Mark Turnbull took his Four Wheel Camper Hawk on a 14,052 mile trip including two months in Alaska and the Yukon Territories. Here are his top ten Alaska destinations.
Trying to pick my top ten Alaska places to visit is like trying to explain to my wife why I love her so much. There are so many number one reasons. To pick them in any sequence does none of them the justice they deserve.
That said, here is my top ten Alaska and Yukon Territories adventure list, plus a few extras. My truck camping trip to Alaska was from April 26 to June 23, 2012. I traveled 14,052 miles on my trip with my Four Wheel Camper and went through twenty-five states and provinces in the process.
1. McCarthy Road / Kennecott Mines
The McCarthy Road is sixty miles of dirt road starting with a single lane through a rock. The scenery going in was unbelievable. I went to McCarthy in mid-May when there was still snow on the mountains and the runoff had already started. As a result, the road had mini-streams and rivers running across it. I went with the idea of staying one night and coming right back the following day. I stayed for three days.
While in McCarthy, I rode my mountain bike up to Kennecott Mines, which is a National Historic Landmark. It is five miles up a five percent grade, which seemed more like twenty-five percent when you near the top. The view is amazing and the mine site is spectacular.
TIP: McCarthy is a pretty cool place to visit as well and James, who was running the campground at the end of the McCarthy Road, is well worth the trip if you get a chance to visit with him.
2. Dalton Highway (aka the Haul Road / Ice Road Trucker Highway) and Atigun Pass
For me, the whole trip was about driving the Haul Road. I was fortunate that I got several days of absolutely wonderful weather. What you see in the pictures is what you get.
The Haul Road, officially known as Dalton Highway, is a road that will test your driving skills at times, and take your breath away all of the time. The road has a number of paved sections, but the gravel is smoother than some of the paved parts.
Above: Dalton Highway to Atigun Pass
TIP: I recommend taking a CB radio tuned to channel 19 when you go on the Haul Road. When you meet the big rigs in opposing traffic, slow down, pull over, and stop. Tell them over the CB that the road is theirs. When you do that, they will slow down and appreciate what you are doing. If one is catching up behind you, do the same thing. Tell them you will be slowing down and pulling over when you can and then let them by.
Remember, you are sightseeing and they are making a living driving this road. Let it not be said that those of us who have truck campers don’t know how to drive the Haul Road.
3. Top of the World Highway / Clinton Creek Road / Fortymile River Bridge
The Top of the World Highway is only open from approximately May 1st, weather permitting, to the first snow. The Top of the World Highway can be picked up just east of Tok, Alaska, and takes you to Chicken, Alaska. Prior to the Canadian border, you come to the turnoff to Eagle, Alaska. The next road after the border is the Clinton Road. From there it’s a long drive to Dawson City and the Yukon Territories.
TIP: The Top of the World Highway can be a very dusty road if it is dry, so do not follow other vehicles too close. Afterward, make sure to clean your air filter. If the road is wet, it can be quite slippery. Four wheel drive is a good thing to have.
About eight miles into Canada is the road to Clinton Creek, Yukon. This is a spectacular road with amazing views. The road is about twenty-three miles prior to hitting the Fortymile River bridge which is basically a very bad bridge in need of repair, but it was still fun to cross.
TIP: The road to Clinton Creek is not well-traveled and there are very few amenities. Be sure you have everything you need before setting out (food, fuel, etc.).
TIP: Also make sure you are well provisioned before you leave Tok and be sure to fill up with fuel in Chicken, Alaska. The next station is a long way after that.
Above: Mark’s monument for all truck campers on the Top of the World Highway
The rock monument on the Top of the World Highway was built by me; it’s a monument for all truck campers that travel to route!
4. Valdez Harbor
The trip out of McCarthy on the McCarthy Road, also known as Thomas Edgerton Highway, and then west on the Richardson Highway to Valdez, is amazing.
I managed to drive it in bright sunshine and blue skies. People who have lived in Alaska their whole lives and driven to Valdez dozens of times said they had never seen that kind of weather. I was very lucky.
