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  1. Default Driving RV to Alaska from NY (in early February)

    Regards -

    I'm driving a camper van to Alaska in early February (to see a friend who is getting deployed soon). I've spoken with several people and gotten some interesting starter advice, but I have a few glaring questions:

    1. Are there enough RV campgrounds open in winter to allow accomodate us?

    2. I think a block heater is a must... is this corrrect? Can you rent one of these, or are they install and keep forever? What is the cost?

    3. The camper van is rear-wheel - but has new tires and considerable weight in the back. Would having chains suffice, or are studded tires a must?

    4. Is it a must to have a satellite phone? If so, can these be rented? Would a CB radio be enough (combined with cell phone)?

    Any info would be great!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default It's Not a Jog, It's an Adventure

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    1) The first thing anyone contemplating a drive to Alaska should do is to get the latest copy of the Milepost. This will list all the available service centers and lodging options along the Alaska Highway.

    2) Block heaters require a simple but permanent alteration to your engine, and as they are relatively cheap, I'd suggest you just get one installed if you are going to be in the Yukon and/or Alaska for any significant time in the winter.

    3) This is one road I WOULD carry chains for, and I'd put on at least good all-terrain tires up front and perhaps new snow treads in the back. If all you have on your RV at the moment is good regular tires, you are going to find a number of times that you wish you had more.

    4) How much communication do you want/need and what for? I'm always suspect when people ask this kind of question before heading out into the 'wilderness'. Communication equipment is no substitute for being properly prepared and equipped to make the journey on your own. Assuming that you will be able to call for help in the event of any mishaps or bad weather is simply putting the onus for your safety on others. There is limited to nonexistent cell coverage on the AlCan, and CBs are limited in range. A satellite phone may be your only reliable option, but it only 'guarantees' communication, not that someone will be available and willing to come to your aid.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    You may be better off taking the ferry from Seattle to Anchorage that time of year. I had a friend who relocated from Los Angeles to Fairbanks in January and took the ferry to Haines. He had to wait 2 days in Haines for the road to open, and he said the drive from Haines all the way to Fairbanks was treacherous. In hindsight, he said he should have stayed on the ferry to Anchorage.

    Depending on conditions, you may be able to take the Alcan back home.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default Nothing will be easy about that journey

    The engine block heater is the least of your problems on that road in February. You need to assume that every water line in your camper is going to freeze. You need to wrap the fresh water tanks and gray tanks with heating blanket coils, wrap the water pumps and insulate the camper parts of the truck as much as possible and still expect to have everything frozen. Mechanical parts break in Alaskan winters and you need to be ready to field repair just about every component of your truck.


  5. #5


    Not seem like I am going overboard on top of what others have said about the cold in Canada and Alaska, but it is a huge issue. Chains are wise especially for crossing the Rockies and good snow tires for the rest of the journey. It can be so cold in interior Canada and Alaska that people don't shut off their vehicles when they stop for gas out fear they may not start. Tires will go flat due to the extreme cold. -40 or lower should be expected at that time of year when you get far up into Canada and Alaska. Also remember there are short days at that time of year which makes the drive seem longer and harder.

    It would be wise to talk to an RV dealer or mechanic about how to cope with that level of cold. My guess is unless you had a way of keeping it warm that won't fail, you should drain all the fluids out so they don't freeze. Aside from a sat or cell phone, you would need to keep on eye on the weather. I wouldn’t bet on having cell phone reception much. It would be easily possible if a bad storm hit you would hunker down in a motel. You would also need gear ( heavy clothes, cold weather sleeping bag, food and cold weather camping stove) in case you got stuck on the road. While the ALCAN has regular traffic it could still be hours before you could get help in the worst case. And if it is really cold you have to have the proper gear. If your motor stopped just being in your vehicle is simply not enough to survive. Extreme cold cannot just be toughed out. And as people who work in those places will tell you, extreme cold does weird things to machines.

