Alaska bound: crossing Canada

A big adventure starts with A+ scenery.

Peter and Kathy Holcombe Peter and Kathy Holcombe  |  09.14.2016

Deciding to drive to Alaska was almost a no-brainer, but figuring out the logistics of what was actually involved in getting there and what to do once we arrived was quite a bit more complicated than either of us bargained for.  In addition to an exhausting list of things we absolutely HAD to do, everyone we spoke with who had actually driven to Alaska, also cautioned us that what we were planning was no small undertaking, and typically shared a horror story or two about fearsome road conditions, flat tires, broken axels and/or near death experiences with large mammals.  Overwhelmed by the number of incredible options of things to do coupled with an overbooked work schedule in the months leading up to our departure date, we found ourselves at the Chief Mountain Border Station just outside of Glacier National Park with nothing planned other than a roughed out road map of how we planned to drive across Canada.  The rest, we were just going to have to figure out along the way.

travel-mapMap of our trip across Canada.  The points reference are where we camped.

table-revised

018Moraine Lake, near Lake Louise in Banff National Park was one of our early (and favorite) discoveries along our journey.  

002While the hue of the water was reminiscent of the Caribbean Sea, the arctic temperature of the water on our early morning paddle across Moraine Lake perfectly matched the landscape – breathtaking!

005The Columbia Icefield is the largest glacier in Canada and definitely worth a stop to explore.

We found the wilds of Canada to be quite conducive to winging it.  Almost immediately we settled into a rhythm of short periods of driving, punctuated by frequent stops to take in one impressive sight after another that we discovered along the way.  As dusk approached at the end of each day, we pulled out our comprehensive guidebook, The Milepost, to help us find a suitable pullout or campground where we could park for the night.  For the most part we opted to boon-dock in one of the many fantastic pullouts that lined the highway to Alaska.  One noteworthy exception was the night we spent at the Laird Hot Springs Provencial Park. Our camping fee included access to the hot springs and we took full advantage with both an evening and morning soak in the soothing waters.

014The Laird Hot Springs is a mandatory stop on the Alaskan Highway.  There are two pools that start at 125℉ at the source of the spring and that cool to around 70℉ as you make your way downstream.  While at the park, it was berry season and the park was overrun with black bears.  At dawn we saw a mother and her cub right outside the RV, and Abby and I spotted a moose on our early morning walk to the springs.

007We caught a glimpse of Athabasca Falls as we rounded a bend and had to stop and check it out.  There is a labyrinth of trails that flank the river on each side where you can peer over the lip of the box canyon and feel the pounding of the water reverberate in your chest.  It’s an extraordinary place to stop and stretch your legs.

One of the most striking differences between travel in the lower forty-eight and that in the great white north, is the complete lack of any obvious development (other than the road of course).  It is the most remote roadway we have ever experienced with endless miles of nothing but us, the road stretching off into the distance and a plethora of wildlife.  Along the way we spotted an abundance of wildlife, all of which were fascinating to watch, but presented a notable hazard while driving. From the wolf we noticed loping along the tree line to the bison that lined, and sometimes lounged in the road to the numerous caribou, moose, elk, stone sheep and bear crossings, we sometimes felt like we had inadvertently stepped into a high-stakes game of large mammal dodgeball.  As a safety precaution, we opted to forego driving at dawn and dusk in an effort to avoid a collision as we traveled through the more desolate areas of Canada.

008We spotted this big fella wading in a roadside lake near Jasper.

013Bison lined the road for hundreds of miles starting around Dawson Creek.  These beautiful and impressive creatures made for a sizable speed bump as they lounged in the road.  Fortunately we took it easy through this stretch of highway and were able to avoid several near misses.

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A definite highlight of our trip was visiting the Sign Forest in Watson Lake, Yukon.  We thought it would be cool, but were shocked at the massive scale of this ever expanding sculpture.

016Of course we had to leave our mark on the Sign Forest with a handmade Famagogo work of art.

