RV trip - Iowa to Alaska

Old Jun 29th, 2011, 09:49 AM
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RV trip - Iowa to Alaska

It all started 9 years ago. We had gone to Alaska in the summer and rented an RV from Great Alaskan Holidays (GAH). That fall there arrived in the mail a flyer about their 'Spring Adventure Package' (SAP). This was one way trip from the Winnebago factory in Forest Lake, Iowa to Anchorage, Alaska. We were immediately interested, but since the trip would have to start in mid May, we could never do it with the boys in school and the wife teaching school.

Fast forward to fall 2010 and the boys were old enough to survive on their own and the wife was no longer teaching. I called up Great Alaskan to see if they still had the program. They still did and there were RV/s available for spring 2011.

We immediately put down our deposit of $500 (this later converts into the damage deposit). After the first of the year we paid in full for the trip. The Spring Adventure Package is 11 days rental, 3900 free miles, with an extra week available at the SAP rate. We took the extra week so we would have a total of 18 days. We also purchased the insurance package.

The only other extras were toaster, coffee maker (both of which we used), lawn chairs, barbecue grill (we used neither) and an inverter to charge cell phones, etc from the cigarette lighter in the RV (we only used once, choosing to charge from the regular electric hookup).

We used the Milepost - a book that describes not only what is happening along the highways in Alaska, but also the roads in Canada that lead to Alaska. It is invaluable and no one should ever consider this trip without it.

To get to Forest City, IA, we used Southwest Airlines miles to go from Denver to Minneapolis and to return from Anchorage, we used Alaska Airline miles - total for both flights for both of us only $20. To get from MSP to Forest City, Great Alaskan arranges for charter buses.

Day 1 - May 13. Greeley, CO to Forest City, IA
Super shuttle to Denver Airport then Southwest to MSP. We arrived about 4 PM and waited until 6 for the bus. We had to switch terminals. Good signage to get us to the light rail that connects the terminals.

Before we exited the secure area in Terminal 2, we asked a security man if there were restaurants in the non secure area. He said that there was only vending machines. So we picked up a little food because we had been warned by GAH that there were no restaurants or food stores at the pickup site. There were lots of people waiting for the buses. At 6 we loaded the 2 buses and rode to Forest City.

We found our assigned RV - a 25 ft Chalet - and settled in. It turned out that there was a restaurant (The Lodge Restaurant) next to the pickup area and they had opened specifically for the SAP group. I had a gyro and DW had a tuna melt. Both were very good. We walked back and got on the internet with the wifi before turning in.
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Old Jun 29th, 2011, 09:50 AM
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Day 2 - Forest City IA to Fergus Falls. MN
We woke up late and at 9:15 went to our orientation. Saw a video and signed the papers and were on our way. We used my son's Tom-Tom GPS. First we went to Mankato, my mother's birthplace and saw the house she lived in. Then it was on to Fergus Falls. We decided to stop there because some friends of ours had lived there as kids.

The Tom-Tom had some awkward features. When we selected 'fastest route', it had us backtracking almost to Minneapolis to get the freeway. When we selected 'shortest route', we were directed to a series of small roads making many more turns than seemed necessary. We did the shortest for a while, then looked at the map and eliminated several turns and went straight to the freeway. Maybe there should be a 'smartest route' option!

We used the Tom-Tom to get the phone number of a RV park, called them and got directions - necessary because there was a 'road closed' sign that we needed to ignore. After checking in, we went to town and got some food at a convenience store before going back.

Stayed at Swan Lake Resort. 318 miles.

Day 3 - Fergus Falls, MN to Morden, Manitoba

We woke up to a nice, sunny day after 2 days of rainy weather. Walked down to the lake - looks like a nice place to fish. We saw the big otter statue at the park in town, stopped at Walmart for supplies and drove on. We continued on I94 to Fargo and I29 to the Canadian border. Just before the border we stopped for gas. I had put $125 in yesterday, thinking that we were getting pretty good mileage. After the pump stopped again at $75, I figured out that it was my credit card limit - not a full tank that was causing the pump to stop! I put in another credit card - for another $75 and then a third card for $28!!

