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The Canada to Alaska Experience

On the way to visit their son in Alaska, Patrice and Ken Loucks discover amazing truck camping opportunities in British Columbia and the Yukon Territory.  This is the real Canada to Alaska truck camping experience.

Canada to Alaska Experience

We have come to appreciate a different meaning of the age-old wisdom of, “Let the trip take you”.  For most folks it means, “Stay flexible and be open to opportunities”.  For us, it’s a reminder of how precious the moments are when we can be in our rig, relax, and discover what’s around the bend.  Staying flexible and open to opportunities has become second nature, but the chance to actually be in that “place” is rare indeed.

On balance, we’re still working.  The magazine requires us to be on our phones and/or computers full-time, five-days a week, just to keep up with the content demands.  It’s a wonderful job, but it makes us soak in the experience of pure truck camping discovery all the more deeply.  The days that we are able to just be in our rig, exploring a new place without concern for time or task, reinvigorates our passion for truck camping, and life itself.

Patrice and Ken Loucks’ story of truck camping through British Columbia, the Yukon Territories, and Alaska had us ready to put the laptops in the garbage disposal and start packing.  Then their pictures had us wanting to throw the smartphones in a lake and drive north.  The mere idea of being free to roam Western Canada and Alaska is a dream we can hardly allow ourselves to consider.  If we ever stop publishing after one particularly compelling Alaska Week story, come find us in The Last Frontier.

What follows is a wonderful travelogue, and some important tips on taking a truck camper through Canada on the way to Alaska.  Along the way, Patrice and Ken Loucks remind us to let the trip take us, in so many ways.

North to Alaska!

Patrice: Our trip went from July 29, 2015 to September 3, 2015.  Our main motivation for going to Alaska was to visit our son and his fiancé who live in Anchorage.

We decided to drive so that we could have our camper with us.  We also decided to take our time and enjoy the back roads of British Columbia instead of doing a beeline on the Alaska Highway.  We spent a majority of our time in Canada.  We entered Canada at Abbotsford and followed Highway 1 north eventually linking with Highway 97 north.

Camping at Lake of Trees Canada-So-beautiful-and-quiet

The first night we stayed at Lake of the Trees near 100 Mile House (above).  It is lovely and secluded, or at least that’s what we thought.  The mosquitoes come out at night.  We also discovered that the Rock Stock signs did not mean a family reunion, but rather a loud rock concert.

Walmart-our-midnight-refuge-from-Rockstock

This resulted in a late night move to the Walmart in Williams Lake.

At Prince George we headed west on the Yellowhead Highway 16.

Burns-Lake-Municipal-Park-free

The second night we stayed at Burns Lake, which is a free city park.  It had a fitness course, but the bathrooms were closed between 10pm and 6am.

Mountain-Biking-to-Barrett-Hat Overlooking Bulkley Valley

The next day we took a bike trip to Barrett Hat, which is a rock dome that overlooked the Bulkley Valley.  That was an excellent experience!   That was also the first time we got out and did a real hike.

Canada-free-recreation-site-Lakelse-River

The third night we stayed at another free camping spot, Lakelse River Recreational Site on the Skeena River.  We saw the biggest cedar tree ever.  It was a split tree so it must have eluded the loggers.  Locals were snagging salmon, mostly just for fun, and throwing them back.

In Prince Rupert, we walked on the boardwalk through Cow Bay.  All the trash cans, benches, and store fronts have a cow theme.  You can even sit on a “cow”ch and drink your “cow”puchino!  An alternate approach would be to drive out on Vancouver Island and take the ferry from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert.  Then we discovered the Stewart-Cassiar Highway 37.

Bear Glacier, Stewart Hyder Highway

We saw Bear Glacier on Stewart-Hyder Road.

Clements-Lake-Rec-Site-FREE-Difficult-Access

On the fourth night we stayed at Clements Lake Recreational Site off the Stewart/Hyder, Alaska Highway 37A.  It was a very rough access road, but secluded.

The next day we drove to the very end of the road on the advice from a motorcycle camper at Clements Lake.  We paid the fee to walk on the Fish Creek Boardwalk, and would not do that again.

