For those of you who have been following our adventures since we started full timing in 2017 you will remember that we may have said we would never do another caravan after the first one we did through several national parks in the desert southwest. Well, you should never say never!
For years we had getting to Alaska on our bucket list and in 2019 we bought the “bible” of Alaskan travel
The Milepost. But after perusing the very confusing 656 pages of the mile markers, gas stations, RV campgrounds, & tourist information we reconsidered our decisions about caravans. We decided that the added security and assistance that we would have traveling with a wagon master & tailgunner would be most beneficial and we would not have to dig through the Milepost to find campgrounds and fuel. As we had heard the horror stories of Alaskan travel, we called Fantasy RV Tours and had a lonnnggg chat with them about road conditions and the assistance we would receive if we had difficulties and they convinced us that the caravan was the only way to go. Because of the pandemic, we had to postpone the trip to this past summer, so we had plenty of time to prepare and plan for our 60-day adventure to the Last Frontier.
As we stated in the last post, we wanted to reduce the weight of the coach so that we could improve our gas mileage, as well as hoping it would help reduce the stress on the suspension on any bad roads, so we put quite a bit of stuff we do not use on a regular basis into storage while we were in Burlington, WA. We used up or froze all our fresh fruit & veggies as well as the chicken and eggs as they were listed as items that would be confiscated crossing the Canadian border. Once we were ready, we headed over to Coeur d’Alene, ID where we were to rendezvous with the caravan. We got there a few nights early to relax a bit after the rushed prep we had in WA but before long it was time to begin the adventure.
Coeur d’Alene, ID – Blackwell Island RV Park – 2 nights (with the Caravan)
We met up with the other 23 RV’s (46 individuals) that would make up our caravan at Blackwell on June 5th. We began with an orientation, introductions, & dinner at the campground the first night. We had our first of 30 travel meetings (we had one before each driving day) over breakfast the next morning where the wagon masters, Harry & Linda, went over the details we would need to know to get to our next destination. We were given our 65-page Trip Log which had detailed driving instructions to each stop on the route as well as a daily calendar to keep us on track. We found another couple, Mike and Jean, who played pickleball regularly, so we were off to find the closest court for several games. The second night we had a fancy dinner at the Coeur d’Alene Resort Conference Center to engage in the social side of the trip then it was time to fill out our ArriveCan app (Canadian crossing information) and were ready to hit the road.
Fairmont Hot Springs, BC – Fairmont Hot Springs RV Resort – 2 nights
We had an easy first border crossing where we were asked few questions, and nothing was taken as we entered British Columbia. On the way to the first campground, we stopped at Wal-Mart to re-stock our fruit and veg for the trip getting just enough to last to the next crossing. The beginnings of the trip did not bode well as we had our first mechanical issue. When we got the windshield replaced in WA before the trip the technicians did not get the passenger side wiper re-installed correctly and the first time we hit rain on this leg of the trip while I was driving, the wiper got jammed between the side of the coach and the rearview mirror. Turns out it stripped the connections, so we were forced to drive with only one wiper (luckily the driver’s) for half of the trip as we had to order the wiper and have it sent to meet up with us in Alaska. We also found out that the Jeep tale light was out due to the connector cable and it took Jon several tries to diagnose the problem and rewire the cable. Mechanical issues aside, our first stop on the trip was awesome! Beautiful mountain views, hot springs to soak in, a guided hike around the resort where we learned the history of the springs and got up close to nature. If you are planning a trip through British Columbia this is a must see stop!
Banff, AB – Banff Trailer Court – 3 nights
Banff National Park has to be one of the most incredible stops on the tour!! Beautiful mountains, rivers, a cute little town, glacier-fed lakes, and so much wildlife! There is so much to see and do here even our three nights was nowhere near long enough to really explore the area. Definitely plan a week or more!! The caravan booked a bus tour so that we could see as much as possible. We started with the Spiral Tunnels, then on to Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge, Lake Louise, Lake Moraine, & Johnson Canyon. We saw baby bear, brown bear, fox, deer, Dall sheep, baby elk, Columbia ground squirrels, stellar jays, mountain goats, and a silver fox. For our free day here (when no caravan activities where planned) we drove out to Bow Falls and then to Cave & Basin National Historical Site, Canada’s first national park, where we climbed down into the Cave, hiked the trails, and saw the endangered Banff Spring Snail.
Hinton, AB – Hinton/Jasper KOA – 2 nights
Occasional there are planned stops along the route and our first one was at the Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier in the Jasper National Park. Luckily, they have a parking lot big enough, with judicial parking, that fits 24 RV’s! We took an ice explorer up to the glacier, got out, walked up onto the glacier, and drank the fresh glacier water. It was a bit of a wild ride as it was a 39° grade ride up and down the steepest hill in Canada. A very cool stop!!
