Monday, October 3, 2011

Driving to Alaska–General Information


   Snow is dusting the mountain tops and we have to run our furnace much more than we like so it’s time for us to head south but first some general information of anyone who is planning a trip to Alaska. Most people from the lower forty eight states will never get to go to Alaska but for those who do get the chance it’s an unforgettable experience. However it is a long drive and one that you may only do  once so give yourself as much time as possible –at least a couple of months. Don’t rush through Canada.There are many interesting and beautiful places along the way. The scenery along the highways is magnificent – a new view around every bend in the road. So much of Canada and Alaska is wilderness and inaccessible to all but the most fit so stop at all of the little attractions and scenic views. You’ll be driving for many hours and little breaks are very welcome.

  Crossing the Border

   So far we have crossed the border between the US and Canada and visa versa seven times without any problems. Have your passport in hand for either country’s border guards to check and be ready to answer the standard questions – any alcohol,tobacco,guns ;citizenship;length and purpose of visit;value of items purchased; etc.  Canadian border guards like precise answers so even if you’re not sure of where you’re staying for the night or how long you’ll be in Canada give them a definite answer. One guard was pretty perturbed with us when we said that we planned to drive until we got tired. The Canadian guards didn’t seem to be concerned about food but at one US crossing we were asked about avocados and mangos , at another our oranges were confiscated.


   Roads Conditions

  Almost all of the roads are paved so bringing multiple spare tires is no longer necessary and cracked windshields are less common. Most of the roads are in such good condition that it’s easy to forget that you’ll often be miles away from the next gas station. We have a habit of topping off our tank at each station when we are out in the less populated areas. One major problem on the roads is frost heaves. They can be really hard on frames and hitches so slow down and watch for the little red flags marking the worse sections. Since road work can be done  only during the summer you’ll most likely run into some construction and accompanying miles of dusty gravel. Again slow down especially when passing cars approaching from the opposite direction.



  Weather and Best Time to Travel

   This is our third trip to Alaska. On our first visit we spent so much time in Canada that it was late August before we finally entered Alaska. We were lucky- it stayed fairly warm even though it rained a lot and we only left in mid October because everything was closing. The next time we started up through Canada in early June. Piles of snow lined the roads, some things were closed and the rivers were icy but we had 70 degree weather in Alaska in July.  This year we left  the US in early July, trying to avoid the extremely wet spring weather. It never really got dry or warm. High temperatures averaged between 55 and 60. So be prepared for any type of weather. The coastal cities are almost always wet and cool. The interior can actually get hot. The height of tourist season is July through August.  If you travel later in the season (mid August on) the roads and campgrounds are almost empty. Some campgrounds and attractions open late and close early in the season. We prefer a later start because it avoids the spring rush.


   We don’t stay in many commercial campgrounds. I’ve seen on other blogs that sometimes people have a hard time getting a space at the height of the season. We noticed that most of the campgrounds were pretty empty when we drove by later in the year. The state , provincial parks and other public parks where we stayed always had plenty of spaces and some of them were almost empty. Public campgrounds rarely have any type of hookups and most have pit toilets which seems to cut down on their popularity.


    Along the Cassiar highway in northern British Columbia it’s easy to find good places along the road to pull off and spend the night. Along the British Columbian section of the Alaska Highway boondockng opportunities are scarce because there’s a lot of oil and gas exploration and many of the dirt roads off of the highway are busy with trucks or marked as having dangerous gasses. Once you’re in the Yukon and Alaska boondocking spots are easy to find except around cities or tourist areas where there will be “no camping or overnight parking” signs at every pullout. It usually not possible to get very far away from the highway but we look for large pull offs with trees to shield us from traffic. Most of the time traffic dies down at night and it’s pretty quiet. Dry camping in store parking lots (Walmart of Fred Meyers) is possible in most cities with the exception of Anchorage which doesn’t allow it anywhere.



     We spotted numerous black bear, moose,foxes,marmots,caribou,deer,buffalo,bald eagles,swans and lots of small animals and birds. All of the wildlife we saw were along the roads but there are plenty of opportunities to take tours if you want to see more. I’m not sure about the accessibility of the different types of tours.



    Both Canada and Alaska have accessibility problems , mostly because of the harsh weather conditions , but there are many places where a simple short ramp would have been a big improvement. The main different between the two countries is toilet facilities in the campgrounds. Small Canadian parks rarely have accessible toilets,although the rest areas do.  Alaskan parks always have accessible toilets and most of the time have picnic tables with an overhang.


    Big cities have all the services but most things are a good bit more expensive than in the lower states. Smaller cities have a limited selection and a slightly “edge of the frontier” look with potholed,gravel parking lots and very utilitarian building construction. The tiniest towns are just a combination of  gas station,lodge,campground,store and restaurant. Depending on a short tourist season to make a living is hard and the small places often go out of business. Keep this in mind and get gas often when you’re traveling in less populated areas.


Phone and Internet

  We have AT&T for both our phone and internet service.  For a small fee AT&T will allow access to the Canadian phone system (Rodgers) but be aware that there is still a high per minute charge.  WiFi is available at many of the visitor centers. We also got on line at Staples and Safeway.  AT&T phone service in Alaska is good in the cities , non existence along the rural roads. At times we could get very slow internet service where we didn’t have phone service by using our Wilson antenna so an antenna adapter for our phone probably would have improved the signal for it too.

Other Questions?

  If anyone has a question about anything else please leave a comment and I’ll try to answer it. Smile

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