No road trip along the Glenn Highway would be complete without a stop in Valdez. Valdez has everything a camper could want. It is a nice break for travelers to catch up on groceries and have a few urban amenities after spending time on side trips in out of the way places.
Valdez is famous for:
What some people may not know, is that Valdez is famous for its spectacular scenery. The mountains plunge into the bay. The drive down to Valdez is a must. If the weather is clear, it is absolutely mandatory - unless you don’t like alpine vistas and waterfalls cascading down the jagged, snow-speckled mountains.
Valdez has everything for the urban camper. There are several full-service campgrounds with ample space that includes:
If the weather is clear, and you need to shorten your driving time back towards Anchorage, take the Alaska Ferry to Whittier. The longer the RV, the higher the rate, so be warned! As of 2018 our 24’ truck, one adult, and one senior priced out to be $364. It is worth it when the weather is clear so that you can view the mountains, watch whales and enjoy the sea travel. The shortened driving time may be well worth the cost if you want to visit Whittier and Portage Glacier with tight travel deadlines. If you are looking to view the fjords without the RV, try one of the daily charter trips in Valdez or Seward.
Travel Advisory for Valdez:
We loved driving through the pass down to Valdez. The weather can change at a moments notice. It can be clear in Glennallen, and by the time you reach the pass, it may be blowing and snowing. Fog is also a common challenge in the mountain pass. So...
This post will be part of a series about traveling on the Glenn Highway. We are on the road now, so we will add more images soon. By the end of summer, we will update the blog with videos of road conditions. We are learning that working with video and photos really takes a toll on the batteries. Uploading them also takes forever in the places that we tend to camp out at, so check back later and we will update the blog as power and internet services allow.
Chitina is one of my most favorite places to visit on the Alaska Road System.
We like the roads less traveled. Once you leave the larger communities of Alaska, you will notice several things.
Chitina is part of what is called an unorganized borough. Like many Alaskans who live in rural communities, the people are rugged individuals who prefer their independence over the conveniences in larger communities. While some of the Chitina residents live seasonally in the area, some are year-round residents. What is the lure for these rugged individuals?
Chitina’s claim to fame in the Alaska story is mining and fishing. The Chitina and Copper Rivers are key areas for salmon fishing as well as transportation (boats in the summer, ice travel in the winter). Fish is what ties the people of Alaska to rivers, streams and the ocean. Fish is the most essential resource for indigenous families since people first arrived thousands of years ago. We love watching the fish wheels on the Chitina River. Families have used fish wheels spanning many generations. Watching the wheels scoop up salmon and the families processing fish is one of our highlights. Dipnetting and drift fishing for sockeyes are also important activities for residents and visitors.
Summer Activities at Chitina:
Camping at Chitina
The town of Chitina has a few services. There are a couple of year-round places to eat. Basic groceries can be purchased at the small stores. Be sure to grocery up before leaving Glennallen or Anchorage for specialty items. Don’t count on finding any specialized ingredients. While the internet is possible, it is not reliable. Mobile devices do work in town depending on the service provider. Visitors may want to check with their provider before traveling. There is a campground near the river, but most people camp down on the gravel bars. Plan on boondocking at Chitina. I have not seen any full hookups.
We love to spend a few nights out on the gravel sandbar. There is a small campground up in the trees by the river. It is owned and operated by Ahtna Corporation. During the summer, there may not be any of these campsites available since families subsistence fish during the salmon season.
Key Points for camping on the Chitina River:
Do not put any food outside. This is bear country. If a bear hangs around, it usually does not end well for it. When a bear causes trouble, it is shot and killed.
Before Arriving at Chitina Bring these extras:
The drive down to Chitina was short, so we lingered awhile this morning enjoying the amazing view of the mountains. We finally left our comfy little pullout around mid-morning with our travel mugs topped up with hot coffee. We were surrounded by blue sky and white tipped mountains.
We slipped onto the Richardson highway and headed south. We then turned onto the Edgerton Highway. The Edgerton Highway loosely follows between the Copper River and the Tonsina River. If you want to, a short trip over to Copper Center might be worthwhile. This year we opted to skip Copper Center in favor of a leisurely stay on the Chitina River… or so that was the plan. But, as everyone one knows, plans can change with us at any time.