In Hinton we had a cookout, and I entertained the group with one of my GPS Wars stories. For our free day here, we took a quiet early morning walk on the Beaver Boardwalk. The Boardwalk is the world’s longest freshwater boardwalk showcasing a local wetland system around Maxwell Lake. We saw ducks and ducklings, geese and goslings, red wing blackbirds, and just after reading the sign to tell the difference between a muskrat and a beaver, a muskrat swam under the boardwalk in front of us. He was too fast to get a picture! And of course, as beavers are nocturnal all we got to see was their huge lodge!
Dawson Creek, BC – Northern Lights RV Park – 2 nights
Dawson Creek is where the Alaska Highway or ALCAN begins. It was constructed during World War II to connect the contiguous United States to Alaska across Canada. While here we heard an Alaska Hwy Presentation and took a group photo at mile maker 0. What I can tell you about the ALCAN is that it is a road filled with frost heaves, potholes, and rocks, with tons of logging and oil trucks. And let me tell you, those trucks do not want a bunch of RVs going slow in front of them!! We spent a lot of time pulling over and letting them pass! Mark and Lini took a baseball sized rock to their windshield on this leg of the trip!! It went all the way through creating a hole and shattering the corner of the windshield showering them and their dogs with glass. Luckily, they were able to patch it with some sealing tape and continued on the trip. (BTW, they made it all 6000 miles and back to Las Vegas before they had it replaced!!) Once we were in the campground, we noticed that we had taken a rock to one of our fog lights too! (It will be replaced this winter.)
Fort Nelson, BC – Triple G Hideaway Campground – 1 night
One of the challenges about traveling through Canada and Alaska is finding campgrounds, especially ones large enough to fit 24 large RV’s. Most of the campgrounds we stayed at (with few exceptions like Fairmont Hot Springs) were very basic. Most had only 30-amp service and were essentially gravel parking lots where they fit as many sites as possible in the space available. Fort Nelson was one of the first really tight campgrounds, but we all fit!!
Laird Hot Springs, BC – Laird Hot Springs Lodge Campground – 1 night
Our next stop was one I was really looking forward to as I love a good soak in a hot spring! Laird River Hot Springs Provincial Park may be a bit out of the way, but it is a beautiful area, and we were camped right across the highway, so it was a short walk to the heated, soothing waters. Along the way to Laird, we saw a herd of Stone sheep with lambs, bison with calves, and 3 black bears. We also stopped at beautiful Muncho Lake for lunch. It was on the way to Laird where the first RV had mechanical problems which caused them to have to temporarily leave the caravan. Sandy and Tommy had a frozen A/C pump and had to wait for a part to be delivered before they could get it fixed so they got stuck in Laird for 6 days, but after the repair, they caught up with us in Dawson City.
Watson Lake, YT – Downtown RV Park – 1 night
Our stop at Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory was principally to hang a sign at the Sign Forest. Our wagon master had a sign that we all autographed which they hung amongst the 80,000 signs previously left by travelers. It was started by a homesick GI in 1942 while the ALCAN was being built. He was assigned light duty while recovering from an injury and erected the signpost for his hometown of Danville, IL. On our drive here we saw a mama bear and two cubs, a covey of quail, and a flicker bird.
Whitehorse, YT – Pioneer RV Park – 3 nights
On our way to Whitehorse, we crossed the Continental Divide but this one was between the Arctic & Pacific Oceans. The first morning the caravan had a city bus tour around town with stops to see the Yukon River and dam ending in the downtown area near the riverboat the SS Klondike. We took a tour of the boat then saw movies about the Gold Rush and the building of the Alaskan Highway. Afterwards we walked around downtown and did a bit of shopping. We had a free afternoon, so we went out to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. We saw tons of native wildlife, but it was a bit like fishing in a stocked lake, not quite the same as encountering a moose on a trail in the wild! We did see a female moose about 400 yds away hiding in the brush. We also saw mule deer, thinhorn sheep, mountain goats, caribou, muskox, & elk. We certainly got our steps in that day walking over 5k around the preserve!! The second day here we went to the MukTuk Adventures. They are a dog sled center with around 60 dogs they use for sled rides and races. We toured the center, had lunch, petted lots of dogs and cuddled puppies!
Dawson City, YT – Bonanza Gold RV Park – 2 nights
Driving to Dawson City was probably the most treacherous! We now have had 3 coaches with mechanical issues. Mike and Jean lost their engine cooling fan in the midst of a huge construction zone (pictured below) and Dave, one of our other caravaners, towed them 30 miles to campground! Another had a DEF problem and we have been told the roads are only going to get worse!!! Mike and Jean were stuck in Dawson City for 10 days before their parts could be air shipped on the mail plane to them. Then they had to scout out a diesel mechanic from the gold mines in the area to complete the repair.
While we were in Dawson City, we all drove up to Midnight Dome to have a champagne toast to the midnight sun and I told a Native story to enhance the experience. The second day we took a walking tour of the town, learning the history about the Klondike Gold Rush and hearing some great stories from our tour guide Sue. That evening we went to Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall to see a musical review and can can show.
