Here are ten tips when visiting Alaska that we find important that aren’t talked about a lot.
Spare tires & spare fuel
First on my list is the debate as to whether you should carry spare tires and spare fuel. I cringe every time I read something on the internet (or in-person) that advises people not to have a spare tire or extra fuel when visiting Alaska.
We carry a spare and a repair kit, and we live here! We also keep our tanks topped off as well! We do not live in the city, so there is no fuel stop on every corner. Now don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to stock up like the apocalypse is coming, but at least play it safe!
When we moved up here, we had been told by a family member who lived in Alaska and traveled the Alcan (The Alaska Highway) many, many times to keep our tanks topped off and have a couple of extra gas and diesel cans. So, we did. (We drove two vehicles up, one gas and one diesel) That particular summer, many places were open along the Alcan. We never had to use spare gas, diesel, or spare tires. Our tanks never dropped below half. The first time we drove the Alcan was also the week of Independence Day and Canada Day.
I learned a couple of things that summer that could help you make this decision for yourself a little easier. Me being me. I asked questions along the way with the locals. What I learned from them was that just because many places were open then does not mean they will be the following summer. You also have stores that are only open during the peak season. (The summer months) The same is true once you cross into Alaska.
It is not unusual in rural Alaska to go up to a store that you know is supposed to be open and find a sign in the window that reads, “gone fishing, be back soon.” Sometimes people are shorthanded, and they have to do this so they can get their freezers full for winter, and there is only a short window to do that.
The other thing I learned then was the sheer distance between places. You must factor in what you are driving, how big the tank is, and your fuel mileage in your particular vehicle. Are you loaded down? Are you towing a trailer? All these things affect your fuel mileage! I average 15-16 miles per gallon in my truck most of the time. That drops when I start climbing an incline and even more when I tow a trailer.
I have heard it said by non-locals, “there are plenty of tanker trucks that run these roads, so there is plenty of fuel,” (like what my husband drives.) Tanker trucks have fuel tanks for their fuel consumption that hold 150 gallons each to get them from point A to point B. They can get a lot further on a tank of fuel than we can because their tanks are much larger than that on an average-sized vehicle. The case and point is this; if you run out of fuel, they will not be able to help you. None of the fuel that the truck drivers are hauling belongs to them!
Roadside assistance coverage
When we moved up to Alaska, we broke down in the middle of the Canadian Rockies. Long story short, after strangers stopped to help us, we arranged for a tow. Unfortunately, the nearest tow company wasn’t going to be able to make it to us until the following day. The same thing would have been true had we needed gas or a tire.
Fortunately for us, we had a minor issue; it just happened to be in the middle of nowhere. I was prepared for us to stay on that mountain overnight, but the kind strangers insisted that we let them help. They towed our cargo trailer as we backtracked 100 miles or so to Fort Nelson. (We were lucky, but I have to say, please don’t just expect folks to do this)
I don’t think anything has ever scared my husband more (who was already in Alaska working) than receiving a broken text message from a stranger’s Satellite phone—letting him know our location and that we wouldn’t be checking in at Toad River, BC, in the Northern Rockies.
Thank you again if you are that couple, and you are reading this! I have not forgotten the way of the north!
Just because you make it through an area once or a few times does not mean that you don’t need to be prepared for an emergency. Our recent trip down McCarthy Road proved that to be true. It was not our first time there, nor will it be the last, but we had to change a tire due to a rock puncture. We have good tires too! The same rocks used in summer construction zones can do just the same.
Call your insurance company beforehand and make sure you have roadside assistance coverage, and make sure you are covered in the areas that you will be traveling, just in case.
Have a spare and a can of extra fuel just in case. Of course, extra snacks for the road never hurts either!
Traffic Laws You May Not Have Thought About
I am not going to go into a lot of detail with many laws here, but there are a couple of things that you should know.
Driving with your headlights on at all times on many of our roads is required by law. You cannot depend on the automatic lights, especially during the summer because of the Midnight Sun.
Blocking Traffic – please don’t.
Because of so many of our roads being narrow, or not allowing many opportunities to pass, using a pullout, or pulling into the shoulder (when there is one) is required by law when you have five vehicles or more behind you. Simply moving over allows others to pass safely.
Even if this was not a law, it is a good rule of thumb to be mindful of others that you are sharing the road with. Not everyone is here on vacation. We have locals who have been working long hours just trying to make it to work and home again. These include state workers you will see in construction zones, truck drivers, store workers, our local guides, and so on.
We want you to enjoy the scenery because it is AWESOME, but we also want to get home or get to work as well. When everyone works together, great things happen!
We have some pretty incredible wildlife here. We also have some pretty bold wildlife as well. While we can’t always “make the wildlife show up” when we want to see them, it is something to see when they come out. They can also be dangerous.