Ken: There were a lot of salmon spawning, and bears come in to feed.  This place is so popular that they built a raised boardwalk and, supposedly, you go to see bears.  There were 50 to 100 people who are talking and laughing.  You get to see a lot of tourists having a party, and a lot of salmon, but no bears.

Salmon-Glacier-road-is-good-for-agile-truck-campers

Above: The Salmon Glacier Road is good for agile truck campers

Salmon Glacier was the most beautiful glacier of the entire trip.  It’s an immense, flowing river of ice.  Then we were told to go to the Salmon Glacier lookout, and keep going.  It is stunningly beautiful, and we only ran into a couple of people.  That area is really only for truck campers with four-wheel drive.  If you are pulling a trailer or are in a motorhome, you should stop at the boardwalk.

At Hyder, you go into Alaska and then back into British Columbia.  Then you re-enter through customs even through you can’t go anywhere but come back into Canada to leave.

The United States does not have customs to get into Hyder, but Canada does to reenter.  You have to go through the eggs, firearms, and bear spray thing all over again.  It’s probably because of access in Hyder to boats.

Sawmill-Point-Rec-Area-British-Columbia-free-site

Above: Sawmill Point Recreational Area, British Columbia, free camping site

Patrice: The fifth night we stayed at Sawmill Point Recreational Site on Dease Lake.  This meant skipping the Grand Canyon of the Stikine.  As a consolation, we stopped for a dog break and discovered what a local guide book called, “The biggest huckleberry patch in the world”.  Ken taught Moki, our dog, how to harvest huckleberries.  Sawmill Point turned out to be such a lovely campground that we made a point to camp there again on our way home.

Dog-Moki-learning-to-pick-huckleberries The-Cassiar-Highway-largest-Huckleberry-Patch-in-British-Columbia

Above: Moki, their dog, learning to pick huckleberries at the largest Huckleberry Patch in British Columbia

Day six turned out to be a very grueling realization that the Yukon Territory stretch was much longer than it looked like on the map.  Our first Yukon challenge was the gas pump at Nugget City.  The instructions were so complicated that it took both of us to figure out how to pump gas.  This came in handy on our return trip when we helped a couple driving a Four Wheel Camper to pump fuel.

Alaska-Highway-Nisultlin-Bay-Bridge

Above: The longest span over water on the Alaska Highway, Nisultlin Bay Bridge

We were now on the Alaska Highway 1.  The Yukon does not have the system of free recreational sites but rather government campgrounds that all cost $12.  We visited one of them near Haines Junction.  It was noisy with generators and kids screaming and music blaring.  Moki started barking like crazy.  He generally does not bark at anything so we took this as a sign to move on.

We ended up at a commercial campground just out of Haines Junction.  It was overpriced for a parking lot, but they had coin operated showers and it felt so good to get clean.

Kluane-National-Park-Yukon

Above: Kluane National Park, Yukon

In the morning we stopped at the Kluane National Park Visitor Center for information on hiking in the area.  We were warned about the Grizzlies and decided to skip the hike. The scenery was getting unbelievable and so was the highway.  By the time we reached the border crossing we were so glad we had a Phoenix Custom Camper with an aluminum frame.

On the seventh night we stayed at a Wayside Rest on the Nabesna Road in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.  It’s a freebie with an outhouse, trash can, recycling bin, and a stunning view of the Wrangell Mountains.

Arriving In Alaska

Alaska-At-Last

Patrice: We arrived on a Friday so we could recreate with the kids on the weekend.  Then we did day adventures during the work week and spent the next weekend on an extended trip with the kids.

We ended up staying one more week out on the Kenai and the kids joined us the next weekend.  They took us on a nine mile hike to Rabbit Lake, which was beautiful.  During the week we went to Whittier through the tunnel, and then drove up to the Denali lookouts.

Ken: The southern lookout view of the coastal range is superb.

Patrice: The next weekend we took off with the kids and went to Valdez via Thompson Pass and the huge Worthington Glacier.  Heading back we went to McCarthy and Kennicott, camped out, resupplied in Anchorage and went to the Kenai Penninsula.

We were going to come back to our kids the next weekend, but they came out and met us at the Kenai.  We did a bicycle trip and hiking on the beach of the Cook Inlet.  If I were going to go back and there was limited time, I’d definitely go to the Kenai.  It had the most of everything.  I’d love to go back and do more hiking out there.