Crossing the border was a pain as we had to go talk to an immigration agent, telling her all the places we had lived since we tuned 18. After she checked us out for 15-20 minutes, we were on our way. We stopped at the tourist Office and I'm glad we did. It turned out that the main highway to Winnipeg had been closed for a month due to flooding! A helper called a couple of RV parks for us - they were both closed because of the flooding. We decided to just try to find a place along the way. I changed $75 to Canadian dollars (I know, it probably wasn't the best rate, but we didn't need much to start).

We drove to Winkler where a RV park was indicated on our GPS. There was one but it wasn't opened. Lots of places don't open until the 'long May holiday' or Victoria Day which was a week away. The next town, Morden, showed an RV park. We went there and it was closed, but there was no gate and we saw several RVs parked there, so we went in and parked. One of the neighboring RVs was owned by a local resident who stays at the park in the summer. He said not to worry, so we didn't. Ate a meal cooked in the microwave.

279 miles.

Day 4 - Morden, Manitoba to Regina, Saskatchewan

We drove to the police station to see if any roads were closed. They had no idea if any were! We assumed that the tourist office yesterday knew correctly so we followed the route they had mapped out. In town I used the bank ATM to get another $200. We drove over small country roads until we hit Highway 1, the main cross Canada road. The land seemed perfectly flat - it wouldn't take much of an overflow to really flood the area. All the farm houses were surrounded by sandbags. Not much in the way of scenery - just farm land. We stopped just short of Regina at an RV park we saw by the road.

Comfort Plus Campground. 368 miles
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Old Jun 29th, 2011, 09:51 AM
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Day 5 - Regina, Saskatchewan to Edmonton, Alberta

A very long day with more of the same - flat to rolling hills farmland. Farms are getting bigger as we head west. Some drilling rigs seen, but not nearly as many as we see around Greeley. We selected a campground which advertised in the Milepost. It was nice and had a good wifi.

Glowing Embers RV Park 512 miles

Day 6 - Edmonton, Alberta to Dawson Creek, British Columbia

As we left Edmonton, we stopped at 'The Real Canadian Super Store'. I guess the name is a jab at Walmart. DW got a few varieties of Lean Cuisine that are not sold in the US. As you can see, we cooked our own meals in the RV, had cereal for breakfast and either made our own lunch or stopped at a Subway or similar.

One short stop today was at Sangudo where they have a huge sundial with the gnomon being a 21 ft high shaped like a grain elevator. The hours are marked by big rocks around it in the field. Later on we passed the 2nd longest wooden trestle.

Saw a couple of deer by the road. Our GPS did us a favor by routing us around the town of Grand Prairie which apparently had a lot of construction downtown. We made it to Dawson Creek, the official start of the Alaskan Highway.

Mile 0 RV Park. 368 miles

Day 7 - Dawson Creek to Ft. Nelson, British Columbia

Since the day was a little shorter drive, we slept in some. The scenery was more interesting - some forests, hills, snow capped mountains in the distance and a few deer along the road. At the lunch stop, DW bought a music CD (ELO) so we would have some variety to listen to. Not much in the way of radio although DW liked practicing listening to the French language stations.

Next to the RV park is the town museum. Interesting, especially the stuffed white moose and the antique cars. Like many such museums, there is too much to display and the displays appear poorly organized and crowded.

At each stop after the first two days, we have had other RVs from people doing the Spring Adventure Package, so we have chatted with most of them. All the others went across the northern US before entering Canada, rather than the trans Canada route we took. The past few days, there has also been a large group of Australians!

Triple G RV. 283 miles.

Day 8 - Ft. Nelson, British Columbia to Watson Lake, Yukon

This is perhaps the most scenic day of the Alaskan Highway. Snow capped mountains, wide river valleys, powerful rivers and lots of animals. We started early. The description in the Milepost made it seem like the roads were steep, by cliffs without guard rails and generally scary. Maybe for some, but the roads were no big deal. The roads had more curves so we drove a little slower but this was not a problem.