Year after year, locals spend a lot of time trying to warn people about safety when it comes to our wild animals. People do not always listen, though. When you see a Moose, Bear, Lynx…or even a porcupine (the list is endless) off the side of the road, of course, you want a picture! I mean, who wouldn’t?!
Taking pictures is an excellent thing to do; after all, you want to be able to share what you saw with family and friends when you get home, right? Absolutely!
Be safe when stopping to take pictures, though. Don’t stay in the middle of the road and exit your vehicle. If you see something that is a shot of a lifetime that you cannot live without, that is great! Just pull off the road so as not to block traffic, but DO NOT approach the animal and try to feed it!
Please don’t slam on your brakes unless the animal is in the middle of the road. So often, people forget that there is someone behind them or that they are squealing to a stop in a blind curve.
What to wear
Our weather patterns vary dramatically, depending on what part of Alaska you are in. And, one day can change to the next. So, what season will you be visiting?
Most people visit Alaska in the summer months. (June-August)
This past summer (2019), we broke all sorts of records across the state regarding weather. While this was out of the norm for us, it is an example of how unpredictable our weather patterns can be.
Cloud cover plays a huge role in how the temperatures will feel. Fifty degrees in cloud cover and light rain will feel much different than 50 degrees in full sun. The coastal regions like Valdez vary significantly from the interior, such as North Pole, both in the summer and winter months.
Depending on where you are from, what kind of weather you are accustomed to, and what you will be doing will all play a factor in the “what to wear” question.
Layers are always good. Just like with spare fuel, you can’t go wrong with having a coat or hoodie that you can take off if you get hot, but if you get cold and don’t have one, then you are just going to stay cold. Dress for comfort and have a good pair of hiking shoes/boots.
Everything is pretty laid back here, and we like it that way. Many of us, toss our hair up in a ponytail and throw on a hat. It’s is a daily thing and completely normal to us. Grab a pair of shades, and off you go! I have heard many tourists say, “this is wonderful and free!” (I would agree!)
I have always been a planner when going and doing stuff. Daryl, not so much. We usually meet in the middle and have some game plan about where we are going, although we might get off the beaten path in the midst of it.
Having a list of things you want to see or do is excellent! But don’t get so caught up in that schedule that you forget to have fun!
Alaska is HUGE, and the drive time that most GPS gives is inaccurate. I have not personally found a GPS that is entirely accurate with drive time here. However, add in stops to take pictures, the sun not going entirely down in the summer, and your 6-hour plan can turn to 12 quickly. So calm down and enjoy yourself if you get off schedule.
Speaking of locals
Many people are friendly when they visit our beautiful state, and we love meeting new people and finding out where everyone is from. But then you have the grownups who act a fool over idiotic things.
Yelling at our baristas and other store workers are examples of what not to do!
When we first moved here, I watched a grown man have a fit worse than a toddler not getting his way after being told there was no Starbucks in town. Several of us watched this man have his meltdown in the middle of the store and were dumbfounded. “What kind of state is this?!” he scoured…
I thought to myself, “the kind of state that only has Starbucks in the city, dude, what’s the matter with you?!”
I could use more examples, but I think you get the point.
You are either coming here or are already here to get the Alaskan experience. Our local Coffee Huts are great, and we all get to support locally owned Alaskan businesses.
Rule of thumb: Support local, and don’t be an ass. Pretty simple, right? Local people are the ones that will also tell you where the great little hidden spots are that are not published in many places, if at all.
Phone coverage can vary depending on who you speak to. I have read from people who have said they had no service unless they were in the city, while others (like myself) can at least bounce between 1x and extended network half the time on the roads we travel.
If this is your first time here, download the offline map of where you are going, or go completely old school and grab a paper map when you fill your fuel tank up!
Have a Playlist
When you are off the beaten path, you will not pick up a radio station. And by off the beaten path, I mean out of the cities, where most of Alaska is.
An example of this would be leaving the “Valley,” otherwise known as the Anchorage, Palmer, Wasilla area headed towards Glennallen. Once you get in the hills, the city stations quickly turn to static air. You won’t pick up another station until you get right outside Glennallen.
Or, you can go with the no music option, roll the windows down, enjoy the fresh mountain air, and enjoy the view!
Buy a Thermacell (or skeeter dope)
Although this may seem like a no-brainer to some, many people do not know just how large the mosquito population is here in Alaska. The population of mosquitos is large, and the mosquitoes themselves are giant as well. Then again, nothing is tiny here, ha-ha!
Different people have different preferences as to what repellant they choose. We love the Thermacell because it does not involve spraying and respraying ourselves every few minutes.
Well! There you have it. I hope you found this helpful! Again, we welcome you to our great state, and when you get here (or come back), we hope you have a fantastic time making memories along the way!
Do you have questions that you would like us to answer? We would love to, and if we don’t know the answer, we will find it! Feel free to ask!