A Driving, Photographing and Camping Guide to Alaska by RV and Van

I haven’t done a post of just my photos for quite awhile, so I thought I would do that now. While I lived in Alaska for 45 years, I have surprisingly few photos of it. I only started taking pictures the last few years I lived there. I know many of you dream of visiting, so I also wanted to give you some details of when, where and how to make the trip. That made this a long post, so I will include some photos now, and a second post with just photos later. All the photos in this post are north of Anchorage. The best is yet to come!

Of course I have to have a Picture of Mt. Mckinley!

Of course I have to have a Picture of Mt. Mckinley!

I’ve driven the Alcan (Alaska-Canada Highway) a dozen times (including once on a motorcycle) and I have never paid a penny to camp. You can find places to sleep/camp along the whole distance. However, I have never driven it for pleasure, I was always trying to get through it as fast as I could. I don’t know if that changes things or not.

When I first drove it alone in September, 1973, the road was just as bad as anything you ever heard. It was the Wild West! But since then it has been so improved that driving it is no big deal; anyone can do it and not expect problems. The last 300 miles in northern Yukon Territory is the worst part but even it is just a matter of slowing down a bit. Once in Alaska it is all paved but the frost-heaves are pretty bad. Much of the road is over permafrost which means the ground is constantly frozen underneath the road—it never thaws. But it will thaw a little and settle and create roller-coaster like dips in the road. They can be very interesting! You just slow down for them

Unfortunately, I can’t help you with dispersed camping. I’ve backpacked all over Alaska, but never car camped. I can tell you that I stealth parked in a van in Anchorage for 6 years with only very minimal problems. When I left in 2006 it was totally tolerated. I’ve seen many RVs with their slides and awning out barbequing in the parking lot of a Fred Meyer or Walmart!


This little lake is less than 20 miles north of Anchorage. The Parks Highway is just behind those trees.

Late May, June and July are the best time to go. August is the rainy season in South-central AK, so rain gear is a priority. Evenings are generally cool so jackets and warm blankets are a must. September is fall and so it is cool to cold. It tends to be very rainy. I visited for the last two weeks in September of 2012, and it rained every single day I was there! October is winter so expect snow and cold. My first year of vandwelling in 1996 it was below zero the entire last two weeks of October, but that is very unusual. My last year living in Alaska was 2006, and I was able to ride my motorcycle all of October, right up till the 31st, but that is unusual as well. The lesson is that the weather in Alaska is totally unpredictable, expect the worst!

Here are the places I take friends and family when they visit because they are the most scenic. I am giving a star rating to each place: (5 is a “do-not-miss,” 1 is “don’t bother”).

***** The drive North of Anchorage on the Glenn Highway to Matanuska Glacier (about 115 miles one way) is a high priority to me when I have company. There are no prettier drives anywhere in the world and you can walk right out on the Matanuska glacier!!

I took this picture on the Glenn Highway about 150 miles north of Anchorage near Eureka Summit. It is a must-see!!

I took this picture on the Glenn Highway about 150 miles north of Anchorage near Eureka Summit. It is a must-see!, especially in the fall when the tundra turns colors!

**** Drive 10 miles north of Anchorage to Eagle River and drive back to the Eagle River Nature Center. Gorgeous!

***** Hatchers Pass Road from Palmer to Wasilla is right through some gorgeous mountains and highly recommended. It’s 40 miles from Anchorage so no long trip required. But the drive through the mountains is long

I took this picture of Mt. Mckinley from Glenn Alps. That's Anchorage in the Foreground.

I took this picture of Mt. Mckinley from Glenn Alps. That’s the Anchorage Airport in the Foreground.

*** Drive up to Glen Alps off of Omalley Rd. for an incredible view of Anchorage at sunset, get directions from a local.

***** The whole drive around Cook Inlet from Anchorage to Seward is fantastic. Pull off at all the view spots and be stunned.

