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2018 Road Trip to Alaska

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Nov 27th, 2017, 05:08 PM
  #1
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2018 Road Trip to Alaska

Hi All,

We are planning a 2018 road trip from Phoenix to Alaska. Exact dates have not been determined, so we are looking for suggestions. We are open to traveling during the months of June-September, but assume July/August would be the best months. We’d like to be gone under 30 days, but are open to suggestions to extend the trip. We will be driving our 2014 Toyota Prius and will be staying in motels throughout the trip. We also plan to take a 7-14 day round-trip cruise out of Seattle in 2019 with my brother, so this trip will be mostly to see the interior between Fairbanks and the Anchorage-Homer-Seward triangle as well as some sea activities we might not see on whichever cruise we pick. We’ve looked through a 2017 edition of MilePost from the library and have pretty much planned the routes we will be taking up and back. We plan to buy the 2018 edition when it comes out in March. The thing I’m most unsure of at this point are how far we can expect to drive each day, where it’s worthwhile to stop for more than just an overnight stay and any sights we shouldn’t miss along the way. We're mostly interested in information on the part of the trip through Canada. Obviously, the routes are not set in stone, so suggestions there are also welcome. We are 65/70, so we’re mostly interested in sightseeing/photo ops we can get to by car or short walks from the roadway. Longer walks are okay, but my wife can’t hike due to her knees.

Anyway, I’ve separated the trip into 3 sections; the drive up, the drive around Alaska and the drive back. The cities cited are for Google Maps/Bing Maps routing purposes only, not necessarily for overnight stops.

Section 1:
Phoenix AZ -- Malmstrom AFB MT -- Banff AB area -- Hinton AB -- Dawson Creek BC -- Watson Lake YT -- Dawson YT -- Tok AK

Note: Google Maps will not let you drive directly from Dawson to Tok because the road is closed in winter.
Q: Is it advisable to drive un summer? If not, we would go from Watson Lake to Tok and bypass Dawson.

Section 2:
Tok AK – Fairbanks AK – Anchorage AK – Homer AK – Seward AK – Wrangell-St Elias National Park AK – Tok AK

Q: Worth taking gravel road to McCarthy? Day trip or overnight?
Q: Worth going to Valdez?

Section 3:
Tok AK – Watson Lake YT – Stewart BC – Hyder AK – Prince George BC – Hells Gate BC – Osoyoos BC – Phoenix AZ

Note: May bypass Hells Gate because we will be driving that in 2019.

There you have it. Our hotel preference is the Choice Hotels chain, but we are open to suggestions for local hotels comparable to Comfort Inns and not opposed to lower priced motels comparable to Econo Lodge/Days Inn based on Trip Advisor reviews. We’ve visited Toronto, Montreal, Algonquin Park and Vancouver in the past, all by car, so we’re familiar with driving in Canada. We know to be vigilant for wildlife and we know to dress in layers, but we’re not sure if we need to bring anything special with us. We do not carry weapons.

Thanks for any and all guidance.

Cheers, Dave
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Nov 28th, 2017, 12:57 AM
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I think you might want to also post on the US forum. Yes, you will be driving through Canada but a lot of your routes are through the States (plus it is a much busier board)
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Nov 28th, 2017, 06:46 AM
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Here is an excellent site for you: http://www.northtoalaska.com/

It has a tool to help you plan your trip plus you can view other users' trips, map & routes, etc.

If it works out, you might consider staying in Quesnel rather than Prince George at the Billy Barker Casino Hotel. Historic and kitchy. Of course, Prince George is a bigger city so more choices of places to stay.

Oh, and Barkerville might be a place to visit, maybe about an hour or so from Quesnel: http://www.barkerville.ca/
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Nov 28th, 2017, 08:28 AM
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Along much of the Alaska Highway there is no need to stop for ages at a time. Of course the occasional rest, leg-stretching, photo opportunity pops-up, but when you're faced with the 250-miles-between-suitable-overnight-spots equation, there isn't too much that is unforeseen to cause you to be unable or unwilling to reach your next destination. (and the choice is merely: "do we go 250-ish miles in a day, or 500-ish?") (which can only be answered by you)

Even a herd of Bison strewn across the roadway moves along.. in due time.

To me, the most scenic area was Kluane Lake, Yukon... and a whole lot of the Alaska Highway is just... you, the road you're on, and thick forest all around.

