Family RV Travel in Alaska: FAQs

St. Mary/Glacier National Park KOA. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

St. Mary/Glacier National Park KOA. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

I’ll admit I was a doubter at first. Could a family adequately and comfortably vacation together for three weeks straight without losing our minds or blowing the budget? Not to mention the obvious mechanical aptitude we, of course, don’t have. Or the driving skills — what if AK Dad backed into something, god forbid. Or we couldn’t figure out the disposal of, er, you know – THAT? The possibilities made it difficult enough to sign the dotted line of our rental agreement with Great Alaskan Holidays for our 3,000-mile journey from Forest City, Iowa back home to Anchorage, Alaska.

But we did it. Smiling. Confident. And darned if we didn’t resist giving up our home-on-wheels when we rolled into town the first of June.

Feeling a bit nervous or unsure if an RV vacation in Alaska is right for your family? Let’s look at some common questions (or at least the ones we had). Right now is a great time to reserve an RV for 2017, several Alaska RV companies are offering discounts for early-bird booking, so best we get the willies out now, eh?

Two boys fit nicely in the loft area of our 31-foot motorhome. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Two boys fit nicely in the loft area of our 31-foot motorhome. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Q: Won’t my family go positively nuts being in such a small space for a week or more?

A: It is true that RV travel involves driving, and in Alaska, it can mean hours and hours behind the wheel. But unlike the traditional family road trip vehicle, an RV comes equipped with several options for seating arrangements. A dinette table, sofa, or front seat depending upon who sits where, leaving room for games, books, or general scenery-gazing. At night, while space can be tight, it’s also a cozy opportunity to watch a movie together and fall asleep – warm and cozy. We were surprised at the amount of room a 31-foot RV had, almost too much for the four of us.

Remember, too, that RV rentals can encompass a week, or a weekend. It’s up to you.

AK Dad listens carefully to the pre-trip safety video before departing Forest City, Iowa last summer. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

AK Dad listens carefully to the pre-trip safety video before departing Forest City, Iowa last summer. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Q: I’ve never driven any sort of large vehicle, much less an RV, so I’m a little nervous. What do I need to know? 

A: Fear not. The RV of today handles much more like an SUV and less like a bus, so mechanically, it’s all familiar territory. That said, the biggest points to consider are the length and overhead dimensions; far more than you’re used to. Great Alaskan Holidays had us watch a 30-minute video about RV driving skills before we drove out of the rally area, and honestly, even then we were a bit worried.

RVs turn wider, stop slower, and go higher than your family car, and as such, those big mirrors mounted on the front sides are there for a reason. Use them. We also spent time practicing our turns, backing up, and maneuvering the RV into parking lots and smallish spaces (where we learned quickly about leaving enough space on all sides. Go slow, rush nothing, and follow the manual provided by the company. The more we drove, the more comfortable we became.

Towering mountains, abundant wildlife await the RV traveler in Alaska. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Towering mountains, abundant wildlife await the RV traveler in Alaska. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Q: How far can we expect to drive in one day? 

A: As far as you want. No, seriously. My biggest do-over with our latest trip is going too far in one day. Partly due to our schedule, and partly due to inexperience, I figured we could blast a 12-hour day on the highways of America with no one knowing the difference. Wrong. If I had it to do over again, I’d be a bit more flexible with our itinerary. And less ambitious on the mileage part.

That said, in Alaska it helps to know that almost every major highway is but two lanes, both of which can move slowly during the summer months due to a high amount of traffic doing exactly what you’re doing. This means 200 miles can take twice as long, or longer, than 200 miles on your local interstate freeway. Grab a copy of the current Milepost before you drive Alaska roads. Known as the bible of north country travel, the Milepost has everything you need for planning a safe road trip in the 49th state and Yukon Territory. And, it’s a fun read.

A rule of thumb for reaching common Alaska destinations (from Anchorage) between May and early September:

Anchorage to Seward: 2.5 hours

Anchorage to Homer: 5 hours

Anchorage to Talkeetna: 2.5 hours

Anchorage to Denali National Park: 4-5 hours

Anchorage to Fairbanks: 6-8 hours (depending upon road construction, a common derailer of plans. Check Alaska 5-1-1 before you go).

Anchorage to Valdez: 6 hours

Much of our lunch breaks were taken in picnic form, at local parks, where the kids could play and meet up with local youngsters. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Many of our lunch breaks were taken in picnic form, at local parks, where the kids could play and meet up with local youngsters. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Q: Will we really save money? Isn’t an RV rental expensive? 

A: No. Or yes. It depends upon several factors. First is the amount of time you wish to spend in Alaska. Companies typically rent by the week, with discounts for early reservations <—important to note that if you haven’t reserved by March or April, you may be out of luck. A weekly rental with Great Alaskan Holidays averages between $250-$350/night, depending upon the size of the RV. ProTip: Make reservations NOW and reduce that rate as low as $179.95/night.

A standard, high-season hotel in Alaska for a family of four will be at least that much, and you won’t have a) kitchen facilities b) access to recreation, or c) flexibility to stay where you want, when you want.

And speaking of meals, during our 21-day adventure between Forest City, Iowa and Anchorage, Alaska, we ate out a grand total of twice. The kitchens of today’s modern RV are exactly like that at home, with a microwave, stovetop and oven, and plenty of outlets for things like coffee pots, crock pots, and blenders<—ahem, happy hour, anyone? We figure we saved hundreds of dollars on food. Plus, what fun to take the boys into a local grocery and ask for a regional food item we didn’t have back home. Exploring doesn’t just mean with your feet. Use those taste buds, too.

The view. The incredible, wondrous view from our RV window. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

The view. The incredible, wondrous view from our RV window. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

There’s more to talk about; lots more. But you sit back and ponder this information while we get ready for another year of road tripping Alaska. Any questions? Shoot us a note in the comments section. We’ll be back soon with more RV tips.

~EK

Happy camping, everyone! Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Happy camping, everyone! Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

 

 

Posted in Alaska Road Trips, Camping.

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: RV or Hotel or What? Alaska by the numbers - AK on the GO

  2. Pingback: It's Almost Alaska Camping Season: What you need to do - AK on the GO

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *