Planning a trip to Alaska can be an overwhelming task for even the most seasoned travelers. We’re talking about a state that’s bigger than Texas times 2, not to mention filled to the brim with opportunities for adventure.
We’re the sort of travelers who like a healthy balance of planned and unplanned adventures, that way we make sure we get to do the top of our list items, but still, leave a little room for the spontaneous and the unknown. When we first sat down to tackle this behemoth of an adventure, we knew right away, that we had no idea what we were doing, and that the usual plan to not really plan approach wouldn’t exactly work with this trip. We were going to need resources and a lot of them.
After 5 months of road tripping around Alaska, we may not exactly be Rick Steve’s level experts but we can say with confidence that we now know a thing or two about planning a trip to Alaska. We tested out a lot of resources over the course of our adventure, some good, and some bad, and some well that just weren’t for us but might be a perfect fit for your style of travel. We’re covering it all in this video.
There are 3 basic forms of resources we used to plan out our travels in Alaska:
- Books/ Print resources
The Milepost- A lot of people consider this to be the bible when it comes to traveling in Alaska. We used it quite a bit but we definitely didn’t consider it to be as incredible as everyone played it up to be. The Milepost is a mile by mile guide to Alaska, it’s incredibly comprehensive and filled with information. Great for finding fuel stations, accommodation, and little interesting facts. What made it not so great in our eyes is that it almost has too much information, which makes it overwhelming. We used the Milepost a lot, we were glad we had it but we didn’t love the Milepost the way a lot of other people seem to.
Purchase The Milepost Here: https://amzn.to/2Yvvp3g
The Traveler’s Guide To Camping In Alaska- This is a book we definitely got our money’s worth out of. This a fantastic compilation of most of all the camping options available in Alaska, on the Alcan, and also on the Cassiar Highway. It does a great job of illustrating what services are available at each campground, what the relative costs are, and how big of an RV they can accommodate. We used it all the time. If you’re planning on camping and or RVing in Alaska this is the one book you need to get.
Purchase Your Copy Here: https://amzn.to/2yqjc5l
Frommers Alaska- We’ve been using Frommer’s guides for years, so naturally it made sense for us to pick one up for our travels to Alaska. In the end, we didn’t use this as much as we have in other places we’ve been around the world, but it was still nice to have as a reference when we would arrive in a new town.
Get Your Frommers Guide To Alaska Here: https://amzn.to/3dcl1RY
The Toursaver Coupon Book- This is another book you’re going to hear a lot about if you’re planning a trip to Alaska. The Toursaver is a coupon book you can purchase for about $100 dollars that give you discounts on activities like charter fishing, flightseeing, train rides, and other adventures. We debated buying one, and at first, it seemed like a great idea but in the end, decided not to purchase one. Why? Well, after a little more research we discovered that in order to really make it make sense for the cost you need to use several of the coupons in the book, and that really limits your choices in who you can take certain tours with, etc. We talked to people who bought it and loved it and we talked to people who bought it and had a miserable experience. Looking back we feel good about our decision not to purchase but if you’re keen on doing a lot of activities and not picky about the companies this might be a good option for you.
Buy The Toursaver: https://amzn.to/2z7VTgp
Hiking Guidebook- This is another book we didn’t purchase that in the end we really wish we had. We saw a copy of this for sale at the Public Lands Office in Fairbanks and almost grabbed it but felt like we already had a good idea of hikes we wanted to tackle while in AK- in retrospect we both think it might have been really useful in finding some more off the beaten path hikes, that we may have missed out on. If we ever go back to Alaska this is one book we will absolutely be buying.
Grab A Copy For Yourself: https://amzn.to/2z7VUAZ
Facebook Groups- We aren’t usually the type to join Facebook Groups, it’s just not our speed, but the RVing to Alaska Facebook Group and It’s subgroup RVing to Alaska (insert your travel year here) is nothing short of amazing. It’s a great resource to ask questions, find out about road closures and or road conditions in real-time. 2019 was a terrible year for fires in Alaska and by keeping in touch with this group we were able to avoid the worst of the smoke for the majority of our travels. It’s a great group of incredibly helpful people. If there’s one group you join this should be it.
Instagram- This is something we use a lot everywhere we go, search a location, seeing something interesting and cool, and then connect with the people who are sharing the info, it’s an awesome way to find some really cool things, and even make some new friends!
Say Hi On Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/venture_wild/?hl=en
Youtube- We share a lot of what we hope is useful and helpful content but we also consume a lot of it as well. There are people out there really pushing boundaries and having unique experiences- things you might be interested in doing too. Youtube is a fantastic resource to uncover something you may or may not know about.
