Alaska Journals

Road Trip from California to Alaska

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An August 2008 trip to Alaska by TwoIdiots

Aurora Photo, Denali, Alaska More Photos
Quote: This is an account of our long awaited road trip from California to Alaska and back in the autumn of 2008. We also add tips here and there about the sights and lodgings along the way.
Owl on the Tree Top Photo, Denali, Alaska
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We started our road trip in mid August in California, drove the Interstate 5 to British Columbia, began the Alaska Highway from mile zero at Dawson Creek all the way to Fairbanks, turned south to Denali and Anchorage, made a round trip on Kenai Peninsula, side tracked to Valdez, then headed towards Kluane and Haines to pick up the ferry from the Alaska Marine Highway and returned to the lower 48 via the inside passage in early October, and on the way home, we revisited the Pacific coast. It was a great trip. We saw the season changed, tried many new things; it felt like we have been gone for a long long time instead of just two months. There were so many beautiful experiences that we do no...Read More

Preparing and Packing for the Road Trip

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Choice of vehicle Doing this road trip in a RV should be the most comfortable choice. Some people fly to Anchorage and rent a RV from there, which would require less time. We chose to go camping with a small car, which was quite flexible and cheap but we had to pack smart. There are also plenty of organized tours for an affordable price but that’s not our style.Passport, cash, ATM and credit card We’d say 95% of the times, we could use credit card. However, at the self register government campgrounds, we had to pay cash (some accept personal check). To get cash from ATMs, it is best to withdraw the maximum amount allowed unless we are getting it from our own bank’s machine. Oth...Read More
Hell's Gate on Hwy 1 just North of Hope Photo, British Columbia, Canada
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It was the second week of August when we left southern California. Up and down the west coast was experiencing a heat wave, even Seattle was in the 90’sF. Our original plan was to take our time camping all the way to Alaska until it got really cold and wet. Strike that, it was too hot to camp; instead we stayed in motels using coupons we picked up. We drove straight up Interstate 5 and crossed into Canada on the third day. We started our tent camping in British Columbia at Juniper Beach Provincial Park - it was lousy. We’ll write reviews on campgrounds later. After several days of driving, we finally took a few days off at the pretty Ten Mile Lake Provincial Park just north of Quesnel. Lat...Read More

2nd Week – Mile Zero at Dawson Creek

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Sunrise at Muncho Lake Photo, British Columbia, Canada
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We arrived at Dawson Creek late in the day and it started to drizzle on and off. We camped at the City Park which is cheap and convenient. Next day we had to make an obligated stop at Alaska Highway mile zero, and took pictures.According to Milepost magazine, the section of highway before and after Summit Lake was supposed to be winding and narrow. It was fine for us but then we drove a small car. It was easy driving compare to the central Pacific coast in California. Summit Lake was picturesque but windy. No one was camping there. We prefer Muncho Lake further down the road.By the time we got to Watson Lake in Yukon, it was the third week of August. Some of the tourist shops a...Read More

3rd Week Part I – Crossing into Alaska

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Reclining Bull Photo, Canada, North America
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Our last stop before crossing into Alaska was the Haines Junction. It is the town just south of the beautiful Kluane National Park. We opted not to camp because of the grizzly activities and the rain. Lodging wasn’t cheap here. Out of pure luck, we found this place called Paddle Wheel Adventure Cabin Rental. We are tempted not to tell you about this place because it is such a steal. They have only two cabins for rent in the very quiet but convenient part of town (see review in the hotel section). Other than renting out cabins, they provide guide services to outdoor adventure in the Kluane area.The drive through Kluane National Park was absolutely stunning. Even though we could not see much...Read More
Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge Photo, Fairbanks, Alaska
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Fairbanks was smaller and easier to get around than we thought. The visitor center got a good map for the area and very helpful volunteers to get us acquainted with the lesser known attractions. For example, there is an artist complex across the street. Downstairs are commercial art galleries while upstairs are artist’s studios. We ran into one of the artists who treated us to a tour of her work space. Listed here are a few of the Fairbanks tourist attractions that we liked in particular. University of Alaska Museum was impressive, both the building and its exhibits. Allow at least half a day here. At the far end corner of the UA campus was the Large Animal Research Station where you can s...Read More
Our Camp Site Photo, Denali, Alaska
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By the time we got to Denali National Park, it was Labor Day. We spent the entire week here and watched the leaves literally changed colors right in front of our eyes. Where do we begin to talk about Denali? The tundra was in full autumn foliage with berry bushes, and we encountered most of the animals they mentioned in the park’s brochure. It was too splendid to describe with words or too expansive to capture on photos. Well, if you want to see the park beyond Savage River, you must get on to one of the shuttle buses. There are a few choices based on one’s time constrains and touring preferences. Check out the national park web site to find what is right for you. Or better yet, call them, they are ve...Read More