***** The ferry ride from Whittier to Valdez (and then drive back to Anchorage) is stunning beyond words! Highly Recommended! But the drive to Whittier is a pain so I don’t recommend it by itself unless you are going on to Valdez

Mt. Mckinley from a Viewing area along the Parks Highway.

Mt. Mckinley from a Viewing area along the Parks Highway. Can you see the setting moon?

**** Drive back to Alyeska Lodge and take the ski lift to the top. Stunning views of Cook Inlet! They also serve great food. Be sure to stop at the Aleyeska Bakery!

***** Drive back to Portage Glacier. Take the time to explore the whole valley. You can no longer see the glacier, but you can take a boat right to its face.

** The drive back to Hope is pretty, but if your time is limited, it’s a low priority.

***** Drive to Seward. Very pretty drive and a great little city in a stunning setting. If you have the time and money, there are many big charters offering whale, glacier and wildlife viewing trips out of Seward and Whitier that are well worth the money.

*** Kenai Pennisula: Go back to Exit Glacier if you have time. The drive along Kenai Lake along the Kenai River all the way to Sterling is gorgeous. But from Sterling south to Homer it is mostly flat and boring. Kenai and Soldotna aren’t worth anything but fishing, buying supplies and terrible traffic. But, you MUST go to Homer!

***** Homer is Fantastic. I love Homer so much! It may be my favorite place in the whole country because of its incredible, indescribable beauty and amazing atmosphere and feel. You could spend weeks there just absorbing it. The best thing to do to take a charter/sightseeing boat across the bay; they will usually pull into a cove, feed you lunch and show you the bottom in a glass bottom boat. Make sure they stop at Puffin Island. It is just what it sounds like, a Puffin Rookery. Well worth it. You can also take a water taxi over to Seldovia, a little fishing village across the bay. If time and money is limited, just skip this.

***** Bear pictures are easy to get with a fly-in charter. The logistics of getting to Brooks camp and Katmai NP are a nightmare so I recommend a Bear-Viewing fly-in charter instead. They started out flying people into the bush to remote areas where the Salmon are running and help you catch fish. But in Alaska if there are salmon, there are also lots of bears! So the charters have added bear viewing to their trips for people who do not fish. They take you in for the afternoon, take you up the river with a photo guide and you are right on top of the bears, just like Brooks camp except it is an easy flight out of Anchorage, Kenai, or Homer and only costs around $400 for the afternoon. Rust’s Flying Service is the premier service. Google them.

** Fairbanks is worth visiting for its history, but in fact it is not pretty or photogenic—that goes for all of Interior Alaska. It doesn’t have any mountains, just rolling hills, and the trees are not very pretty. South-central Alaska (Denali NP to Homer, Anchorage to Valdez) is a million times prettier.

***** If you want to see the Arctic, a Fly-in tour is the way to go. The Dalton Highway just doesn’t really show it to you. In my youth I spent a summer giving tours in a little Eskimo village called Kotzebue. People flew in on 737s and either spent the night or went on to Barrow to spend the night. That is the real Arctic Alaska few people bother to see!! To some degree, you can see Eskimos living much like they did 1000 years ago. Things like seal and fish drying on the ocean front. I recommend you consider one of those trips. Better yet, just fly in with a backpack and hang out!

If you are going to Alaska, there are two must-have books. The first is the Milepost. The Milepost 2013
Don’t even consider going to Alaska without it!

The other is a book of hikes that I started using in the 1970s. It is still the very best!
55 Ways to the Wilderness in Southcentral Alaska


I took this picture on the drive across Hatcher Pass from Palmer to Wasilla. This us an absolute MUST-SEE!

I took this picture on the drive across Hatcher Pass from Palmer to Wasilla. This us an absolute MUST-SEE!


A snowy peak along the Matanuska River.

A snowy peak along the Matanuska River.

Another shot of the Aurora reflecting on the Matanuska River

Another shot of the Aurora reflecting on the Matanuska River


The Chulitna River valley right beside Mt Mckinley along the Parks Highway.

The Chulitna River valley right beside Mt Mckinley along the Parks Highway.

