Alaska or Bust! 3 months, 6 days, 72 hours

A rig passing the photographer, along the Alaska Highway in Yukon. (Sharon Nault)

How long does it take to drive to Alaska? The answer is: As long as you want. Gerry Kreimeyer and his wife usually take 3 months to do the round-trip from their home in Florida. Then there’s Dan P. from Campbell, CA, who did a non-stop 1-way drive from Anchorage to the Lower 48 in order to arrive in time for two important family events in California. The Anchorage to Seattle leg of his trip took 72 hours. And finally there’s the not too fast but definitely not slow enough 6-day trip from Seattle to Anchorage we made last August in order to be back in time for some prior commitments. Ideally, I’ve found 300 miles a day to be a maximum. Here’s what those 3 itineraries look like.

 

Taking Your Time

Gerry Kreimeyer and his wife have made 8 trips to Alaska (including their first trip in 2006, when they flew to Anchorage and rented an RV for 2 weeks). Each of the other 7 trips averaged about 3 months, “with 2 to 5 weeks spent in Alaska proper (depending on the weather).””

Gerry retired in 2009 (a definite benefit if you want to take your time), and that’s when he and his wife began to make the 14,500-mile trek round-trip between Florida and Alaska.

“Over the years we have traveled different routes coming and going. We have traveled through Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

We’ve used the Alaska ferry from Prince Rupert to Skagway twice, stopping in every port offered. We have covered nearly every route in The MILEPOST. We are always trying different routes and enjoy them all.”

Top of the World Highway on the Klondike Loop.

But their favorite itinerary is through Glacier National Park in Montana, to Waterton in Alberta, then west and north through Radium Hot Springs, BC, to the Icefields Parkway/Canadian Rockies route and on to Dawson Creek. Then it’s the Alaska Highway through to Whitehorse and the Klondike Loop/Top of the World highway into Alaska. Then coming home they like the Cassiar Highway south to the Yellowhead and on to Prince George, then the West Access Route south to Cache Creek, where they turn east to catch the Coquihalla Highway to Hope, before continuing on to Abbottsford and the BC-WA border crossing at Sumas. [NOTE: All these routes, with the exception of the Waterton and Radium Hot Springs sections, are logged in The MILEPOST.]

Gerry’s antique Chevy truck with other classic cars on the main street of Stewart, BC, on the Cassiar Highway route. (Gerry Kreimeyer)

A frequent contributor to The MILEPOST’s Driving North feature, Gerry feels strongly about being prepared: “make sure your tires are less than 5 or 6 years old; carry a good spare; if towing get a rock shield; weather-proof your rig with good caulking; plan your route in advance, but be prepared to make alternate plans; see as much as possible; go and go often!”

 

Warp Speed

Driving a 2005 Dodge 3500 turbo diesel, Dan left Anchorage at 9 pm on August 22, and arrived in Seattle at about 5 pm on August 25. He figured his actual driving time was 50 hours with the other 22 hours devoted to sleeping. “No restaurant dining. No hotels. No sightseeing (except for the aurora borealis I saw at midnight one night. Indescribable!).” He ate and brushed his teeth while driving. His only stops were for sleeping, for gas fill-ups, and for restroom breaks, and he even skipped those sometimes and went “astronaut-style.” His itinerary was Anchorage to Tok via the Glenn Highway/Tok Cutoff; Tok to Dawson Creek via the Alaska Highway; Dawson Creek to Seattle via the West Access Route, crossing at Surrey, BC. He drove between 5 hours and 18 hours a day, and slept an average of 6 hours a night. To battle boredom and driver fatigue, he “composed and recorded a 10 part choral piece while driving using a device called a Zoom H4n recorder.”

Road construction and rain along the Alaska Highway in Yukon.

Dan warns that significant roadwork, such as the projects he encountered in Yukon, can significantly add to your driving time. He also couldn’t be as picky about gas stops and ended up paying $6.50/gallon at a generator-driven, off-grid business, although he figures his 20/mpg truck used only about $425 worth of fuel between Anchorage and the Surrey, BC, border crossing.

 

Not too fast, but not slow enough

On our drive down from Anchorage to Seattle, we took our time, making lots of stops for photos, food, friends, etc. But on our way back, we did not have that luxury: we had 6 days. This return trip was not at the breakneck pace of Dan P., but neither was it enough time to stop and enjoy most of the sites along the way.

Along the Coquihalla, which connects Hope with Kamloops.

Day 1: We planned to leave Seattle at the crack of dawn but we left at 9 am, stopping for a Starbucks and gas before getting on the freeway. Because we were going north on a weekday, I-5 traffic—while busy—was not backed up like the southbound lanes. We crossed the international border at Sumas, drove Trans-Canada 1 east to Hope, and caught the Coquihalla north to Kamloops, and then Yellowhead 5 to Clearwater, where we camped. We made gas stops in Lynden and Kamloops on the 365-mile day. [NOTE: We normally drive the West Access Route from Hope to Prince George, but last summer wildfires closed the highway at Cache Creek so we took the Central Access Route.]

Beautiful Azouzetta Lake on the Hart Highway.

Day 2: We drove Yellowhead 5 then 16 to Prince George, and took the Hart Highway (97) to Dawson Creek, where we stayed at the Mile “0” Campsite. This was a 550-mile day with a stop for breakfast in Valemount, one gas stop in McBride and Starbucks in Prince George.

Day 3: We left Dawson Creek mid-morning, after taking care of some vehicle issues and getting gas, and drove straight on through to Muncho Lake, with only a Starbucks stop in Fort St. John (last one until Whitehorse) and another gas stop in Fort Nelson. Thinking about dinner and a lakeshore campsite at Northern Rockies Lodge kept us going on this 400-mile day.

Northern Rockies Lodge on Muncho Lake.

Day 4: This was a 445-mile day, as we drove from Muncho to Whitehorse. We stopped at Kathy’s Kitchen in Watson Lake for lunch, walked around the Signpost Forest, and then got gas ($1.109 CN/litre last summer, which would be around $3.30 US/gal at current exchange rate). We spent the night at High Country RV Park in Whitehorse.

Day 5: After hitting the Starbucks in Whitehorse (yes, we have a problem…) and getting gas, we drove 392 miles to Tok, where we stayed at Tok RV Park.

Day 6: After filling our tank in Tok ($2.799/gal last summer), we drove the 328 miles to Anchorage, arriving mid-afternoon.