5th week – A Tour of Kenai Peninsula

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Along the Seward Highway south of Anchorage Photo, Alaska, United States
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After we left Denali, we made a brief stop in Anchorage to restock. It was too expensive to stay in Anchorage in early September. We drove to the less visited town called Hope on the northern part of Kenai Peninsula. Hope may be small but it was still pricey. The wind was blowing hard and the rain started to pour, so we stayed at the motel room above the general store at Alaska Dacha RV Park. The next day we moved to the very pretty and quiet government run Porcupine Campground at the end of the road. We got a site with a gorgeous view over the Turnagain Arm. Downtown Hope was nearby and it has the feel of a lay back frontier town with rusty café and all. It was there, we saw the double rainbow....Read More

6th week – Hanging Out at Anchorage

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Dead Trees Along the Seward Highway Photo, Alaska, United States
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By the time we returned to Anchorage, it was mid September and hotel prices had gone down a bit. We enjoyed staying in downtown Anchorage because we could walked to everywhere (most of the attractions anyways). A couple of places that worth mentioning are: the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center which currently undergoing an expansion; the Alaska Native Heritage Center which free shuttle will pick you up at several locations in downtown; and you get a big discount if you buy these two admission tickets together. You can also pick up a map at the visitor center for a walking tour of all notable places in downtown.Anchorage has many good restaurants and gift shops. Did we mention that we lov...Read More
Driving from Glennallen to Valdez Photo, Alaska, United States
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After Anchorage we made a side trip to Valdez. The drive along Glenn Highway to Glenallen was spectacular, especially the high point east of Palmer but just west of Matanuska Glacier. For many miles along this section of the highway, there were breathtaking view to the south of the Chugach Range with its hillsides and valleys all covered in "school bus" yellow foliage. We both lived our entire lives in warm climates, so seeing autumn in full swing was quite a big deal to us.Matanuska Glacier overlook is a perfect location for lunch with plenty of picnic tables at just the right spot but you have to come prepare for the misty weather. One can also drive into the private Glacier Park for a c...Read More

8th week – Cruising South from Haines

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Morning Fog - AMH Inside Passage Photo, Alaska, United States
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By the time we reached Kluane National Park in Yukon, it was late September. All the trees already lost their leaves, the weather was sunny and dry, and the snow had not come yet. Compare to the moody and rainy Kluane we saw on the way up, it was a little anti-climactic. Once we passed Haines Junction, the scenery got better by the mile. First encounter was the Kathleen Lake Campground (part of the Kluane National Park). It had the best cooking shelter (in day use area) we have come across in the entire Alaska road trip - big window overlooking mountain and lake, wood stoves for cooking and heating, completely enclosed with good ventilation. We saw a smart backpacker sneaked inside the cooking shelter...Read More
Elk at Redwood National Park Photo, California, United States
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1999 was the last time we were in Seattle. It had gotten more crowded and freeway construction was everywhere. Pike’s Place was still popular than ever. Newly renovated Seattle Art Museum was delightful with an equally hip restaurant called Taste. The spacious outdoor sculpture park was a great place to relax on a sunny day, and we were there on a beautiful day. Back in the lower 48, the weather was warm once again. We could camp all the way home. There are many excellent campgrounds up and down the Pacific coast but we are going to mention only places that we went to on this trip.Millersyviania State Park in Washington was not really along the coast but it made a good stop bet...Read More

Hotels

Paddle Wheel Adventures

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Hotel | "Best Deal in Town"

Paddle Wheel Adventures Photo, Yukon, Canada
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Lodging in Haines Junction right outside Kluane Naional Park wasn’t cheap. Out of pure luck, we found this place called Paddle Wheel Adventure Cabin Rental. We are tempted not to tell about this place because it is such a steal. For $60 a night (including tax), you get a cabin for 4 complete with kitchenette. Bathroom is shared with occupants of one other cabin.The cabin was heated and was perfect for the two of us to hide out from the rain for a few days and to dry up our camping gear. However, it could be a little tight for 4 adults. They have only two cabins for rent in the very quiet but convenient part of town right across from the bakery. You will wake up every morning to the smell o...Read More

Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 12, 2009

Paddle Wheel Adventures
Haines Junction
Yukon, Canada
(867) 634-2683

Anchorage Grand Hotel

Hotel | "Great Place for Extended Stay"

Anchorage Grand Hotel Photo, Anchorage, Alaska
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Among the three places we stayed in Anchorage, we liked this one the best. You can walk to most downtown attractions and restaurants from this conveniently located 31 room hotel. The lobby and the hallway seemed to be small but we were pleasantly surprised when we entered the corner room. It was roomy like an apartment with a full kitchen, a dining area, and a sitting area big enough to invite friends over. We could see the railroad from our room but the noise level was acceptable.

Free breakfast was delivered to the room. Don’t expect much, it was very basic. The bed was decent enough for a restful night. Overall, good value especially if you plan to stay a little longer.

Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 14, 2008

Anchorage Grand Hotel
505 W 2nd Ave
Anchorage, Alaska 99501
907-929-8888

The Voyager Hotel

Hotel | "Good Match for Us"

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We stayed here on two separate occasions. You can walk to most downtown attractions and restaurants from this conveniently located 40 room hotel. Rooms are decent size, and most came with a kitchenette (frig., microwave, cups and sink). We were told that not all room has wireless internet access but the lobby does.One of the rooms we stayed in has a sitting area where the couch could be pull out as an extra bed. Another room we stayed in was the ground floor handicapped room next to the coin-op Laundromat. It was fine. Noise level was much lower than expected. Because of the handicapped access, this room did not consist of a kitchenette nor an extra bed. However, we still got a sofa and a ...Read More

Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 14, 2008

The Voyager Hotel
501 K STREET
Anchorage, Alaska 99501
907-277-9501

Copper Whale Inn

Hotel | "Nice Place but Not for Us"

Copper Whale Inn Photo, Alaska, United States
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Even though we only stayed one night here and decided to move, we still have to admit this is a nice B & B in a convenient location in downtown Anchorage. You can walk to most downtown attractions and restaurants. Rooms are not big but tastefully decorated. We stayed in the second building. The one in our photo came with 4 post queen bed, a sofa, a good desk, internet access, private bath, nice linen, quality shampoo and soap. And there was a communal kitchen near the entrance with free tea, coffee, hot coca, etc. We stayed on the ground floor, so there was no view but the room opened out to a small terrace. The second floor rooms should have views over roof tops. We enjoyed the complimentary brea...Read More

Member Rating 2 out of 5 on November 14, 2008

Copper Whale Inn
440 L St.,
Anchorage, AK 99501

Holiday Inn Express

Hotel | "Glad We Stayed Here"

Holiday Inn Express Photo, Seward, Alaska
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It was second week of September and tourist season was almost over. We got a second floor room with balcony facing Seward harbor for $99. It was raining during most of our four day stay in Seward, so this room made a great hideaway from the rain with a beautiful harbor/glacier view. Like other Holiday Inn Express, the room came with high speed internet, decent breakfast, coin-op laundry, and a very comfortable king size bed. The room was clean and spacious. The linen was relatively new and of good quality. We liked the second floor balcony in particular because the third floor balcony provided an overhang over us, and we could sit outside in the rain with plenty of privacy.We did not go o...Read More

Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 13, 2008

Holiday Inn Express
1412 4th Avenue
Seward 99664
(907) 2242550

Driftwood Inn

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Hotel | "Sleepless Night in an Overpriced Room"

Driftwood Inn Photo, Homer, Alaska
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We read good things about the place and booked it online. Fortunately, we booked only one night. We were on a budget and took their cheapest room with private bath for $75. They called the room ship’s quarter. No kidding – you opened the door and the bed was right there. No room for chair, table or closet (see photo), and needless to say no frig. There were two drawers under the queen size bed for carry on luggage. If you have suitcases, keep them in the car. At least our car was literally two steps from the door. TV was strapped high above the bed. No internet access.The worst feature of the room was the bed. It was sinking and they tried to improve it by adding a memory foam topper. The ...Read More

Member Rating 1 out of 5 on November 13, 2008

Driftwood Inn
135 West Bunnell Ave.
Homer 99603
(907) 235-8019

Ocean Shores Motel

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Hotel | "Excellence Value"

Ocean Shores Motel Photo, Homer, Alaska
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We stayed in Homer for 3 nights, checked out half a dozen of motels and B & Bs, slept in 2 different places. Ocean Shores offered the best value. This place was popular. During our two night stay in mid-September, they were full. All their rooms were clean and spacious, most had views. The first night, we got their last remaining room without ocean view. The room was very big like an apartment with a kitchen (frig., stove, oven, microwave and all). There were restaurants within walking distance. You could also walk to Safeway but we drove.The room can easily sleeps four. It has two big windows and you can see the glaciers from there. Comfort level of the beds was average. Furnitu...Read More

Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 13, 2008

Ocean Shores Motel
451 STERLING HWY 1
Homer, Alaska 99603
907-235-7775

Coast Bellevue Hotel

Hotel | "Comfortable Bed at a Good Price"

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The hotel is located close to Seattle with many nice restaurants nearby. We got a pretty big room with a king size bed on a Friday night for $90. We just arrived at Seattle after roughing it out for four nights on a lounge chair on the ferry from Alaska. Our backs were sore, our clothes needed washing. This place was a nice surprise for us, the bed was very comfortable. It has a self serve coin-op laundry room. Our room was located at the back facing the inside courtyard which was very quiet. No free breakfast though. The only problem was the smell of cigarette smoke filled the elevator and upper floor hallways, and we have to go through that to get to the Laundromat. However, our room and the ground ...Read More

Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 13, 2008

Coast Bellevue Hotel
625 116TH AVE NE
Bellevue, Washington 98004
425-455-9444

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We checked in under the coupon clipped from a booklet picked up at McDonald. For that price, it was okay but the place really needed a face lift (at least the ground floor that we stayed in). Check in was slow. They offered typical "free" breakfast with fresh fruits and yogurt. However, there were only a couple of small tables, and a pair of sinking couches in the lobby for breakfast used. We took our breakfast inside the room. The room itself is sufficient but nothing special. The bed is average.

Member Rating 2 out of 5 on November 13, 2008

Shilo Inn Hotel & Suites Eugene-Springfield
3350 Gateway St
Springfield 97477
(541) 747-0332