This is the Matanuska River just north of Anchorage. This is extremely typical of glacier-fed rivers all over Alaska

This is the Matanuska River just north of Anchorage. This is extremely typical of glacier-fed rivers all over Alaska

Mt. Hunter. In any other state this would be the crown jewel. In Alaska it's nothing special.

Mt. Hunter. In any other state this would be the crown jewel. In Alaska it’s nothing special.

Hiking out of Arctic Valley ski resort above my home near Eagle River.

Hiking out of Arctic Valley ski resort above my home near Eagle River.


I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

Posted in Travel
22 comments on “A Driving, Photographing and Camping Guide to Alaska by RV and Van
  1. DougB says:

    Ohhhh, those photographs… (Bowing repeatedly) “We’re not worthy!!! We’re not worthy!!!”
    DougB recently posted…Junker or Jewel?My Profile

  2. LaVonne says:

    Gorgeous! Thank you for the inside scoop on Alaska–I am really looking forward to going next year.
    LaVonne recently posted…The Complete Flake Goes CampingMy Profile

  3. John J says:

    Wow. Stunning.

  4. Bob Bob says:

    Jim, I lived in a box van that I had heavily insulated with styrofoam. I used two Olympian catalytic heaters for heat. It actually worked very well, for the most part I was very comfortable.

    I loved my life!

  5. Karen says:

    Thanks for posting the pictures Bob! They’re wonderful!

    For any of your readers who are considering an Alaska trip, the only place that we had any trouble boondocking or overnighting in a parking lot was Anchorage. Kind of funny since you spent so many years living there in your truck but I guess our RV was a lot more obvious. You might still be able get away with in a van.
    Karen recently posted…Turquoise Lake Recreation Area – NFMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Karen, how odd that you had problems in Anchorage. When were you there? I left in 2006 so it all may have changed since then. That summer when I left there were still RVs with their slides and awnings out and barbeque grills set up in the lot of the Fred Meyer I slept at.

      I see you are at Leadville. I was a campground host just up from there at the Mt Elbert campground. If you want to do without hookups you can go up there and I had a couple of sites right on the creek in a gorgeous area. I had a smaller campground about 2 miles closer to town with 1 campsite right on the creek (10 feet from the water). I can’t remember its name but you can’t miss it. Easy for your rig to get in and out. The road isn’t great, but I had 35 foot 5th wheels in my campground. When I was there sites were $12 (half for you). There are a number of dispersed camping sites on the creek and a ton of them on the whole road up to the campground, many with gorgeous views of the mountain.

      All in all, one of my favorite places anywhere–if you can breathe!! Two miles high (10,400 feet) makes it a little hard.

      • Karen says:

        We were in Alaska in 2011. We stopped at a Walmart and the store security patrol told us that we couldn’t stay overnight but recommenced going to Fred Meyers. The security at Fred Meyers said” I don’t know why they keep sending people over here because we don’t allow it either!” So we gave up and stayed at Centennial Park Campground for the rest of our visit. That was really the only problem that we had in Alaska or on our trip up. Some stores in Canada had signs welcoming overnight RVs. Fairbanks Walmart had signs directing RVers to the correct spot – lots of people were staying there.

        Thanks for all of the tips on places to stay around Leadville. They sound great but we’ll have to catch them on our next trip. I’m a little behind on the blog. We’re almost to Colorado Springs. I like the quieter western side of the mountains better than this side!
        Karen recently posted…Turquoise Lake Recreation Area – NFMy Profile

        • Bob Bob says:

          Things may have changed Karen. If so stealth would become important. I don’t know yet what my plans will look like so I will just have to wait and see.

