Joanne Sommer and Bob Potts learned much from their motorhome trip to Alaska in 2006. Here are their suggestions for others who may be planning a trip.
Get a copy of The Milepost: A Trip Planner for Alaska, Yukon Territory, British Columbia, Alberta & Northwest Territories
“Even every 300 feet it would tell you what you could expect. It told us when there was a gravel turnaround or paved turnaround. It told us locations of trash facilities and dump stations. Our GPS couldn’t tell us that.”
Trip navigation software has its uses, limits
To help navigate, Joanne and Bob used Microsoft Streets & Trips travel and map software with their Global Positioning System receiver (plugged into their laptop computer). This system worked fairly well, except in Alaska, Yukon Territory and other remote areas of Canada. “In Alaska, The Milepost was far superior to GPS mapping software.”
Buy a federal lands pass
Joanne and Bob purchased a National Parks Pass. It cost $50 but admitted them to federal recreation areas, including U.S. national parks, that charged entrance fees. They said they more than recouped the cost of the pass and even received a discount on some guided tours.
A new nationwide public lands pass became available in January 2007. The America the Beautiful — National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass costs $80 per year and provides access to all federal lands that charge entrance or standard amenity fees. Keep in mind that use fees for expanded amenities and special services may still apply, depending on the site.
Purchase a pass through the U.S. Geological Survey Web site, www.store.usgs.gov/pass.
Do your best to stay in touch
In remote Alaska and parts of Canada, Bob and Joanne did not have reliable cellular coverage or an Internet connection. “We resorted to land lines many times to check in with our parents." They went one stretch of about 10 days without any Internet access. “Many campgrounds are now offering wireless Internet access (Wi-Fi). It usually costs extra, but it’s worth it.”
Be aware of fuel costs
“Be prepared to spend a fortune on fuel in Canada. Even with exchange rate, we couldn’t believe how expensive it was.” They paid well over $5 a gallon for diesel in Canada. In Alaska it was around $3.79 a gallon, $2.85 in Anchorage. The most they paid for fuel in the Lower 48 U.S. sates: $3.59.
Joanne made light-blocking curtains and attached them to the valances in the motorhome. During Alaska’s extended daylight hours the curtains created “instant darkness” — a better sleep environment inside the motorhome.
Know pet restrictions
Remember that U.S. national parks do not allow you to take pets on trails. Joanne was disappointed she could not hike with Dixie, their 55-pound Australian shepherd, in Denali National Park. “You can’t put your dog on the leash and go hiking in the national parks. You’re allowed to walk around the campgrounds or round actual paved surfaces, but you’re not allowed to take the dog into the backcountry.”
Joanne and Bob did have many opportunities to hike with Dixie in state parks, national forests and areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Also, carry a current pet health certificate for any animals that accompany you into Canada.
Go now, Joanne says
“I would recommend it [a motorhome trip to Alaska] to anyone, especially when you’re young enough to handle some of the unexpected adversity and are a little more used to prioritizing ‘emergencies’ or at least putting setbacks into perspective. When you are working full time, you are used to multitasking and setting priorities. When emergencies arise, it is a more ‘normal’ occurrence and not as overwhelming.”