For our trip to Alaska, we did a good bit of planning regarding route, main attractions we want to see, and gear we needed. In this article we share what we looked into and what resources we found helpful in our Alaska trip planning.
In this video and article we talk about:
- How to Plan Your Trip – Resources, attractions, routes, travel goals & schedule
- Availability of Campgrounds, Utilities, Fuel, & Groceries
- Budgeting for your Alaska Trip
HOW TO PLAN YOUR TRIP
There were a couple of great resources that we used in our travel planning. We primarily used a combination of Google Maps, paper maps, the MilePost Guidebook, and Alaska.org.
We built a map using Google’s My Maps program so we could both explore what was along our routes and plan our route. My Maps allows you to save the points of interest you plan to visit and routes you plan to take.
Paper Maps & Atlases
We find looking at paper atlases and maps so much fun! I love the feeling of running your finger along a route – it makes it feel more real.
Besides the fun, we find that oftentimes atlases and other paper maps have points of interest labeled on them that DON’T show up on Google Maps. This is a great way to discover things along your route that you might have otherwise missed.
The Milepost Guidebook
Arguably the most comprehensive and detailed guidebook for Alaska (and northern Canada) roadtrip, our MilePost Alaska Travel Planner purchase was the official kick-off to our Alaska planning.
To be honest, we were a bit overwhelmed the first time we picked it up!
If you’re a super-planner, you’re going to love the incredible mile-by-mile descriptions of road conditions, roadside attractions, history bits, fishing spots, camping spots, fuel stations, and more. You could read this and almost have a visualization of every turn to get to Alaska before you even hit the road.
We loved following along in the MilePost as we drove, as it gave history lessons, explanations, and recommendations about anything and everything we questioned out our windows. How old do you think that bridge is? Where does that road go? How long is that hike?
Alaska.org (& the Alaska App)
This is the ultimate Alaska trip-planning website. “See Alaska’s highlights without the crowds or the cookie-cutter experiences.” This website also has an app that can download info for access offline and out of service (which can happen a lot). You’ll find tales from local experts, recommendations on what to do, and answers to any questions you may have.
We recommend exploring this website if you’re new to Alaska to get a feel for this magical place.
We love Visitors Centers. They are the treasure trove of information about a local area. We recommend planning to stop in to ask for local tips, recommendations, and information on things to do, things to see, and places to stay.
Travel Goals –
What you want to see & Do
We determined our schedule and route mainly around the major attractions and experiences we want to have on this trip:
- Boondock most of the time
- Cooler weather, hopefully have some snow experiences
- Banff National Park
- Jasper National Park
- Liard Hot Springs
- Denali National Park
- Midnight Sun Festival & Fun Run in Fairbanks, AK
- Drive to Tuktoyaktuk to see the Arctic Ocean
- Salmon Fishing on the Kenai Peninsula
- Glaciers – lots of glaciers!
- Aurora Borealis
We knew that there were likely hundreds of other things we’d like to see and do, so we made sure to leave room in our schedule to allow for those things as well.
We also heard many times not to rush through Canada to get to Alaska, as it is also spectacular in itself. So we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to make our way up to Alaska. Enter Canada – 1st week of May
Enter Alaska – 1st week of June
Denali – made reservations for 5 days mid-June as we’ve heard this fills up fast!
Midnight Sun Festival – June 23, 2019 in Fairbanks, AK
Travel to Tuktoyaktuk – Month of July
Kenai Peninsula – Month of August
Leave Alaska – Early September – hope to see Aurora Borealis before we come south!
Re-enter US Lower 48 – Mid-Late October This made our trip 6 months long with roughly 2.5 months in Alaska, 3 in Canada, and the rest transiting in the US to and from our fifth wheel in SoCal to the Canadian Border. Our pace was pretty brisk, as we needed to cover a lot of ground in the 6 months. We planned an average of 2,000-2,500 miles per month. We had a couple longer stays of ~5 days in a few places and 1-2 day stays more frequently. You will have to determine your pace and schedule around your priorities and travel style.
