Escapes: RV’ing in Alaska

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Denali, Kenai and Homer — Oh My! Rolling through Alaska on a  31-foot land yacht

Story and Photos by Hilary Meyerson

Photo at right: A home away from home on the Homer Spit on the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska.

I am a tent camper. I enjoy my sense of superiority in Northwest campgrounds as I pound in my tent stakes, while the generator whirrs at the RV parked in the neighboring site.

However, a summer trip to Alaska, with its thriving grizzly population, midnight sun and fickle weather made me rethink my stance. Swallowing my pride, I planned a two-week camping trip in the Land of the Midnight Sun, where we would travel by recreational vehicle.

Setting Off from Anchorage

We used Great Alaskan Holidays for our two-week adventure, and they made it ridiculously easy. My family of four flew into Anchorage and was met by one of Great Alaskan Holiday’s vans, which whisked us to their facility.

We were ushered into a viewing room, where we watched a video on how to drive the RV and operate all the systems, from how to flip on the generator to how to dump the
waste tanks.

Then we were brought out to our land yacht—31 feet of pure luxury. It had a bedroom in the back, a comfy double bed loft area over the drivers’ seats, and a dinette table that turned into a bed. As for the other comforts, it had a small bathroom, a tiny shower and a well-equipped kitchen. There was a TV, but we never turned it on because there was more than enough to see out every window.

A curious moose wanders Denali National Park in Alaska.

When we were ready to depart, we had a lucky (though common) occurrence. Another family rolled in after their own sojourn. They came over to offer tips and several bags full of supplies they’d picked up on the trip—from ketchup and mustard to trash bags and firewood. They said they had received the same bounty from others when they arrived. It was the first of many kindnesses that people would extend during our trip.

Denali: A 6-million acre NP

Although Anchorage had charms of its own, after a trip to the grocery store to fully stock up, we were off to our first destination: Denali National Park.

We set a leisurely pace, allowing a couple of nights to get used to driving a vehicle larger than our first apartment. It’s only about 240 miles from Anchorage to the entrance of Denali, but we stopped and visited the state fair in Palmer and the quirky historic town of Talkeetna.

We stayed at “full hook up” RV parks, which boasted power, water and dump stations as we prepared for the “dry camping” (no hook ups) we would be doing in Denali National Park.

A mother Grizzly and her two cubs amble through Denali National Park in Alaska.

The six-million acre National Park does not disappoint and we are glad we booked early for an RV spot in the summer. The scenery is outstanding, and the kids loved visiting the kennels of the sled dogs that patrol the park in winter. We stayed at the Teklanika campground, the deepest into the park you can stay with an RV.

From there we hiked along the Teklanika River and picked blueberries in the trail-less wilderness. Other days, we took the park bus (the only method) further into the park to see the Eielson Visitor Center and do more day hiking. We saw grizzlies, caribou, moose and Dall sheep each day, before tucking in to our cozy beds.

We got one good glimpse of Mt. McKinley, “the Great One,” for which the park is named, but clouds are often hiding it. Rain is part of the package in Denali—another reason to be grateful to not be in a tent.

Kenai Peninsula: A gorgeous coastline

After a week in the interior, we headed south to the Kenai Peninsula, famed for its sport fishing and gorgeous coastline.

We headed out to Seward first, where we parked a stone’s toss from the water. We caught a tour boat out to Kenai Fjords National Park, which is almost exclusively accessible by water. Cameras snapped as seals played in front of the massive glaciers calving into the sea.

Back on land, we hiked up alongside the Exit Glacier on a ranger-led excursion. The town of Seward is a classic Alaska seaport, and boasts quaint pubs and the new Alaska SeaLife Center, a wildlife rehabilitation facility that is a legacy of the Valdez oil spill.

Tour boats get up close to Holgate Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park.

From Seward, we drove to Homer, the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World.” Here was the best reason for an RV: beachfront parking on Homer Spit, a narrow band of sand where we woke every morning to bald eagles and sea otters. A halibut fishing charter is all but required and we came home with 40 pounds of fish. We had it processed and flash frozen for the journey home—except for a couple of pounds which we grilled on the fire on the beach, a fitting last meal in Alaska.

It was hard to believe two weeks had gone by when we pulled back into Great Alaskan Holidays. We paid-it-forward with a few bags of groceries to a new arrival and headed to the airport.

I returned a convert to the RV vacation. After bunking in a 33-foot luxury motor home, it’s going to be hard to go back to those primitive nylon huts. And as for Alaska, we barely scratched the surface—I can’t wait to return to roll to new destinations.

Resources

For RV rentals, Great Alaskan Holidays: www.greatalaskanholidays.com
Do NOT leave without The Milepost, the definitive driving guide to Alaska: www.milepost.com
Denali National Park: www.nps.gov/dena/index.htm
Seward Tourist info: www.sewardchamber.org
Kenai Peninsula Tourist info: www.kenaipeninsula.org
Kenai Fjords Tours: www.kenaifjords.com
Alaska SeaLife Center: www.alaskasealife.org
Homer, Alaska Tourist Info: www.homeralaska.com

Hilary Meyerson is the former editor of Outdoors NW and does not enjoy damp tents. Her dream is to be a campground host in Denali National Park.

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