As we crossed the physical border into the Yukon, we noticed that quite suddenly we had also transitioned from summer into fall.  The foliage changed from varying shades of green to vibrant hues of reds, oranges and yellows and crisp nighttime temperatures that suddenly yielded frost on our windshield.  The road conditions for the final 200 mile push to the Alaskan border deteriorated to such an extent that we were forced to creep along at 45 MPH, doing our best to spot frost heaves in the road with enough warning to slow down enough to avoid seriously damaging Winnie the View.

After seven days and 2035 miles, we finally reached the US border.  Our journey across Canada was one for the memory books and something we look forward to tackling again sometime.  With little more planned than a rough outline of the regions we want to visit, we are crossing into the wilds of Alaska, eager to explore the unknown and discover the adventures that await us.  Onward…

You can follow our adventures in realtime on Facebook @Peter.Holcombe, @Kathy.Holcombe or @AdventurousMissAbby or on Instagram @PeterHolcombe or @Adventurous.Miss.

 


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8 Comments

  1. Sven Posted on 03.21.2017

    Barbara Nicholson,
    We bought a 2012 Itasca Cambria 28T last April. We are retiring at the end of March 2017. We plan to see all of the US and Canada. Any info that you can shed on your Alaska trip would be greatly appreciated.
    PS: I belong to a new online forum that is dedicated to Cambria & Aspect MH’s.
    Here is the link, if you would like to join in. It’s free. Lots of good info about our MH’s
    http://aspectcambriarvforum.forumotion.com

    Sven

  2. Barbara Nicholson Posted on 10.03.2016

    My husband and I drove to Alaska from Atlanta in 2007 the day after he retired. We had a 24 ft. SOB (some other brand) then and did not tow a car. We took 3 months to do our trip-a month thru the Midwest (ND was our 50th state to be in), a month in Alaska, and a month to get back home. How long did I take to I plan? – 5 years. I bought 3 different years of the Milepost. It is an absolute must. The new issues come out in March. I also bought the Alaska Tour Saver Courtney mentioned. I made all the camping reservations and tour reservations I could before we left. If you are staying in a national park reservations are a must. Planning is crucial. We now own a lovely Winnebago Itasca Cambria.

  3. Len Kaner Posted on 09.27.2016

    Your article brought back many memories of our trip back in May 2010 in our Winnebago 38j. Like you we limited our daily driving and averaged about 35 mph so we could enjoy the scenery and wildlife. We were fortunate that the perma frost damage to the Alcan wasn’t that bad, and we had plenty of warning of approaching bad spots with the orange cones they put out. It is on my bucket list to do again.

  4. Barb Faulkner Posted on 09.25.2016

    Your trip and pictures brought back such wonderful memories of our 2000 trip to Alaska with 2 Cocker Spaniels and from Cincinnati OH! It was quite a journey, but one we will never forget. There were so many OH WOW sights I couldn’t begin to list them all. Do prepare for the Alcan (Alaska Highway) by buying the MIlepost! You will know what to expect at each milepost along the Alcan. It is a 2 lane highway, and we had to follow guide cars at different spots where construction was going on. Mosquitoes are the state “bird” so take lots of bug spray, particularly in some campgrounds along the Alcan. If you get to Alaska, be sure to go to Denali!

  5. Dennis & Carol Hill Posted on 09.25.2016

    Been there 5 times going in again 2017.
    See ya…

  6. Courtney C Comeau Posted on 09.24.2016

    For some one making the wonderful trip out side of a formal caravan, I suggest you invest in a coupon book called Alaska Tour Saver. It is a book that costs $99.95 in which there are coupons which allow a second person to travel free. We found it the day after we paid X number of dollars for me and X for my wife to go on a whale watching cruise. If we had the book my wife would have gone on for free. Covers all of Alaska. Well worth the money.

  7. Wayne & Nancy Lowe Posted on 09.24.2016

    We drove to Alaska and back in the early 1980’s camping in a pop-up trailer pulled by a Ford E150 van. Now we want to do a return trip with our Winnebago Journey 36M coach. Any thoughts on preparation and potential road conditions for our trip?

  8. Lloyd Posted on 09.24.2016

    All I can say is WOW! My wife and I are planning to go full time next spring. We are ordering a 2017 Class B Mercedes Sprinter Van conversion. Please keep us posted on your trips and expenses as this will be a new experience for us. W are in our late 70’s.