Camping in Alaska with your Vehicle can be quite a daunting journey, especially when towns and services are sometimes 100 miles or more apart. The trip to your chosen campground can be both stressful and problematic when you don’t know what you’re doing. Planning and preparation are essential steps in preventing unnecessary delays and stressful situations during your trip.
Do you need to purchase a GPS? Do you need a campground tour guide? Do you need to procure legal documents to travel through Canada? We will provide the answers to these questions by the end of our article, so be sure to read through each of our items.
Camping in Alaska: Important Steps to Do When Driving Your RV to Alaska’s Campgrounds
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Planning When to Travel
Planning when to travel is one of the best methods in preparing for your journey. This practice ensures that you have enough time to plan your journey, book tickets, reserve guided tours, and prepare your vehicle. There are some reviews by RVers in Alaska that booking lodgings ahead of time is also considerably cheaper than booking them a month in advance, so this could also be a money saver for you.
Planning when to travel also allows you to grasp what weather inclement you could encounter when you travel. For example, suppose you’re planning to travel sometime around August. In that case, we recommend preparing for a rainy RVing experience instead of traveling during the Winter Season, where snowfall is almost always a hundred percent.
Prepare your Vehicle for Alaska
When driving to Alaska from the northern part of the USA through Canada, you must prepare your vehicle for the journey ahead. If you have your vehicle, we recommend dropping by your local mechanic and checking everything. Ensure that all parts of your vehicle pass standard quality measures and have undergone periodic preventive maintenance to ensure optimal performance levels on the road.
If renting, consider getting a vehicle with ample storage space in the back and luggage racks on top. This added space ensures that you can bring what you need and easily access it when you need the item. Do note that while renting a vehicle, there are some roads (especially back roads or unpaved ones) that are considered off-limits by the rental company; it is best to plan your path ahead of time before procuring a rented vehicle to ensure that the one you get suitable for the path that you’re planning to run through.
Alaska is also known for freezing weather; we recommend weatherproofing your vehicle for low-temperature conditions, such as getting a battery specific for boondocking or purchasing an RV heater to keep you warm and toasty. Some parts of Alaska also experience a fair amount of rain, so we recommend reinforcing your roof with sealants or coating before traveling.
Lastly, you should also check your vehicle’s SRS pilot light and see if it’s on, and if it is, we recommend going to an auto-repair specialist and getting that fixed. SRS stands for Supplemental Restraint System, which handles the deployment of your airbags. And since this drive will be long, your vehicle’s SRS’s ability to deploy your airbags in times of accident is quite essential.
The Journey to Alaska’s Campgrounds
The journey to Alaska from the United States’ Northern States is not a short one, roughly two to three thousand miles from Washington, Montana, or North Dakota; it is usually a three to five-day journey to Anchorage, Alaska’s capital city. This journey will take you across country borders, through multiple cities with different traffic rules, so it is essential to learn what is required and what you need to bring to travel from point A to point B successfully.
Crossing Borders: The Journey to Alaska
Since you will be crossing country borders manually driving to Alaska through Canada, you need to know the rules when passing through border control. Knowing this information is imperative to anyone planning to traverse this path. It would ensure that your journey is free from hassle or complications when traveling through country borders. You must also mentally prepare yourself for a long ride to Alaska, taking several days to weeks.
Requirements in Crossing Canadian Borders to Alaska
Depending on your itinerary, you cross the border between the US and Canada. Most border stations operate on a 24/7 basis, and the busier entry points are, the longer the wait times can be. To fully enjoy hassle-free travel, we recommend ensuring that you follow all protocols and bring all the required paperwork and identification with you.
If you are a US citizen planning to cross to Canada, a passport IS REQUIRED to return to the United States, so always bring your passport before you even try to enter Canada. Can find additional information on the CBP’s official website found here. All the things you need to know and the information here are accessible through that link. If you have any additional questions, we recommend contacting border control directly.
Documents when Traveling with Kids
Kids under 18 are minors and subject to strict entry requirements mandated by the Immigration and Refugee Act. Suppose you are traveling with family members below 18 years of age. In that case, you must ensure that proper identification for each child (e.g., birth certificate, passport, permanent resident card, and proof of citizenship) is readily available. The border police require additional requirements if you are not the child’s parent or guardian, such as a written letter from the parent authorizing the trip.