Matanuska-Glacier-Autumn-weather

Above: Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Homeward Bound

We left Anchorage in the rain and it rained every day on our way home.  We had been hearing about the horrible fires and smoke the whole time that we were gone so our mantra began to be, “Bringing down the rain, bringing down the rain.  We will be home soon, bringing down the rain.”

On the Glenn Highway we really noticed how the season was changing.  The mountain sides were brilliant colors and there was a coating of snow on the high peaks.  There was also a continual stream of campers, trailers, and motorhomes.

About half way between Glenn and Tok, our windshield got rocked in a construction zone.  We stopped to talk to the manager of the project to suggest that the entire project be piloted.  He explained that they can’t delay anyone longer than twenty minutes or they get a stiff fine.  He said they would love to pilot all of it because the idiots that speed after leaving the pilot car were ruining the parts they just finished.

Chickadee-Windshield-Service-repairing-an-egg-sized-rock-strike

Above: Chickadee Windshield Service repairing an egg sized rock strike

We really lucked out to find a rock chip repair business in Tok.  She met us in the park in town and, after two hours and $50, we were on our way.

Camping-at-the-Tanana-River-Access

Above: Camping at the Tanana River Access area

We stayed in a paved parking lot about ten miles out of Tok on the Tanana River.  There were a couple of other campers there.  One was trying to repair a broken strut on his mobile home.  Ken offered to take him back to Tok to get it welded, but he decided to cobble it together and keep “going down”.  Everyone asks, “Are you going down?” with the translation being, “Are you going back to the lower 48?”

At the Alaska-Canada border, there were lots of folks putting eggs and raw poultry in the freezer.  We ended up eating our powdered eggs for most of the way home because we couldn’t bring ourselves to buy eggs at $4.50 a dozen in Canada.

Takhini-River-Yukon-Territory-Camp

Above: Takhini River, Yukon Territory camp

The second night we stayed at the Takhini River Government Camp.  After we put our $12 in the iron ranger box, we discovered that lots of folks were just camping out in the forest dispersed style.

Meeting Ray and Kay Fox

Sawmill-Point-Rec-Site

Patrice: We put in a long driving day trying to reach Sawmill Point.  At Nugget City we met Ray and Kay Fox with their Four Wheel Camper.  After helping them with the complicated gas pumps we both continued south on the Cassiar Highway.  Ten miles down the road we saw them taking photos, so we pulled in and joked with them about taking their Truck Camper Magazine calendar photo.  This is when we learned that they were the folks who sold the family farm to live in their truck camper!

Mt-Edziza-Volcano-from Telegraph Creek Road

Above: Mt. Edziza Volcano from Telegraph Creek Road

We got out and told them where we were camping.  At Sawmill Point we hung out and learned about Ray’s inventions.  It’s one thing to live a motorhome, but to live in a pop-up truck camper!

Comraderie-on-the-Stikine-Grand-Canyon

Above: Grand Canyon of the Stikine

Ray said that they wanted to explore the Grand Canyon of Stikine, and asked if we wanted to join them.  So we had lunch at a cafe and then went with them.  It was a wonderful two day adventure in the most incredible canyon we’ve ever seen.  It lived up to the hype in the guide books, and we probably wouldn’t have done it if they hadn’t suggested it.

Ken: We credit their sense of adventure.

Patrice: We read their story in Truck Camper Magazine and, for me, it was like meeting rock stars.  Reading about it is one thing, but seeing in person how they have streamlined their whole life and live on the road full-time is amazing.

Ken: They are genuine people. There’s not a drop of show or pretense.  I think it comes from being in the wilderness.  We were on an adventure.  They were in a way of life.  Meeting them turned out to be the peak experience of our whole trip.

Patrice: The days we spent with them I got to thinking that I could live on the road full-time.

Camp-Spot-on-the-Stikine-River

Above: Camp spot on the Stikine River

Ken: On the fourth night we ended up camping at the end of the road.  Then it took us almost as long to drive out the next day.  Hey, it looks different going in the other direction!  We then parted ways as we needed to continue home.

