Alaska Road Trip Guide: Important Things to Know

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Here are 10 important things to know about Alaska Road Trip.

Alaska, America’s last frontier and the largest state in the USA, has the most incredible and beautiful natural landscapes in every twist and turn, in addition to the wildlife and the gorgeous weather in the summer. It is a place where I traveled to frequently during my years in the USA. Every time, I would take on road trips to experience the best of this place.

As the landmass of Alaska is massive, one to two road trips does not cut it. I chose to take different road trips during each visit. The first time was on the outskirts of Fairbanks, then a few times on the highway. Some roads are easy to travel, but most times the roads are not in the best condition. It takes some research, preparation, and planning.

If you plan to take on a road trip to Alaska, here is what you need to know.

Alaska Road Trip Guide: Important Things to Know

Let the local drivers pass you, especially in the winter

The speed limit in the city is 30 miles per hour and on the highway, it is 55 to 65mph, but when I drove around 60 when the snow was heavy and the road a bit slippery, I found that most cars passed me and soon whisked miles away.

However, you have to know that many of these drivers are locals. They are familiar with the road conditions and get used to driving on the country road that has thick ice and snow. Therefore, it is not a surprise that you will find them driving at a much higher speed.

If you do not have too much experience driving in true winter conditions (lots of people I know in Hawaii do not), it is for your own safety that you take it slow. In the city, there are at least two lanes and in the countryside and highway, two lanes can soon merge into one, and most local drivers will pass you through the incoming traffic lane anyway.

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Do not skip any gas stations

A road trip in Alaska usually takes a few hours to two to three days and gas stations are  not frequently accessible once you get on the highway. When you see one, please take full advantage of it. If you missed a gas station, the next one will possibly be another hundreds of miles away.

Alaska road trip guide

On our wway from Anchorage to Valdez. 6 hours road trip and there is only one gas station on the road

Fuel up your car when your gas tank is half empty

In Alaska, it would be a good idea if you pump up the gas when the gas tank is half empty. I found this tip to be valuable especially in the winter when you need to spend time outside participating in winter activities or waiting for aurora. If it is getting too cold, that extra fuel in your car can be a shelter for you to warm up. Worst case, if your car is stuck, at least you can have enough fuel to keep you warm until you get rescued.

Purchase additional car insurance

Most roads in Alaska are not in perfect shape, and some parts are difficult to travel. You need to focus and pay extra caution. There are highways that are narrow and go up and down, and have pole holes. Others are gravel roads that have limited services. In winter, the road can be hard to drive with shortened daylight, lack of street lights, and heavy snow. Even you are the most experienced and careful driver, it is possible that you will found yourself in a minor car accident.

For this reason, I highly recommend that you purchase extra car insurance to keep yourself safe. I usually have my car fully insured from my car rental company. It is expensive but at least it gives me peace of mind for my trip.

Alaska road trip guide

Avoid driving on the highways after dark

If you are road tripping in Alaska, avoid driving on the highway after dark as much as possible, especially in the winter. This is because there is a huge difference in temperature between daylight hours and nights, and such a difference will cause fog on the highway. When this happens, the visibility will be close to zero, and you do not want to end up swerving your car off the road and into the valley and sea.

If you cannot finish your road trip and get to your destination in your set schedule, which has happened to me and my friend, find a place to stay and resume your trip the next day. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Alaska road trip guide

Seward Highway – not ideal to travel after dark during the winter month

If you need to stop for the view, find a parking space first

During the road trip to Alaska, it is pretty normal that you will want to stop and appreciate the beautiful view, and take some pictures. However, find a place to safely park your car first and do not just stop randomly or in the emergency lane.

The vista in Alaska is jaw-dropping gorgeous everywhere and the most scenic viewing point will have a place for you to park your car, as well as lookouts for you to enjoy it completely.

Alaska Road Trip Guide: Important Things to Know

Road trip in Juneau led me to this view

Watch out for wildlife

It is important that you keep a lookout for wildlife and let them have the right of the way. Sometimes, bears and moose will come on the streets, and you need to keep yourself at a safe distance from them and wait for them to move out of the way first.

Use a map and do not trust your GPS completely

I used GPS in Alaska. Sometimes it worked perfectly, but there were times I just wanted to throw it out of my car window. There were many times the GPS asked me to make turns when there were not any, or go into different directions, which was pretty confusing if you are not familiar with the routes. I had a time where GPS pointed me to a completely different route during my road trip from Anchorage to Valdez. I was lost and eventually wasted an entire afternoon on the road.

While a GPS may help, please resort to the maps before you take the trip and ask locals to point you in the right direction if necessary.

Alaska Road Trip Guide: Important Things to Know

Make sure your vehicle is in good shape

The road trip in Alaska can be long and exhausting, and most of the time you will be traveling in the middle of nowhere on your own. The last thing you want to deal with is your vehicle breaking down .

You can get help but some roads in Alaska are so less traveled that most of the time you are on the road by yourself, and your cellphone will not receive a signal in certain areas so it is not always easy to call someone or ask people to assist you. I usually check everything off my car and fuel up my gas tank before I set out on a road trip. It takes time and it is not guaranteed that my car will work perfectly over the next few hours, but at least it will minimize the possibility of getting stuck.

Things to bring for your Alaska road trip

The road trip to Alaska is a great experience as there are so many beautiful landscapes to admire and wonderful people to meet. As for all the road trips, the difference about the Alaska road trip is that the signal on the road will not be perfect, and the service is limited. So when you get ready for your trip, be sure to pack these items to make your trip more enjoyable:

      • A DVD or mp3 player with music
      • Extra memory card for your camera. It is normal that your memory card will get full in a short period of time
      • Map and a pen to outline the detailed routes you will be traveling on
      • Cell phone charges and make sure your phone is fully charged before your trip
      • A light jacket in the summer in case the weather gets slightly cold
      • Food and drinks, as restaurants are few and eating out is expensive
      • A bear spray
      • If you are planning to travel on Dalton Highway, bring extra fuel, your own car insurance, camping gear, extra food and drinks, extra cash, and a CBC radio with you.
Alaska road trip guide

James Dalton Highway, the most remote highwway in the USA. It leads you to the Arctic Circle and further north with the most stunning landscapes you will ever see

Final thoughts on the Alaska road trip

A road trip in Alaska takes lots of planning and preparation, and you need to watch out for lots of things on the way, like weather and road conditions, wildlife, speed limit, gas stations, and pay attention for the directions. The service and restaurants are limited and the trip can be long and hard. However, once you get on the road, all your effort is worth it, because the scenery on the road is unlike anything else you will see in other parts of the world.

Alaska Road Trip Guide: Important Things to Know

Have you taken any road trip in Alaska? Share your tips and experience below! 

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Alaska road trip tips

Julie Cao
 

Julie is the creator of Always On The Way. She lived in Hawaii and has made her way to Toronto Canada. In 2017, she went on an overland trip from Bogota Colombia to Puerto Williams, the southernmost city in the world. She believes travel is not only about visiting tourist attractions but more about getting to know the culture, people and the place.

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