        • Denise says:

          Each Walmart and Fred Meyers have their own policies on overnight parking in their lots. Some allow it; some don’t. In the last several years the stores have changed their rules because of local governmental laws. I think it’s the RV Parks putting pressure on local government because they lose money when RVer’s overnight for free. I live in Alaska and I do not pay for RV camping. They charge a fortune to stay in their parks for tiny spaces. I always stay at grocery stores…just have to fibd the right one. One year I stayed in my RV in Anchorage at several different grocery store lots for a bit over one week because a family member was in the hospital and there was no way I could afford a hotel. Hotel prices in Alaska are really bad. It’s 2013 and there still are stores that will let you camp for a few days on their lots. Another suggestion is if you attend church ask the local church of your denomination if you can overnight in their parking lot.
          Alaska is a beautiful place… all of it. It’s huge and expensive to see it. Each “part” has its own beauty…even Kenai and Soldotna which didn’t rank high from the blogger and Homer, for me, was pretty but just plain artsy fartsy. Sometimes just stopping long enough to get groceries and gas isn’t enough to see the beauty of an area. Of course we all have our own opinions which is why I enjoy reading these responses. The photos in this blog post are truly beautiful to see. It’s home for me.

  6. David says:

    Wonderful photos and information as always Bob, Thank You so much for what you do. But I have to take issue with your characterization of the interior of AK as “not pretty or photogenic”. I have spent many weeks exploring the Noatak river in Gates of The Arctic National Park as well as witnessing the massive migration of caribou from Canada through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and can assure the readers of your blog the interior, is NOT, unphotogenic. It’s truly awe inspiring, with the added benefit you won’t see a single human being for weeks. Living in a cramped big city, that fact alone is priceless to me. Just wanted to bust your chops a bit, thanks again for the great post.

    • Bob Bob says:

      David, having spent 6 weeks hiking/rafting/backpacking ANWAR in the Sheenjek River Valley of the Brooks Range, i agree, it is one of the most ruggedly beautiful places anywhere!!! It is WILD, WILD country where life is always on the edge of slipping into death. One horrible thing about it is that until we got our first frost I wore a head-net against the mosquitoes part of every day! One good thing is that it was easy to take a bath, but the bad thing is the water was 32 1/2 degrees.

      However, I don’t think of that as Interior Alaska. I don’t know if there is a definition or if mine is more right or wrong than anyone elses, but I think of the Arctic Circle or Brooks Range as the divider that separates Arctic Alaska from the Interior. I think of the interior as a type of country that is flat, rolling hills and Arctic as wild mountains and rivers with coastal plain above it. But who am I to say!!??

      This is the Wikipedia definition of Interior Alaska, but I don’t understand their methodology; it doesn’t follow the Arctic Circle of contenential divide:

      At any rate, we are in total agreement, if you go far enough north you get through the plain, flat, ugly, rolling hills parts and come back into more stunning beauty. But, it is very unlikely that any of my readers will ever see it!

  7. Peggy says:

    I’ve always wanted to see Alaska and your post and excellent photos make a trip there even more enticing. Thanks, Bob! Time to start making plans for next year…
    Peggy recently posted…Fun with Rubber DuckiesMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Peggy, I will talk more about it in my next post, but i am planning to spend a couple of months up there next summer. In fact summer RTR may be in Alaska!

  8. Silvianne says:

    What gorgeous shots, Bob — thanks for posting. You are reactivating my long forgotten yen to drive the AlCan Highway!

  9. Lynnxie says:


    I have wanted to go back to Alaska for years. Let me know if you go it would be fun to caravan it back there. I loved Seward and the Silver Salmon Derby and Homer for The Halibut.
    Thanks for the magnificent photos.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Lynnxie, I am considering a caravan. But if I do, it will be a caravan in only the broadest possible sense of the word. Details to come.

  10. CAE says:

    I always wanted to go to Alaska, but never got a round to it. I guess the weather has been something that’s bothered me. But it looks great.

    • Bob Bob says:

      CAE, remeber I lived there for 45 years so you are only seeing the pictures I took on the pretty days. There were many more bad days than good days!!

      Alaska weather is totally unpredictable! You go up there and you get what you get!

  11. Damn Bob, I’m impressed with your photography. I had no idea. Great post, heading to AK soon.

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