Many RVers consider Alaska to be the trip of
a lifetime. It is a long journey, both in terms of time and
miles. In fact, if you plan to pick up the Alaska Highway
at its start in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, you'll have
to traverse about 2,000 miles of Canada just to reach the
Alaska border from the Lower 48. By the time you've made the
inevitable side trips and explored the whole of Alaska you
may find you've put 10,000 miles on your vehicle and been
away from home eight to ten weeks!
Preparing your RV - whether it's a Class A, fifth-wheel
or trailer - for a trip to Alaska should be no different from
preparing for any extended-mileage trip in the Lower 48. But
keep in mind one thing: On the Alaska Highway you are always
within one fuel tank of the next gas pump, but you could drive
for several days with no cell phone coverage. Verizon, for
example, has no coverage north and west of Fort Nelson in
Canada, and large sections of Alaska have no cell phone service
Before leaving, do a thorough check of all your
1. Engine. Engine maintenance is critical.
Have a reputable mechanic perform a complete check of the
entire drivetrain. Change the oil and all filters - air, oil,
fuel and transmission. Don't forget the differential. Include
your toad (towed) vehicle in this checkup if you drive a motorhome.
2. Tires. When was the last time you measured
the tread depth on all your tires? Any tire with a
tread depth of less than one-eighth of an inch should be replaced,
and that includes the spare. If your tires are more than 3
years old, consider replacing them all. If you'll be driving
the Dempster Highway to Inuvik or the Dalton Highway from
Livengood to Deadhorse, close to the Arctic Sea, it's recommended
that you carry two mounted spare tires for each vehicle along
with all the necessary lugs and lug nuts.
3. Brakes. Make sure your brakes are in
4. Weight. How heavy is your RV? Carrying
excess weight not only wears tires faster, it's also dangerous
and illegal. Leave all the unnecessary stuff home or store
it. Remember, you'll be buying gifts for your grandchildren
and some mementos for yourself, so leave room for them, too.
5. Jacks. Do you have a working tire or
rig jack and do you know how to use it? Does the maintenance
manual for your rig show the lift points? If not, figure out
the proper procedure now. Hydraulic jacks do lose fluid, and
the wrong time to discover that is when you need it! While
you're checking the jacks, check your other safety equipment,
Travel guides. There are many travel
guides for Alaska and the Alaska Highway. Among
the best are these two:
MILEPOST: Alaska Travel Planner."
Get the current edition and use it. It describes
the entire journey, kilometer by kilometer,
in incredible detail - including every pullout.
The maps alone are worth the price ($29.95 U.S.).
Guide to Alaskan Camping: Alaska and Yukon Camping
with RV or Tent
," by Mike Church and Terri Church. 978-0974947167
For discounts, purchase a "Great
Alaskan TourSaver" coupon book, which has
130 buy-one-get-one-free coupons for tours and
lodging. Available at Carrs, Eagle and Safeway
stores in Alaska or online from the TourSaver
Current travel document requirements,
including passport alternatives for frequent
travelers, can be found at the government's
Crossing the Canadian border. Go to
Border Services Agency Web site to find
out what you need to know about crossing the
international border. British Columbia also
informative Web site on border crossings.
Re-entry into the United States. Before
you leave the U.S. read
the rules and regulations applying to U.S.
citizens returning to the U.S. from Canada.
You will have to declare the value of items
purchased in Canada and pay duty if the value
exceeds a certain amount. Certain foods, like
citrus fruit, are restricted as well.
You will cross into Canada and the U.S. each
at least twice on your trip. Before you leave, check the Web
sites for each country to find out what restrictions apply
(see "Resources" in the box on the right), and make
certain you carry all the necessary documentation.
1. Identification. You must now show a
passport (or acceptable alternative, see "Resources")
on your return to the U.S. from Canada. Have it ready, along
with your driver's license, when you approach a border crossing.
If you are traveling with children, make sure you carry all
the necessary documentation for them, too.
2. Vehicle papers. Have your vehicle's
registration and insurance information ready in case the customs
agent asks for them.
3. Pets. If you travel with pets you will
need a veterinarian's certificate of health and proof of current
rabies shots for dogs. Make sure that the vet's certificate
is dated less than 90 days before your last crossing
back into the U.S.
4. Weapons. Make it easy on yourself --
don't carry any weapons. Most are illegal. If you do transport
weapons, be sure to declare them at the border, and be ready
to have them inspected. Sprays like Mace must be labeled for
animal protection rather than for personal protection; Canadian
products are properly labeled.
5. Plants and food. Live houseplants cannot
be brought into Canada, nor can certain fruits and vegetables.
The requirements change often and vary from province to province
so check with the official sites (see "Resources").
On this trip we were not asked about food items, but in the
past we've had to discard fruit we had in our RV.
The Alaska Highway, the Cassiar Highway and other
highways across Canada sustain damage from the long northern
winters, so expect to encounter construction work and road
repairs as you go along. Slow down to the posted speed --
give the workers and your vehicles a break. Fines for speeding
through the zones will empty your wallet faster than any fuel
1. Lights. Check your headlights or daylight
running lamps. All Canadian provinces require that you drive
with them on at all times. You will be cited for noncompliance.
2. Metric system. Canadian signs and speed
limits all use the metric system. Many electronic dash panels
allow you to switch from miles to kilometers, making speed
control easier. Remember: 60 km/hr is not 60 mph, a
fact the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will tell you as they
write the citation. It is also helpful to know your RV's length
and height in meters.
3. Pedestrians. In every town, pedestrians
have the right of way in crosswalks.
4. Fuel. Know your RV's fuel economy,
and make it a point to drive on the top half of your fuel
tank. Fuel stations in Canada are not far apart but running
out of fuel between them can be an expensive and time-consuming
5. Vehicle protection. Do you need a bra?
No, not you
but your toad or your fifth-wheel might
need a car bra to protect it from flying rocks and gravel.
There are gravel stretches on many roads in Alaska and gravel
will kick up behind you. In any case, be sure to drive defensively
whenever road surface conditions deteriorate.
6. Frost heaves. Frost heaves are inevitable
given the weather conditions in the north. Driving over them
at high speed can cause great damage to you or your vehicles.
Read and heed the signs. Also watch the white line on the
side of the highway - if it appears wavy
Enjoy the Trip!
With trip preparation and border crossings behind
you, you'll have plenty of time to enjoy the journey. Remember
1. It's the trip, not the destination.
Canadian scenery is some of the most beautiful in the world.
2. Take your time and enjoy what you see.
Stop in the small towns along the way. You will find friendly
people wherever you stop. The local museums are storehouses
of fascinating facts.
3. Take your camera
and use it.
Pull well off to the side of the road, or better yet, pull
into one of the many pullouts to step out to photograph that
scene that left you breathless. Smell the air.
4. Keep a journal of your travels. Write
your impressions while they are still fresh in your thoughts.
Keeping a log of wildlife sightings and photos will jog your
Keep these in mind and you'll indeed have the
trip of a lifetime!
Bruzenak & Jaimie Hall-Bruzenak