Back To The United States

Holes-in-the-bridge-to-Derrick-Lake-Rec-Site

Above: Holes in the bridge; on the way to the Derrick Lake Recreational Site

The next day we stayed at Derrick Lake Recreational Site; J 83.2 on the Cassiar Highway 37.  There is an interesting access road.  We forded a creek, but we were the only ones there.  We love our Phoenix Camper because it allows us to go wherever we want to go.

View-from-Derrick-Lake-Campsite

Above: View from Derrick Lake campsite

On the sixth night we stayed at Cobb Lake Recreational Site off of Finmore Road, which is off the Yellowhead Highway 16.  The choice spots were taken, but we drove around and found a nice spot.  We really want to return to British Columbia with a canoe or kayak.  They have beautiful lakes!

We stayed on the Yellowhead Highway 16 through Prince George to the Yellowhead Highway 5.  This took us through Valemount, which is a beautiful valley, and on to Kamloops.  Then we drove east on Trans-Canada Highway 1 and connected with British Columbia Highway 97 towards Vernon.

Highway-5-between-Valemount-and-Kamloops

Above: Highway 5 between Valemount and Kamloops

On the seventh night, we stayed at Joyce Lake off British Columbia Highway 6, which is north out of Falkland.  Here we encountered loud music again.  Is this a trend for southern British Columbia?

small-ferries-British-Columbia

We drove a circuitous route utilizing two ferry crossings, both were free.  The second one at Balfour is the longest free ferry in the world.  It crosses Kootenay Lake.  Our crossing was very stormy and exciting.  The scenery was as expansive and breathtaking as any we had seen on the whole trip.

Kooteney-Lake-Ferry-Crossing

Above: Kooteney Lake Ferry Crossing, British Columbia

We almost had our tomatoes confiscated at the border crossing, but I was unable to locate them and the border guard declared, “Oh, you must have eaten them already!”

Then we were back in the USA and stayed at the Smith Lake Forest Service Campground, just north of Bonners Ferry.  There was no fee and it was a beautiful campground!

Our plan to “bring down the rain” worked!  There were still active fire fighting camps, but the smoke was gone and the skies were fresh and clear.

Wrap Up

Patrice: If we had to do it again, we would have taken the whole summer and spent much more time on the trip up and back.  We really want to return to British Columbia and camp at their beautiful recreation sites.

Ken: If we go for three months, I would take the canoes or kayaks.  There is so much water up there.

We traveled over 8,000 miles on our Alaskan adventure.  We spent just over $3,000.   $2000 of that was on fuel.  We were gone for 37 days.   Our total campground cost for our whole trip was $43.50.

Patrice: Our four-wheel drive truck and Phoenix Camper allowed us to go on the back roads and explore and camp in quiet spots away from the crowds.  We continually commented on how different the trip would have been pulling our trailer or using our tent.  The camper keeps us cozy, warm, and dry but allows us freedom to experience the outdoors.  We met so many friendly people.  We love truck camping!

Ken: The simplicity, agility and being self-sufficient is nice.  We’ve used the camper 110 nights since we bought it a year and a half ago.  The freedom of the truck camper is the essence of why we got it.  It’s a perfect fit!

TIP: Recommended Maps, Books, Websites, and Brochures

Patrice: We planned the Canada part of our trip using the National Geographic Canada West Adventure Map.  We have used National Geographic’s adventure maps before and found them quite informative.

We used the online interactive maps on SitesAndTrailBC.ca and FreeCampsites.net to look up places to camp along our projected route.  Most of these campsites were no cost.

We also used NorthToAlaska.com.  You can contact them through the website and they will send you guides and brochures for British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon, and sections of Alaska.  I recommend ordering the guides and brochures early as it took eight weeks for them to arrive.

Ken: There are a lot of things in Alaska that you can’t necessarily see from the road or highway.   There might be a small sign, but that’s it.  The maps, books, and brochures helped us learn about many places and opportunities we would not have otherwise known about.

TIP: Five Hour Drives Take Ten

Ken: The drive from our house to our son’s house in Anchorage was approximately fifty hours.  Our plan was to drive five hours a day for ten days, and then take the rest of the day for hiking or bicycling.  That’s was our perfect plan.