We strongly recommend that the written note indicates the length of stay and adequately identifies the person in charge of the travel.
Documents when Traveling with pets
Who doesn’t like bringing their furry buddy to their long ride? However, since you are crossing country borders, the Canadian border control requires all pets at least three months old to have a signed and dated certificate from a licensed vet, noting that your pet’s vaccinations are up to date. The certificate must indicate and identify the animal in your possession.
Things not to bring when traveling to Alaska: Item Restrictions
- Firearms or Weapons
Canada has strict firearms importation laws. At their discretion, border officials may search your vehicle for any undeclared firearms and are allowed to seize your vehicle and firearm should there be any. This violation could also lead to your arrest or imprisonment; take our advice and fill out the required forms adequately. This official website has additional information to help you determine whether your firearm is allowed for transport; the website also has downloadable forms that you can fill up and present at the border.
Canada classified firearms into three categories: restricted, non-restricted, and prohibited. All handguns are considered restricted or prohibited, and visitors cannot import a prohibited firearm into Canada. A person owning a gun must also be 18 years of age. Restricted firearms such as rifles are only allowed for approved purposes, such as participation in the target-shooting competition; you have to get temporary registration for a small fee of $25.
Pepper sprays are only allowed if they indicate animal repellent, such as bear spray, etc. Items that intend to incapacitate a person, such as tasers or mace, are illegal and are subject to penalty fees, should they find it in your possession.
Restrictions on Personal Items
Visitors are allowed to bring personal baggage into Canada free of duty. These items include clothing, sports and hiking equipment, cameras, iPods, computers, etc. Alcohol and tobacco are allowed only in specific amounts. Visitors are limited to bringing 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars and 200 tobacco sticks without paying duty. The same goes for alcohol, where a visitor can bring 1,5 liters of wine or 40oz of liquor, provided for personal consumption.
If you are traveling with your dog or cat, it is also essential that the cat food or dog food you bring are US-made. Do note that there are also food import limitations regarding meat, eggs, dairy products, vegetables, fruits, and other food and nonfood items; take our advice and check their website for the complete list to avoid penalty fees and border control issues.
Where to stay in Alaska: Campgrounds, Cabins, Hotels, or Parks?
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When camping in Alaska, you can choose from many locations, from campgrounds, cabins, lodges to hotels, and even national parks. Now deciding where to camp on your itinerary and preferences. Here are some deciding factors that could help you find where you want to stay in Alaska.
Quick Tips for choosing where to stay in Alaska
- Many managed parks and campgrounds exist on public and private ownerships along Alaska’s national highways. These national campgrounds offer direct access to streams and lakes, providing you with several options for activities. Most national campgrounds also offer parking spots, picnic tables, fire rings, water sources, and Sani-dumps, usually costing an estimated amount of $15 to $25 per night.
- Some campgrounds are within a day’s drive from Anchorage, which provides a whole array of adventures and leisure activities. These include Chugach State Park, Denali State Park, Denali National Park, Portage Valley, and the Nancy Lake State Recreation area. All of these are solid choices for you and your family to enjoy your campground trip in the state of Alaska.
- If you like staying near the sea, many seashore car parks or campsites are found in Seward and Homer and state sites through Sterling Highway between Kenai and Homer. There are also campground options near Valdez and Whittier that provide a great site near the ocean.
- If you’re more of a boondocking type, many unofficial tent areas are available for you to use. Alaskans often love car camping through park sites right-of-way along streams, lakes, rivers, and bridge crossings. Always keep an eye out for other campers parked near highways or fire rings to find these undiscovered beauties.
- RV Parks, Cabins, lodges, and hotels are also viable options for people who want to have a good night’s sleep. You can choose from many hotels and cabins; be sure to research and call them in advance to ensure that they have ample room for you when you visit Alaska. However, this option is easily the most expensive and could cost you more per night than staying in campgrounds.
