After nearly 7,000 miles of driving in Month 1, it was time to stop and smell the
roses wildfire smoke in America’s Last Frontier.
Oh, how time flies. Can you believe we’ve been on the road for two full months?!
Well, maybe you can. You have your own life, and you may not even know who we are. But we can’t believe we’ve been full-timing in our fifth wheel for over 60 days.
Our goal with these monthly recaps is four-fold:
- Track the cost of living on the road
- Log where we’ve been
- Share our favorite stops and sites each month
- Set a goal for next month
Where did we go?
We crossed the border into Alaska on June 27 and made it to Fairbanks on June 28. After covering nearly 7,000 miles in 30 days last month, we decided to slow down big time in Month 2.
But that doesn’t mean we stayed in the RV despite Mother Nature’s best efforts to corral us with wildfire smoke.
To the contrary, we had a month jam-packed with Last Frontier goodness.
How To Use This Map: The map above shows our approximate route for the month. Click on any marker for more information. Red markers are our overnight stops. Blue markers are sites and highlights. Orange markers are breweries.
How much gas did we use?
Not as much as last month! Month 1 was all about covering miles to get to Alaska ASAP. We finally arrived in Tok, AK on June 27 and have slowed down considerably since. Here are our driving stats for Month 2:
- Mile Driven: 1,480
- Fuel Used: 168 gallons
- Fuel Cost: $527.29
- Average Price Per Gallon: $3.14
That $527 fuel bill is much more palatable than last month’s $2,964 when we filled our 36-gallon tank just about every day.
Where did we sleep?
Last month I broke our overnight spots into five categories. Here’s where we slept in Month 2:
- RV Parks: 15 nights ($563.59, $37.57 per night)
- Walmarts: 11 nights
- Other Parking Lots: 0 nights
- Harvest Hosts: 0 nights
- In The Wild: 5 nights
Unfortunately, we gave a lot of our fuel savings back to various campgrounds. There are two reasons we stayed on the grid more than we’d have liked.
First, security. We passed through Anchorage, AK, which is a high crime city. I didn’t feel comfortable detaching our RV in parking lots, and I didn’t want to drive nearly an hour out of the city to a state campground in Chugach State Park.
Second, car repairs. After nearly 9,000 miles towing a 30-foot camper through the Canadian Rockies, we had a couple of issues to address:
- Rattling under the truck
- General loss of power, especially from a cold start
I took the truck to a couple of mechanics in Fairbanks and Anchorage. Thankfully the issues were extremely minor–a loose heat shield on the exhaust and a severely clogged air filter, respectively.
(Clearly, I’m not a car expert, but I’m learning!)
Taking the truck to a mechanic for unknown repairs means I need a secure place to leave our fifth wheel where I won’t have to move it. That means extended stays at campgrounds.
RV Parks (15 nights)
Those 15 nights were spread across five parks:
- Matanuska River Park in Palmer, AK: $27 per night (honor system)
- Ship Creek RV Park in Anchorage, AK: $57 per night (GoodSam)
- Crow Creek Mine in Girdwood, AK: $10 per night (honor system)
- Journey KOA in Seward, AK: $60 per night
- Boulder Campground in Seward, AK: $20 per night (honor system)
We stayed six nights at the GoodSam park, making use of our 10% discount to save $36.46. That brings our total GoodSam savings to $63.90 in two months. An annual GoodSam membership costs just $29, so we’re in the green already.
Three of the other parks operate on the honor system, meaning you just park your RV and pay your fee at various types of self-pay kiosks. I like to think we’re honorable people, so we paid for each night we stayed. Usually, these are lower-cost parks anyway.
Walmarts (11 nights)
All of these nights took place in Fairbanks, AK. That Walmart looked like an RV dealership. One of our “neighbors” was a Walmart employee who lived in the lot!
Why so long at one Walmart? And better yet, why so long in Fairbanks when Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula is where the fun is?
Those pesky car repairs. I had no idea what was wrong with the truck, and I didn’t want to risk it. We had to wait a week for our appointment at the mechanic.
Normally I wouldn’t want to detach the fifth wheel for multiple nights in a Walmart lot, but I can’t stress enough how ridiculous this parking lot was. There were detached RVs everywhere!
In The Wild (5 nights)
We found a really cool boondocking spot along the Susitna River about 20 minutes outside Talkeetna, AK. You pull off the highway onto a dirt road, drive for 0.25 miles, and it opens up to a huge flat area right along the river.
It was gorgeous, free, and had cell service! We used it as a home base to drive into Talkeetna while taking a few days to rest and get some work done.
Highlights from Month 2
We did a bunch of stuff this month. Here are the highlights.
Denali National Park Tundra Wilderness Tour, Healy, AK
When we got to Alaska on June 27, we stopped overnight in the town of Tok. Exhausted from a string of six-hour driving days through the Yukon, we sat down at the Bear’s Den Tavern.
While enjoying our first Alaskan-brewed beers of the trip, a couple sat down next to us. We started talking to them, as we are wont to do, and it turns out they were from Anchorage. Naturally, I asked them for recommendations and tips to make the most of our time here. They were emphatic that if we wanted to see Denali, we had to do it ASAP.