Of course you go through the motions at the sign post forest, and a few other spots, but there won't be too many true surprises along the way.

The Milepost certainly covers all of the details, and it helps to have something to read as the minutes stretch to hours... (and if the driver is bored too, the reader can read aloud...)
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Nov 28th, 2017, 11:47 AM
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If you're coming via Banff, Hinton is actually out of the way. You would want to turn north on Hwy 40 which is west of Hinton. The stop would be in Jasper, which is far more scenic and attractive. Hinton is a mill town that is mostly a strip of chain hotels & fast food restaurants.

For the Rockies area, you should book accommodation by early 2018. It's a very popular area in the peak summer months (June - September), and accommodation within the national and provincial parks is limited to a few townsites. Average hotel rooms can be $300+ in the summer, private rooms at hostels $120-180 and rooms in PHAs/B&Bs from $90-300.

Depending on how much time you want to spend in the Rockies (a destination in their own right), I'd probably stay a night or more in Canmore. That's just outside the parks, so a bit cheaper and offers a fuller range of accommodation options. You can do Banff NP from there, or simply spend a night and then give yourself a full day to get to Jasper. For Jasper, it may be trickier to one night as PHAs often have 2-3 night minimums. Spend a night or two there, then head north.

I think July/August make the most sense - the earlier in June you go, the more risk of late season snow. You can certain tackle a fair bit of snow in a Prius, but you don't want to be sliding around on snow in summer tires if you don't have to. If you have any flexibility, it's worth avoiding being in major tourist areas around holiday weekends (July 1 and first weekend in August and Labour Day).

As a note, definitely have AAA membership. AAA is reciprocal with AMA/CAA in Canada. So you get all the roadside benefits, plus discounts on hotels, parks passes (required when you are in national parks in Canada - i.e. Banff, Jasper etc), and a variety of attractions/museums etc.

I'd also do some research on Toyota dealers/mechanics in the north. Strongly suspect that a lot of mechanics would not be able to do much with hybrid engines, so you'd want to know where your closest Toyota dealer or Toyota approved mechanic is located. And have the AAA/CAA plus membership so you have the ability to get towed to the closest mechanic who can handle hybrids - not just to the closest mechanic or the one within 20km.
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Dec 2nd, 2017, 01:53 PM
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janisj - thanks. Yes, a lot of the driving is in the US, but we've driven those parts of the routes many times, so I'm more interested in the parts through Canada.
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Dec 2nd, 2017, 02:00 PM
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sludick - thanks for that link. I will check it out, it looks like it has a lot of useful information. Thanks too for the suggestion to stay in Quesnel and visit Barkerville. The cities listed were more for direction and not necessarily where we'd be stopping.
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Dec 2nd, 2017, 02:02 PM
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NorthwestMale - that is what I was wondering, so thanks for the tips. I'll make a note of Kluane Lake.
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Dec 2nd, 2017, 02:22 PM
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kgsneds - I'm a little confused. We will be coming up from Banff on Hwy 93 through Jasper. We then go over to Hwy 40 just west of Hinton to continue north toward Dawson Creek. I had to use Hinton for Google to route me to Hwy 40 otherwise it wanted to take me on Hwy 16 to Prince George. I plan to go through PG on the way back, so I wanted to take a different route going up. I haven't looked at motels yet, but I'm guessing Hinton is a lot cheaper than Jasper, though maybe Jasper is worth the extra cost.

We plan on visiting that area again in 2019, so I wasn't going to do much more than drive through on this trip. I have Canmore on my list of places to check for motels along with Hinton for the next night. Google says Canmore to Hinton is less than 5 hours giving us time to stop along the way.

Good tip about the Canada holidays, I'll keep that in mind, and we do have AAA, plus military if they honor US military service anywhere. When it comes to the Prius, I have towing to the nearest Toyota Service Center, not just the nearest AAA mechanic, but I will check to see where those are just so I know.