We stopped at the Toad River Lodge for lunch. They have a collection of about 7000 baseball caps displayed from the ceiling. I had a good buffalo burger while DW had a cheese sandwich and soup. Both very good. As we ate, two small planes landed on the small airstrip just feet from the highway.

Muncho Lake was a beautiful blue - a result of copper in the water. There was still quite a bit of ice on it which gave it an even richer blue. We stopped at a small gas station and purchased our most expensive gas - $2.00 per liter or about $7.50 per gallon! Most places had been about $5.00 per gallon.

Much of the day was along the Liard RIver - very wide, nice river. We passed Laird River Hot Springs. If I were to do this trip again, I would plan on breaking this day into two days and stop there for the extra night.

Lots of animals along the road today - 1 moose, 3 deer, 6 elk, 7 bears, 5 sheep, 10 buffalo.

At Watson Lake, we went to the Northern Light show at the auditorium across the street from the RV park. I guess it was the first day of the season. Nice show. Next to the RV park is the Signpost Forest - over 60,000 signs that have been attached to posts since 1942.

Downtown RV Park. 317 miles
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Old Jun 29th, 2011, 09:51 AM
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Day 9 - Watson Lake to Whitehorse, Yukon

Originally I planned for 2 days in Whitehorse, but then decided that if we got there early, one night would be enough. So we got up early and started quickly. Watson Lake is so small that I was out of town before I stopped at a gas station. Luckily there was one 10 miles up the road. There are not too many gas stations along the Alaskan highway - the Milepost lists them all, but in the year or so since the book was published, some had gone out of business. So it pays to fill up whenever possible.

Along the route today we spotted a Chalet RV by the side of the road with its left front crushed. It had an Alaskan license plate number close to ours. We were sure that it was one of the SAP renters. We later found out that was the case and that they had some sort of accident with a semi.

We got behind a couple of slow pokes today, really the first irritating drivers we came across.

We made it to Whitehorse about 1 PM. We visited the Beringia Center which tells about the area during the last Ice Age. The WHitehorse area wasn't under ice but was a cold desert with mammoths and other ice age mammals. It is a very nice museum.

Next door is the Yukon Transportation Museum. In the parking lot is the world's largest weathervane - a DC 3 airplane mounted on a rotating pedestal. Nice displays of Yukon related transportation inside.

We had our only sit down dinner at the Klondike Rib and Salmon BBQ. I had BBQ baby back ribs - very good while DW had an excellent 8 oz buffalo steak. After we walked to a nearby deli that advertised sausage. I was hoping for some exotic meat bratwurst but they had none. I got their regular bratwurst. (I tried it the next night and it was so bad I threw it away).

Hi Country RV Park. 279 miles

Day 10 - Whitehorse, Yukon to Tok, Alaska

A few sprinkles this morning - the first since the first days in IA and MN. The worst roads we have encountered.
Lots of uneven patches, washboard, gravel. This section is built over permafrost which melts every year and then re-freezes, causing heaving. There are experiments gong on to try to improve the roads but they haven't done much so far. We had to slow to 20 mph for many sections. The road greatly improved when we crossed the border into ALaska.

Beautiful Alpine scenery. Crossing into the US was no problem - less than crossing into Canada and much easier than entry at airports. Saw a mother bear and cub today.

Tok RV village 386 miles

Day 11 - Tok to Wasilla, Alaska

A mixture of good road, frost heave, and gravel due to construction today. A herd of 10 elk crossed the road just in front of us - another few seconds and we would have hit them! Also saw 3 moose. About halfway to Glenellen, we stopped for milk and cereal at Midway Services. The proprietors were nice and we enjoyed chatting with them for a while. They came to Alaska 20 yrs ago from Colorado.

We stopped to see the Manatuska Glacier. There are two different places to do this. The first is a commercial venture that charges $20 to go up to the actual face of the glacier. We said no and went to the state park where we took a short hike to get a nice view of the glacier.