In planning our route we primarily used Google Maps. With the Lance Truck Camper we were more flexible on some of the roads we could take vs. our fifth wheel. We bought the 2019 Milepost Guide Book to get detailed information about the actual roads we’d be taking:
- 97 to Banff National Park and to Jasper National Park
- Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek, BC to Alaska
- Denali Highway/Alaska 8 from Paxson to Denali National Park
- Top of the World Highway from Chicken, AK to Dawson City, YT
- Dempster Highway/Yukon 5 from near Dawson City, YT to Inuvik, NWT
- Stewart-Cassiar Highway in Western BC
We initially estimated we’d drive about 11,000 miles, but came in around 15,000 miles by the end. PRO TIP #1: Calculate the mileage you think you’re going to put on, and consider that against the life of your vehicle’s tires. PRO TIP #2: You’ll also probably need to plan an oil change or two. You might want to keep that in mind for when you know you’ll be in town with a mechanic. (We did an oil change while in Fairbanks about halfway through our trip.)
DOCUMENTATION YOU’ll NEED
Since you need to drive through Canada to get to Alaska, you’ll need your passports. There were also a few extra documents that were handy to have on hand:
- For You
- Passports (or Passport Cards)
- For Your Vehicle
- Vehicle Registration (they ask for your license plate number too)
- Vehicle Insurance
- Signed letter of permission if you’re driving a vehicle that you do not own
- For Your Pets
- Proof of Rabies Vaccinations (for pets)
- Pet Health Certificate (optional, but if your pet(s) look sickly, the border patrol may want to verify that no contagious diseases are coming into the country)
Check out the Canadian Border Services Agency website for complete and up-to-date requirements.
Preparing to Cross the Border
What can you bring across? Again, check the Canadian Border Services Agency website for the latest restrictions and rules for declaring food, plant, & animal products, as well as other types of items:
- Food items
- Bear Spray
Every border crossing is going to be a little bit different, but no matter what there are several things that we found were very good to do and we believe helped us have 16 smooth border crossings during our trip:
- Remove hats/sunglasses as you approach
- Roll down all windows so the border agent can easily see who & what is in the vehicle
- Both hands on the steering wheel as you approach
- Put vehicle in park and turn off ignition so voices can easily be heard
- Have documentation ready to present & only present what is asked.
- Be polite and respectful (we used “Yes, sir/ma’am” and “No, sir/ma’am” a lot)
- Only answer the questions you are asked and answer as concisely as you can – they don’t need your life story unless they ask for it.
- Declare everything you need to (see CBSA Website) – it helps to write down a list so you don’t forget anything. Tip: Bear spray is for bears when hiking, NOT self-defense!
- Know your schedule dates – and how long you’ll be in the country.
- Know your route – you may be asked to tell it.
- Thank the agent when you’re done!
Check out our RVing in Canada article for more nuances to traveling through our northern neighbor, including tips on dealing with the metric system, translating road signs and Canadian slang, restaurant methods, and their money.
WHAT TO BRING: Alaska is an interesting and wonderful place, and you might want to consider bringing some specific gear to experience it.
#1. Clothing for ALL Seasons
We packed warm winter gear as well as our swimsuits. We experienced 90-degree days in Fairbanks during the Midnight Sun Festival and 40-50s in Denali National Park in June just weeks before. Elevation plays a big role, too.
#2. Mosquito Repellent & Clothing
While we found the mosquitoes not as bad as we were expecting most of the time, when they got bad they got really bad. Don’t let the bugs ruin your trip! The ExOfficio repellent-infused clothing we had did wonders to keep the bugs at bay. We had their lightweight breathable jackets, their pants, and their bandanas. Here we are all garbed-up against the swarm we found driving along the Dalton Highway in Alaska.
#3. Basic Tools
While we didn’t experience flat tires or chipped windshields, but we were prepared anyway. We had a Viair Air Compressor that we used to top off the tire pressures. We also had some tools to do basic fixes.
Fortunately, we had a soldering iron on board when our truck was attacked by porcupines way out in the Yukon bush. They chewed several very important wires, and luckily Tom was able to fix it. (You can watch the whole porcupine ordeal here)
#4. Hiking Gear
Alaska is an outdoor recreation mecca, and you’re going to want to get out and experience it. Bring a sturdy pair of hiking boots or shoes, hiking poles, backpacks, water bottles, and a first aid kit wouldn’t be a bad idea just in case.