Our Alaska Adventures On Youtube: https://bit.ly/2WkRQWd
Google Maps- When we aren’t super familiar with an area we use Google maps to get a better idea of what we’re getting into. This little app has saved us time after time and helped us find some really cool off the beaten path camping spots, with incredible views.
People As A Resource:
Locals- If we’ve said it once we’ve said it a thousand times, you will never find a better resource than locals; they will key you in on all the super cool non-touristy experiences there are, lead you to some of the best restaurants of your life. We have been all around the world and we have never run into a more friendly or helpful group of people than Alaskans. Ask a local. Always ask a local.
We found some of the best food in AK at the Roadside Potato, thanks to the friendly local who suggested it!
Public Lands Office & Alaska DNR- Both of these amazing resources maintain two offices; one in Anchorage and one in Fairbanks. The Public Lands Office deals with Federal managed lands ( BLM, NPS, and the US Forest Service) whereas the folks over at the Alaska DNR deal with state-managed lands. We recommend popping by both of these offices, ask all your questions! These are people who literally make exploring the outdoors their jobs, so they know, all the secret spots. You can also rent a bear canister the Public Lands Office and pick up your backcountry permits. It’s a stop worth making if you’re nearby.
So now that you know all the places you want to go, and all the things you want to see and do you’ve got to somehow tackle the task of stringing together all these adventures in a way that makes sense.
We have a rather strange method that we have used country after country, state after state, that might not be for everyone, but it certainly works for us. Step 1 grab a map (in this case a state map of Alaska) you can often pick these up in visitors centers for free. Step 2, start writing all over it! We like to write down what there is to do and see in each location and roughly how many days we think we’ll need to accomplish it. Then we take a step back and look at what route makes the best sense to get it all done, and what stops might not make the cut. It sounds silly but it works us. If you try it out let us know what you think.
If you are interested in what our exact itinerary looked like for Alaska, we’ll be publishing another post shortly with all those fine details, as well as a printable PDF version. If you’re interested in using our plan as an example give it a peek!
In the meantime here are some really great tips for putting together your perfect trip to Alaska:
- Prioritize what you want to do, AK is a big state, let go of the idea of fear of missing out because there is going to be something you’re going to miss out on. That’s just how it is.
- Decide how rigid or flexible you want your travels to be. We found that the best approach to make the most of traveling to and through Alaska was to be ultra-flexible or stick to a predetermined strict schedule with premade reservations. We found out pretty quickly that our preferred somewhere in-between approach didn’t work so well when it came to AK so we opted for the ultra-flexible plan.
- Reservations need to be made well in advance of your travels (especially for things like camping in Denali or traveling to Katmai) or need to be made last minute, and when we say last minute we really mean it. We made our Denali reservations the week before we wanted to visit. Yes, we had to watch carefully for a window that worked for our desired length of stay to pop up but it worked and we didn’t have to make any concessions to make it happen.
The Most Frequent Questions We Get Asked About Traveling To Alaska
We reached out to all of you on our social media accounts (Instagram & Facebook) to find out what you wanted to know about traveling to Alaska. This community did not disappoint, you guys loaded us down with great questions covering everything from planning, to our personal favorite adventures. We did our best to answer your questions as they came up- but here are some of the most common questions we received.
How much does it cost to travel to Alaska?
This is without a doubt the most frequently asked question that we get and for good reason. Planning an adventure to Alaska is a daunting task, that planning amps up to a whole other level when you start looking at the cost of things.
Free fishing in Alaska on the Russian River
The truth is, it’s impossible for us to tell you how much a trip to Alaska is going to cost for you because there are so many variables to think about- what’s the fuel economy of your rig, how much traveling around the state are you going to do, do you need to stay in RV Parks or do you want to camp in the wilderness, are you planning on eating out a lot or do you want to cook your own meals? We all travel a little differently, and so we all have different levels of comfort and needs.
Expensive charter fishing in Alaska
What we can tell you is that we stuck to our monthly travel budget of about 3,000 per month- the same budget that carried us across the US. The budget covered all our living costs ( RV & Truck payments, gas, food, accommodations, insurances, and experiences). We did have some splurges that pushed our budget but the weeks that we did the expensive experiences we simply cut cost elsewhere by eating at home or choosing less expensive activities or camping in free areas.
What are the cell reception and Wifi connectivity like?
For most of us when we think of Alaska we think of wilderness, which usually doesn’t add up with a stellar cell signal. We had serious concerns about connectivity before heading North but were pleasantly surprised with our ability to stay connected.