To cross the Yukon River there is a VERY small ferry you must take to get to the other side and the Top of the World Highway. They could only fit one of the large RV’s on it at a time and, even though it was only a 15-minute ride, it would take hours to get all the caravaners over the river so a few of us decided to head over to the other side around midnight the night before we were schedule to leave. We boondocked in a rest area and watched the sun not quite set on the Top of the World. Getting on and off the ferry was quite the adventure too as it was just a dirt shoreline and several of the RV’s bottomed out which again caused future mechanical issues.
Chicken, AK – Chicken Gold Camp RV Park – 1 night
We drove the Top of the World Highway to the US border and then on to Chicken, AK. Again, we had no issues crossing the border and they did not even ask if we had poultry or produce so we didn’t lose what we had on board. I can see why they call this the Top of the World as you can see for miles and miles even though it was pretty smoky from the wildfires that were burning south of our route. This campground was one of the most basic ones on the trip and we only had 20-amp power with no water or sewer. We got in early enough that we were able to pan for gold, we only found a couple of flakes, and take a tour of the Pedro Gold Dredge . We learned quite a bit about gold mining and the history of the gold rush. Our excitement at this stop was in the morning when a momma moose with her calf walked through our campground! It was really cool to be so up close and to see them walk right by us. Also, our first celebration on this trip was that Alaska was the 50th State in which we have spent at least one night. We have explored so much of this amazing country and still have so much more to see!
Tok, AK – Tok RV Village – 1 night
More very rough roads on our way to Tok. It is amazing the damage the weather up here causes to the roads. Between the potholes, permafrost melt, and the frost heaves you really have to take it slow. Two other caravaners took rocks to their windshields.
Valdez, AK – Eagle Rest RV Park – 3 nights
What a spectacular way to spend my 65th birthday! Our second celebration for the summer was spent in beautiful Valdez with a delicious dinner at the Fat Mermaid. This would have to be the best part of the entire trip! It was a stunning drive through the mountains to reach the coast. We saw another bear cub and a coyote, lovely waterfalls, walked around the fish hatchery, and the picturesque seaside town. This is where we had the wiper blade shipped so we finally would be able to see out the entire windshield when it rained! Jon also had time to work on the light cable again and this time he found the intermittent short, so we had all our taillights too.
The penultimate point of the caravan was the Glacier & Wildlife Cruise on the Stan Stephen’s boat Valdez Spirit through the Prince William Sound. This was a spectacular tour of the Sound! We saw sea otters, stellar sea lions, tufted & horned puffins, oystercatcher birds, eagles, harbor seals, Dall’s porpoises, and minke whales. And if that were not enough, we cruised right up to Meares Glacier where we were able to watch the glacier calve off several small but impressive icebergs.
Palmer, AK – Mountain View RV Park – 2 nights
Unfortunately, Palmer was one of the low points of the trip. We found out that Terry, one of our traveling partners tested positive for Covid and he and his wife Sheila would have to quarantining in their rig for 5 days but at least they could still travel with us as they were showing mild symptoms. (It did end up being a 10-day quarantine as Sheila came down with it too.)
But that was not the worst of it! On our way into Palmer, we were rear ended as we were making a left hand turn toward the campground. The guy who hit us looked to be impaired though we will probably never know if that were true. He smashed the front of his car into the receiver hitch on the Jeep which pushed the car so hard forward that it bent the tow bar nearly in half. We started taking pictures as quick as we could which was fortunate because the guy hightailed it out of there before the police could arrive on scene. We were able to pull the coach and Jeep into a gas station on the corner and get the car disconnected then we filed a police report and drove separately the 4 miles to the campground. The car drove fine, and it appears the only damage was to the rear bumper. We had a free day the next day and we spent it hunting down a new tow bar. Luckily, there was a Blue Ox dealer in Palmer, and we were able to get the exact same tow bar and Jon installed it fairly quickly and we were ready to leave the next day with the rest of the caravan. The insurance company has already reimbursed us for the tow bar, and we will get the damage to the Jeep fixed once we get to Florida this fall. And we were not the only ones to have trouble on this leg of the trip. Another coach had a bolt come loose on their tow bar and the tow car drifted to the side of the road. Luckily the emergency cables held, and the braking system worked so they had no damage to the coach or towed vehicle. I think we are now up to 7 coaches that have had major issues so far this trip! Mike and Jean are still stuck back in Dawson City!
Prior to the accident we did make a stop along the way at the awesome Wrangle-St. Elias National Park Visitor Center. Wrangle-St. Elias is the largest national park in the US. You can fit Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Switzerland in the 13.2 million acres. It is a magnificent park with volcanoes and glaciers, Dall sheep, bears, bison, moose, you name it, and it lives in this immense wilderness. Talk about the Last Frontier! We found it!! We took a hike around the trails near the visitor center, but we were chased back to the coach by that all too present other Alaskan native – mosquitoes! They literally chased us out as we ran back out of the trail.
Well, that wraps up the first 30 days of the trip. Next up we head down to the Kenai Peninsula before heading up to Fairbanks and Denali before turning south to head back through Canada to the Lower 48.