Big Bear RV 293 miles
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Old Jun 29th, 2011, 09:52 AM
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Day 12 - Wasilla to Kenai Lake, Alaska

Today we did two things we had done 9 years ago and really enjoyed. First we went to the Iditerod Headquarters. We looked at the exhibits and then DW did the short ride on a dog powered wheeled sled. Pretty short but she enjoyed it. There were 4 husky puppies there that people were oohing and aahing over. Since visiting here in 2002, DW has become a big mushing fan - she has come twice for the start of the Iditerod and we adopted a husky.

Next we went to the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer. This is about the southernmost that the musk ox can live because they can't stand hot weather. About a dozen babies had recently been born. During the tour, one of the babies somehow got out of the paddock. Two workers went to get it back in. The herd sensed DANGER and reacted. They herded all the babies and then surrounded them in a circle, with the adults facing out. Although the baby musk ox was only a few days old, it could really run! It took about 15 minutes beore the workers could corral it and place it back with the herd.

Gong through Anchorage, we stopped at the GAH office to pick up a cooler, to learn how the TV worked (it didn't really matter in Canada, but we wanted to see some TV now that we were back in the states). After that we drove along Turnagain Arm, We stopped at a lookout to take some pictures. A man who was part of a project to count Beluga whales pointed out some sheep on the adjacent mountain. They were only white spots to our naked eyes, but the sheep are clear in the photos I took.

We called one RV park to see if they had Wifi. They didn't so we looked elsewhere. How soon we become spoiled! As we drove by Kenai Lake, we spotted a sign to a park. We drove in - it was only 10 spaces and a few cabins on the lake - but it had Wifi! We hooked up, then took a walk to Kenai Lake - very scenic, but it was quite windy so we didn't linger long.

Renfros Lakeside Resort 153 miles
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Old Jun 29th, 2011, 09:52 AM
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Day 13 - Kenai Lake to Ninilchik, Alaska

We drove to Exit Glacier. The Milepost said the visitor center would be closed, but they opened it early this year. There was a sign by it that listed the wildlife spotted the day before - with emphasis on the dangerous ones - bear and moose. We took the short walk to get a view of the glacier and stopped when we saw a bear about 500 yards ahead.

We drove across the Kenai Peninsula to Ninilchik. There were several signs warning drivers to watch for moose. Almost 2 moose per day are killed on Kenai roads! Of course, we saw none.

I read in the Milepost that during Memorial Day weekend that Ninilchik becomes the state's third largest city, due to the influx of fishermen. So, rather than move every couple of days, we decided to stay the next six days at one park. The one we chose - Alaskan Angler RV - had a good ad in the Milepost and it also had fishing trips, so we decided to try it. They had space and we hooked up the RV. It turned out that our friends who live in Ninilchik live only a couple of hundred yards away from the park. We talked to the park office about fishing. They have 3 different trips, so we got the info to think about before we decide.

Alaskan Angler RV Resort - 186 miles

Day 14 - Ninilchik, AK

A lazy day today. We drove to Homer and visited the Pratt Museum. A very well designed museum dealing with local history and natural history. We decided on going Halibut fishing in the ocean (6 hours) rather than either salmon fishing on the river (8 hours) or a combination salmon and halibut fishing in the ocean (8 hours). We picked up a couple of inexpensive windbreakers for the fishing trip and then just relaxed the rest of the day.

74 Miles

Day 15 - Ninilchik, AK

An even lazier day. Did laundry and then walked to the beach. Saw six bald eagles flying by the cliffs.

Day 16 - Ninilchik, Alaska

Another lazy day. Drive to Homer to visit the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center - a government nature center for the area. No admission charge. Very nice displays. Outside we took the nature path through the wetland to the beach. We saw a very large crane. From a photo I took, my brother identified it as a Sandhill Crane. We got to bed early because we were going fishing early tomorrow.

85 miles

Day 17 - Ninilchik, Alaska

Up at 4:30 AM for our fishing trip. I covered this in detail in a separate trip report. http://www.fodors.com/community/unit...-peninsula.cfm. We caught our limit of 2 halibut each. Following the fishing we visited our friends who lived just a couple of hundred yards from the RV park. After that we took naps, ate dinner and then went to sleep again.