Alaska lots of great libraries with blazing fast Wifi
We have AT&T for both our cell service and our Wifi hotspot. On the Alcan and Cassiar Highways, we had zero cell reception, except for when passing through major towns. Throughout Alaska we had shockingly good reception almost everywhere we went, and where we didn’t we simply hopped in the truck drove down the road and could usually lock into a pretty good signal.
What was your favorite experience in Alaska?
Naturally, we both had two very different answers to this question.
I love to explore by water and have always had a lifelong fascination with icebergs and glaciers so for me there was nothing better than our day trip on the Lulu Belle out of Valdez to see the Columbia Glacier.
DJ loved the fishing. In Alaska fishing is so much more than just fishing, it’s a cultural experience and a way to learn and connect with the locals. Fishing is fun everywhere, but in Alaska, it’s really something special!
When is the best time to go, and when is the best time to leave?
We touched on this question in our post about Driving The Alaska Highway. Generally speaking the season for travel to Alaska begins in May and ends around mid-September. Weather can vary year to year, especially around the shoulder seasons. The earlier you go and the later stay the more likely it is that you will encounter bad weather.
We crossed the border into Canada on May 13th, we entered into Alaska 15 days later on the 28th and finally said our goodbyes to the 49th state on the 9th of September. Our original plan was to stay until the 15th to hopefully give ourselves the best opportunity possible to see the Northern Lights, but lucky for us the sky decided to put on an incredible show for us early into the month pushing up our departure time.
What should I pack for a summer in Alaska?
No matter the destinations packing questions are nothing new, after all its something you want to get right, there’s nothing worse than taking off on an epic adventure only to realize that you packed all wrong. Been there, done that, forgot the t-shirt.
Clothing- You’re not going to need anything fancy for a trip to Alaska. Think full-on adventure gear for this trip, and be sure to pack in layers. Temperatures can fluctuate dramatically throughout the day. And always no matter what make sure you carry a good rain jacket with you.
Gear- If there’s an activity you’re really passionate about and you have the room to take the specific gear with you we highly recommend you do. We use our bikes and paddleboards everywhere we go, so when we were deciding what to take with us we knew that those two items were definitely making the cut.
Other items we found to be essential to helping us have an incredible summer in Alaska included fishing poles and tackle kit including our trusty filet knives, hiking gear, and of course a camera with a good lens.
RV Stuff- Do a quick Google search on this topic and before you know it you’ll be convinced you need to spend thousands of dollars on RV upgrades just to make this journey. We’re here to tell you, that you don’t.
We read all the suggestions, carefully weighed the facts, and ultimately decided to exactly zero upgrades to our RV and truck before traveling to Alaska. Yep, zero.
That being said if you don’t have a solar set-up with an inverter do recommend at the very least you purchase a generator, lots of RV sites are dry camping only and you’re not going to want to miss out on awesome views just because you need power.
While we can’t condone dropping tons of cash on upgrades, we do believe strongly that you have to prepare for this trip- and really any trip for that matter- to your own comfort level. Peace of mind can go a long way when it comes to traveling, so if you feel you need it then, by all means, go for the upgrade! Just don’t let anyone fear monger you into spending more than you need to!
What was your favorite hike in Alaska?
Alaska has some of the most incredible hiking in the world, we could have done nothing but hike during our time there and wouldn’t have felt the slightest bit disappointed. We hate picking favorites but if we had to choose hiking on Root Glacier in Wrangell St. Elias National Park and the Savage River Trail in Denali would be our winners. Both trails offer a little challenge mixed with a beauty that can’t be matched. If you make the trip to Alaska we highly recommend both.
How did you find places to camp and what is the real story with boondocking in Alaska?
This might just be our favorite question of all time. Why? Oh so glad you asked. Well because it’s the one question we wrestled with the most before our summer in Alaska. We had heard from multiple sources that you can literally camp almost anywhere you please as long as it’s not private property or specifically labeled no camping. Despite hearing this over and over again, we just couldn’t believe it was true. That was until we got to Alaska; boondocking is alive and well in the 49th state, in theory, if you really wanted to you could sleep for free for the entire length of your trip.
Our top two resources for finding places to camp in Alaska were The Travelers Guide To Camping in Alaska (which we used to find established campgrounds) and the RVing to Alaska Facebook page (great for asking fellow travelers questions about lesser-known areas). Combining those two resources made for a perfect summer of epic camping in Alaska.
The Travelers Guide To Camping In Alaska: https://amzn.to/2yqjc5l