#5. Bear Spray
Black bears, grizzly bears, and brown bears all live here in the north, and just in case you run into one on the trails or walking through the campground, is a really good idea to carry bear spray. Now, most of the park rangers and other we talk to say that bear spray is a last resort for a close-range defense of a bear intending you harm. Usually the bear will be just as scared of you as you are of it, but we’d rather you be safe than sorry.
TIP: Familiarize yourself with proper usage of bear spray. It is not a bear repellant, and you should leave the safety on it at all times unless it’s use is iminent.
#6. Black-out Shades
The Midnight Sun is an awesome part of the Alaska experience – it makes you feel like you’re on another planet! But it’ll drive you crazy after a while if you don’t have good blackout shades.
#7. Offline Navigation
Have navigation tools like a stand-alone GPS, an atlas, and/or The MilePost that don’t rely on cell service.
#8. Satellite Phone?
We get asked about satellite phones a lot. We did not have one on our travels. We had an excellent data plan and connectivity setup from Mobile Must Have so had pretty awesome connectivity most of the trip. We also weren’t ever very far from a road where other people were always also traveling – especially during the summer season.
If you’re planning to do some extreme back country adventures or are traveling alone and want to be able to contact someone no matter where you were, there are products out there that can meet your requirements.
Check out our Blog Post about How We Packed Our Truck Camper for Alaska for more info on what we brought.
Camping & Resource Planning
During our 6-month expedition, ¾ of our camping was boondocking/without hookups. Because of this we did not book many campgrounds in advance. For finding campsites we primarily used Campendium.com or the Campendium App to find both campgrounds and free wild camping sites.
Campgrounds with Hookups
There was sufficient campground availability to be able to go campground to campground with hookups. You will likely have to book these in advance to ensure a campspot, as a summertime camping trip to Alaska is pretty popular.
Campgrounds without Hookups
We stayed in a number of these – Canada had many great and affordable Provincial Park campgrounds near towns and sites we wanted to visit. You will need to provide your own power source and bring your own water, pack out your waste.
National Park Campgrounds
If you’ve got your heart set on camping in a National Park, we recommend booking that WAY in advance to ensure you get your spot. We booked our Denali National Park stay for June back in January. Note: These may or may not have hookups.
There are lots of opportunities if you’re planning on and set up for boondocking. We were set up for boondocking with our Generator-free Truck Camper Lithium and Alternator Charging setup, supplemented by solar power. We also just made sure to top off our fresh tank and dump regularly to extend our time out in the boonies.
If you do boondocking and camp without hookups, you’ll have to find ways and places to provide power, water, sewer, and other necessities. The MilePost and Campedium were great resources for finding water, dump, and fuel.
If you’re not hopping from hookup to hookup, you’ll need to have a power source to top off your batteries. We were set up for boondocking with our Truck Camper Lithium and Alternator Charging setup, supplemented by solar power. truck-camper-lithium-alternator-charging.html
Water & Dump Stations
We found that Water Fill and Dump Stations were easy to find. We used the Campendium app to find these a lot, and when in doubt we were almost always pointed in the right direction by the local Visitor Center. Sometimes they even had them in their parking lots! Municipal water and dump stations were often clearly marked as you entered town with a bright blue sign and a directional arrow. Campgrounds also had dump stations and would often charge a fee. We had a RV Water Filter Store Water Filtration System on board that filtered our water pre-tank as well as at our counter spigot so we were always confident we were drinking and using safe clean water.
We didn’t have any trouble finding propane. Pretty much any bigger town had a supplier that could fill our tanks. Look for them in the bigger towns you pass through for the best prices. Expect a little higher price, but not prohibitively so.
At the start of our trip we received advice from a friend who was familiar with driving the remote northern roads:
If you’re below half a tank and you come upon an open fuel station, fill up.
This advice served us well, and we didn’t have any trouble with running out of fuel on our expedition. Our truck also had a 45 gal fuel tank, which meant we could go quite a while without a fill. Our longest run was about 400km (~250miles) from the start of the Dempster Highway to the next fuel stop in Eagle Plains.
Price was variable from place to place – generally more expensive in Canada and in small towns.