All great suggestions!
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Dec 2nd, 2017, 02:26 PM
  #10
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Sorry for the delayed replies. I thought I was supposed to get an email when replies were posted, but I didn't, so I didn't think anyone had responded.
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Dec 2nd, 2017, 03:36 PM
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To clarify, my suggestion was because several fodorites who are VERY knowledgeable re both Canada and Alaska (such as Gardyloo and a couple of others) seldom post on the Canada board.
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Dec 3rd, 2017, 09:27 AM
  #12
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janisj - I understood that and I'll take your advice to repost in the US forum. I don't like duplicating posts, but since there's no way to post in both US and Canada forums at the same time, I guess I have no choice if I want the best information.
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Dec 3rd, 2017, 12:03 PM
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I just want to say that I agree with the instinct to go up through Banff/Jasper/Dawson Creek, and to return via the different route via Prince George.

I drove round-trip to Anchorage (from Seattle) in early April, and some of the good advice then was "get a good ice scraper" (which I obtained at a Canadian store in BC, and which is near to the size of a baseball bat.

Even my weather concerns were minimal, in April, so don't get too worried about snowmageddon should you choose to go early in the season.

April had its advantages... the lakes were nearly all still frozen... the tourist season hadn't begun. (one day I drove for nine hours and saw 3 or 4 cars going in MY direction the whole time)

When you rounded a bend, and saw a great photo opportunity, you could stop right there, ON the road (knowing that you'd hear the next car 5 miles away) rather than await the sign that said: Scenic Overlook 350m (where the photo was somehow lesser than what you could get immediately.


Also, I should mention, that on many of the roads to and through Alaska, doubling back (on your return trip) still has you seeing so many impressive mountain scenes that the opposite angles alone make it feel like two different paths.
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Dec 4th, 2017, 10:27 AM
  #14
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NorthwestMale - thanks for the additional info. We can't go before June and not having driven the Prius in the snow, etc., I'm probably being overly cautious about the weather. My preference would be to go up in late August and come back in early September. I will make reservations all the way, but I'm trying to find out if I should stop anywhere for 2 nights so we'd have a day to explore any area with multiple things to do/see. If not, I'll just plan normal driving days up and back and spend most of your time in Alaska. I completely agree that even though we double-back on some roads, we'll see things from a different angle, something we do often for photo ops.
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Jan 6th, 2018, 12:37 PM
  #15
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I've been doing some work on the part of my Alaska trip itinerary that covers from Peoria AZ to Tok AK. Here are the stops I've tentatively identified, but I think I have too many. I'm pretty set on the portion from Peoria to Hinton because I'd like the extra time from Canmore through the Banff/Jasper area. It's after that where I think I have too many stops planned. For example, can I skip the stop in Dawson Creek and continue on to Fort Nelson? It would be 9:49 (565mi) and that is what we usually drive on our trips in the lower 48, but I don't know if we can make it that far in Canada. The others seem short, but I couldn't find motels at other places along the route that weren't even shorter or too far. As always, thanks for any advice.

EDIT: I'm also thinking about bypassing Banff/Jasper and taking a more direct route to Tok to see if we can save some time getting to Alaska.

Day
01 – 9:21 (610mi) to Sleep Inn, Provo UT
02 – 8:56 (623mi) to Malmstrom AFB MT
03 – 6:17 (389mi) to Quality Resort, Canmore AB
04 – 4:40 (238mi) to Quality Inn, Hinton AB
05 – 4:57 (284mi) to Comfort Inn, Dawson Creek BC
06 – 4:52 (281mi) to Woodlands Inn & Suites, Fort Nelson BC
07 – 6:46 (320mi) to A Nice Motel, Watson Lake YT
08 – 5:36 (291mi) to Sundog Retreat, Whitehorse YT
09 - 7:18 (387mi) to Young’s Motel, Tok AK
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Jan 6th, 2018, 10:07 PM
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Be reminded that the path in Canada, particularly upon reaching the actual Alaska Highway, can generally go more reliably with near-zero traffic.

If I looked quickly at your list, when wanting to save time, I would first consider just driving past Fort Nelson (perhaps after stopping for lunch) and doing a 600-mile day, where you're just driving and driving.

I would rather stay at Dawson Creek or Watson Lake than at Fort Nelson... (and I say that having stayed at Fort Nelson twice).

I was just... going about 600 miles a day, and Fort Nelson matched Whitehorse that way.

The next move would be to skip staying at Tok, AK and driving on to Fairbanks instead, making for another 600-ish mile day. (I say that having stayed in Tok, and dining at Fast Eddy's Restaurant ).

