Developing An Alaska Road Trip Itinerary:
Developing your Alaska road trip itinerary is one of the most important things to help you maintain a schedule, see the things you want to see and not feel stressed out if things don’t quite go according to plan. It will be especially important if you have specific places you need to be at specific times.
There is nothing wrong with the idea of “winging it” out there and just seeing how it works out. Having a rough schedule will be especially helpful if you need to arrive back home at a particular time.
Developing your Alaska road trip itinerary can certainly be a challenge. It’s easy to get wrapped up in all the details, the what-if’s and the unknowns involved in a lengthy road trip like one to Alaska. We hope to provide some insight into developing your Alaska road trip itinerary so you can have a successful trip that meets your schedule and desires from such a journey.
On a road trip to Alaska, you will need to make a number of stops along the way. You will have restroom breaks, fuel stops, overnight stays, food breaks, laundry days and things you want to stop and see. We’re not suggesting here that you plan out every restroom break or even that you estimate every single place you want to visit with precision. You’ll enjoy your journey a lot more if you’re open to new things and allow your trip to unfold organically, so to speak.
The Alaska road trip itinerary is more like a set of goals of the rough areas where you’d like to be and when. It may be that you have specific things you want to see and you’ll need to make sure you plan around these things as well. Your itinerary only has to be precise enough to keep you reasonably on schedule. Just remember that if you fall behind 200 miles one day, you’ll have to make up those 200 miles some other day to stay on schedule. But, if you drive an extra 500 miles one day, you get a pretty easy “play” day later.
Your goals should be roughly based on your road trip planning efforts, where you estimated the mileage you want to accomplish each day. It doesn’t have to mirror that plan exactly, either. Better yet, it would reflect what you think you might need at a certain time, like a shower or to resupply your food. We also suggest being flexible and opportunistic when appropriate along the road trip and to modify your Alaska road trip plan when and where it’s desired.
General Schedule Guidelines:
In general, a fairly decent mileage/time estimate is between 250-500 miles per day, or between 4 and 8 hours of driving. You can certainly do more, if needed, but allowing extra time will ensure you enjoy the trip. You have to keep in mind that the journey is as good, if not better than, the destination with this road trip.
The highlights of your trip need to be considered and we’d encourage you to be flexible with your plan. If you have “must stop” locations, identify these and figure out whether you want to stay there or whether you should press on.
Where Do You Stop?
For you road trippers out there, you’ll definitely want to see as much as you can between your trip from home to Alaska and back. There’s a lot to see, whether it comes to stunning vistas, a quaint little town or the many opportunities to view wildlife along the way. A lot of Alaska road trip resources out there assume you’re retired with several months to make the road trip to Alaska. If that’s you, great, but we assume that you have to maintain some sort of reasonable schedule to get back home sooner rather than later.
Truth be told, we recognize that it is somewhat difficult to plan out every aspect of a trip like this. Our advice? Don’t!
If you’re using a tent out there, you have a lot more options than if you’re driving a 40 foot RV. For all anyone cares, you can pull off some side road, find a little inlet and pitch your tent if you had to. If you follow our camping advice and get the books mentioned in our planning resources, chances are good you won’t even need to consider these scenarios. Campgrounds are reasonably plentiful plus or minus enough miles, so there’s no major concerns about not having a place to stay if you set your mind to it.
One of the major things you need to have in your Alaska road trip itinerary is where your major resupply points will be. Most often, this will be larger towns or cities that are along the route as these will have decent food choices and costs. You can choose to simply stop in to a grocer for what you need, but in some cases it’s better to get a campground near your resupply points. This lets you take care of a few things like showers, laundry and gear maintenance.
We generally stock up enough food for a few days, taking into account any long distances between resupply points that are coming up. Particularly between Smithers, BC (Cassiar Highway) or Dawson Creek, AB (Alaska Highway) and Whitehorse is a particularly long stretch to be prepared for.
