A road trip to Alaska has been our bucket list for a while so we loaded up our DIY Campervan and set off to “The Last Frontier” state. We made the 3,700+ mile drive to Alaska from Wisconsin and it’s one of our favorite road trips we’ve ever done.
Here’s what we learned by driving the entire way to Alaska both north and south. Below is what worked well for us (and what didn’t) – to make your drive to Alaska even better than ours.
First of all, the drive to Alaska is much easier than most expect. When most people envision the drive to Alaska they start to turn into doomsday preppers. Most think they’ll need 3 spare tires and gas cans strapped to every flat surface of their vehicle.
While it’s good to be prepared for the very long drive to Alaska, but after doing it – there’s a more reasonable approach. On our next drive to Alaska here’s what we’d do.
We get several comments & emails a week asking what to pack when driving to Alaska. We put together a list of our must-have items here on Amazon.
2020 COVID-19 Impacts on Driving to Alaska
Currently, the US Canada border is closed until May 21st, 2020 which makes traveling to Alaska by land not possible until the border reopens. It should open in time for most travelers driving to Alaska this summer, however, this is something you need to keep an eye on if you plan to drive near these dates.
We will try to keep updating this article to reflect the current border situation. However, this date has already moved back once and could happen again. I wouldn’t cancel the trip, but maybe have a backup plan in place if the border doesn’t open up as quickly as it is scheduled.
The US & Canada Border is set to reopen May 21, 2020, but there are rumors that it could be extended to June 21, 2020. It is unclear how Canada’s 14-day quarantine policy will affect those driving through Canada.
Other concerns to traveling to Alaska by land in the 2020 summer season
In the wake of the COVID Virus, it will make this year’s voyage to Alaska by car even more challenging than normal. Here are a few tips to help navigate around a few issues that we see might be a problem.
Allow extra time at the border – Once the borders do reopen, expect longer custom lines at major crossings and the chance for more stringent vehicle checks. At least the first week or two would be our prediction.
Make sure you have plenty of food/supplies – The closures for the virus have heavily impacted supply chains which will make stocking small stores and even potentially gas stations.
Consider extra gas cans – On a normal year, most travelers wouldn’t really need gas cans because the gas stations are frequent enough. However, we are unsure if these gas stations in smaller towns will have supplies in the early part of this travel season. For sure keep your tank full and consider some extra gas cans.
Reconfirm accommodations and bookings over the phone or email – Hotels may be slow to open back up to visitors, especially smaller establishments – and there may be extra cleaning requirements that could hinder their efforts. BE sure to double-check directly with the hotel/motel/campground that they will be open and secondly if they will have all of the amenities open that you need (like bathrooms/showers in campgrounds).
Expect worse than normal road conditions – There is a chance that the road crews will be delayed or slowed by the virus
Have patience – Even on a normal year many of these places and businesses along the way have challenges getting supplies, but this year is going to be even tougher.
Even with the challenges of this year, it is totally worth it and an amazing adventure – and a much more interesting way to social distance than sitting at home!
Best Guidebook for Driving to Alaska
The best or only real guidebook is the Milepost book. If you are making the journey you should probably have one of these. We recommend picking one of these up well in advance of your trip to help plan.
It takes some time to get used to the layout, but once you do it will have more info than you’ll ever need on all the Alaskan roads and the route to Alaska through Canada. You can order the Milepost book online here.
Another great resource for those that will be camping or traveling by RV is the Traveler’s Guide to Alaskan Camping, you can get it on Amazon. The book features over 500 Alaskan campgrounds and those along the way driving to Alaska. Complete campsite details with address, contact phone number, description, and more.
Cell Phone service and best carriers to a road trip to Alaska?
Cell coverage on the ride up to Alaska was better than expected for the most part, but still a lot worse than the roads. Once you are north of Calgary, expect very little service along the highway except in the small towns. While traveling through small towns you will almost always have cell service and most will also have data too.
Best Satellite Phone To Have
If you’re taking this drive by yourself or have a loved one driving to Alaska alone and you want some extra peace of mind you should consider packing a satellite phone. Satellite phones have been cheaper over the years and wouldn’t be a bad idea to have.
