Picture a summer road trip full of endless adventure, where each day brings new discoveries and each night unfolds beneath the midnight sun, while it lasts. That’s the essence of our summer road trip to Alaska, an expedition that carried us from the lower 48 to the heart of the last frontier.
Road-tripping Alaska was a bucket list adventure that we dreamt of with its extraordinary beauty and vibrant culture and this summer, we made that dream a reality. Come along and adventure with us as we relive our trip and share how we dreamt, planned, and lived an extraordinary Alaskan road trip.
Through our words and experiences, we’ll take you on a journey across the remarkable Last Frontier, including wonderful adventure and heartwarming connections that colored our trip. We invite you to share the trip with us and maybe — just maybe — gather inspiration for your own trip of a lifetime. So, buckle up, and let’s explore the wild side of Alaska together.
Crafting and Preparing for the Adventure of a Lifetime
When I think of Alaska, I think of short summers, with long days, and decently long winters, with very short days. The summer days in Alaska can go as long as 22 to 24 hours, depending on where you are in the state, which for us meant more hours in the day for adventure.
Strategically crafting the perfect drive to Alaska is pretty difficult, but we would say we hit the nail on the head. We gave ourselves a little over 6 weeks to explore Canada on our way to Alaska.
We arrived in Alaska on July 1st and planned the best two months while we were there. We departed Alaska to make our way to the Arctic Ocean in Canada on September 1st.
The road trip to and around Alaska was one of the biggest “trips” we have ever endured together. This meant we planned, planned, and planned again to limit backtracking but to also make sure we did not miss anything while we were there. We have learned our lesson over the last three years on the road, missing adventures and destinations that were just around the corner or down the street because we didn’t take the time to plan our route and points of interest.
Our starting point for this wild ride was Bellingham, Washington, and our ending point for the first leg of our Alaskan road trip was Tok, Alaska (pronounced like “Poke” but with a T). With over 1800+ miles ahead of us, we made sure to get a bit of maintenance done on our truck first.
I changed the oil with only the best Rotella T6 Synthetic oil and took our truck to Discount Tire for a free tire rotation. On top of that, we changed the fuel, air, and cabin air filters. This would give us the peace of mind knowing we didn’t need to stop and do maintenance in Canada, where some things are a bit more expensive.
Once complete, we took our winter gear that wasn’t needed in Alaska and put it in a storage unit in Ferndale, Washington, to reduce our rig’s wet weight. We made sure to keep rain jackets and puffer jackets as Alaska tends to rain a bit during the summer.
The best phrase I have for Alaska’s rainy season is, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad preparation.” With that said, prepare for rain in Alaska; for every 5 days of rain, we had maybe 1-2 days of sunshine. Being that we are full-time in our Cirrus 820, we had all of the gear we needed and then some, but if that is not the case scenario for you, pack as if you will experience all scenarios (besides a snowstorm unless you plan to stay past early September).
Accommodations & Reservations
A summer trip in Alaska is the dream for every RV-er and adventure seeker, which means reservations may be a bit difficult to come by. Luckily, we opted for dry camping or boondocking. Having a fully solar truck camper makes off-grid camping easier.
We stayed in one campground for two nights while we were in the Anchorage area. We did not find it difficult to make reservations and even passed campgrounds along the way that seemed to have vacancies. Just to be safe and have that security, booking accommodations beforehand might not be the worst idea.
Throughout Alaska, there is boondocking and free camping that is legal, and while we took advantage of most of them along the way, we were shocked by how many of them were partnered with rigs of all sizes, cell service, and the lack of remoteness. When I think of Alaska, the Last Frontier, I think of the rugged roads to insane campsites where only 4×4 Truck Campers or smaller rigs are able to go, but that was actually not the case. Most of the campsites we saw along the way had rigs of ALL sizes, from huge motorhomes and 5th wheels to small truck campers or vans. This is reassuring because, if you forget to make your reservations for a campground or you simply don’t want to, there are sites and spots for rigs of all sizes along the way.