The campgrounds in between your major resupply points, in our opinion, are fairly flexible. We try to be somewhat faithful to the itinerary that was developed, but if we read about something cool and want to explore it, we do. We just aim to be at our resupply points around the time when we expected to. Sometimes that means kicking it up a notch and doing a 9 hour drive, or sometimes we get ahead so we can do what we want. We always recommend giving your Alaska road trip itinerary a little bit of extra time, just in case you need a break or want to spend more time in an area.
Maintaining Your Schedule:
Again, your Alaska road trip itinerary doesn’t have to be so specific that you don’t have flexibility. A hundred miles is nothing out there, especially after you’ve been on the road a few days and have gotten into the road trip groove. Don’t fret if you get a little behind or ahead in your plan, just make sure you don’t get too far behind. Knowing roughly how far you need to travel each day gives you the structure needed to take on such a vast road trip with endless possibilities and unknowns.
You simply always have to remember that you have a lot of miles between where you start and where you’ll end up. If you don’t keep that in mind, you could find yourself behind schedule with hundreds of miles to make up quite easily. Consult your itinerary frequently and make sure you’re maintaining your schedule reasonably well. Make corrections as they become necessary or desired along the way.
Extra travel days are really nice to build into your trip, both for an opportunity to take a day’s break and to allow spontaneous changes to our itinerary. We plan an extra two days going up to Alaska and an extra day coming back from an Alaska. You might want more or less time in your Alaska road trip plan, but having it is nice for those times when you really do want to spend an extra day somewhere. It’s especially nice when you get a little bit tired of the constant driving and seek to break things up a bit.
Your planning should probably give you an idea of where you’ll be and when, plus or minus a couple hundred miles. You’ll definitely want to check your planning resources beforehand, and especially along the way, for things you might want to do in a given area. These things might dictate where you choose to stay the night, either so you can do something in the evening or stop on your way to elsewhere in the morning. We often spend some of our evenings in camp plotting out the next day’s adventure as we prefer a more organic trip as opposed to a heavily structured one. It’s a balance between schedule rigidity and carpe diem, for sure!
Example Alaska Road Trip Itinerary:
The key is to have an Alaska road trip itinerary that is both flexible and fits within the time frame you allow for the trip. Here’s an example itinerary that we used on our last trip up to Alaska, which was largely exploration of the major areas within the state. We took nearly a month on the journey round trip, it was fairly fast paced but also very fulfilling.
|Day 1||Travel to Whitefish||3 hour drive||North of Whitefish|
|Day 2||Travel to Banff/JNP||7-8 hour drive||Explore Banff/JNP|
|Day 3||Travel to Prince George/Smithers||7-8 hour drive||Explore Prince George|
|Day 4||Travel N. Of Smithers||6-7 hour drive||Explore Smithers, Fork to Cassiar, Resupply|
|Day 5||Travel to Stikine Provincial Park||7-8 hour drive||Explore Stikine P. Park, Hyder AK|
|Day 6||Travel to Whitehorse||7-8 hour drive||Explore Whitehorse, Resupply|
|Day 7||Travel to Tok||9-10 hour drive||Could spread out timing if desired|
|Day 8||Extra Day For Travel|
|Day 9||Travel To Fairbanks, AK||3-4 hour drive||Explore Fairbanks|
|Day 10||Fairbanks||Explore Fairbanks, Resupply|
|Day 11||Travel To Denali||3-4 hour drive||Explore Fairbanks|
|Day 12||Denali National Park||Explore Denali NP|
|Day 13||Denali State Park||2 hour drive||Explore Denali SP|
|Day 14||Travel to Anchorage||2-3 hour drive||Explore Anchorage, Resupply|
|Day 15||Anchorage||Visit Seward|
|Day 16||Anchorage||Visit Kenai Nat’l Fjords|
|Day 17||Anchorage||Explore Anchorage, Resupply|
|Day 18||Anchorage||Explore Anchorage|
|Day 19||Travel Home||8 hour drive||Wrangell St. Elias|
|Day 20||Travel Home||8 hour drive||Whitehorse, Resupply|
|Day 21||Travel Home||8 hour drive||Split to the AlCan Hwy|
|Day 22||Travel Home||8 hour drive||Liard Hot Springs|
|Day 23||Travel Home||8 hour drive||Calgary/Edmonton, Resupply|
|Day 24||Travel Home||8 hour drive||Roll into home, delay if desired|
|Day 25||Extra Day For Travel||10-11 hour drive||If Needed/Desired|
Developing Your Own Alaska Road Trip Itinerary:
You will likely want to develop your own custom Alaska road trip itinerary to help keep yourself on schedule. Using a spreadsheet is helpful for some people, but you could do this on paper as well. Basically, you want to lay out the days you have allocated to the trip similar to what’s shown above.