Just consider those before writing-off your wishes about saving time.
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Jan 7th, 2018, 01:42 PM
  #17
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Thanks, Mike, I really appreciate your comments and hope you'll stick with me if I have more questions.

That said, we watched a bunch of road trip videos yesterday and today. As a result, we've decided to skip Banff/Jasper this trip and spend more time there next year. We now plan to go direct to Calgary from Malmstrom and then on to the Quality Inn Whitecourt northeast of Edmonton for our first night in Canada, about 9:30 and just under 600 miles.

Unfortunately, that means we can't make it all the way to Watson Lake and will have to stop in Fort Nelson. We plan our driving days based on time and not distance. My wife can drive, but doesn't like to, so we tend to get on the road around 6:00-7:00 and try to stop around 5:00.

That said, there is a good reason to stop in Fort Nelson even though I agree Dawson Creek would be a better choice. We plan to spend some time at the Liard River Hot Springs and I don't know how long we'll be there. But, I don't want to be rushed and I don't see another choice between Dawson Creek and Watson Lake. Even the Laird River Lodge is over 12 hours of driving and that's too far for us.

Now, when it comes to bypassing Tok, I agree. We've since decided to go to Fairbanks first and then circle down to Anchorage and back to Tok. I broke the trip into 3 parts: 1)Phoenix to Tok, 2)around Alaska and 3)Tok back to Phoenix. Since I wasn't sure how far I could drive each day given the lower speed limits, possible construction delays and traffic, I simply stopped at Tok until I get the plan for this first part done and then start to plan the Alaska part. Our goal is to stay at Eielson AFB (10:10/565mi) and/or Fort Wainright (10:39/588mi).

One thing I just kind of noticed is that restaurants along the highways can be just as scarce as lodging, so I assume we need to pick something up for lunch each morning before we get on the road to our next destination. Even the lodge at Laird doesn't serve lunch.

Again, thanks for your comments. We're still making notes of places to stop along the way, but there doesn't seem to be much until we get to the Liard River area.
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Jan 8th, 2018, 01:31 PM
  #18
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Ok, here's what I've come up with for the itinerary's to/from through Canada. The listed motels might change based on availability when I make our reservations.

One item that came up when I was chatting with Phlash Phelps on SiriusXM was how much Canadian money we should carry with us. We generally use credit cards and I think we have a couple that don't charge an international transaction fee. However, I know we need Canadian cash to pay the day use fee at Liard Hot Springs, but I don't know where else we might need cash. If we pay cash everywhere, I think we'd need something like $1,000 each way and I'd rather not do that. So, I'm thinking of getting about $50 either before we leave the US or soon after we get into Canada. We've visited Canada several times and never exchanged cash.

Itinerary TO Alaska (Eielson AFB)
Day
01 – Sleep Inn, Provo UT (9:21/610)
02 – Malmstrom AFB MT (8:55/623)
03 – Quality Inn, Whitecourt AB (9:25/591)
04 – Woodlands Inns & Suites, Fort Nelson BC (8:55/533)
------ Liard River Hot Springs
05 – A Nice Motel, Watson Lake YT (6:46/319)
------ Sign Post Forest
06 – Sundog Retreat, Whitehorse YT (5:36/291)
07 – Eielson AFB AK (10:13/565)

Itinerary FROM Alaska (Elmendorf AFB)
Day
01 – Young’s Motel, Tok AK (5:47/319)
------ Wrangell-St Elias
------ Valdez (maybe)
02 – Sundog Retreat, Whitehorse YT (7:21/387)
03 – Arctic Divide, Dease Lake BC (8:38/423)
------ Stewart/Hyder
04 – Bulkley Valley Motel, New Hazelton BC (7:22/330)
05 – Round-Up Motel, Clinton BC (9:21/516)
------ Hell’s Gate
06 – Fairchild AFB WA (8:59/478)
07 – Hill AFB UT (10:06/702)
08 – Home (10:27/682)
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Jan 8th, 2018, 06:21 PM
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Regarding Canadian cash - stop at an ATM once you cross the border. Generally I only get $50-100 cash and that is sufficient. Use a credit card without a foreign transaction fee. Use other ATMS as you may need (rarely if ever IME).
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Jan 8th, 2018, 07:43 PM
  #20
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sludick - I see there is an ATB Financial bank just across the border in Coutts AB. I suppose it'd be just as easy to exchange some dollars there.
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