ALASKA EXPRESS …your way 36-Day RV Caravan
Many of us have chosen to travel by RV because we enjoy the freedoms it brings. We can choose to turn left rather than right, we have no set agenda and we can travel where we choose. Organized group tours may just not always be our thing. We get that. The Alaska Express is another ‘Your Way’ caravan designed for those of us who don’t want to travel on a tight schedule of meals, bus trips and tours. We may not have the luxury of time to spend two months traveling in and around Alaska, but we also seek the relaxation knowing there a plan, with a route and an opportunity at a real Alaskan Vacation. Thus – Fantasy has selected and reserved campground sites along the iconic path to priority destinations – an important advantage for summer travel in the 49th state. At the same time, providing an Alaska expert WagonMaster to accompany the group, to provide security and information to guide us in making the most of our Alaska travel. The rest of the time, it’s all about doing things your way.
We become a group and meet our fellow Alaska travelers and Fantasy Ambassadors in Dawson Creek, British Columbia – the beginning of the famed Alaska Highway. We begin in this quiet town which is home to the most notable ‘Milepost 0’ …the beginning of the Alaska (AlCan) Highway. This time is allotted for us to enjoy a Get Acquainted Party followed by a Welcome Dinner. We will be provided with a Parks Canada Discovery Pass which provides access to any and all of Canada’s National Parks for the year. We also have time to check out our equipment and possible issues with our rigs before we begin the journey.
The adventure begins as we head to Fort Nelson, home of the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum which depicts the monumental efforts of building this route under the most adverse weather conditions. You’ll find that there are many interesting places to stop along our route, with time to explore knowing that your campsite is reserved and guaranteed for your arrival, so there is no need to rush your travels. Our objective is Alaska, but naturally we don’t mind the amazing drive along the way. Our next stop is in Muncho Lake, where we can choose to relax in the nearby natural hot springs – explore trails, find a fishing hole, or just relax in camp.
We cross into the Yukon Territory and spend the night in Watson Lake. Chances are we’ll want to visit the renowned Sign Post Forest — with an early beginning in 1942 as a homesick soldier placed a road sign here for his home town – Danville, Illinois. Since then, fellow travelers have placed more than 72,000 home town, personal and handmade signs on this spot. Anyone can join the fun by bringing their own home town sign or even make one on the spot.
The highway delivers some spectacular vistas along our route to Whitehorse, where we will stop for a few nights. There’s a lot to see and do here, and this is a stop where Fantasy has a pre-planned excursion for us… the MukTuk Sled Dog Kennel and Training Center. Here as many as 125 Alaskan Huskies are born, raised, trained and retired. Owner Frank Turner is one of Yukon’s most accomplished mushers, having run the 1600 km Yukon Quest 24 times in 25 years. Our Husky bonding time is completed with a delicious ‘Taste of Yukon’ dinner, featuring favorites like bison, salmon, elk, arctic char, plus the assorted salads, sides and of course dessert.
We turn off the Alaska Highway and enter the 49th state, heading to Skagway, which was once a Gold Rush boomtown. Today, it’s a major stop for cruise ships sailing the Inside Passage. But unlike the thousands of cruise ship passengers who disembark into this small town for a few hours each summer, we’ve got time to experience the fun and the quirkiness. There is something for everyone here. Whether you enjoy shopping, dining, hiking, theater, walking thru gardens, historic sites, a boat cruise or even a train ride.
One of the popular activities is a cruise on the beautiful Lynn Fjord to Juneau, Alaska’s capitol city (only accessible by boat or air) – FYI, no roads lead to Juneau. If you choose Juneau, you can visit the Mendenhall Glacier, shop the town or visit the brewery. Of course, staying in Skagway is also a popular choice with much to see and do. Board the historic train on the White Pass/Yukon Railroad, aka the ‘Scenic Railway of the World’. The route goes to White Pass to see the Klondike Trail, where many brave prospectors died trying to get to the riches of the land. The nearby Chilkoot Trail head makes for an interesting hike, book a horseback riding tour or explore Skagway’s shops and galleries. Jewell Gardens offers assorted gifts, amazing gardens, glass-blowing and a garden-fresh lunch. There is also an evening theater, that relives the local history at the Soapy Smith Vaudeville Show …Soapy was a rather shady outlaw who basically controlled Skagway during the Gold Rush.
We return to the Alaska Highway and the Yukon Territory, stopping in Destruction Bay, a small community and home to approximately 43 people. It was originally built as a construction camp for Alaska Highway workers, and sits on Kluane Lake, an ideal spot for fishing and paddling. The town was named after a severe windstorm which occurred in the 1940s.
We cross back into Alaska and spend the next night in Tok, the trade center for several native villages. Take some time to explore the gift shops for assorted arts and crafts. The town was also a construction camp for the highway, and there are several stories as to how Tok got its name. It may have been derived from Tokyo Camp, the road construction camp in 1943. It may have been named after a husky pup. But the real story can be found at the town’s Mainstreet Visitors’ Center, so be sure to check that out!