- We had budgeted our trip with an estimate of $5/gal.
- It ended up averaging about $3.59, while the US average was $3.09 for 2019.
- Our most expensive fill up we believe was in Coldfoot, AK on the Dalton Highway north of the Arctic Circle at $5.09/gal.
The Cost of Our 6-Month Alaska Trip
As part of your planning you should absolutely create a budget. We did, and it was very handy.
Some of the things you should budget for are:
1) Fuel – you’re driving a long way, so this is going to be a significant cost.
- We estimated we’d drive 11,000 miles at 11 MPG at $5/gal = $5,000
- We drove nearly 15,000 miles at 11 mpg at $3.59/gal = $4,895
2) Groceries – same as at home, except maybe a little more expensive due to the remoteness of some of the places you’re going to be.
- We estimated $500/month x 6 months = $3000
- We spent about $2500 total.
- We used the Dometic CFX cooler to extend our groceries between larger towns where we could get better prices. We also found Costcos to shop at and stock up.
3) Campgrounds – going to fluctuate based on your travel style. We expected to boondock a lot and not spend much, so we budgeted low for this and didn’t end up spending much.
- When we did stay at campgrounds it was usually a low-cost no-frills campground, or later in the fall when prices were reduced in general.
- We spent around $1000 on campgrounds, but this could easily be $2000-3000 for RVers who prefer campgrounds with hookups.
4) Gear – if there is anything new that you need for your adventure, like bug repellant clothing, fishing gear, a new pair of hiking boots, or a cooler that will bring your salmon home.
- You might want to factor that into the cost, but also remember you can continue to use after this trip.
- We ended up getting all new camera gear and other supplies, but we didn’t count that against our trip cost as the use will continue beyond the trip.
5) Dining out – again, will fluctuate on your style. We don’t eat out much in general but we did budget for trying the local cuisine.
- We estimated $100/month x 6 months = $600
- We spent ~$750.
*Disclaimer: we were hosted on several occasions to eat out in Prince George in partnership with their tourism board.
6) Activities – If you’re making the investment to get there, you might as well check off those bucket list items and have some incredible experiences!
- We figured we’d spend as much in fun as we did in fuel, so around $5000.
Here are the rough values of some of the big experiences we did and showcased in Go North:
- Bear viewing – $850PP = $1700
- Jet Ski $400PP = $800
- Helicopter $400PP = $800 (we did this with an amazing friend, but this is roughly what a similar experience would be)
- Northern Lights Flight & Bus Excursion ($500PP) = $1000
- Banff Skiing & Rentals (end of season) = $350
- Fishing – charter ($500pp) = $1000
- Fishing licenses = $300
- Horseback riding = $200
- Entrance Fees etc. ~= $500 (National Parks, aquariums, museums)
- Resurrection bay cruise = $200
Total spend: ~$6500-7000
*Disclaimer: Some Go North experiences were done in partnership with companies.
7) Insurance & Cell Phone Plan Changes
- If you end up changing your policy to fit the driving you’re doing for this trip or you elect to get a new/better/different connectivity plan or setup, you’ll want to factor these costs into your plan.
- We saw about $500 increase here.
Estimated total cost of a 6-month Alaska Trip
- Fuel – $5000
- Groceries – $2500
- Campgrounds – $1000-3000
- Gear – $1000
- Dining Out – $1000
- Activities – $5000-7000
- Insurance/Cell/other fixed costs – $500
TOTAL = $16,000 – $20,000
Remember, this is over 6 months – think about what your normal 6 month expenses are and look at the difference – you still would have been eating groceries, eating out, fueling your vehicle, and doing other stuff.
This number is also going to fluctuate greatly depending on your vehicle, the length of your trip, and what you decide to do.
We hope this helps you plan your trip to Alaska, and safe travels!
If you haven’t already, check out the Go North Expedition series for ideas on where you might want to go and what you might want to do in Alaska!
Recommended Videos & Articles:
- How to Pack for Alaska
- RVing in Canada – Things You Should Know
- Ultimate Connectivity Setup for Alaska & Canada
- Tips for Driving the Dalton Highway
- Tips for Boondocking in Canada & Alaska
- Cold Weather Camping – How to Prepare
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