Anyone who contemplates driving an RV to Alaska has heard horror stories about the road conditions on the Alaska Highway. Anything from broken windshields to virtual destruction of a rig are common tales. As we were about to venture onto the highway for the first time, I wasn’t sure what to believe.
After a not-so-quick stop at the Village Bakery in Haines Junction to partake of some free WiFi, we turned north onto the Alaska Highway. The highway skirts the eastern side of the Kluane Ranges, and the view to our left of the snow-capped mountains was magical. We followed these and other mountain ranges for most of the day.
|Beautiful Mountain Scenery
Kluane Lake soon came into view in front of us. This lake is the largest in the Yukon and is said to be the prettiest. As we followed its shore, I had to agree with that assessment (even though I’ve only seen a few lakes in the Yukon). For a brief moment I regretted that we had not made it as far as the lake yesterday. That’s where we had planned to camp last night. I could see spending a lovely and relaxing week camped along the shore. Some other time perhaps.
|Our First Glimpse of Kluane Lake
|It Is a Very Pretty Lake
The warnings about the road conditions began as soon as we passed the lake. We watched for the telltale signs for frost heaves, as well as the small flags that indicate road damage. We took it slow through those sections and didn’t think it was a big deal. As soon as we crossed Donjek River, however, things started to become more “interesting.”
|Do Not Ignore these Warning Signs!
Road damage became more frequent, and pot holes added to the excitement. Construction signs soon appeared, and we were on a gravel roadbed. A safe speed seemed to be about 20 mph, but large trucks and even other RVs decided that we were slowpokes and passed us at high speeds, throwing gravel back at us. The icing on the cake was the near-constant washboard sections of the gravel roadbed.
|I Couldn't Believe How this Stretch of Gravel Could Shake the RV So Much
I thought the RV was going to shake apart, even though we were just creeping along. Although I had carefully secured everything inside the RV, an upper cabinet door flew open and Kitty’s food dish, which had been braced, slid across the floor. We finally were able to pull over near the side of the road so I could at least close the cabinet door. What had saved everything from flying out was the tension rod that I always place across the inside of the cabinet.
I was never so happy to reach solid pavement. The remaining frost heaves and pavement breaks were like a walk in the park after that horrid stretch of gravel. We began to look for a rest area so we could stop and assess the damage, and we finally reached Pickhandle Lake, which turned out to be a particularly scenic place to take a break. We were really fortunate to spot no apparent damage to the inside or outside of the RV. I didn’t even mind the dirt and mud.
|Pickhandle Lake Was a Great Place to Take a Break
|Mama Duck and Her Playful Ducklings Provided a Nice Diversion
As soon as we got back on the road, we reached another construction zone. Oh no! This one involved a pilot car, but the gravel surface had been graded so it was relatively smooth. Before too long we reached the Canada-U.S. International Border where we stopped for a photo op. Customs was a breeze, and the agent even thanked us for making her laugh for the first time that day.
|This Section Really Wasn't Bad at All
|Welcome (Back) to Alaska
I suggested that we stop at the first campground we could find, and that is exactly what we did. I wanted to give Tim a break after his exhausting day at the wheel, and I had hoped we could find a campground with TV and WiFi at the site. That was a pipe dream, but Border City Lodge and RV Park seemed good enough so we pulled in and finally got off the road.
After doing a bit of reading, I have learned that the section of highway on which we just drove is the worst part of the Alaska Highway. It is today, and it always has been. Engineers have yet to find a way to deal with the permafrost and glacial soil that makes roadbuilding so challenging. We passed a portion of the Alaska Highway Permafrost Research Project, which is testing specialized construction techniques. I hope they are successful.
This post is not meant to scare RVers from driving the Alaska Highway. Most of the road is in relatively good condition if you drive at an appropriate speed. The section that we just drove will likely be paved by the end of the summer. Just take the necessary precautions, secure everything in your RV, including your pets, and take your time.
After our eventful day yesterday, we slept in and awoke to rain. As we were debating what to do today, we spotted a fox outside our rear windows. We decided on the spur of the moment to drive only as far as Tok, just under 100 miles away. Unfortunately, the weather obscured much of our view as we passed through the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, but we did see a few trumpeter swans along the way.
The highlight of the drive was spotting a mama moose and her youngster in the grassy area beside the road. There was no traffic, so we were able to stop and watch them for several minutes. They didn’t seem to mind our presence.
|Mama and Baby Moose Didn't Seem to Mind Our Presence
|What's for Lunch?
Tim and I arrived in Tok, took care of a few chores and made our way to the Sourdough Campground just outside of town. The campground had come highly recommended, and we were delighted with what we found. The layout and setting reminded me more of a public campground than a typical private one. The campsites are huge, very private and set among lots of tall trees. There is an onsite restaurant, and the new owner’s specialty is reindeer chili in a sourdough bowl. It was delicious.
|Reindeer Chili Was Delicious
Tim and I even participated in the campground’s sourdough pancake toss after dinner, which was highly unusual for us. The owner invites everyone for a silly, but amusing, game, and most people end up participating. The goal is to toss a limp pancake into a “buckit,” and the audience is required to clap and cheer. Although Tim and I failed in our toss, we made a valiant effort. I think we were a bit surprised that we actually enjoyed ourselves.
|Sarah and Tim Being Silly