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West Virginia to Anchorage, Alaska in February.

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Nov 27th, 2012, 04:52 AM
  #1
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West Virginia to Anchorage, Alaska in February.

Hello all, just looking for a little information to make sure I can make this trip safely. A little background information first though. Currently I'm military stationed in Europe and I have an assignment to Alaska in February. I have various options I can take, but the most appealing one is to fly home to West Virginia, take leave to see the family, then drive from there to Anchorage. I'm taking about 10 days for the trip,driving about 8 hours per day, and I'm just looking for information on what routes to take, what I can expect for weather and road conditions, and some excellent stops on the way. Originally I was going to drive to Washington and take the ferry, but have read that during that time of year the ferry goes from Bellingham to Juneau and then to Whittier, but that was going to take something like 5 days and the wife gets sea sick. I'll be driving a 4x4 jeep compass and am used to driving in the snow, just want to know what I'm getting into. Thanks in advance for all the help, and if anyone wants some information for traveling in Europe just let me know.
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Nov 27th, 2012, 05:08 AM
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Whatever route you choose, make sure to plan your gas stops and be sure ahead of time that the gas station will be open. Hours change during the winter.

We have taken the ferry from Bellingham to Skagway. There is only one day when the ferry is in open ocean at the start. Once in the Inside Passage, the sea might not be rough even in winter. The drive cross country from NH, however, cured DH of long road trips. For a July trip, Glacier National Park was their highlight.
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Nov 27th, 2012, 08:16 AM
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It's certainly doable, and many people feel that winter drives along the Alcan are preferable to summer, but you really need to be prepared. Just some personal thoughts:

I'd be concerned that 10 days isn't enough. Any route between WVA and Alaska will not only transit some of the coldest parts of the lower 48, but also some of the coldest parts of Canada, long before you even get to the start of the actual Alaska Highway. Driving 8 hours a day sounds fine, but your average speed is likely to be well below the 60 mph or so you might be able to average in good weather, and you may have days (several) where weather or road conditions slow you down a lot more than that. Ten days could easily become 14, and that's assuming you don't have mechanical or other worries to add to the travel time. Remember too that daylight won't be very long once you're in northern BC, the Yukon or Alaska, so some of those 8 hours are likely to be in the dark.

Preparing your car for deep cold is a must, as is insuring you have adequate supplies in the vehicle (blankets, etc.) in case of an accident where you need to spend some time in the car. Do you have an engine block heater? As mentioned, services and supplies along the highway are not always in high supply in winter, so get a copy of The Milepost and plot your trip and stopping points well in advance.

Or, frankly, I'll throw out an alternative idea just to consider: Drive to the west coast (Tacoma/Seattle) and put your car on the TOTE boat (Totem Ocean Express) - http://www.totemocean.com/shipping-vehicles-boats-rvs. Shipping the car from Tacoma to Anchorage will probably cost less than the equivalent number of days/nights on the road, gasoline and accommodation costs, etc. for you, and you can fly one-way from Seattle to Anchorage or Fairbanks (which is it, by the way? - Fairbanks is a lot colder) quite cheaply.

The ferry from Bellingham to Haines is another option. Seasickness is seldom an issue (it travels mostly through protected waters) and in the winter it's a gorgeous ride. From Haines it's a two-day (or really long one-day) ride into either Fairbanks or Anchorage, so that would probably satisfy the desire for a winter road trip.
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Nov 27th, 2012, 08:25 AM
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Google maps indicates a 4,000+ mile trip if going by road exclusively. You've driven in snow, but have you driven in constant below zero weather (definitely a possibility from Minnesota onward)? Will your car start in such weather if parked outside overnight?
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Nov 27th, 2012, 08:30 AM
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I don't know if this is passe', but when we used to take road trips when I was a kid, my parents always got the route planned by the AAA. Their "triptiks" included detailed road maps, places to stay along the way, restaurants, etc. They are the best source of information on roads, likely conditions, etc.

