Long driving distances and weather that can change in the blink of an eye are less likely to hinder travel plans if you have a cozy RV to snuggle up in, or a car packed with camping gear you can unload when you’re ready to call it a day. Touring Alaska is as easy as opening a guidebook and looking for the nearest campground or RV park to rest your head and cook a meal before embarking on your next adventure. All major roads and byways in Alaska are well maintained and travelers will find it’s smooth sailing most of the way. There are some gravel roads, like the Denali Highway, but the majority of the road system is paved and offers easy driving with numerous scenic waysides, picnic sites and campgrounds along the way. For those interested in hitting the road, there are two primary routes to Alaska from the Lower 48: by ferry via the Alaska Marine Highway or by car/RV via the highway through Alberta, British Columbia and Yukon. Both are excellent ways to behold the scenic bounty that Alaska offers from the comfort of the deck or the seat of a car and you’ll soon realize why many people consider the trip north to be the ultimate North American road trip.
The Alaska Marine Highway, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2013, is Alaska’s state-owned ferry system and one of the best ways to get around to some of the more remote areas of the state. Scheduled service takes passengers to Southeast, Prince William Sound, Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak Island and the Aleutian Islands, and space on the car deck means you can bring a car or RV with advanced reservations. To reach Alaska by ferry, start in Bellingham, Wash. or Prince Rupert, British Columbia, the Alaska Marine Highway’s southern ports of call. From there you’ll meander your way up the Inside Passage, stopping in several ports of call before ending at either Haines or Skagway, neighboring communities with access to the Alaska Highway via the Haines Highway and the Klondike Highway, respectively.
The Alaska Highway, also known as Highway 1, originates in Dawson Creek, British Columbia and travels 1,387 miles to its official end at Delta Junction in Alaska. Constructed in just 10 months during the height of World War II in 1942, the highway celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. The Alaska portion of the highway is 201 miles long and intersects with the Taylor Highway, which leads to the town of Eagle, and with the Tok Cutoff, which leads to the Glenn Highway and communities to the west like Glennallen, Palmer and Anchorage. Upon entering Alaska from the Yukon, your first stop should be the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, with 682,604 acres of forest and wetlands and numerous wild inhabitants, it’s a great opportunity to look for Alaska’s legendary wildlife. Farther north, Delta State Recreation Site campground is a good place to stop for the night. Many traveling this route continue on to Fairbanks via the Richardson Highway – an add-on to the journey that’s a natural extension of the Alaska Highway experience.
The Richardson Highway extends from Fairbanks to Valdez on the shores of Prince William Sound. At 368 miles long, the north-south route bisects communities like Delta Junction and Glennallen on its way to Valdez and offers access to the nation’s largest national park – Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. Built on the backbone of one of the state’s earliest wagon routes, a number of gold-rush era historic roadhouses offer a glimpse into Alaska’s history, while several lakes and other recreation areas provide access to fishing, hiking, berry picking and other recreational activities.
The 362-mile Parks Highway, connecting Wasilla to Fairbanks, is shared with the Glenn Highway on the section between Anchorage and Wasilla and also offers access to the Denali Highway near Cantwell. This scenic road has unobstructed views of the Alaska Range and the highest mountain in North America, Mount McKinley. It also provides access to Denali National Park and Preserve at mile 237, and cuts through neighboring Denali State Park.
The Seward Highway connects Anchorage to the highway’s southern terminus in Seward, a quaint little fishing town surrounded by majestic mountains and glaciers that make up Kenai Fjords National Park. This spectacular 127-mile highway has several popular attractions along the way, including the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and Portage Glacier, as well as stunning views of Turnagain Arm just outside of Anchorage. Wildlife sightings are common: mountain goats inhabit the cliffs towering above the highway and pods of beluga whale are often seen swimming in the waters offshore. The communities of Girdwood, Hope and Moose Pass are accessible from the Seward Highway. About 90 miles south of Anchorage, the highway also intersects with the Sterling Highway, which leads to Kenai, Soldotna and Homer.
Alaska’s highways offer nearly 100 established public campgrounds and numerous private campgrounds and RV parks with amenities like water, fire pits and outhouses widely available. Some also offer RV dumping stations; electrical hookups are more common in privately owned campgrounds. Trash and waste must be properly disposed of in campgrounds and along highways to avoid attracting wildlife to the area. For more information on driving and camping in Alaska, click here.