We wanted to visit McCarthy. It’s been on my "must visit list" for quite some time. A friend of mine has a cabin in the area. We planned on visiting her in mid-July, but then we heard horror stories about McCarthy Road. It is gravel over rail ties. People warned us to bring an extra tire and plan on a flat or two. These suggestions are from relatives who I trust, so we thought about skipping the trip entirely. We are adventurous souls, so we decided to nose out onto the McCarthy Road to take a look for ourselves. We figured that the road would be in decent shape to the bridge, and made that our turnaround point.
The gravel road was pitted, with plenty of wash boarding for the first mile, then it smoothed out. To our utter amazement, pavement! The pavement had its cracks and frost heaves, so it wasn’t perfect. Driving it was just fine as for our truck. We took our time and crossed the bridge. The scenery is stunning! We took a ton of photos and figured that our luck would run out as we continued. The road returned to gravel, but it was nice and smooth. We decided to keep going.
We passed several newly cleared mudslides along the way. The trees looked like they had some severe wind storms last winter because many were down and the tops of some were broken off completely. We rolled into McCarthy, 64 miles out of Chitina.
Cabins and private property are tucked into the woods along the way, McCarthy is small with just a few buildings. The campground, if you call it that, is a wide, flat parking lot. The interesting part is that the Kennicott copper mines. The mines are accessible only by a footbridge and a shuttle. They are ghost mines that were built in the early 1900’s. By 1938, the price of copper collapsed and the mines shut down. I really enjoyed reading the placards along the way explaining some of the ruins. I was impressed that parts the railway was built in a matter of days!
McCarthy is a road trip that is well worth the effort in that the scenery will blow you away. The people are super friendly when you arrive. There is an information center and a place to eat. The information center was closed when we were there for Memorial Weekend. Plan on bringing everything you need because there are no services. There is no internet or phone service, so plan ahead.
Tips about McCarthy:
As it turned out, We were incredibly lucky. We did not know that a grater had just finished repairing road blockages from the mudslides. It is usually a challenging drive. I would not take a large motorhome on McCarthy Road. We did see trucks, vans, class Cs and one older motorhome. When the weather is clear and dry, it is very dusty. Go slow and try to keep the dust down so that others may see.
Plan Before you go:
So, we bid McCarthy a sad goodbye with plans to return later in the summer.
Coming soon... videos and images of McCarthy Road and a post about Chitina.
It may be Memorial Day Weekend, but that is not why we chose to go on the road this week. It was a combination of weather, and some long range planning that we put into play. OK, it was mostly about the weather. Sunshine and blue sky is always a powerful motivator in my book!
The temperature has finally gone up. I feel the effects of spring. The temperature is in the high 50’s. Now we are moving towards my comfort zone! The weather is finally warm enough to turn down the furnace, and no more “opportunities” to drive on the snow and ice. The leaves are green. The grass is shooting up. People are finally getting the lawn mowers out. The birds are singing, and the moose are giving birth. Now it is really spring!
We decided to drive down to Chitina for a few days. We left Anchorage around 2:00 pm in and were tucked into our camping spot near Glennallen by 7pm. I really enjoy stopping at Glennallen for fuel. We like the station with a gift store next to the Visitor’s Center. The visitor’s center is worth the stop for some great information about the area. They have topographical maps for hiking and tons of information for the region and the rest of the state. There is an RV campground at Glennallen for those that prefer to camp with electricity and full hook-ups. We prefer searching out our own spot along the way. There are also plenty scenic places to camp overnight for those like us who like the boondocking scene.
The Glenn Highway
If you really want to see some beautiful scenery, I suggest skipping the new Glenn Highway and take the turnoff to the Old Glenn Highway, especially on a clear day. The mountains are stunning. Slow down, take your time, and be sure the camera is charged up. The Old Glenn Highway to Palmer is not to missed! Here are some images and video from the dash. Overnighting on the Knik River is an option that we often take. It is a favorite place for ATV riding. The wind often kicks up and the blowing sand is a real turn-off for us. It was windy, and the sand was creating a hazy layer along the river, so we decided to skip this favorite spot.
Palmer to Sutton
From Palmer to Sutton, the scenary continues to blow me away. Palmer was established with the homesteading act during the 1930s. Farming was pushed. At one time there was a large dairy. Farming is still quite challenging with the climate and infrastructure. You can read about the some of the history surrounding the history of Palmer (ADD LINKS TO SLED) while you are in Alaska. SLED is an excellent resource that is funded and supported by the Alaska State Library Network for Alaskans. The resources are free while you are in Alaska.
Do you want to see an amazing glacier? Well, the Matanuska Glacier is viewable from the highway. There are plenty of tourist opportunities with ziplines, glacier tours and whatnot if you want to explore it more throughly. The tourist companies usually open up around the first week or so of June. The turnouts will whet the appetite for further exploration. Small RV parks are open seasonal as well. For explorers that want to get off the beaten path, there are some small, gravel roads with turnouts that serve cell towers and power lines. While the towers are off-limits, the pullouts and hiking trails are popular for off-road ues. We have not taken our rig down these roads yet because we often travel this highway off-season and have our sights on Chitina.
The off-highway roads are minimally maintained, and can be quite muddy and rutted. You are on your own if you do venture out this way. We usually travel this highway in the off-season, when these gravel roads are icy or very muddy. We have not experienced the commercial attractions along this route because they are usually closed when we drive through. That, and we are usually on a tight budget.
First of all, thank you everyone for your emails! We love hearing from you. Yes, for right now, we have no affiliate marketing for this blog. That will change in the future. The post about activities in Seward were strictly based on our own experiences and we have no affiliation with any of the organizations mentioned at this time. We recommended them based purely on our experiences and the experiences of people we chatted with, so therefore, we will not monetarily benefit from anything stated on that post.
A quick stop at Homer
We took a short side trip down to Homer. While we stayed for two nights, the weather was stormy. We pulled the plug and drove back to Anchorage. We will return later for a better visit. Homer is one of our favorite places to visit, so we will be back.
Back in Anchorage
Spring is finally here. While the weather continues to be rainy and chilly, the trees have greened up, and soon the lawns will need their first mowing. People are trading their snow removal equipment for the garden supplies. I saw a moose with her newborn twins, so winter is just a pleasant memory.
We are spending a bit more time in Anchorage with family while we work on fun and not so fun projects.
I wanted to see if sewing would be an option in our camper. It took up a bit of space to stash my machine and a few notions. I sell a few items that I make and I was hoping to continue on a smaller scale. While we are waiting for some better travel weather, I dug out my sewing stuff. Yes, I made a cluttered mess. The stove-top cover and counter made a great ironing area. The table is the perfect size for sewing. The down side is that everything needed to be put away for a meal or anything else to happen in the camper. It is definitely doable. Here is a picture of the bag I made.
Our toilet decided to break. Yup, there is nothing fun about a wobbly toilet. we took it apart and discovered that the nylon attachment that connects the toilet to the floor had shattered. We also discovered that the two gaskets in the toilet were cracked and one was completely shredded. So, off to the hardware store.
We found a metal bracket and two new gaskets. With some messy, stinky work, we had the toilet up and back in service way quicker than we anticipated. The image is a quick try with epoxy to at least stabilize the connector. We added the metal bracket to prevent future failures. The connector failed last year, so this will hopefully be our last fix on this minor headache.
Anchorage Camping Scene
Anchorage has several private campgrounds. They all have their pros and cons. They all have one thing in common - they are proud of their rates. Plan to spend a minimum of $45 a night. There are options. Most people use Anchorage as a base camp. They pick grocery up and plan their adventures.
Camping for just a few nights while completing these chores can be done for free at Walmart. Our favorite place to stay is at Cabela’s. They have a free dump station that is very convenient. Some visitors trashed these places.
The Anchorage Assembly has had two bills presented to end all free parking lot camping in the city. Both measures never passed because we worked hard to keep these measures in the hands of private property owners. This is a strong warning to all of us who frequent free, overnight parking. Please, PLEASE…. be respectful. Here is how you can help keep free overnight parking legal:
#1: Alaska SeaLife Center
Alaska SeaLife Center is Seward’s top destination for visitors and Alaskans from all over the state. I have mentioned the Sea Life Center in other posts because it is a perennial favorite for so many people including my family.