In Canada – Many U.S. carriers extend their plans into Canada at no extra cost. We found T-Mobile shared towers with many Canadian carriers and work better than our Verizon line for both calls and data. It’s best to contact your carrier to see how your plan will work in Canada before switching it on across the border.
In Alaska – Cell and data coverage are overall better than in Canada, but it is the U.S. so many carriers will switch to roaming which is limited on most plans. There is better coverage between towns in Alaska than in northern Canada, but mostly for calls, the internet is still limited to the towns and cities. AT&T and Verizon are according to locals the best for coverage in Alaska. We had a Verizon line and it worked alright, but still pretty limited.
Our T-mobile line picked up GCI a majority of the time, we were told by T-Mobile we only got 200mb of roaming data included in our plan but it never shut us down. We called to inquire how much data we had used in Alaska and they said 0 MB so we were able to use our T-Mobile with no problems the entire time. GCI has prepaid options from $20+ depending on how much data you need. GCI is Alaska’s largest wireless network and fastest 4G network.
Related Article: Things To Do In Homer Alaska
What Kind of Vehicle should I use to Drive to Alaska?
ANY vehicle is capable of making the drive to Alaska. You don’t need a 4×4 or anything crazy, we’ve seen motorcycles, full-size RVs, trucks with a 5th wheel camper, and even our basic grocery-getting minivan.
If those giant RVs pulling cars can make it on the roads, so can your car. Our 11-year-old DIY campervan made the drive to Alaska without issue. Click here to watch our Youtube video and see what our van looks like.
It’s a good idea to make sure your vehicle is in good mechanical order because from anywhere in the lower 48 of the U.S. a drive to Alaska is at least 48 hours of drive time.
How are the Roads to Alaska on the Alcan Highway in 2020?
The condition of the roads will depend on how tough the winter is and how much it heaves the roads. Overall, in the summer of 2017, the roads were far better than we expect while planning an Alaska road trip.
For the vast majority of the drive to Alaska, the road is a two-lane asphalt paved highway with a gravel shoulder large enough for a standard vehicle. There are passing lanes periodically, but the traffic is very thin and passing is generally not an issue.
How Much Time do I Need in Alaska?
Alaska is a massive state and how much you will see will depend on how much time you have. We would suggest you spend around two weeks in Alaska (more is better) to see most of the drivable highlights of the state.
If you don’t have a month of time to drive to Alaska you should probably fly to Alaska and do a road trip in Alaska instead. While there are many amazing things to see on the way to Alaska, you don’t want to have to get all the way there just to turn around.
Also, plan at least a week to drive up and another week to drive home from Alaska. This will allow you to make some stops and enjoy the journey, again if you don’t you might as well fly. See our Alaskan road trip guide and itinerary for everything to see while in Alaska.
How Much Time do I need to Drive to Alaska?
Actual drive times will depend on where you start but is really dictated by what you want to see along the way, however we suggest one week to safely drive to Alaska.
The Best Route to Drive to Alaska and Road Trip Itinerary
If your goal is just to get to Alaska the fastest way possible, you’re better off flying and renting a car in Alaska. As they say, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. There are lots of AMAZING things to see on the way to Alaska and you should make time to see them along the way.
From the eastern half of the United States, most map programs will have you travel through North Dakota into Canada to Edmonton and then finally joining the Alcan Highway in Dawson Creek. Take this route if you like loooooooong stretches of flat boring land. However, if you add just 9 hours of driving to your route you can see some of the most fascinating landscapes in North America.
Here is our perfect route to Alaska. No matter which part of the country you are coming from it would be a road trip sin not to stop in the Canadian Rockies. Make time in your itinerary on either the way to Alaska or on the way home.
Since everyone is coming from somewhere different this addresses the Canada and Northern U.S. portion of the route only. You should allow 4 weeks minimum for this route and 5-6 weeks would be more comfortable. For the Alaska portion of the suggested itinerary see our Alaska Road Trip itinerary and guide.
Related Article: One of Alaska’s Best Kept Secrets – Hatcher Pass
Essential Stops on the Drive to Alaska:
Glacier National Park – Montana, USA
If you are in a hurry you can cover most of the driving highlights of this park in a single day. However, if you have time we suggest at least three days to properly see Glacier National Park. The high mountains can cause weather and extra time would allow a better chance to see this stunning park under blue skies.