Well, to make that five hour drive each day actually took ten hours.  British Columbia is so beautiful that we kept pulling off to take pictures and go on side trips.  We wanted to see everything and find the history.  I recommend staying flexible.

TIP: WIFI and Cell Phone Tips

Patrice: As we progressed, we discovered that each small British Columbia town has a Visitor Center with free WIFI.  Each day we would stop at the visitors center to see what sites were nearby.  I would also save website information on to my computer so we could access the information off-line.  This technique helped a lot in British Columbia.  We were less successful with this technique in the Yukon.  There is free WIFI at the Yukon Visitor’s Center, but the Yukon is just so huge.

We also used a Verizon international plan.  It didn’t work for my phone, but we could get on WIFI.  We would send an email every day to tell friends and family where we were and where we were going to camp.

In Alaska we were able to use our Verizon hotspot and, if we had cell phone service, we could use our cell phones as well.  You can also get free WIFI from Fred Meyers and the Alaska visitors centers.

TIP: Food Preparation and Border Crossing

Patrice: We researched what we would be allowed to bring into Canada and decided to pack dried meals and limit our fresh food supply until we were in Canada.

Ken: We make our own dried meals.  Patrice will make a batch of chili and then dry it.  It takes time but, when you have ten to twelve meals already prepared, you can camp anywhere you want.  All you need is water and you’re good to go.

Patrice: You cannot take fresh eggs or raw poultry across the Canadian border, coming or going.  You can bring certain amounts of other kinds of meats, but we didn’t want to risk it.

Ken: They also don’t allow dog food containing beef, poultry, or lamb.  At Costco we found dog food made of salmon and sweet potato.  We heard that they want the original packaging, but customs didn’t look at the dog food.  They did ask us about poultry and vegetables.

Typical-dinner-Cobb-Salad-love-having-the-ability-to-prepare-fresh-food

Above: Typical dinner was Cobb Salad; it’s great to have the ability to prepare fresh food in the camper

Patrice: It was economical to bring so much of our own food.  It was also convenient because we tend to camp off the beaten track.  On our return trip we did not remember the ‘no uncooked poultry’ regulation and, as a result, two dozen eggs and chicken that we purchased in Eagle River on Wednesday were taken away from us at the border on Thursday.

TIP: Taking Pets Across the Border

Patrice: Prior to the trip, we took our dog to the vet and got a certificate of health showing that he was current on the required vaccinations.  The record from the vet needs to be within 30 days of the trip.  They did ask for that information at the border.  Canada wanted the name and address of the place you’re visiting on the certificate.

Ken: If your dog bites someone in Canada, they will take your dog.  Then you need to prove that he’s had vaccinations, or they can permanently take your dog from you.

Patrice:  Ken did not bring weapons, but we did have bear spray.  Bear spray is allowed, but it must have label and show that it’s specifically for bears.  You cannot bring pepper spray, but you can have bear spray.

TIP: Money In Canada

Ken: We tried to get Canadian cash ahead of time because we thought we should have some cash with us.  Our bank wanted to charge us $130 US for $100 Canadian.  With the exchange rate, we thought it should be about $75 US for $100 Canadian.  So we decided to just have US cash and use our credit card when we could.

This proved to be a good plan.  We only had to use cash at one campground on our way home.  Our credit card worked everywhere and the exchange rate is calculated automatically.  There was a small exchange fee.

TIP: Fuel In Canada and Alaska

Patrice: Our son’s rule was, “If you can buy gas, buy gas”.  In Canada, especially in British Columbia, gas stations aren’t open in 24 hours a day.

Every time you buy gas you have to go inside, estimate how much gas you need, fill your tank, and then go back inside to have the total adjusted.  We got pretty good at estimating.  In the Yukon we could use our credit card.

Ken: There were times we wanted to go on side trips, but didn’t feel we had enough fuel.  We would have liked to bring extra gas along, and are considering putting our camper on a flatbed some day so that we have storage for extra fuel.

Patrice: The Milepost is essential.  I can’t not stress that enough.  You have to have it.  The Milepost lists gas stations.  However, we did find that there were some mistakes in the guide.

Ken: Quite a few places are no longer in existence.  I think when gas prices went crazy, the roadside convenience stores dried up.  It’s alarming that they’re closed.

 

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