Enjoying the State of Alaska: National Parks, Tours, and Recreational Opportunities
Alaska is a land of rich cultural diversity and is full of cultural heritage in addition to beautiful sights to see and mountains to conquer. We recommend that you enjoy some of these activities when you come to visit to be able to check things off of your bucket list. Here are some recreational opportunities to consider doing when in Alaska.
Escorted Wildlife Tours
Most campsites in Alaska offer escorted wildlife tours or guided hiking trails; they involve watching Alaska’s wildlife in its natural habitat. The unique wildlife in this region will allow you to appreciate how the wilderness works and show you how animals interact without human intervention. Rangers available on-site will guide you to ideal locations to view brown bread, eagles, whales, moose, and other wildlife. Depending on your chosen campground’s location, they may also offer viewing of whales, orca, sea lions, and migratory birds.
Depending on the season of your visit, some sites may offer hunting as part of their activities. However, this will require you to acquire hunting licenses from the local government.
Northern Lights Viewing
The northern light is a natural phenomenon highly coveted by local visitors and campers alike. Usually, people think they have to visit Europe to experience such amazing dazzling lights. On the contrary, you don’t have to go that far, as the Northern part of Alaska offers a great view of this unique natural occurrence. We recommend driving up to your chosen campground in September and March because the lights intensify during the equinox.
Are you wondering how people used to travel in Alaska without cars? Then wonder no longer, they utilized trained Malamutes as part of a pack that pulled sleds, and you can enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience when visiting Alaska. Some campsites offer this as part of their itinerary combined with wildlife tours to maximize the “Alaskan campground living experience” for visitors.
Glacier Day/Night Tours
Some camps offer Glacier Tours that even provide overnight car camping in the nearby areas. These hiking trails bring you face to face with the beautiful formation of ice glaciers in Alaska; this provides you a much closer look at how nature builds these beautiful forts and how the Native Inuit lived through such cold weather with the use of these as shelters and protection from the weather, learning this and much more while traversing these icy trails.
There is also an abundance of national parks when traveling to this snowy state, and everyone visiting should drop by the Denali National Park. Most national parks provide a guided bus day tour, which allows you to enjoy this region’s scenic beauty and bountiful wildlife, home to moose, caribou, grizzly bears, wolves, and many more. The Denali National Park is located 240 miles away from Anchorage and is quite a long drive, so prepare yourself for a long journey.
One of the best national parks that you can visit is the Kenai Fjords National park, which is beloved for its abundance of wildlife; it has a rich marine environment. It provides an excellent watching cruise to spot sea mammals such as whales and orca, an excellent cruising experience for you to visit during your travels.
Since Alaska has almost 46,600 miles worth of shorelines– more significant than any state, buckling up for a day cruise would give you a huge opportunity to enjoy a dramatic view of steep-walled fjords and thousands of year old glaciers that are magically spilling into the sea. Half-day or full-day cruises that included whale watching excursions are also a sight to behold, as you can watch these majestic creatures interact with other marine wildlife, feasting on the ocean’s bounty.
When looking for cruises, consider finding a site with available parking spots for your RV so that you can park your vehicle and enjoy the experience without any worries. Most of these sites offer free parking, although some may charge a small parking fee, it isn’t that expensive. All you need to do is book a cruise, drive to the site, park your vehicle, and enjoy the excursion.
Basic Travel Checklist: Best Items and RV Camping Gear To Bring
In addition to what you regularly stock in your vehicle, you should also consider getting additional gear that can keep you comfortable during your campground trip to Alaska. Since this is a different place to travel to due to it being up north, there is a substantial difference in climate and road conditions. So, to keep your travels hassle-free, here are a few items that you should consider getting for your campground trip.
Not everyone is an expert when it comes to outdoor excursions or car camping in Alaska, and you might end up packing too light or too heavy for your campground trip to the icy-cold lands of Alaska. That is why you should consider getting these items for your journey.
- First-Aid Kits – this is an essential part of every camper’s inventory; it should contain essential medicine, a disinfectant, some gauzes, and bandages, as well as cotton balls. Even though most camps have medical stations, it is best to carry one of your own during your trip.