Day 18 - Ninilchik, Alaska

I guess the fishing trip took a lot out of us because we were both tired all day and took a nap or two.

Day 19 - Ninilchik to Anchorage, Alaska

We retraced our route to Anchorage, stopping several places along the way to take photos. Just outside of Anchorage we stopped at Potters Marsh, a very nice wetland. No big animals were visit but there were quite a few birds. We especially liked the tree swallows flitting around. We found an in town RV park and then got everything ready to turn in the RV tomorrow.

Golden Nugget RV Park - 188 miles

Day 20,21 - Anchorage, AK to Greeley, CO

We turned our RV in without any problems. We drove about 200 miles over the alloted 3900. We filled up with gas but did not fill the propane so the cost of that was deducted from our security deposit which they promptly sent to us the next week. We then took a cab to the downtown Days Inn. We have stayed there a couple of times and it is a short walk to downtown. It is a real good place to stay during the Iditerod start since the sleds make a turn at the hotel. We walked downtown for a little shopping the back to the hotel to get to bed early as we had an early flight.

Up early we took the hotel shuttle to the airport. No problems there, but we had one checked bag. It cost us $20 - twice as much as we paid for our frequent flyer tickets! A change in Seattle took us to Denver where the Super Shuttle returned us to Greeley in an hour.

Conclusions- This was a fun trip but one we probably will never do again. The first few days driving across Canada (and from people we talked to, the same can be said for the upper midwest) are pretty boring. The best day in Canada was Day 8, especially for all the wildlife that we saw. But was that day much better than any day in Alaska? Only in the wildlife we saw. The Alaska Highway is a decent road, except for that last day in Canada. We were able to use our credit cards for almost all purchases. We didn't inform our card issuers that we would be traveling. No problem, ironic in that 3 weeks later while driving from Phoenix to Greeley, both banks declined our cards!

I wish we had not spent as much time in the Kenai Peninsula. We didn't do any of the ocean sightseeing trips offered (we had done those previously). The expected crowds over Memorial Day did not materialize - we could have moved around more than we did. We didn't do any hiking because DW's knee has been giving her problems. I wish we had done the Fairbanks/Denali route rather than using the Tok cutoff.
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Old Jun 30th, 2011, 06:26 AM
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Thx a mint for taking the time to write such an awesome TR!

We had our first visit AK in late May (TR to come still...LOL!) and thought about doing this type of trip next time. I will go back to read the details of where you went and re-assess, but having read your opening and closing thoughts, for now, it sounds like we'll cruise to AK and rent a RV again. Really appreciate you sharing this!

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Old Jun 30th, 2011, 09:30 AM
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Fun to read. After DS and DH drove cross country, I don't think DH will do that again. I flew to Seattle and then we took the Alaska Ferry to Skagway. Did 2 nights then one overnight in Tok before getting to Wasilla. The two days from Skagway to Wasilla was enough for me but on that trip it was late July so the fireweed in one area was beautiful, acres of it.

Thanks for a great report.
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Old Feb 16th, 2012, 02:35 PM
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Hi. I live in Puerto Rico, I try planning my trip from Orlando,FL to Anchorage, AK. Im a rooky with this. If somebody have a good opinion, please leave a comment
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Old Feb 16th, 2012, 06:48 PM
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Thanks for your report. We have rented from GAH and thought of doing this trip too. We are close to retirement now so it was great to read of your experiences and thoughts on the trip.
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Old Feb 16th, 2012, 08:04 PM
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Sounds like a great adventure and lots less expensive than a cruise. Thanks for reporting.
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Old Feb 16th, 2012, 08:20 PM
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tcpf1965: Welcome to Fodors. You should start a new thread of your own w/ your own questions. See the "Start a new topic" button at the top of the page?

Tacking on to this older thread about an entirely different itinerary than you are planning -- most folks will be responding to the original post and not even see your questions.
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