I haven’t done a post of just my photos for quite awhile, so I thought I would do that now. While I lived in Alaska for 45 years, I have surprisingly few photos of it. I only started taking pictures the last few years I lived there. I know many of you dream of visiting, so I also wanted to give you some details of when, where and how to make the trip. That made this a long post, so I will include some photos now, and a second post with just photos later. All the photos in this post are north of Anchorage. The best is yet to come!
I’ve driven the Alcan (Alaska-Canada Highway) a dozen times (including once on a motorcycle) and I have never paid a penny to camp. You can find places to sleep/camp along the whole distance. However, I have never driven it for pleasure, I was always trying to get through it as fast as I could. I don’t know if that changes things or not.
When I first drove it alone in September, 1973, the road was just as bad as anything you ever heard. It was the Wild West! But since then it has been so improved that driving it is no big deal; anyone can do it and not expect problems. The last 300 miles in northern Yukon Territory is the worst part but even it is just a matter of slowing down a bit. Once in Alaska it is all paved but the frost-heaves are pretty bad. Much of the road is over permafrost which means the ground is constantly frozen underneath the road—it never thaws. But it will thaw a little and settle and create roller-coaster like dips in the road. They can be very interesting! You just slow down for them
Unfortunately, I can’t help you with dispersed camping. I’ve backpacked all over Alaska, but never car camped. I can tell you that I stealth parked in a van in Anchorage for 6 years with only very minimal problems. When I left in 2006 it was totally tolerated. I’ve seen many RVs with their slides and awning out barbequing in the parking lot of a Fred Meyer or Walmart!
Late May, June and July are the best time to go. August is the rainy season in South-central AK, so rain gear is a priority. Evenings are generally cool so jackets and warm blankets are a must. September is fall and so it is cool to cold. It tends to be very rainy. I visited for the last two weeks in September of 2012, and it rained every single day I was there! October is winter so expect snow and cold. My first year of vandwelling in 1996 it was below zero the entire last two weeks of October, but that is very unusual. My last year living in Alaska was 2006, and I was able to ride my motorcycle all of October, right up till the 31st, but that is unusual as well. The lesson is that the weather in Alaska is totally unpredictable, expect the worst!
Here are the places I take friends and family when they visit because they are the most scenic. I am giving a star rating to each place: (5 is a “do-not-miss,” 1 is “don’t bother”).
***** The drive North of Anchorage on the Glenn Highway to Matanuska Glacier (about 115 miles one way) is a high priority to me when I have company. There are no prettier drives anywhere in the world and you can walk right out on the Matanuska glacier!!
**** Drive 10 miles north of Anchorage to Eagle River and drive back to the Eagle River Nature Center. Gorgeous!
***** Hatchers Pass Road from Palmer to Wasilla is right through some gorgeous mountains and highly recommended. It’s 40 miles from Anchorage so no long trip required. But the drive through the mountains is long
*** Drive up to Glen Alps off of Omalley Rd. for an incredible view of Anchorage at sunset, get directions from a local.
***** The whole drive around Cook Inlet from Anchorage to Seward is fantastic. Pull off at all the view spots and be stunned.
***** The ferry ride from Whittier to Valdez (and then drive back to Anchorage) is stunning beyond words! Highly Recommended! But the drive to Whittier is a pain so I don’t recommend it by itself unless you are going on to Valdez
**** Drive back to Alyeska Lodge and take the ski lift to the top. Stunning views of Cook Inlet! They also serve great food. Be sure to stop at the Aleyeska Bakery!
***** Drive back to Portage Glacier. Take the time to explore the whole valley. You can no longer see the glacier, but you can take a boat right to its face.
** The drive back to Hope is pretty, but if your time is limited, it’s a low priority.
***** Drive to Seward. Very pretty drive and a great little city in a stunning setting. If you have the time and money, there are many big charters offering whale, glacier and wildlife viewing trips out of Seward and Whitier that are well worth the money.
*** Kenai Pennisula: Go back to Exit Glacier if you have time. The drive along Kenai Lake along the Kenai River all the way to Sterling is gorgeous. But from Sterling south to Homer it is mostly flat and boring. Kenai and Soldotna aren’t worth anything but fishing, buying supplies and terrible traffic. But, you MUST go to Homer!
***** Homer is Fantastic. I love Homer so much! It may be my favorite place in the whole country because of its incredible, indescribable beauty and amazing atmosphere and feel. You could spend weeks there just absorbing it. The best thing to do to take a charter/sightseeing boat across the bay; they will usually pull into a cove, feed you lunch and show you the bottom in a glass bottom boat. Make sure they stop at Puffin Island. It is just what it sounds like, a Puffin Rookery. Well worth it. You can also take a water taxi over to Seldovia, a little fishing village across the bay. If time and money is limited, just skip this.
***** Bear pictures are easy to get with a fly-in charter. The logistics of getting to Brooks camp and Katmai NP are a nightmare so I recommend a Bear-Viewing fly-in charter instead. They started out flying people into the bush to remote areas where the Salmon are running and help you catch fish. But in Alaska if there are salmon, there are also lots of bears! So the charters have added bear viewing to their trips for people who do not fish. They take you in for the afternoon, take you up the river with a photo guide and you are right on top of the bears, just like Brooks camp except it is an easy flight out of Anchorage, Kenai, or Homer and only costs around $400 for the afternoon. Rust’s Flying Service is the premier service. Google them.
** Fairbanks is worth visiting for its history, but in fact it is not pretty or photogenic—that goes for all of Interior Alaska. It doesn’t have any mountains, just rolling hills, and the trees are not very pretty. South-central Alaska (Denali NP to Homer, Anchorage to Valdez) is a million times prettier.
***** If you want to see the Arctic, a Fly-in tour is the way to go. The Dalton Highway just doesn’t really show it to you. In my youth I spent a summer giving tours in a little Eskimo village called Kotzebue. People flew in on 737s and either spent the night or went on to Barrow to spend the night. That is the real Arctic Alaska few people bother to see!! To some degree, you can see Eskimos living much like they did 1000 years ago. Things like seal and fish drying on the ocean front. I recommend you consider one of those trips. Better yet, just fly in with a backpack and hang out!
If you are going to Alaska, there are two must-have books. The first is the Milepost. The Milepost 2013
Don’t even consider going to Alaska without it!
The other is a book of hikes that I started using in the 1970s. It is still the very best!
55 Ways to the Wilderness in Southcentral Alaska