- Bug Repellents – mosquitoes are more active from May to early August. Although you might have a haven inside your car, insects are unavoidable when enjoying the outdoors. At the same time, you camp, especially if you prefer sleeping inside your tent instead of your trailer.
- Emergency Gear – these are essential tools when camping outdoors; this kit may include a knife, a signaling device (e.g., whistle, signal mirror, flashlight), and possibly a radio walkie-talkie. These items are essential to help you signal someone when you’re in distress or encounter an accident.
- Bear Spray is not required but is always welcome in any camper’s arsenal. Outdoor camping in Alaska, especially in regions with rich wildlife, can be pretty tricky if you don’t know how to behave in a bear country properly. Rangers usually provide basic training on handling bear encounters; they teach campers how to behave when approached by bears. However, it doesn’t hurt to bring one with you as a final defense against wild animals.
Sanitary Items – personal care items such as soap, RV toilet papers, and other personal hygiene products are necessary for you to enjoy your camping in Alaska comfortably. We recommend stocking up for the whole journey so that you won’t end up using leaves as a rough alternative to your tissue paper!
RV Camping Gear
Setting up your RV for camping is very important, especially if you’re planning to go way out in the boondocks for an enjoyable off-the-grid wilderness trip. These items are essential to keep you safe, comfortable and provide a better overall camping experience for you and your family.
- RV GPS – since Alaska is vast, some remote locations may require long drives and lead you to unfamiliar areas. We recommend grabbing the best RV GPS that is available to you. It helps you navigate unfamiliar roads and can even provide you with points of interest or RV-specific areas that you can camp in along the way to your destination.
- RV Toilet Paper – because of the long average journey length between towns, it might be hard for you to manage your RV’s capability to hold human waste. That is why getting an RV-specific toilet paper is essential, as it keeps your holding tank free from any clogs and damage while on the road. It also saves time as you won’t have to unload at Sani stations more frequently than when using regular toilet paper.
- RV Door Locks – if it’s your first time camping in Alaska and you are unfamiliar with its nooks and crannies, we recommend upgrading your RV’s door lock system as a way of increasing your vehicle’s security while your vehicle is parked. It helps protect your vehicle and valuables not only from thieves but also from wild animals, such as bears or raccoons, who might attempt to break into your vehicle trying to find food.
- RV Levelling Block – since some areas are possibly unpaved, there could be a chance that your vehicle would wobble back and forth even while parked. Utilizing leveling blocks allows you to park your vehicle evenly, even if the area is unpaved, rough, and uneven. It is a fantastic investment, especially when going off-grid or remote areas, as it allows you to overcome rough, unpaved lands and park your vehicle effectively.
- Boondocking Batteries – if you’re planning to go off-grid camping, we recommend upgrading your RV batteries to boondocking capable ones as they are more equipped to take the harsh temperatures of the Alaskan range and provide you with electricity even if you’re way out in the boonies.
- RV Engine Anti-freeze – since Alaska can quickly go below zero degrees, we recommend utilizing an anti-freeze for your vehicle’s engine. It ensures that your RV’s engine can handle the harsh temperature of Alaska. It gives you confidence in driving through cold temperatures without issues.
- RV Heater – this appliance keeps you warm and toasty inside your RV. There are also available RV heaters that can be used outdoors while you’re camping, keeping you warm and toasty while enjoying the wilderness outside your vehicle.
RV Cell Signal Booster -since Alaska is vast, there might not be good cellular coverage in all areas and might prevent you from calling out or accessing the internet. Purchasing an RV Cell Signal Booster might be beneficial for you, especially when you need to contact friends or family while on the road.
FAQS and Additional Details About Camping and Travelling to Campgrounds
Do you need to call your chosen campgrounds in advance?
Due to the recent changes with Covid-19, we recommend booking your reservations in advance. This practice allows your chosen campgrounds to fulfill any local policies they need to comply with and ensure that your chosen date is available. Booking in advance also helps you shape your itinerary, just if you need to make adjustments regarding the camp’s availability.
Once you’ve made contact with your chosen campground, print out your booking or reservation, this can also serve as additional supporting papers when you cross the border in Canada.