The Most Epic Alaskan Roadrip
Part I: Alaska
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When I drove from the lower 48 to Alaska July 2016, it was exciting but I was in a serious rush. I needed to start my new job in 3 weeks and I would be embarking on this trip alone.
My trip from Alaska back down to the lower 48 was going to be a lot less stressful. I allotted myself 4-6 weeks to get to Colorado, and my boyfriend would be joining me. It was August so weather wasn’t going to be an issue and we could take the time to really explore and make the most out of a once in a lifetime road trip!
We decided we wanted to spend a lot of time exploring other parts of Alaska and Canada! It was also priority hit up as many national parks in the process as possible. We bought an Annual National Park Pass which was $80 ($40 each). The pass was well worth it! Some National Park entrance fees are as much as $25, we got our return on investment pretty quickly. Summer 2017 also happened to be the celebration of Canadian National Parks and all entrances were free!
The national parks we visited (US and Canadian): Denali, Wrangell St. Elias, Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Northern Cascades, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone. Other must-see stops that weren’t National Parks included Valdez, Whistler, and Vancouver.
The road trip took exactly three weeks and the total cost of the trip was $2109.35. Here is the full breakdown by category.
I have a lot to talk about during this trip so I’m breaking this topic into three parts; Alaska, Canada, and lower 48. The trip started in Anchorage, Alaska and then went in the following order; Denali National Park, Talkeetna, Valdez, and Wrangell- St Elias National Park. We spent about 7 days total in Alaska
Denali National Park
This may have been the best part of the trip. A few weeks prior to the beginning of the road trip my family visited and I brought them to Denali National Park. This was the first time I had visited the park myself. We only spent about a half day there , visited the sled dogs, and drove as far in as passenger cars were allowed. After seeing how beautiful the park was I decided that spending a night to camp in the park would be worth it during the road trip.
Wonder Lake Campground
We opted to camp in Wonder Lake Campground which is the campground furthest from the park entrance. It’s about a 4-hour bus ride to get from the entrance of the campground. It is also an option to just take the bus to Wonder Lake if you don’t want to camp for the night.
Camping in Denali cost $90 for two of us; this includes the campground fee as well as the bus ticket. If you do not have a park pass an additional entrance fee would apply. I’m not sure how we got so lucky, but not only did we have two days of clear weather and Denali viewing but one of the best sunsets I have ever seen. The next day all anyone at the campground could talk about was the sunset.
The second day was another beautiful day in Denali. We spent the whole morning hiking around Wonder Lake picking wild blueberries by the handful (which were delicious) with a view of Denali in the background.
We then got on a park bus to make our four hour journey back to the entrance. Somehow the unexpected warm weather got to me, I get dehydrated very easily. The four hour bus ride on dirt road didn’t sit well with me. We planned on driving as far as we could towards Valdez that night but I couldn’t make it to Talkeetna (2 hours) without getting sick every few minutes! So we opted to get a hotel room for the night.
If you ever been to Alaska in the summer you know that hotel prices are not cheap no matter how dinky the place. Any rooms available also fill up months in advance. We checked about 3 places but every place was full until we got to one that wanted $300. My boyfriend explained the situation and the lady made a phone call to a friend who gave us a room for $89 a night. Another example of someone on the road helping me out, I really appreciated it.
The next day I was feeling much better after a proper shower, medicine, and plenty of water. We continued our trip towards Valdez. I had never been to Valdez prior to this so I was very excited. The best part of Valdez would actually be Thompson Pass which is right before the town itself.
Thompson pass is full of green mountains with cascading waterfalls in every direction. We checked out mineral creek trail and hiked Worthington glacier, all free and and all will not disappoint. If it were in the budget I definitely would have kayaked along some glaciers in Valdez!
Wrangell- St. Elias National Park
I never heard of this National Park until I randomly saw it on the map when planning this trip. Wrangell-St Elias is actually the largest national park in North America. This park is extremely large and still very wild, there aren’t many maintained trails. I have heard from locals that to get to the best spots you would need to pay a bush pilot and backpack. We obviously didn’t have the money or time for this, so we made the most out of two days in the park.
There are two entrances the north side and south side. The south side is McCarthy, Alaska. This is where the Kennicott mine is and seems to be where most visitors go. We opted to visit the Nebesna Road entrance (the north side) since we were headed north to cross into Canada. One of the best parts about Wrangell St -Elias is they have a FREE campground called Kendesnii Campground. We didn’t have much time to explore, but the little we did see was spectacular!
Tips for an Alaska road trip
Dedicate as much time as possible
Alaska is really, really large. There are so many amazing places to experience. I had lived in Alaska for a year prior to making this road trip. I focused the trip on places I had not been to that would be worth the detour to visit. Other amazing places to check out is the Kenai Peninsula including; Homer, Kenai, Soldotna, Seward, Kenai Fjords National Park, and Hope.
Late August/Early September is ideal
June and July are the most popular months to visit Alaska for many reasons, mostly because of the weather. August can be rainy but the temperatures are still warm. This is also a good time to possibly see the northern lights as well as the leaves beginning to change. The beginning a fall is a great time to get the best of both worlds in my opinion.
National Parks are worth it
Alaska has many National Parks and I wish I was able to visit all of them. As mentioned before Denali National Park was my favorite part of the entire road trip down. Alaska has some of the most diverse and beautiful National Parks in the US, do not miss out! To learn more about Alaska’s National Parks, click here.
Camp to save money
As mentioned before hotels in Alaska can be outrageous in the summer. I would try to avoid hotels if you are attempting to road trip Alaska on a budget. There are plenty of campgrounds as well as free camping in Alaska. Check out sites like free campsites and campedium for resources.
Do you dream of road tripping Alaska? Leave a comment below!