Alaska - Western Canada Journey

Planning and Preparation

After much research, we settled on starting the trip in mid-July putting us safely in between late spring or early autumn inclement weather. Going earlier in the year around May timeframe would yield good wildlife near the roadway and young animals along with mothers, but the weather may be more unpredictable than in the middle of the summer. Going later in the year would give us a flavor of autumn colors in Alaska, but we would also risk running into early blizzards. Besides, my wife’s work schedule would be least impacted during summer months.


Our plan was to drive without distraction until we reach Washington where we would spend a night and a morning at North Cascades National Park. From there we would drive to Canada, resting near Kamloops, then drive on to Dawson Creek where the Alaska Highway begins. Then we would go head north toward Dawson, cutting across to Alaska via the Top-Of -The-World Highway. We would visit Fairbanks for a couple of days, then assess our situation to whether we would have time to head north above the Arctic Circle first then south, or directly to Denali National Park. With luck, we should see Mount McKinley, the tallest peak in North America. Our next stop would be Anchorage, the capital city of Alaska. After exploring Anchorage, we would head to one or more coastal towns – Homer, Seward or Valdez before heading home. Choices going home could be via a ferry to Seattle, or head back toward Canada and return to the US via a different path from our route north earlier.


Instead of trying to reserve hotels/motels ahead, we decided to play by ear along the way. Being opportunistic afforded us more flexibility in travel routes/stops and how much time to spend at a given place. We would also adapt to facilities along the way, staying at motels where available, but willing to camp when we like or the situation dictates. Flexibility with where to stop for the night would allow us to take advantage of the long daylight hours to drive as long as we physically can during long driving stretches on the Alaska Highway. We planned to be self-sufficient with food supplies as well. Our only requirement was staying on routes where we can fill up gas every couple of hundreds of miles. Our plan would take around 4 weeks to complete. This plan was just a high level sketch, but I felt that it would be a futile effort to plan in more details as I suspected things would change along the way.
In order to plan the budget of the trip, we made an assumption of a total of 4 weeks on the road, with roughly nine thousand miles and equal split between staying in hotels and camping, and the same for eating out or preparing our own meals. For the two of us, we budgeted around nine thousand dollars for the package. This means we could take some cruise-tour for less and still be able to see similar iconic places in Alaska and even the Jasper area. However, the sense of adventure took over and we wound up making the road trip as we had wanted – how many cruise tour passenger could claim they traverse the length of the Alaska Highway?


When we prepare to go, we faced the tradeoff of bringing along things we thought we would need versus the limited space with have with the SUV and weight consideration. We added a box that mounted on the towing hitch for extra space. Our vehicle also had a roof rack for luggage. Even with this extra space, we still wound up leaving home many things that were not mandatory for the trip.

Servicing the car

First and foremost, we had our car serviced for long distance travel. The tires had been replaced recently so that was set. We had the car tuned up, lubed etc. Some people advised carrying a second spare tire for better safety, but we decided not to since we planned to stay on highways most of the time, and our spare tire was full size. Not expecting to drive on snowy condition, we left tire chains home to save weight.

Prepare for camping

Since camping would account for about half of our travel stops, we prepared our SUV for car camping. I designed an extended bed to make room for a car tent. This set up would allow us to sleep in the vehicle so we would not be disturbed by rain, and have a degree of safety against wildlife should any choose to approach in the night. We also brought along a battery that could serve two purposes – jumping the car in case we need to, and electricity source at night. For electricity, we would use a power converter and simply used normal AC for our lights, laptops and so on.
We prepare food that would keep longer. We then vacuum sealed the food since we could not rely on refrigeration the whole time. To extend the life of food, we froze food and water before putting them in coolers so that the food would be cold the first several days.
It’s too long to list all the things we needed to bring along, but aside basic travel needs, we ensured we had some first aid stuff, medicine, things to cook and eat with. Being a photographer, a lot of room was taken up for my photographic equipment.
To make sure we would not leave important things home, we built a checklist of things we needed. That proved valuable.

Gather travel information

We went to the local AAA offices to gather a full set of maps and tour books.  This proved invaluable to plan where to stop and what to see, along with where we might stay and eat. Being a member of the Automobile Association proves valuable for trips like this. While AAA offices cannot substitute visits to local visitor centers at each destination, we always received good information covering all states, parks and cities we visit.


One main thing I regretted was not bringing along a GPS with Canadian highways. Roads in the remote regions we traveled were not well marked.Even with maps, sometimes it might not be clear whether we were on the right highway. We were lucky of veering off intended routes only once for a short time. Nevertheless, having a GPS with Canadian and Alaska routes is important.