Every year there are new marine mammals and other aquatic species in the aquariums. Since the Sea Life Center mission is education and rehabilitation, the center is a critical point of rescue for animals in need from around the state. The Sea Life Center releases rescued animals back into the wild whenever possible. Those that cannot survive in the wild become residents of the center, or they are placed in an appropriate facility. Last year they rescued a beluga whale calf. The whale survived but was unable to return to the wild, so it was placed in a zoo elsewhere. The resident seals and sea lions are some of the most popular animals for visitors. The specially designed aquariums make it possible to view sea life from outside or underwater. While many people can see marine mammals in the wild, it is not often that people have an opportunity to watch their graceful antics underwater.
Educating people about sea life in Alaska is an essential part of the Alaska SeaLife Center. The displays appeal to people of all ages. Salmon are an integral part of life for most Alaskans. Aquariums with salmon show the life cycle of the fish in different stages of growth as well a display identifying the five species of Pacific salmon. Touch tanks are very popular with the children who visit the center. The octopus tank is also a favorite. Our visit in May was exciting because we were lucky to see the newly hatched octopi. They were the size of an emoji.
While many visitors enjoy the fish and marine mammals, The SeaLife Center has a seabird aviary. Rescued birds from around Alaska populate the aviary. This is my favorite part of the Sea Life Center. I love watching the birds both above and below the water as they dive and swim deep into the aquarium below. The aviary is loud with bird calls. Visitors may walk right out into the aviary to view the birds up close without glass or wire barriers.
For more information about the Alaska SeaLife Center visit their website.
We enjoy going to Seward in the early summer before the crowds arrive. Winter camping rates are much lower. With so few campers, it is easy to get the perfect beach-front spot, and with power. Heat is a necessity! While many of the seasonal activities are still closed, there are plenty of things for a person to get out and enjoy.
We love watching the birds. The annual bird migration is in full swing. Birds are arriving either to stay for the summer or to continue their journey north. Today, I sat in the camper and watched two crows busy with home and relationship building. They had some “discussions” over the perfect grass for the nest and were quick to let the rest of the neighborhood in on the squabble. I tried to capture it on video without disturbing them, but I only got in a couple of seconds before they were out of camera range. Meanwhile, two loons and a pair of harlequin ducks fished a few yards out from where we camped. Sipping coffee and watching the birds is a great way to start my morning!
While the weather was soggy, we still had plenty of dry weather to walk the docks. We enjoy looking at all the boats and stretching our legs. We wandered up and down the fingers admiring both the commercial and pleasure boats while also visiting with the fisherman. Soon, some will be selling seafood from their boats. While there are plenty of charter opportunities, the fishing is a bit early when we visit in May. Halibut is the first fisheries to open. The prices are usually quite dear at the beginning of the season. Everyone is happy to have fresh product!
I love wandering through the little gift shops along the main street. They are just getting started for the new summer season. There are no crowds, and the new seasonal products are fresh and not picked over. I love seeing all the creative things that many Alaskan artists are creating for visitors. Window shopping is also fun when the weather is, well, not so fun… pouring rain, mixed with snow, which is about par for early May! The coffee is always hot, and the shopkeepers are laid back and quick with tips about what’s happening in town.
We love driving around the Seward area, poking along the small side streets and just enjoying the community. We drove around to the other side and watched the guys working on the commercial boats that are hauled out getting work done. There are some boats that we recognized from Southeast, Alaska, where we used to fish. Seward has a vocational school that students from all over the state attend. Their focus includes marine technology as well as culinary skills. They have an excellent reputation with programs for people to get started along their chosen career paths.
Exit Glacier is just out of town and includes the visitor center for Kenai Fjords National Park. I love visiting here, but the visitor center is still closed for the winter. The short trails are accessible and open, but just I just returned from up north, I decided that even a short hike in the snow and ice was not for me this time. By June, the center will be open, and the last of the snow will be melted.
Our great Alaska road trip is about to begin, but we decided to drive down to Seward for a shakedown. The weather was supposed to be nice, and we were ready for a change of scenery. It may feel like spring and early summer, but that is just a date on a calendar... and a lot of wishful thinking on our part. You see, the sun was out, and suddenly we had summer ideas. The trees are budding out, and the grass is starting to green up, so it must be spring. Right?