Only 30% of visitors to Denali National Park get to see the full mountain. If you want to be a part of the 30% Club, you need proper planning and a bit of luck.
Our friend warned us that as soon as late-July and August roll around, cloud cover becomes more frequent and your chances of seeing the peak decrease. Plus, Alaska has been dealing with devastating wildfires this summer that have cast a thick haze over much of the state.
Dawn and I immediately checked weather reports and picked a time in the middle of a stretch of forecasted sunny days. We also booked an early tour as we’d been told mornings were better.
Everything worked out in our favor. That photo above? We took that from the turnaround point on the eight-hour Tundra Wilderness Tour through Denali National Park.
The road into Denali National Park is about 90 miles long, but you can only drive your car about 10 miles into the park. To go any further you need a backpacking permit or you need to book a tour.
There’s a full write-up coming soon with some great photos and all the information you need to become a 30 Percenter.
Georgeson Botanical Garden, Fairbanks, AK
I’m learning to become a photographer, and plants make excellent subjects. They’re beautiful, they’re vibrant, and they don’t move or talk back. This five-acre botanical garden maintained by the University of Alaska is worth the visit to see their rose garden, vegetable garden, and field of peonies.
Independence Day 5K, Fairbanks, AK
Hotdogs and beer are America’s 4th of July pastimes. Before enjoying the festivities, we decided to run a 5K. Dawn has always been a better distance runner than me, but I’m closing the gap! On this day she finished one second ahead of me and my 26:39 time.
Gold Dredge 8, Fox, AK
Fairbanks is a gold mining town and the gold dredges were a huge part of that. The Fairbanks Exploration Company invested $15 million in mining gold from the region and generated $150 million in revenue. I’d say it was worth the investment.
Gold Dredge 8 was a big part of that, producing gold from 1928-1959. Today, it’s preserved as a tourist stop. For the $42.95 cost of admission, you get a history lesson from a Fairbanks history expert, a walking tour through the actual Gold Dredge 8, and you can even try your hand at gold panning! They give you a bag of paydirt with a few flecks for you to find. Dawn found $21 worth of gold and I found $12!
Independence Mine State Historical Park, Palmer, AK
Sticking with gold mining history, we were especially excited to visit Independence Gold Mine State Historical Park about six hours south of Fairbanks. Located 3,500 feet above sea level in a beautiful valley, Independence Gold Mines was the second-largest hard rock gold mine in the state.
The mining village was totally self-contained with workers living on site. It operated until 1950 when it shut down with plans to reopen in the future, but it never did. As a result, it was left in very good shape with many buildings and equipment still intact.
Alaska added it to their registry of historic places in 1982, and today it’s a restored walking park. We wove through gold mining history and around the various trails for about 90 minutes.
8.5-Mile Reed Lakes Trail, Palmer, AK
The hardest hike we have ever done, the Reed Lakes Trail is just down the hill from Independence Gold Mines. It takes you up 2,000 feet in elevation over boulder fields to a pair of glacier-fed lakes high up in the mountains.
We did not find the lakes. I think we went a little too far to the left? Honestly, once we got up there we were so exhausted that we barely had the energy to get back down!
Live Music at Palmer Alehouse, Palmer, AK
Palmer is a small town of around 7,000 people about an hour north of Anchorage. It’s a wonderful community with three breweries in the city limits, many of which are on tap at the Palmer Alehouse.
We stayed at the Matanuska River Campground about a mile down the street and decided to check out the alehouse on a Friday after work to see the live band. They weren’t the best, but the community and atmosphere were awesome.
1.0-Mile Wasilla Creek Wetlands Trail, Wasilla, AK
Not every hike has to be a monster. This short trek along an elevated boardwalk took us through the Wasilla Creek Wetlands area to a view of Pioneer Peak. There are bears and moose in the area and salmon in the stream. We didn’t see any wildlife in the 30 minutes we were out there, but it was a scenic stroll.
Watched The Lion King, Wasilla, AK
As 30-somethings, The Lion King has a special place in our hearts. Dawn has been eagerly awaiting this movie for months, and it finally came out in July! We went to the theater in Wasilla, AK to watch the movie. We loved it.
In particular, I thought the casting team did a great job. Seth Rogen killed it as Pumba (even though he really can’t sing), John Oliver was a great choice to play Zazu, and Chiwetel Ejiofor was powerful as Scar. Unfortunately, the one letdown performance was Donald Glover as Simba. He just seems a little…flat.
Earthquake Park, Anchorage, AK
Alaska is a seismically active state with a violent not-so-distant past. On the morning of March 27, 1964, the state was hit with a magnitude 9.2 earthquake that killed 131 people and dramatically altered the coastline.
Earthquake Park is an educational park in an area where that day’s events are especially evident. The valley created by a massive landslide is marked with sudden rises and falls. Trees slid 100 feet to new locations where they took root at odd angles.
As I write this I’m sitting in our RV along the coast in Homer, Alaska staring out at an active volcano across the water, and it’s a little scary thinking that something like this will happen again.