    In terms of RV campgrounds you should check the Milepost but I would doubt any would be open. A lot of things close down on the ALCAN outside of tourist season. There are towns every 6-8 hours of driving, but not much more then that in the winter. A block heater plus having your own extension cords are mandatory.

    Regarding GLC's idea of the ferry. That is possible but it takes several days since there is no ferry direct from Seattle to Anchorage. There are stops and you would have to change at Haines or Juneau. There are a lot of avalanches hazards near the Haines area so getting stuck is possible.

    People do drive to AK in the winter so it is possible. But is takes a bit of planning and gathering a lot of knowledge to do it safely. Also some luck doesn't hurt to help the trip go smoothly.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default Glad to see Greg log-in here

    I was hoping Greg would find this thread... (thanks).

    I forgot that issue about shutting off the RV. When I spent six weeks in Wyoming one year in the Phoenix One, I never shut it off when I stopped for groceries and etc. For that very real concern about getting the engine to start again. Starting in the morning, I always used a power assist boost from the local utility -- warming the RV -- etc. A camper is going to be a serious problem in the sub-40 degrees temperatures that are "normal" in February.


  7. Default Wow

    First of all, thank you all for the tremendously helpful advice. I've made a list of the key considerations, which i've listed at the bottom. I didn't mention previously, but i'll be driving a '95 Gulf Stream 21' camper van.

    News about the RV campgrounds not being open is disappointing. I'll have a look through the publications that I purchased (when they arrive) to determine, but do hotels/motels have plug-ins available?

    Is it true about putting cardboard over the grill of the RV to keep the wind off the radiator? I read this about cars, but didn't know if it also translated to RVs.

    One other question (I have a million questions, but one more for now)... Will the bigger problem be the snow/ice/road conditions or the extreme cold & its effect on the camper?

    1. Mileposts - purchased (along with another Alcan publication)
    2. Block heater - in process
    3. Chains - in process
    4. Satellite phone - TBD... AZBuck - got your point, my goal for comms would be only for emergencies.
    5. Winterizing - everything has been drained, we won't use anything inside the camper. But I will take the camper in to a professional to get their opinion on the cold.
    6. Gear - we'll be well packed w/ sleeping backs, clothes, etc.

    Thanks again... Look forward to your response.

  8. #8

    Default A couple more thoughts

    Quote Originally Posted by bliss View Post

    I'll have a look through the publications that I purchased (when they arrive) to determine, but do hotels/motels have plug-ins available?

    Is it true about putting cardboard over the grill of the RV to keep the wind off the radiator? I read this about cars, but didn't know if it also translated to RVs.

    Thanks again... Look forward to your response.
    The farthest north my winter travels have taken me was two winters on Michigan's UP, where we saw -10 to -20 regularly. We were a field work crew with a fleet of F150 pickups and all had block heaters. Our base motel had rows of plug-ins like parking meters, one post between each two spaces, with plug-in receptacles available for each space. Every other motel we saw in the UP had the same set-up. Our equipment list for each truck included a heavy-gauge 50' extension cord as well as "Y" connections in the event we ran short of outlets.

    I doubt your camper is a diesel, but if it is, you should probably look at the possibility of not shutting it off whatsoever during the course of the day, and if the exhaust fumes carried by the wind into the camper area can be dealt with (such as a freshly battery'd carbon monoxide alarm), I doubt I'd shut a diesel down whatsoever, absent a plug-in, in temps below about -15 to -20 degrees F. I've seen people use flexible extensions for the tailpipe to route the exhaust a few feet farther away for exactly that reason. As I understand it from the Ford diesel pickup forums I visit regularly, for example, leaving them idling overnight is essentially mandatory below, say, 25 to 30 below zero, in the absence of a plug-in, that is. A diesel will need a healthy dose of anti-gelling additive in each batch of fuel with temps below around zero, too. Diesel fuel starts to morph into gelatin and wax at cold temps. My Ford has a built-in fuel heater atop the engine and integral to the fuel filter, but anti-gel in the fuel tank is mandatory to keep the fuel flowing to the heater properly.