Budgeting and Expenses
Traveling and road-tripping can get very expensive very fast. The topic of budgeting is really on a per-person basis. For example, we knew this trip to Alaska wasn’t going to be our last, so we saved a lot of the expensive excursions for future trips. Not only did this help us save a tremendous amount of money, but it also gave us a reason to go back again down the road. For the sake of planning, we can give you a basic rundown of our expenses but also ways to keep the costs for this trip down.
For the months of July and August, we spent around $6,400 on fluid expenses during our trip. These expenses include groceries, campsites, fuel, laundry, adventures, and miscellaneous items such as protein powder, skincare, and other random items.
We typically spend around $200 a week on groceries in the lower 48 because we eat at home all week long. In Alaska, we spent around the same weekly, but we also ate out most weeks because we couldn’t go without trying some of the local foodie spots. While we still spent around $200 a week, we felt since the food was a bit more expensive, we opted for lower-quality options. Diesel was around the same price or maybe even a bit less than the Pacific Northwest and Canada, but with the amount of miles we did each month, we easily spent around $1,000 per month while in Alaska on fuel.
This amount we spent may seem like it is a lot, but we also opted for most adventures that are accessible by foot or hiking to keep our expenses down. We visited 3 of the 8 National Parks because they were the most inexpensive options and the most accessible for us. Visiting Lake Clark, Kobuk Valley, Gates of the Arctic, and Katmai National Parks could have turned our $6,400 total into well over $10,000, but for us, it did not make sense this time around.
Our most expensive adventure during our trip to Alaska was our backpacking trip in Kachemak Bay State Park, where we went on our first backpacking trip with our dogs, Brayden and Oreo.
The trip total, including food, gear, and the ride to the park, was around $700. The Taxi was $185, and we had to buy a tent along with all of the other gear to safely and comfortably be in the backcountry. We also flossed for Salmon on the Kenai River, but thankfully, we had fishing tackle already. I was also gifted waders and boots from very nice locals. Keep in mind that guided fishing is expensive. Even if I hadn’t already had the gear, it was definitely on my radar, but we saved a ton of money learning how to floss via YouTube and locals.
Road-tripping in Alaska can be affordable or very expensive, and that all depends upon your hobbies, bucket list, and the plan you craft. Thankfully, we found a way to not completely break the bank along the way while creating endless memories. If you eat a decent amount of home-cooked meals and opt to camp where it’s free, you can save yourself a good chunk of change there too.
Our First Leg Through Alaska
With our hobbies and interests, spending most of our time in Southwest and South Central Alaska made the most sense for us. We love being outdoors, engulfed in the wonders and beauty of nature. During our trip to Alaska, we made the mistake — in our eyes —of spending too much time in the Fairbanks area. While we did enjoy our time there, next time around, we will most likely skip over that area altogether.
From our starting point of Tok, Alaska, we made our way North towards the North Pole area — not where Santa is — and Fairbanks. The drive was surprisingly flat and not like the rest of our journey in Alaska, so we’re glad we started our trip this way. We explored areas such as Chena Hot Springs and ate at the famous Cookie Jar, a local bakery/diner in Fairbanks that is sooo delicious. The area had warmer temps and a lot more mosquitoes than any other area we visited in Alaska.
From there, we made our way down the Parks Highway towards Denali National Park and Talkeetna. The Parks Highway spans the Alaska Interior from Fairbanks to Anchorage. Along the way, you can expect to see Igloo City, an old abandoned hotel, before making your way to Denali National Park. (Fun Fact: Only 30% of people who visit Denali actually get to see Denali, and thankfully, we saw the natural beauty 2 days in a row.)
In Denali, the road past mile 43 is closed due to a landslide which really limited the amount of time we spent in the park. We did a few hiking trails that were pretty trafficked. We enjoyed our first real glimpse into Alaska’s stunning landscape, but little did we know the breathtaking landscapes we had yet to behold.
