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Alaska 3-weeks by car/ ferry from Seattle. Will this work?

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I'm interested in going from Seattle to Fairbanks (Denali) and back by car. I'd like to take the ferry from Haines, AK to Bellingham, WA on the way back.

Can I do this in 3 weeks / 21 days?

We are a family of four in a suburban. Mom, dad, two teenagers. Seasoned road-trippers and hikers. We've done 3000-mile road trips before (Sea to San Diego to Las Vegas/ Utah). Also did Grand Teton/ Yellowstone/ Glacier on a single trip too.

Like to see Denali and whatever else people suggest to us.

Must-see suggestions? Route suggestions?

We could do it in reverse by taking the ferry on the way THERE and driving BACK if anyone suggests for some reason that's better.

I see lots of threads with people asking about GUNS (for fear of large animals I assume). I've carried bear spray before. That sufficient? Should more than one of us carry it if we're doing some hiking? (day hiking only/ up to around 15 miles RT max).

I'm working on an itinerary and I've ordered "milepost".
Are distance/times between cities accurate in GoogleEarth for estimating drive times?

Wow, so many questions. I need to get on this because it looks like the ferry is booking up and I need to get a place reserved soon!

Thanks in advance, fodorites! :)

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    I wouldn't trust Google Earth/Maps too much on various land routes to/from Alaska. Especially with the Alcan or Cassiar, road construction and weather conditions can make it awfully iffy.

    When would you be traveling? That also makes a difference.

    Regarding route, part of the problem with starting and ending in Seattle is the very long schlep northeastward before you head to Alaska - you basically have to go to the Rockies before turning left. I might suggest a time-saving (and, frankly, boredom-saving) alternative, at least for one direction. Probably not money-saving, but with just 3 weeks I'd opt for the faster alternative.

    Drive to the north end of Vancouver Island (you could cross from Port Angeles to Victoria, or the Tsawwassen or Horseshoe Bay BC boats) and take the BC ferry from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert. At Prince Rupert connect to the Alaska ferry to Haines, then drive via the Haines Cutoff to the Alcan, and into Alaska at Beaver Creek. You could return via the Haines (or Skagway if you want to see Whitehorse) ferry to Bellingham, or you could retrace your route back to PR then drive from there (or of course cross back over to Vancouver Island and down from there.)

    The drive up Vancouver Island is not as scenic as one would hope, but it's fast and direct, and way quicker than the Alcan, with less wear and tear on the car/occupants as well. The ferry from Port Hardy is very scenic (same Inside Passage scenery as you'd get on the Alaska ferry) and of course the AK ferry is also very scenic and relaxing.

    If you do choose to drive, then I'd opt for the Cassiar as the more scenic - but slower - choice. Again, however, month and road conditions can vary.

    As for bear protection, I think bear spray and small-caliber guns are much more for psychological comfort than physical safety. If a bear is close enough for spray, you're already toast; similarly most hand guns will just p*ss off a brownie in the short term. In all my time in serious bear country I've never been close enough to a bear where any protective mechanisms would work, short of a twelve-gauge with slugs or 00 shot, and you don't want to go hiking with that kind of artillery over your shoulder. Just be careful and make noise and listen to other hikers/campers if they mention bear troubles. If you see sign of bears on the trails, just head the other way.

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    Trip would be starting MID-TO-LATE JULY.
    [I hate when I leave out important details.] :)

    Cost is prohibitive for me to do the ferry more than one substantial trip (4 people and a vehicle) so I'll have to deal with the 'schlep' northward through BC and afford the ferry luxury on the way back home.

    The only question about the ferry is really whether we do the ferry portion on the way North or on the way back South. I think we're going with on the way back because at that point we'll be tired of driving.

    Any suggestions on places to tent-camp en route? I mean are there spectacular spots that are Must-See spots?

    Our intention is to kind of take our time, stopping when we feel like it and taking lots of photos.

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    Okay, I certainly get it.

    As for camping and "don't miss" places, the Milepost will be your best bet.

    I agree that taking the ferry back is probably a good idea. If you don't have space already booked, you should do so ASAP as the boats really fill up quickly. I also think you should not dally on the northbound drive; if you want to get up and back in 3 weeks you'll be limiting your time in-state. Not sure of your overall itinerary, but subtracting roughly 10 days for the north/south trips would leave you with 10-11 days in-state, which isn't a lot if you're planning to hit Denali plus, say, the Kenai Peninsula.