When you get to Valdez, the harbor is a spectacular sight. The harbor pictures were taken at 6:00am and show the sun on the mountains overlooking a very calm harbor. If you look closely in the third harbor picture, you will see the large oil tanker, which is dwarfed by the oil tanks, which is then dwarfed by the mountains. What a sight!
The trip to Valdez and the harbor itself is worth the trip. Then you can take the ferry to Whittier where you get to drive through a mountain on your way to either Homer, Seward, or Anchorage, depending on your next destination.
5. Denali National Park / Teklanika Campground
Above: Denali Highway
If you get to Denali National Park, you will not be disappointed. Denali National Park is all about the scenery, the animals, the campground, and the people you meet there. It’s a great destination.
Teklanika Campground is a boondocking site. You can run your generator for a couple of hours each morning and in the evening. Other than that it is quiet. They have very clean outhouses, a spot to drain water, and a tap with water.
There are no dump stations and no showers. The dump station is at the station where you confirm your reservation and get your sticker that allows you to get to Teklanika. All I can say is that it is worth your time to stay there
TIP: Check online and make your Teklanika Campground reservations months in advance. You will not be able to drive up to the front gate and get a spot. I stayed two different times on my trip for three nights each and the reservations were made in the middle of the previous December.
TIP: Teklanika Campground is also the last spot for a shower. Depending on your camper’s amenities, you may want to take advantage. Showers run three or five dollars. It was definitely worth it, especially on the way out after three days.
TIP: In the picture with me in front of the campground sign, notice the bear spray. It is necessary to carry it in the park. Also, learn about bears if you plan on hiking.
TIP: You can carry a firearm in a National Park, however, you are not supposed to discharge it. I’m not sure how that works if you are confronted with an angry bear. And never get between a moose cow and her calves or a mama bear and her cubs, because they may attack in that situation.
6. Denali Highway / Wildlife
The Denali Highway is approximately sixty miles long. About ninety-five percent of it is dirt road. It was a wet rainy day when I drove it and the road was somewhat treacherous. It’s narrow in spots and, depending on traffic, you need to be cautious going around curves. If you stop to take pictures, be aware of where you are stopping. You don’t want to come around a sharp curve and find someone parked, no more than they would.
The vistas from the Denali highway are different from the Haul Road or the Top of the World Highways, but incredibly beautiful. This highway, like the Top of the World Highway, is a seasonal highway, so early or late in the season may be muddy and treacherous. On all of the dirt roads, dry or wet, a four wheel drive vehicle is very useful.
TIP: Early in the spring, is the best time to see Alaska’s amazing wildlife as they come out of hibernation looking for food. I was in Alaska from early May to mid-June and was able to see almost every conceivable type of animal, some a little closer than I might have liked, but always at a safe distance. Learn all you can about the wildlife and how to deal with them before you leave. What you learn could save your life.
7. Exit Glacier
The Exit Glacier is about four miles east of Seward and is well worth the hike to see it. We walked through about two feet of snow for almost two miles to get there. The walk was tiresome but what a view when we got there.
As I walked up close to the glacier, the temperature dropped maybe twenty-five degrees and there was a mist of snow in the air. The glacier actually generates its own weather, almost like Mount McKinley/Denali, but not quite as severe.
If you don’t want to go all the way to the face of the glacier, there is another route that takes you to the valley below with a good view up to the glacier.
8. Skagway / Haines, Alaska / Haines Highway
Driving down to Skagway from the Alaska Highway is a beautiful trip unless there is a blizzard-like there was when I went to Skagway. But even that was fun. At one point I actually drove through a snowdrift that hit the front of the truck and exploded up over it. The blizzard was not expected at the time, but that’s what four wheel drive is for.
TIP: Skagway is worth visiting. After your visit, take the ferry to Haines and head back up the Haines Highway. Then drive back onto the Alaska Highway. This route means you will miss a small section of the Alaska Highway, but the Haines Highway more than makes up for it.