From Denali National Park, we visited the cute town of Talkeetna, which you have to visit. It’s a super quaint town that has a ton of tours going out of it into Denali, but it has some great food too. We recommend visiting the Salmon Spot as well as the Talkeetna Spinach Bread that is served out of an Airstream. We only spent the day here but have read about and heard many great things to do in the area. We can’t wait to get back there on our next trip up. While this leg of our journey was full of adventure and memories, our next leg was the one that almost kept us in Alaska.
Our Second Leg Through Alaska
Up to this point, we were having the time of our lives, but this next leg was one that was unforgettable: Anchorage to Homer.
Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, and it is surrounded by so much to do. One of our favorite areas in Alaska was the Chugach State Park, so much so that we made an entire YouTube video there. Each hike we encountered here had stunning views, but not without a ton of elevation gain. We did countless hikes in Chugach State Park, from the famous Flattop Mountain to the renowned Thunderbird Falls. Each hike had its own adventure aspect, and none of them left us with regret.
Anchorage was also the spot where we tried Reindeer Hot Dogs, to which I’d say, “When in Alaska.” Around the corner from the hot dog stand, we had some of the best (but pricey) ice cream. Wild Scoops, a well-known ice cream shop, has some of the most unique flavors we have ever seen. The one we won’t forget is their Fireweed Ice Cream, made from a popular summer flower called Fireweed.
From Anchorage, we recommend venturing to local areas like Kincaid Park as well as the Whittier and Girdwood. If you decide to follow a path similar to ours, you’ll be able to dip into both of these areas as well as Hope, Seward, and Kenai on your way to Homer.
Girdwood is the home to the famous Alyeska resort, where you can take a gondola to the top of Alyeska mountain. As usual, we opted for the adventurous and financially efficient route, which was hiking up the mountain under the perfectly good Gondola. The benefit here was bragging rights and a free ride down, saving us a solid $96 to spend elsewhere. After returning from this beautiful trail, we took a break to enjoy a meal at a local bakery, the Bake Shop, where they have a 100-year-old sourdough starter that they make their bread from and so much more.
Girdwood was fun and the start of our Seward Highway adventure. As we continued down the Kenai Peninsula towards Homer, our next stop was Whitter, the home to the year-round, ice-free, deep water port. Whitter is a place for history enthusiasts and there is so much to see. Our main reasons to visit Whittier were to hike Portage Pass and see the harbor. We enjoyed the journey to Whittier, where we hiked to Byron Glacier and drove through the longest highway tunnel in North America, around 2.5 miles long.
Upon leaving Whittier, we made our way to Hope, Alaska, located on the Turnagain Arm. Here we learned a bit about the area’s rich Gold history. We took our chance at fishing for Pink Salmon, which Alaskans tell us is dog food, but it was quite a good time, and the salmon was perfectly edible in our eyes. Our time here was short, but to see more, we made a YouTube video here.
From Hope, we camped along the Turnagain Arm in a beautiful spot before making our way to Seward, where we visited Kenai Fjords National Park and explored the wonderful little town (Tip: definitely get to the Park early because it does get busy).
We hiked to the Harding Icefield and enjoyed every bit of our time there. Then we made our way to Kenai where we tried our hand at flossing Sockeye Salmon in the famous Kenai River in Soldotna. Fishing, along with some different places to eat, was the highlight of our time in Kenai. We enjoyed the food at Brew@602 and took some time to relax here before our trip down to Homer.
The Sterling Highway from Coopers Landing to Kenai was one of the most beautiful drives we experienced in all of Alaska. The rugged mountains and beautiful blue river rushing past as we drove South is a mental memory we will never forget.
