Thursday, March 04, 2010

Alaska Trip: The Second Preview of Many

We've made a lot of progress towards planning our Alaska trip since I posted this preview six weeks ago. (Was that seriously six weeks ago? I could have sworn I wrote that in February.) During that time, we've received lots of great feedback from other Alaska visitors (residents, too!), have secured hotel reservations for each night of the trip (except one - see below), and have already charged over $800 to my credit card. Hooray!

That "first draft" trip itinerary I posted six weeks ago ended up being fairly accurate...but now I have a much more detailed - although still incomplete - itinerary. And since we've made reservations, and my boss has officially approved my vacation time, these are our official trip dates. Put them in the bank.

Day 1 - Thursday, June 24th: Tie up our "loose ends" at work, and hit the road! The goal for the first night is Chillicothe, OH (423 miles), but this is actually the only day during the entire trip we don't have a hotel reservation. I'm not expecting all the hotels in southern Ohio to be filled to capacity on a random Thursday in June, especially the America's Best Value Inn we stayed at on the US-50 trip.

Day 2 - Friday, June 25th: Here's one change I made since the "first draft". The original plan was to take slightly different routes coming to and from Alaska. We're still going to do that, but instead of taking the longer route on the way back, we're going to start with the longer route and take the most direct route on the return trip. The two routes differ between Indianapolis and Minneapolis, and again between Fargo and Saskatoon. Blue is northbound; red is southbound:

View Actual trip to Alaska in a larger map

The blue route isn't that much longer than the red route, plus it will give me a few extra counties, so why not? I mean, when else I am I going to go to Iowa?

Our Day 2 stop will be the Twin Cities suburb of Plymouth, which is 869 miles northwest of Chillicothe (by way of Iowa). Think that's a long way to drive in one day? Oh, just wait until we get to the return trip.

Day 3 - Saturday, June 26th: Hooray, we get to go to Canada today! Isn't it convenient that to get to Alaska, we get to spend time in Canada along the way?

Our Day 3 stop is Regina, Saskatchewan (766 miles). Regina is supposed to be one of the most unsafe cities in Canada - even more so than Winnipeg - so when finding a hotel, I took care to find one in what looked like a relatively safe area of town (read: as far from the city centre as possible). There's a newish-looking shopping center east of town on the Trans-Canada with a bunch of newish-looking hotels, so that's where we'll be. And I imagine one of the first things I'll do after we check in to the hotel is turn on the Weather Network. I hope they haven't changed the Local Forecast music since last time we went to Canada.

By the way, Google Street View now covers most of Canada. They even went to Whitehorse and Yellowknife! Doesn't the road to Yellowknife look like fun? We'd go there if it wasn't so far out of the way.

Day 4 - Sunday, June 27th: The next stop is Grande Prairie, Alberta (763 miles), which is way up there near the British Columbia border. Actually, this trip will completely redefine my concept of what it means to be "way up there". Even once we get to here, we'll still have a long ways to go. Yeah! Heck, Grande Prairie isn't even as far north as Thompson, Manitoba, which we visited in 2008. At 55°45'N, Thompson is the farthest north I've been to date, but I will obviously break that personal record on this trip. I will not, however, break my personal record for "farthest west"; the Hawaiian island of Kauai will probably never be beaten there. (In case you're wondering, my "farthest east" is eastern Nova Scotia, and my "farthest south" is Hawaii's "Big Island".)

Day 5 - Monday, June 28th: Is it time to stop driving and start visiting? Nope! We've got another full day ahead of us, 682 miles on our way to Watson Lake, Yukon. But at least today, we start our journey on the Alaska Highway, which officially begins in Dawson Creek, BC. And, of course, there is something I want to see in Watson Lake: the previously mentioned Signpost Forest.

So, we're going to do a lot of driving on the way up and back. But it might not seem like it, because we'll have plenty of daylight to work with. Sunset in Watson Lake won't be until 10:13 PM! Which, actually, that's not all that late, compared to some of the other places we'll be going. Just wait until we get to Fairbanks.

Day 6 - Tuesday, June 29th: Alright, now it's time to do some touristy stuff. But first, we drive to Skagway, Alaska (390 miles), which is a short drive south from the Alaska Highway.

View Larger Map

This will be the day in which I officially visit my 50th state. It will come not by way of the highly dramatic Alaska Highway border crossing as I originally thought, but instead, it will come via this much more low-key border crossing. Why are we even going down here? Because this trip was never intended to be limited to Anchorage, Fairbanks, and points in between. Anything in Yukon and Alaska that we can get to relatively easily is fair game. (And in case you're wondering, The Milepost magazine - an outstanding reference which many folks recommended to me - has assured me that the road to Skagway is paved and that my car can handle it.)

While we're in Skagway, we're going to go on a a train ride. I'm really looking forward to all this, because while Denali National Park will probably be very busy when we'll be there, I imagine not many people make it down to Skagway. The drive to Skagway, and the train ride (which will be a late evening train ride), should be fantastic.

Day 7 - Wednesday, June 30th: Just 220 miles today, from Skagway to Haines Junction (see map above). We have a couple of options here: do we spend time in Whitehorse, or do we head straight for Kluane National Park and do some hiking? The best part is, we don't have to decide until the day of. Kluane is the first choice for now, but if the weather is bad, we may spend more time in Whitehorse instead. Or, we'll do both! We'll see. (Note that we're spending a night in Whitehorse on our way back, so this won't be our only chance to see Whitehorse, although we won't have as much time on the return trip.)

I made most of our hotel reservations for this trip online, but for some of these remote hotels - for example, the one in Haines Junction - I did it over the phone. And let me tell you, some of the folks up here in the Yukon have really thick accents. I'm actually not sure if they were just really thick Canadian accents, or maybe something else altogether (Aboriginal or Native American), but either way, I had a hard time understanding them sometimes.

Hmm...this blog post is already kind of long as it is, and except for that quick trip to Skagway, I haven't even made it to Alaska yet. So, rather than write one super long blog post, I'm going to split this up into two parts and save the remaining 11 days of the trip for another post.


Jeff said...

The road to Skagway should be fine. I stopped there on a cruise and the run tour buses north from there to the Yukon. I didn't make that trip, but I made sure to get a picture of a Yukon license plate in town.

Jeff said...

There are plenty of good food options off of I-74 between exits 181 and 184 in Illinois. I should meet you at one of them if I am around.

Chris Allen said...

Awesome. We'll probably get there around lunch time, too.

Leah said...

The thing about Skagway is that it's a pretty popular cruise stop. On the day you're there, there will be 4 ships and over 9,000 passengers - And that train ride is pretty much the most popular excursion there. But, if you're doing an evening ride, maybe it won't be as crowded since people will have to get back to their boats? The drive there will be amazing and not very crowded - expect to see some bears!