For a trip of that duration in the winter, I wouldn't rely on online directions. Last summer, Mapquest put me on a dusty, bumpy gravel road in VT for about 20 miles. I know there was a better road, b/c I found it on the way back, but they probably gave me the most direct, even tho' not the best route.

So, that's just something to consider.
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Nov 27th, 2012, 10:22 AM
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I'm guessing your Jeep Compass is in West Virginia in the care of your parents. The only way that I could think of to save 2 days of driving would be to have your parents drive the Jeep to Minneapolis and meet you at the airport. The route goes through Edmonton to get from MSP to Anchorage.
Will you be in Alaska long enough to register the Jeep there?
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Nov 27th, 2012, 10:26 AM
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Thanks everyone for the quick replies. I do have a block heater, but since I'm from WV and stationed in Germany I don't get much of an opportunity to drive in temperatures below 0. I definitely plan on picking up a copy of the milepost no matter the route that I take, and I'm heading to the base in Anchorage specifically. If I drive the duration, without taking the ferry, the plan is to drive the equivalent of 8 hours in good weather and road conditions, so if it takes 10 hours to reach the destination of the day then that is fine. After reading the ferry travel site, I do have another question. How often do ferrys from Bellingham to Haines get canceled? Since I have to be there by a certain date, driving to Washington only to have my mode of transportation not be available actually makes the distance of the trip longer. Thanks again everyone.
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Nov 27th, 2012, 12:43 PM
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I'm not aware of any cancellations on the Bellingham - SE Alaska ferry runs. Maybe the odd mechanical delay, but never on account of weather or seas. The AMHS is a pretty classy outfit, actually, even if they can't make up their minds on whether to market the ferry as the Love Boat or the city bus. And again I want to emphasize, I can think of no better introduction to Alaska than 3 days on the ferry sliding through silent, misty wilderness with the occasional snow-covered mountain peeking through the clouds, or the odd Orca breaking water. By comparison (just IMO) the drive up the Alcan is boring and nerve-wracking, not to mention cold as a well digger's xxx.

Certainly you would run a much higher risk of delays by driving - avalanche control, closed passes, etc. - than you would if taking the ferry or using the TOTE boat.
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Nov 27th, 2012, 01:17 PM
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I think that settles it then. That will give me 4 days from West Virginia to Washington, seeing the sites in the states on the way, and days 5-7 on the ferry, and the remaining time driving from Haines to Anchorage. Thanks again for the excellent help and I hope I can help you all out with some of my travel experiences.
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Nov 27th, 2012, 02:26 PM
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I'm sure you'll enjoy your ferry ride. We took the ferry from Bellingham to Juneau last summer and it's a lovely trip. The Captain announces any upcoming rough seas, and suggests to anyone who may experience seasickness, to lay in their berths. I remember maybe an hour of swaying at the most. Do note that the ferry only sails once a week, leaving on Fridays. You may need to adjust your drive accordingly so you don't miss your departure. Be sure to make reservations as soon as you know your dates as the cabins fill up. Since you'll have a vehicle check their website as sometimes Alaska Marine Highway offers a deal where drivers sail free. Make your reservations on the AMH site only. There are other websites that offer reservations, but they all go through the AMH website.

There's lots to do on the ferry. A movie theater, fine dining, lectures from local naturalists and a heated solarium to watch the whales. So much fun.

https://www.dot.state.ak.us/oars/res...n=Get+Schedule
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Nov 27th, 2012, 03:12 PM
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Since you'll have a vehicle check their website as sometimes Alaska Marine Highway offers a deal where drivers sail free.

Yep, that's an instant $353 savings from Bellingham to Haines. http://www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/specials_winter.shtml
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Nov 27th, 2012, 06:49 PM
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http://articles.latimes.com/1988-10-...1_garnet-ledge

Here's a fun and unique travel tip for your ferry ride. I don't know if the children will be selling garnets in February, but it' worth looking for them.
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