    The gas engined truck should have the block heater and I wouldn't shut it off on a very cold night absent a plug in, either. I'd also make sure I had a very good and fairly new battery, gas or diesel, for that matter. I like a backup battery, too, and most diesels have two to begin with. The backup battery needs to be kept warm--in Michigan we kept 2 or 3 hot batteries inside our motel rooms to use for spares and jumps. The gas engine also needs a healthy dose of fuel line anti-ice with every refill, just like the diesel needs anti-gel agents.

    As to covering the radiator, that most certainly translates to either a gas or diesel powered RV. If you want to be a bit more scientific about it, you can look into the aftermarket accessories for a "Front" (I believe that's the term), which attaches in front of the grill and allows for fairly simple adjustment of the proportion of the grill you're shutting off. The "front" is good for idling absent a plug-in, as the whole idea is to keep the engine at normal operating temp, and whether it's driving into -40 winds or idling at -40, it's probably necessary to restrict the airflow into the radiator in order to do that. You must keep an eye on the temp gauge to prevent overheating it. The last thing you need to do is overheat and blow a hose at -40.

    This is a somewhat complicated undertaking but I believe it can be done safely with lots of planning, calling ahead for motel/plug-in information, and much focus along the way. I'd love to do the trip myself.


  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default A couple more thoughts II

    Some other considerations....

    * Check to ensure that your coolant mix is appropriate for the conditions
    (if there is any sort of leak in the coolant system -- you won't have heat...)
    * Make sure your windshield washer is kept full and use anti-freezing compounds) once that line freezes -- you are done.
    * Run a power drop cord with an electrical bulb to the plumbing section of the rig (a 40-watt bulp can often provide enough heat to keep things from freezing) One of the things we did was to wrap the fresh water pump in an electric heating blanket set at the lowest setting --
    * Make sure you run the pressure in your tires at the appropriate level
    * If you will use the fresh water line -- a slow drip will keep the pump from freezing (maybe).
    * Purchase reflective window coverings and cover all windows on the inside (use velcro for tight fit) cover those with heavy drapes -- you need to retain as much heat in the truck as you can.
    * Cover the vents with snap-on vinyl covers -- Camping World sell them.
    * If you are going to fill your fresh or holding tanks -- do it during the day when there is some sun.
    * Put the hoses away or they will break when you try and empty them in the morning.
    * An alternative to using any of the interior plumbing -- carry fresh water containers and plan to use public facilities for washing and bathrooms.


  10. #10


    When you get the Milepost double check about the RV parks but I would be surprised to find any open. All motels will have plug ins.

    Regarding the biggest problem: if it gets very cold it usually doesn’t snow, however it can still be windy. A 20-30 mile an hour wind can be a bear to drive an RV in and can kick up enough snow to create a white out. In most of Alaska and I am guessing northern Canada we get consistent weather patterns that can sit for days without much change. So you could have one weather system for most of the drive. I would be most concerned about the extreme cold, it can be more overwhelming and harder to cope with. A bad snowstorm is mostly the same any place. High winds are a major issue to keep in mind, especially a cross wind in an RV. The northern plains can be very windy. The worst spot may be crossing the Rockies in Canada since you gain quite a bit of altitude. Definitely ask wherever you stop along the way about road conditions, the locals will know how they are.

    Make sure you have proper documents for yourself and the vehicle for crossing the border. And keep a spare can of gas with you.

    Where are you going in Ak? Anchorage or Fairbanks. The road south of Tok as a pain in the butt. It is kept well but has a million up and downs that make it impossible to keep a good speed.

    On the other hand it is often beautiful when cold. The air is crisp and clear (since when it is very cold, the air can’t hold moisture). There is also a good chance of seeing the northern lights with the clear air, long nights and dark skies.

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