We topped up the fuel, propane and water tanks, then stopped for a few grocery items. With empty holding tanks and sunshine, we hit the road. What could go wrong?
Seward is roughly 100 miles (about a three-hour drive) from Anchorage. We take our time and make a few stops along the way. Tern Lake is a favorite stop. We love watching the birds. Two swans nearby were building their nest.
Deciding to go full-time with an RV can be a scary decision, but it doesn’t have to be. Today’s post will show you how flexible the RV-lifestyle can be.
What is a Full-Time RV Lifestyle?
The beautiful concept of an RV lifestyle is that it is incredibly flexible. While some may argue that “full-timing” is where people decide to sell everything and move into an RV to travel year-round, it actually includes a much broader spectrum of possibilities. While that may be a purist view, there are many levels of the lifestyle that RVers enjoy.
Many people opt to go camping part-time. They may take road trips lasting several months, but they may also have a stick and brick home-base. Part-timing can also include people who use their RV’s for occasional camping trips. Part-time is an excellent way to test the waters for a future full-time adventure or to test different RVs. Renting different styles for short trips is an excellent strategy before plopping down your hard-earned money on an expensive RV.
I call it this way for the following scenarios:
Most people that are full-time RVers call their RV their only home. They travel year-round in their rigs. Some will camp from a few nights to months depending on their agendas. This is the lifestyle that most think about when contemplating a lifestyle choice.
The flexibility of an RV-lifestyle:
Flexibility is the best part of any RV lifestyle. People get to choose anywhere along the full-time spectrum. Nothing needs to be permanent. Many people start off with one idea and then move along to another. Some switch back and forth as their needs change.
We have been doing a lot of soul-searching. Since we came from the boating lifestyle, it seemed like an easy transition to going full-time. Being mobile and flexible is the best part. We have had to change our plans a few times since life sometimes gets in the way of our best-laid plans.
We decided to test the waters by going Full-time, but part-time. We love to travel. We do not want to give up our Alaska lifestyle, but the winters are brutal in a camper. We decided to spend most of the year in Alaska, and the rest split with traveling throughout North America and spending time with family in the lower 48.
We decided to stay very flexible for the next year to test the waters and see what we think this time next year. So, if you check in on us throughout the year, we will keep everyone posted on how things work out for us.
Whether or not you decide to make RV camping a full-time lifestyle choice, downsizing our belongings is a healthy way to get back in touch with what is truly important. We just completed a serious downsizing since we are moving. We will be spending at least half of the year in our camper.
Two years ago, we emptied two storage units that we had for years while we went sailing. We downsized our belongings to what would fit in our small apartment at Unalakleet. At first, it was challenging for three reasons:
Divide and Conquer: His, Mine & Ours
We started the process by going through our own personal belongings... my stuff and Honey’s stuff. If you have a significant other or children, you know how that is! We left “community” items for later.
In my "corner", I went through my clothing. I lost a lot of weight in the last year. I also knew that I would not need my office attire or my arctic clothing. So, this is what I did:
I saved my personal “treasures” for last. Here is how I decided to downsize:
We went through the community property together. These are items that we both use and have feeling for. We both have similar ideas about stuff, so it was a fairly painless process. I would hold up an item, and he would say keep or toss. He would do the same for me. Once in awhile eyebrows were raised, but usually, the justification or the emotional attachment was all that was needed to keep an item.
Storage Unit Decisions
Downsizing the second time was more difficult because we still have a lot of loose ends. We decided to keep some items while we sort out the lifestyle options. For example, we kept our nautical charts and a few boating items since we are seriously considering another boat.
Not everything will fit into our camper, We decided to store some items for one year while we are in transition. Notice the timeline… only one year!
I hope this gives you some ideas should you be thinking about going full time. Will this system work for you? Maybe, but everyone has different priorities and different situations. We opted for a small camper. As a result, we had to be ruthless. We are not sure if this is a permanent transition, so we made concessions for some items. We certainly did not want to store stuff, but with our uncertainty, it made sense. We agreed to store items for only one year.
writes for Iris Blume Publishing. She is an Alaskan who has a love for traveling and writing. Join her as she rediscovers and shares her home state.
Where are we now?