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    (deep breath to begin)

    Seattle to Anchorage is roughly 2400 Miles via Dawson Creek, with Fairbanks about 115 miles less.

    Taking the ferry BACK (as opposed to "up") affords you the chance to cover interesting stuff early, without fearing the possibility of missing it altogether.

    Upon making a reservation for the return trip, you are just shortening your window of variable time, AND the distance you have to cover in that time.

    One rotten thing about the Alaska Hwy is that the sensible spots to stay are already there, plotted on your Milepost map... and if you don't want to travel just 250-300 miles in a day, your only serious alternative is 600-ish!

    When driving to Anchorage several years ago, I got a late-afternoon start from Seattle... and stayed in the following:

    Hope, BC
    Chetwynd, BC
    Whitehorse, YK
    Tok, AK

    enroute to Anchorage

    Prepare yourself for loooooooooooooooong and boring stretches... and when you find yourself as far from what you know as you've ever been, marveling over a bunch of old signs nailed to trees in Watson Lake, YK, then you'll adjust your appreciation and standards for entertainment.

    A personal low that way, for me, was when I was about an hour outside of Whitehorse, and the first hint of a radio station came through, after a long while without... only to find that they were wasting it with a simulcast of the town's Friday night BINGO game.

    The worst part was the short time period I spent listening to: "O-sixty three... I-seventeen...N-twenty-nine", etc.

    In July you will have to deal with plenty of RV's and campers on the roads, and mosquitoes once you've stopped. By then the roadways should have been fully repaired and of course there won't be snow and ice to deal with. Some of the wintery scenery all around was what kept me going during some of those miles, but you will have each other to help in that regard.

    I think you should avoid hiking in spots that are too remote, and once you make everybody read up on what to do upon encountering wild animals, you'll probably be safe without firearms.

    There is an amazing amount of nature up there, and even to see how the locals live in Whitehorse will be interesting. Treasure the only McDonalds for 1500 miles while you're there and take photos of the Yukon River and surrounds.

    My favorite scenic spot/area on the path was Kluane Lake, YK, but there were other lakes along the way that were impressive.

    Why don't you anticipate making the ferry trip on the way home, and then adjust your 3-week window of time accordingly based on what it would take to be in the certain spot to catch the designated ferry at the designated time and date.

    Then maybe allow 4 or 5 nights spent beTWEEN Seattle and Fairbanks, and then figure out what sort of a time window that leaves you, and what you can accomplish in it.

    FYI - when I drove the 2400-mile trip in early April, there were perhaps 30 miles of UNpaved roads total, made that way only by seasonal road repair projects.

    IF you evolve to decide that the return ferry isn't preferable for you, then you could at least take the Cassiar Hwy route home, for variety, but it would take plenty of time too.

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    Another good source for info is an RV forum site which has lots of friendly, knowledgeable people - just like here. You'll find everything there from tent campers to full-time RVers and lots of info about Alaska. www.irv2.com

    We plan to make the drive up in 2012 and want to take the ferry at least part of the time.

    Have a great trip.

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    Two things to know about handguns:

    1) Intelligent people since the days of the Lewis & Clark Expedition have known that a small caliber gun is WORTHLESS against a grizzly. To quote a line from _Blazing Saddles_: "Don't shoot him, that just makes him angry." Thinking that a handgun will protect you from a grizzly attack is, plain and undeniable, stupid.
    2) As this link,
    www.panda.com/canadaguns
    written by a pro-gun person, states unequivocally:
    "ALL handguns are either prohibited or restricted in Canada.
    Handguns with a barrel shorter than 105mm (4.14 inches) and/or in caliber .25 or .32 are prohibited in Canada and are illegal to possess in Canada.
    DO NOT EVEN THINK OF ATTEMPTING TO CROSS THE BORDER INTO CANADA WITH A PROHIBITED FIREARM!"

    If you are caught with a prohibited or unregistered handgun while driving through Canada, you will be LUCKY if it's only confiscated without one penny in compensation. The "Second Amendment Solution" to government officials does NOT apply there!

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