This leg of our road trip was finished in Homer, a cute little down at the end of the Kenai Peninsula. From here, you can water taxi to multiple destinations, Kachemak Bay State Park, Seldovia, Halibut Cove, and more. We decided to visit Kachemak Bay State Park, where we hiked to and camped on the shore of Grewingk Lake. The food here was great; we ate at a few different spots and tried our hand at fishing the Lagoon, a popular fishing spot in the area. It can all be watched in our Homer video.
Our Last Leg Through Alaska
We made our way back up the Kenai Peninsula and back to where the last leg started, Anchorage. We ventured North to Hatcher’s Pass, where you have to explore Independence Mine and hike to Reed Lakes if you’re up for it. We saw berries on the trail on our way to Reed Lakes. It was one of those very common rainy days, so it was quite an adventure. The slips and falls in the mud paid off for the beautiful view of Reed Lakes and the rugged beauty of Hatcher’s Pass. Check out our entire adventure in Hatcher’s Pass here.
Our route from here on out was to drive towards Valdez on the Richardson Highway and then take the Glenn Highway to Valdez. This was probably THE MOST BEAUTIFUL DRIVE! Driving out of the Palmer area, located North of Anchorage, and making the drive to Valdez comes with stunning views and a few viewpoints you can’t miss. The viewpoints along the way are Lake Pullover, Matanuska Glacier, and Mountain Range. We stopped at each of them.
At Matanuska Glacier viewpoint, we also took an excursion to hike to the Lion’s Head Trail, which showcases the beautiful sight of the Matanuska Glacier as well as the Chugach and Talkeetna Mountain Ranges. This hike isn’t the most difficult, but the trail is not the best. To see our journey along the way, you can watch this video. It highlights the drive from Palmer to Valdez with stops along the way, as mentioned. One of the most extraordinary stops along the way was Thompson Pass, the snowiest area in Alaska.
Our last destination along the way was Valdez, Alaska. This little town was our favorite town during our entire Alaskan road trip. While it may have lacked what we love most — i.e., hiking — we experienced wildlife here like nowhere else in Alaska. Oh, and the food we tried was out of this world.
Let’s start with the wildlife; the time of year we were here, the salmon were running into the hatchery to spawn, and seeing that was unreal. We saw birds, bears, and sea lions devouring the salmon. On top of that, the food in town at the Nat Shack and The Potato left our taste buds dancing and still wanting more. We loved Valdez so dearly and covered all we did there more in-depth on our YouTube channel.
From here, we drove pretty quickly back to Tok, where we drove over the Top of the World Highway to Chicken, Alaska, and then into Canada. Our time in Chicken was very short due to a lot of places closing earlier, with it being later in the season. We didn’t find there was too much to do, but it was an adventure we did enjoy. We tried to get the famous Cinnamon Rolls and checked out the town of Chicken, but it was a quick visit as we made our way into Canada. Check out the Chicken Youtube Video.
Wrapping up Alaska
Our road trip through Alaska was one we dreamed of for so long, and we are so excited we went for it. We had a summer full of endless adventures and experiences. That is what we believe life is all about – getting out and experiencing the world while you’re here.
We felt like we did so much during our time in Alaska, but we know we just scratched the surface. The only mistake we believe we made along the way was spending a lot of time in Fairbanks when there was so much more waiting for us in the Southern Region of Alaska. Next time we make our way to Alaska, we’re considering the Marine Highway to see some of the areas we did not make it to.
We are beyond blessed to have had the summer we had and are thankful for the many experiences and memories we created and collected along the way. If you’re thinking of making your dream trip to Alaska, take this super long blog that I had to force myself to cut short as your sign to go.
There is so much more to experience in life, and we are all living on borrowed time here; that is part of the reason we set out on OurFulltimeAdventure, no pun intended.
We hope our Alaskan adventure can help you plan yours, and if you have any questions, we go more in-depth on our YouTube and Instagram, OurFulltimeAdventure. Feel free to reach out via Direct Message on Facebook or Instagram with any questions we may not have covered. We appreciate our nuCamp family for allowing us to share just a part of what we experienced this summer.