Making the choice to see Alaska by RV means your family probably likes an independent style of travel. Miles of open road and scenic overnight destinations lead to myriad options for activities reflecting Alaska’s spirit of adventure. From flightseeing to fishing, hiking to wildlife cruising, the Last Frontier provides families traveling with children plenty of options for every budget. But where does one start?
The biggest mistake first-time Alaska visitors often make is to cram too many activities into one short period of time. The 49th state is too large and too remote to try and explore the entire sweeping range of land in one or two weeks, and visitors who try often leave exhausted and frustrated. A better choice is to pick interests that align with the entire family. Sit down together well before your trip and note the areas of importance: Fishing? Hiking? Bears and moose? Glaciers? Relaxation?
An advantage of RV travel is its obvious mobility, allowing for a (hopefully) fluid transition among activities, with the coach acting as “base camp” for all.
Interested in landing a big salmon while the rest of the family wants to see glaciers and whales? Drive south along the Seward Highway from Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula towns of Seward (www.Seward.com) or Homer (www.homeralaska.org). Seward is reached in about three hours from Anchorage and offers salmon or halibut fishing from scenic Resurrection Bay and unparalleled glacier and wildlife-viewing via day cruise companies like Major Marine (www.majormarine.com) or Kenai Fjords Tours (www.kenaifjords.com). An additional bonus is the proximity of beautiful Kenai Fjords National Park (https://www.adn.com/outdoors-adventure/2018/02/06/outdoor-play-for-kids-isnt-a-luxury-its-a-necessity/).
Homer, on the other hand, is approximately six hours from Anchorage and follows the curve of the peninsula to the terminus of the Sterling Highway. Known as the “Halibut Capital of the World,” Homer is a funky fishing town that thrives on the seasonal catch of the large, white flatfish. While glaciers are harder to access from Homer, it is possible, even probable, that your family will see whales in Kachemak Bay, and sea otters regularly bob and weave among the kelp beds. Homer also offers great hiking along the beaches of Homer Spit, a five-mile finger of sand and rock stretching from the mainland. Many camping options are available on the spit, but beware that wind can and does affect summertime temperatures.
Looking for big bears and big mountains? Drive north from Anchorage along the Glenn and Parks Highways to Denali National Park (www.nps.gov/dena) so named “The High One” by the Athabascan Alaska Native groups who inhabited this region for centuries. Denali is one of Alaska’s most accessible and most-visited national parks, and truly caters to families with ranger-led experiences from campgrounds and the visitor centers, with opportunities for low-impact, high-adrenaline fun in and out of the park boundaries. Denali’s campgrounds are examples of wilderness simplicity without sacrificing comfort, and RV campers will enjoy the quiet retreat. We recommend at least three nights to properly explore the park, including a shuttle bus or tour within the six-million-acre park. (https://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/index.htm#CP_JUMP_1025045) Make reservations for any park activities, however; Denali’s popularity also means more crowds than you may see in other places around Alaska. It’s worth it, though, for the sense of awe when the mountain towers above the scenic tundra.
For more Alaska family travel options, visit AKontheGO.com.
Erin Kirkland is Alaska’s only family travel journalist and author of Alaska On the Go guidebook series, dedicated to kid-friendly activities in the Last Frontier.