We recommend spending time using Google Maps to develop your ascent up and your return trip. This allows you to set specific start and end points, even if you don’t have a specific address. This can help you estimate mileage in between various points, which is helpful for assessing the driving time involved between locations. You will likely have to play with several scenarios to develop a full itinerary to, from and in Alaska.
Remember, you will probably want to resupply your food and ice every 3 to 5 days, depending on how much you stock up and how much you choose to eat out. You can pretty much assume that a city of a decent size will have a grocer and other options for resupply. As you plan out your various days, mark your resupply points on your itinerary so you know where these major points will be.
If there are specific places you want to visit or things you want to see, you’ll need to understand where these are geographically so you can do them when you’re in the area. By estimating the number of miles you want to drive each day, you can start to lay out a structure that helps you plan your resupply points and desired destinations. You might also find you want to spend time in a place, so having a little bit of breathing room in your itinerary will help you accomplish these things.
After you complete your itinerary, make sure you go back through it again to make sure it’s practical and accurate. Figure out your mileage between your destinations again so you’re sure it’s feasible for you to do in a day’s drive. Make sure you’re hitting all your desired destinations and will have adequate time during the day, or evenings, to visit these places. Make sure your resupply points are frequent enough that you don’t have to stock up on a crazy amount of food. Finally, make sure you account for things like holidays, arriving in busy areas during peak camping days and other any other personal needs. Feel free to revisit your itinerary once it’s been developed and add more information to it, as desired.
How To Estimate Travel Breaks In Your Alaska Road Trip Itinerary:
If you’re planning on tent camping along your road trip to Alaska, it’s important to keep in mind that you may get tired of setting up camp every single night. While it’s not physically difficult in any particular way, it is more that you will find yourself wanting to take a break from it all at some point along your journey. While it’s likely you’ll have the opportunity to maintain a camp for a little while once you’re in Alaska, you may find that you need or want a break on your trip up and down.
If you follow our advice of planning on extra travel time, it’s really easy to fit in a two night stay somewhere along the way. Just take an extra night somewhere along the way in a place you find you enjoy! If you’re really trying to push yourself, though, you may want your schedule a little more rigid. If this is the case, plan on taking a break from travel every 3 to 6 nights. Staying in one place for a couple nights can really help you rejuvenate your spirits on such a distant road trip. While you can certainly push yourself, it is our experience that this break time from the travel can be put to good use for sightseeing, simply resting up or enjoying some camping in really remote places.
These break days don’t necessarily have to involve being sedentary, you can certainly travel around the area to see interesting things. We’re more referring to the aspects of moving your camp every night and break from that. You might also just want to hang out in a fantastic place, too. The point is to be able to continually maintain your schedule and keep up with tent camping for what will likely be weeks at a time.
Appropriate travel breaks will be especially important if you’re pushing for really long days or you’re not used to tent camping along a lengthy road trip. When you arrive at your destination, you may choose to stay in one place the entire time, or you may want to shorten your travel between your desired destinations by camping in different places. If you’re continually planning on traveling, just keep in mind there will be times you get tired of setting up the tent every night. Plan adequate break times to help you maintain your spirits and