If you’re short on time at least drive the road that crosses the park which is also dubbed the going to the sun road. If you have more time take in a sunset at our favorite spot in the Two Medicines park road or hike the Avalanche Trail.
Banff National Park – Alberta, Canada
One of the most picturesque places on the continent, Banff should really be part of your trip. Even those in a hurry should plan three days to take in the sights between Banff, Jasper, and the Icefields Parkway that connect the two parks.
Places not to miss while in Banff are Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, Peyto Lake, and Bow Lake.
If you have more time three days in Banff will cover the major highlights. If you’re really short on time, you can jump on a Banff helicopter tour and see the park from a whole other level. Banff is a well-known ski area, but all season there’s so much to see and do in Banff.
Related Article: Things to do in Banff
Icefields Parkway – Alberta, Canada
Driving the Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic drives you’ll ever take. While only 144 miles (232km) you could drive it in just over 2 hours, there are literally hundreds of stops along the way. This drive deserves at least a day of your road trip to Alaska, two days would allow you to walk on the Columbia Icefield and really see this amazing place properly.
Jasper National Park – Alberta, Canada
At the top of the Icefields Parkway is another impressive Canadian Park. Jasper National Park is full of more impressive mountains and glacial feed lakes and rivers. Some of the park highlights not to miss are the Valley of 5 Lakes hike and the massive Pyramid Mountain. Plan at least a day inside Jasper, and three days would allow you to cover most of the highlights.
From Jasper make your way up HWY 40 in Alberta to connect with The Alcan Highway in Dawson Creek where the Alaskan highway starts. From the Alcan Highway, there are less possible deviations, since this is the main route.
Good Stops: Muncho Lake Provincial Park, Stone Mountain Provincial Park, Destruction Bay, Tetlin Junction, Skagway. From Jake’s Corner in the Yukon, you can make your way down to Skagway & Haines Alaska.
For the Alaska portion of the suggested itinerary see our Alaska Road Trip itinerary and guide.
Do I need a full-size spare to drive to Alaska?
Having a full-size spare would help you to make you more independent and better prepared for any issues. However, the roads to Alaska are in general in pretty good shape. If a flat tire would occur a small donut tire would likely get you to the next town that could repair it. This would slow down your trip, but you’re not going to be eaten by bears if you don’t have a full-size spare.
To answer the question better, we spent a few hundred dollars and the better part of two days adding a spare tire to a vehicle that was not made to carry one and in hindsight, it was not worth it. However, if you can easily add a full-size spare tire to your vehicle, do it. Call a junkyard and get a rim and a used tire and you’ll be ready if something does happen.
Do I need extra jerry cans of gas to drive to Alaska?
The simple answer is no. There is no stretch of roads anywhere on the route to Alaska longer than 200 miles without a gas station. However, you’ll see all kinds of vehicles with multiple gas cans strapped to the back.
Overall we found it unnecessary to carry extra gas, but it was a piece of mind while in what felt like the middle of nowhere. The main exception would be if you plan on driving longer more remote stretches of the road to Alaska at night or early in the morning.
Many of the gas stations along the route to Alaska (especially in Canada) are old-school, without card readers meaning the stations have to be open to get gas. Our minivan campervan gets around 400 miles to the tank and we just never let it get too far under 1/2 a tank and never had an issue.
If you plan on going to more remote areas off of the main highways in Alaska and northern Canada you still will want an extra gas can.
Random things you should know before driving the Alcan or Alaskan Highway:
- In British Columbia, if you are caught going more than 40 kph over the speed limit they will impound your car for 7 days. We found this out when stopped going around 30 over, the trooper was nice enough to let us off with a warning because he was on his way to a missing person, lucky for us, not so much them. However, he made it seem like his hands would be tied if caught over 40 kph. More info on B.C. Traffic Laws here.
- Canada restricts certain types of weapons from being brought into the country which includes pepper spray. This makes carrying bear spray into Canada a little bit of a gray area. According to most sources, it is now legal if it’s bigger than 9oz and the label states USDA repellent registration. Also on the restricted list are handguns and military-like assault weapons. If declared you can bring in rifles and shotguns for hunting. You must register at the border and pay a fee. See a more comprehensive list and regulations on the RCMP official website.
Are you planning to drive to Alaska? Or have you already done the drive? Share your questions and tips in the comments!
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