you like model trains they have an extraordinary layout there. Some other interesting stuff too.
North to the arctic circle and above. We rented a car to go up the haul road. Check your insurance, because the rental company will charge you if there's damage. Some will not even allow you to go on gravel roads ( I didn't see a sign, and didn't ask at hertz. I did make sure with my insurance though. If it had broken down I would have had to pay $5/ mile for towing out of my own pocket- I gambled.) The haul road is gravel and fairly narrow, and when a truck goes by in the other direction you can't see a thing because of blowing dust. If it had only been my wife and I we would have taken a tour which combined bus and small plane all the way up to Purdome Bay, or maybe Barrows. But with 5 people it would have been too much money. We went up to Coldfoot, fueled up, ate a great buffet meal, then set out at about 8 or 9 PM. We got up above the Brooks range to the start of the Tundra, looked at the gas gauge, and decided that was far enough. There are no other gas stations before Deadhorse, and we weren't sure there would be one open in the early AM when we got there (like 3 or 4 AM), so we turned around. At that time you couldn't get out to the actual arctic ocean anyway because the oil companys have it all blocked off, don't know if that has changed yet. When we stopped to turn around out at the edge of the tundra I thought some type of dirt had gotten all over the car- it was actually being swarmed by the biggest mosquitoes I ever saw. I am convinced that if we had opened the door they could have sucked all our blood out. We stayed over night in Coldfoot, an interesting motel to say the least. My mother got a carved wooden grizzly bear there at the gift shop. It was the best souvenirs any of us got on the entire trip. If you are going let me know 'cause I want another of those bears.
Seward- Fishing if the Salmon are running, go to the museum and see the movie about the earthquake and the tsunami.
Homer- I fished the fishing hole on the spit. That's where I caught my three King Salmon. Nuf' said.
By this point we had to run for home. Long, long, long grinding driving days for the most part, but we did make a few stops. On the way we discovered Banff Nat'l Park in British Columbia. I am going back there. It even has a glacier, and it was my closest encounter with a grizzly bear (less than 25 feet, felt like inches). It is a great place if you can't make Alaska.
Yellowstone. Much better than I expected, want to take the wife there.
Mount Rushmore. Schedule at least 30 minutes here, anything less is just not enough.
Custer's Battlefield Memorial. I'm sort of a history nut, so I thought it was great. You can do it in an hour if you don't take the tour, but I wish I had had a long half day.
What I want to do when I go back, and I will.
1> Inside Passage including glacier bay and all those neat looking places with no roads.
2> Barrows- just to say I've been, and stayed overnight.
3>North Pole (Alaska, not the arctic)- 'cause I want to mail letters from there.
4>Dawson City- We decided the road was too rough. This was after I had patched the camper shell. I wanted to give it a try, but my mom was chicken.
5>spend lots more time.
That's a small taste of 6 weeks and 13,000 miles. If I can answer any particular questions let me know, I'd be happy to.