9. University of Alaska – Museum of the North
There are spectacular views from the University of Alaska. On a clear day, you may even be able to see Denali. The campus is beautiful and the Museum of the North is a great experience. You can easily spend several hours there, if not the whole day depending on how much you want to see, read, and learn.
On the second floor of the museum is a room that literally lets you sit and hear the earth move. They have put microphones all over Alaska and in this room, you get to listen to them as they pick up the sounds the earth makes. It’s almost musical. There is also a movie on the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) that is amazing.
10. Alaska Highway – Watson Lake, Yukon Territories, Canada – Sign Post Forest
The Alaska Highway is why many of us go to Alaska. You get to drive this magnificent road built in the early 1940s by some extremely brave people. You will have numerous ‘Oh My Gosh’ moments, too numerous to count actually, as you drive this road.
Early on I kept stopping and taking pictures every few miles, but soon realized if I continued to do that then I would never actually get to Alaska. I became a little more selective, but not much. And when you get to cross the line from the Yukon Territories into Alaska, you get to stop and celebrate standing next to your truck.
TIP: If you are by yourself, as I was for most of the trip, don’t forget to bring a remote for your camera so you can get in the pictures.
We had a sign made up before I left and I put it up at the Sign Post Forest in Watson Lake. You can spend a long time wandering the aisle of signs that are up. It is amazing to see how far away people have come and how ingenious some of the signs are. We had ours made for thirty dollars, but it was definitely worth it since I am not adventurous enough to go out and steal an actual DOT road sign, which a few people obviously did.
The Sign Post Forest is a pretty nice place to stop and relax. The town of Watson Lake put up the posts and you can put your sign up free of charge. Just bring the screws and nails to get the job done.
Native Alaskan Center in Anchorage
My wife would be the first to tell you that I am not big on museums, but the Native Alaskan Center in Anchorage turned from a one-hour stop to an all-afternoon stop. It is a fascinating place and the young ladies in the picture with Hope were from all parts of Alaska.
The young lady on the left of the picture told us she came from a remote fishing village north of Barrow, Alaska, and said she remembers swimming in the ocean during the summer. Check out where Barrow, Alaska is, and then tell me you would go swimming in any month of the year, because I know I would not.
The stories, the native dancing show, the artwork, and the various home sites shown on the property will not only take you back in time but will have you saying, “Wow” a lot. If you thought you were creative, you have not seen anything until you see this place.
Go down to the end of the famous Homer Spit and see all the people fishing. If you are lucky, like I was, you will see an Eagle swoop down like it is going to land, come very close to the water, drop its talons into the water, and carry away an eight to ten-pound fish. It was amazing to see.
Seward has an aquarium that has many types of ocean animals, including injured dolphins and sea lions that they are nursing back to health. It’s worth a visit if you are in the area.
I know it sounds silly, but every restaurant that I stopped at in Alaska had the best pie I have ever had. If you are going up the Haul Road, you have to stop at the Hill Top Restaurant and fill up with gas. It’s the last stop for gas until you get to the Yukon River. Then go in for breakfast. I had the best bacon, eggs, hash browns, and toast, and two pieces of pie. Needless to say, I didn’t eat for the rest of the day. My trucker’s breakfast carried me through.
The People of Alaska
I guarantee you will meet the nicest people in Alaska. Go out of your way to go to non-tourist spots and meet true Alaskans. I liked to stop at a local bar for a beer. You ask what is so great about this area and you can spend the rest of the night learning about stuff you can’t find in any tourist book. And if you offer to buy a round, the stories get better. Not all may be true, but they are fun nonetheless.
I stopped at a place that I had seen on Google Maps which I called, “The Starbucks of Alaska”. It’s called Black Water Bend Espresso and it is about five miles outside of Homer, Alaska. I only had a smoothie, but it was great and the people were amazing. Because it was before the real tourist season (notice the snow) I got a chance to talk and visit and learn about them, the store, how long they had been in Alaska. Like I said, go out of your way and you will have a blast.
The scenery and the people of Alaska make for a trip of a lifetime. Don’t worry about going down the road less traveled. I assure you it will be an adventure and you will never regret it. In fact, you will want to do it again.