Family Camp: Alaskans Share Their Favorite Campgrounds

Thoughtful AK Kid takes five under an old tree while on a camping trip last summer.

Who better to review Alaska campgrounds than real, live Alaskans? We asked, they responded, and now we’re sharing it with you. The 49th state is full of campgrounds and unofficial campsites that, believe it or not, fill up quickly with locals and visitors during the summer months. Between fishing season and tourist season, finding a spot to rest one’s sleeping bag can be a challenge, never mind a campground that caters to kids.

If your family is aiming to visit Alaska this summer, remember that camping in the Last Frontier is not so much like camping in the Lower 48, and next week we’ll explore some particularly important items for sleeping al fresco in Alaska. For today, however, let’s just start at the very beginning with “WHERE”, as presented by AKontheGO’ing families who know what they like.

Pointing North from Anchorage:

Eklutna campground in the enormous Chugach State Park is a perennial favorite with families. Canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, and oodles of biking for the whole crew is but one of the many reasons Alaskans flock to this campground each summer and early fall. With 50 sites and 15 overflow (read: spot on the dirt) spots, Eklutna Lake is 10 miles off the Glenn Highway headed north. Beautiful, serene, and an appropriate spot for visitors to begin their Alaskan journey, Eklutna CG offers restrooms, water, and gravelly sites to pitch that tent or pull in the RV. Paved roads around the campground are fun to bike, as is the 11-mile dirt Lake Trail where a few more backpacker/biker sites are available at miles eight and 11. Reserve sites by calling the HQ at 907-345-5014.

Taking a marshmallow break at Riley Creek Campground

Riley Creek Campground/Denali National Park. Right inside the Park entrance sits Riley Creek, one of the loveliest spots to embrace the wildness of Denali while remaining fairly close to civilization. With 147 sites (RV and tent), Riley Creek is a lovely area to begin a National Park adventure. Bathrooms, water, food lockers (yes, bears do roam here), and a nearby mercantile store with showers and sundry items is another great advantage, especially if you bring bikes and ride there. An active ranger program will show off the flora and fauna of the wilderness in which you currently reside, and a shuttle bus will pick up/drop off from the Visitor Centers. Reservations are highly recommended, found HERE. The walk-in, tent-only sites are first-come, first-served, however. One can call 1-800-622-7275 to make reservations, also.

Take in the splendor of the Richardson Highway near Valdez any time of year.

Headed to Valdez? Try the beautiful Blueberry Lake Campground, under management of  the State of Alaska. This State Recreation Site, located at Mile 23 of the Richardson Highway, has 25 sites, accessible bathrooms, picnic areas, and RV/tent spots. One can fish, ogle the scenery, hike, and relax the day away at Blueberry Lake. Not too terribly far from Valdez, a family can spend the day exploring the history of Prince William Sound and the surrounding area then make it back to the campground in time for marshmallows. Nice. No reservations here, though, so try non-weekends or Sunday-Monday-Tuesday for best bets.

Pointing South from Anchorage:

Wander the Trail of Blue Ice in Portage Valley while camping at Williwaw.

Don’t have much time? Drive 60 miles or so from Anchorage down the Seward Highway toward the beautiful Portage Valley and Williwaw Campground, operated by the Chugach National Forest. Another area frequented by Alaskans, Williwaw has just about everything a family could want or need for a 49th state camping experience. Set along a babbling salmon stream and right smack in the middle of the new Trail of Blue Ice, a four-mile gravel bike/hike/walking trail that meanders along the creek, Williwaw sports 59 sites of RV/tent camping with great views of Williwaw glacier. A word of warning, however: “williwaw” means “big wind”, and the blowing breezes can come up suddenly, like in the middle of the night, scaring the bejesus out of a family and causing anything not nailed down to blow away. That said, Williwaw is an awesome base camp for visiting the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center just down the road, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center back in Portage, and the MV Ptarmigan Glacier cruise near the Visitor Center. Hiking trails abound in the area, and access to Whittier and wildlife cruises is also nearby. Kids and parents all love Williwaw.

One of AK Fam's favorite spots, Tenderfoot on Summit Lake.

An AK Fam hotspot is near Summit Lake on the Seward Highway, near Turnagain Pass. Tenderfoot Creek Campground was recently renovated and is a stellar example of how campgrounds can and do accommodate every sort of visitor. Walk-in sites with bear-proof lockers and new tent/RV sites in the trees and along the lakeshore are gorgeous, as is the view. Just 34 sites in all make up Tenderfoot, so grab one while you can. Walk or ride bikes the 1/2 mile to Summit Lake Lodge’s little cafe’/coffee stand and grab a cocoa in the morning while you watch the sun come peeking over the mountains. Make reservations via the link above.

Further down the Highway, just past the little community of Seward, is a remote yet still-accessible tent camping area called Tonsina Point. Another Alaska State Parks area, Tonsina Point, in the Caines Head Recreation Area is not a formal, sited campground but rather an area welcoming tent campers in the trees or on the beach. What makes Tonsina Point so attractive to locals, however, is the fact one must either take a water taxi or hike three miles along the beach to reach the campsites, thus ensuring a truly wild Alaskan experience. Older kids can easily hike the distance, those without hiking experience or wishing for an easier trip can contact Miller’s Landing for a water taxi. The Alaska TourSaver book, available at Carrs’ stores or online HERE offers a 2-for-1 water taxi ride. Remember proper bear behavior and keep a clean camp; State Parks has excellent ideas on the website above. Take water filter systems or plenty of your own H2O.

Need equipment? REI can help by renting just about everything a camping family needs, from tent to sleeping bags.

Want to rent an RV? ABC Rentals has some great options for families, from trailers to Class C’s. ABC is based in Anchorage with easy access from Ted Stevens International Airport.

Now don’t you feel all “campy”? We’ll see you out there!

Posted in Camping, Glenn Highway, Kenai Peninsula, Miscellaneous, Richardson Highway-Valdez and tagged , , , , .