Once again, we leave the Highway and head to Valdez, located on the coastline of Prince William Sound and offering some of the most stunning scenery in Alaska. Fantasy has left us plenty of time to enjoy it to its utmost – we can choose to cruise, hike, trek, explore or even rappel on five accessible nearby glaciers. There’s rafting on rivers, kayaking in the Sound and cruises along its 2,700 miles of coastline. And of course, there’s the fishing… Valdez is a premier fishing destination, with all species of salmon and halibut swimming in its waters.
Our next stop is in Palmer, the heart of the Matsanuka Valley. Palmer is known for its giant vegetables, resulting from long days of sunlight and extremely fertile soil. There’s time here to visit a reindeer farm, musk ox farm, the Palmer Visitor Center and Colony House. And sample those delicious vegetables!
The city of Seward is named after William Seward, who as President Lincoln’s Secretary of State negotiated the purchase of Alaska in 1867 – which by now we have to agree was a really good move! It’s our next stop as we travel the Kenai Peninsula, and we spend a couple nights in this charming fishing town. You may choose to visit the Alaska Sea Life Center and meet some adorable puffins, take a Kenai Dinner Cruise or explore the gradual melting path of Exit Glacier. Airplanes, seaplanes, ski-planes and helicopters offer flightseeing tours of the spectacular scenery of Kenai Fjords National Park, Lake Clark National Park and the Chugach National Forest. Opt for a glacier landing or drop-off for an up close and personal look at a glacier. And there’s still plenty of time to arrange a charter fishing trips.
If we’re still looking to catch some fish, opportunities abound at our next stop, Homer – whose claim is to be the ‘Halibut Fishing Capital of the World’. We stay here camping right on the shores of the Homer Spit. Our campground features a private lagoon (rumored to have excellent salmon fishing). There are multiple charter fishing boats available for the opportunity to catch even more halibut, hopefully enough to share with fellow Fantasy travelers. And if you’re not into all that fishing, there’s plenty more to do – take a water taxi across the bay to Kachemak Bay State Park where you can wander through tidal pools and hike in the lush forest, sea kayaking in the bay or even canoe the Swanson River. There’s wildlife and glacier cruising and plenty of shops and art galleries to explore in this charming town or we can just sit outside the rig and soak in the spectacular views of the magnificent surroundings.
Our next stop is Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage. Although it’s quite metropolitan (at least on Alaska standards), there are still salmon fishing spots in town and the occasional metro-moose may wander through the city. Worth a visit is the Alaska Native Heritage Center which displays art, history and crafts from the eleven different cultures which inhabit this area.
We’ve seen and experienced some amazing scenery and wildlife viewing during the first four weeks of our Alaska travels, but it’s hard to compare any of these to Denali National Park. Denali – a towering 20,310 feet looms above, and we’ve got plenty of time to view and experience the many attractions the park has to offer. Because this is perhaps the most iconic feature of all things Alaska, Fantasy has booked a National Park bus tour for this caravan, taking us into the six-million-acre park. Another fun activity while in the Denali area, you can choose a rafting trip (nature float or whitewater excursion) on the Nenana River, there’s also hiking into the Park, wildlife viewing, fishing and more. Denali is definitely big enough to find your own special appeal.
Fairbanks is the northern most stop of our trip, and we’ve got almost 22 hours of daylight each day to see all the sights. Fantasy has arranged a delicious Alaskan Salmon Bake, but the rest of the time is up to us. Opportunities abound here; cruise the Chena River on an authentic sternwheeler riverboat, learn from native Alaskans at Athabasca Village, visit the famous Susan Butcher Sled Dog Center, or ride a narrow-gauge train on the Tanana Valley Railroad to pan for gold. There’s the Fairbanks Ice Museum where you can watch the art of ice sculpture and the University of Alaska Museum with native Alaskan artwork exhibits. At the Alyeska Pipeline Visitor Center, we can learn more about the construction and operation of the famous pipeline – 800 miles of it connecting Valdez with Prudhoe Bay. And there’s time for an optional Arctic Circle Excursion or a visit to the North Pole Santa House, where it’s Christmas every day. Remember, this is Alaska Your Way, and it’s all up to us!
The final segment of our journey takes us back to Tok, where we enjoy a traditional Farewell Dinner, reminiscing about our journey to the 49th state. The next morning after a continental breakfast we head out to conquer our own personal journeys… Tok is the ideal point to embark on the richest of the North West. It’s an easy drive to the beautiful town of Chicken, AK – a community settled by Gold Miners, and one of the last surviving Gold Mining towns in all of Alaska. From Chicken you can follow the ‘Top of the World Highway’ and cross the Yukon River to land in the musical town of Dawson City where the stories of the good ole days continue to live.
Also leaving from Tok you can easily return to any of your favorite spots in Alaska, including the Kenai Peninsula. If you choose to head southeast, back thru Destruction Bay you can head to Haines, AK where there is an American Bald Eagle preserve as well as the opportunity to Ferry through the Inside Passage with your RV aboard the Alaska Ferry. Return to Skagway or continue further south thru Watson Lake and into Hyder, AK where you will have incredible opportunities to see wild grizzly bears and black bears feeding on the run of Salmon. Pretty much the options are endless …after all, all roads lead to Tok.