11.0-Mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Anchorage, AK
The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail stretches 11 miles along the shoreline of Anchorage and is open to walkers, joggers, and cyclists. We rented bikes from a shop near the northernmost point along the trail and covered 20 miles down and back along the trail.
Salmon Fishing in Ship Creek, Anchorage, AK
Alaska and salmon: name a more iconic duo. Just down the street from the Ship Creek RV Park was–you guessed it–Ship Creek. We watched dozens of local anglers fish along (and from) the creek for about 10 minutes and saw them catch four or five fish.
Anchorage Museum, Anchorage, AK
We can’t afford to check out every museum we come along, but we definitely want to visit the good ones.
Well, the Anchorage Museum is great. They have the state’s best collection of Native American artifacts that tells a riveting story of the indigenous peoples.
There was also an incredible exhibit on loan from a museum in Canada with the story and artifacts from the Franklin expedition that set out in 1845 to find the Northwest Passage, a trading route from Great Britain to Asia. This bonus exhibit cost an extra $5 but was totally worth it.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, Girdwood, AK
We’d seen most of Alaska’s big game wildlife already, much of it during the Denali Tundra Wilderness Tour, but we were still excited to check out the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
I’m glad we did. We got up close with bears, wood bison, muskox, black-tailed deer, moose, foxes, wolves, and a few smaller critters. As you can see from the image above, it’s pretty amazing.
Crow Creek Historic Gold Mine, Girdwood, AK
More gold! About 40 miles south of Anchorage, right before you make it to the Kenai Peninsula, is the town of Girdwood. We chose to make camp at the Crow Creek Historic Gold Mine for $10 per night.
We knew it would be a great home base to check out both the town of Girdwood and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. What we didn’t know was that Crow Creek Mine is a cool stop in its own right where you can pan for gold right in the creek.
Our campsite also opened directly to a short trail for the following experience.
Winner Creek Gorge & Hand-Tram, Girdwood, AK
If you’re afraid of heights, don’t do this. Along the Winner Creek Trail is this gorge where you need to pull yourself across in a hand tram that can hold up to 400 lbs.
When used properly it’s completely safe, but accidents do happen. In fact, someone died here in June. The state shut down the hand tram for safety inspections and re-opened it before we got there.
Kenai Fjords National Park Tour, Seward, AK
It’s hard to tell what the number one highlight of Month 2 was: Denali or the Kenai Fjords National Park Tour.
This six-hour boat tour covered 120 miles, weaving through the fjords of the Kenai Peninsula. It’s the only way to see this national park! The Holgate Glacier pictured above is massive–the picture doesn’t do it justice–but the highlight may have been the 10 orca whales we saw.
More pictures and a complete update coming. I promise!
Visited 14 Breweries!
I’ve made it my mission to visit as many Alaskan breweries as possible so I can put together the Internet’s definitive Alaska brewery rankings.
In June we hit eight US breweries overall, three from the 49th state. In July we crossed off 14 in Alaska alone, bringing our AK total to 17.
There are a few Alaskan breweries we’ll sadly miss on this trip–Baranoff Brewing in Sitka, AK is one–but I think we’ll visit around 90%. These are the ones we sampled in July in chronological order.
- 49th State Brewing, Healy, AK
- Bearpaw River Brewing, Wasilla, AK
- Last Frontier Brewing, Wasilla, AK
- Bleeding Heart Brewing, Palmer, AK
- Arkose Brewing, Palmer, AK
- Matanuska Brewing, Palmer, AK
- Odd Man Rush Brewing, Eagle, AK
- Resolution Brewing, Anchorage, AK
- Anchorage Brewing, Anchorage, AK
- King Street Brewing, Anchorage, AK
- Turnagain Brewing, Anchorage, AK
- Midnight Sun Brewing, Anchorage, AK
- Moose Tooth Brewing, Anchorage, AK
- Girdwood Brewing, Girdwood, AK
Safety Note: We take great care in being responsible beer drinkers. We spaced these breweries out, only had one or two beers at each in favor of flights, walked whenever possible, and used ridesharing apps like Lyft when necessary.
Despite the lofty brewery total, I’ve actually lost a few pounds on this trip from all the activity!
What’s planned for Month 3?
Month 2’s slower pace was a welcomed change from the seemingly neverending miles of highway we covered in Month 1.
Month 3 sees us hitting the road again.
We have a couple more weeks in Alaska before we need to hit the road to cover the 3,200 miles from Homer, AK to Park City, UT to see our friend get married on September 1, 2019! I can’t believe it’s just four weeks away.
We won’t have much time to stop along the way, which means we’ll have to come back next year to see much of the Pacific Northwest, Idaho, Montana, and the other states in that area that call us.
As much as we’ve loved Alaska–and love may not be a strong enough emotion–it’ll be nice to get back to the lower 48 states. Alaska is just so far up there!
Stay tuned as we continue to publish detailed posts of our Month 2 adventures, and comment below if you have questions about anything we’ve done or have recommendations for things we should do.