Alaska/ Canada trip - itinerary advice
Replies: 17 - Last Post: Nov 24, 2012 7:39 PM Last Post By: galapog18
Nov 19, 2012 5:04 PM
Alaska/ Canada trip - itinerary adviceHi There. First time poster so please be gentle :) My girlfriend and I are heading to the US next July and have 10 weeks to see the country for the first time and I just wanted a bit of advice regarding the Alaskan/ Canadian leg of our trip.
We're planning to fly to Anchorage from JFK via Seattle and hire and RV to explore the Western Interior, the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound. I'm currently trying to decide whether to do this for 10 or 14 days. Any thoughts on whether 10 days will be long enough or will I end up disappointed that I didn't book longer. I'm very much into my big landscapes, hiking and wildlife but I'm also conscious that I have a finite amount of time to see a lot of stuff so I want to use it wisely.
From Anchorage, I'm planning to fly to Juneau and the get ferries down the Inside Passage. Does this make sense or can I travel to Juneau by ferry rather than flying? If I can do this, would this be recommended? Obviously it'll take more time to travel by ferry than by plane but if theres some good stuff to see then it could be worth taking the boat. Any suggestions?
Once we're in Juneau, we're planning to catch ferries down the Inside Passage and travel all the way to Vancouver stopping at places like Sitka and Ketchikan on the way. I'm planning to take about a week to do this trip but I could spend more or less time depending on whether the trip is amazing or whether we'd be better advised to move quicker and spend the time that we've made up checking out Vancouver island. Any suggestions or where to visit while travelling down the Inside passage and whether a week is a reasonable amount of time to allocate for the trip?
All up the plan is to spend between 2.5-3 weeks of our 10 week trip in Alaska and 2 weeks in the Rockies in BC and Alberta. Does this split make sense or should I be looking to reallocate my time a bit. Any suggestions of brilliant things to do in this part of the world would be much appreciated! Thanks for reading :)
Nov 19, 2012 5:22 PM
1If you like hiking--particularly overnight hiking--and wildlife, wilderness and big landscapes, you should spend as much time in Alaska as you possibly can. If you're going to the Canadian Rockies, do that first so that it doesn't pale by comparison. Two weeks in Alaska is certainly not enough, but then again neither is four weeks. The real advantage to the Rockies is that it's far more convenient.
For the same reason, I'd suggest taking the ferry north, then flying back south if you want. Scenery coming north along the coast gets increasingly spectacular, whereas if heading the other direction it starts to get somewhat blasé. But the ferry doesn't go to Vancouver, just in case that matters to you. And the ferry to Juneau from Whittier only runs twice a month, taking a couple of days (AFAIR). If you're shy on time, you might want to think about that part. You can take cruises in the Gulf instead of the ferry, for a more efficient glimpse--or out of Juneau to see Glacier Bay.
I'm not sure what "Western Interior" means, but it would be a simple thing to spend ten days in or around Denali, the Chugach, or the Wrangell Mountains, never mind the Kenai. Personally, I'd skip the latter unless you're really into fishing....but that's just me.
Hope that's helpful.
Nov 19, 2012 8:13 PM
2For planning your ferry travel go here http://www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/
For travelling to your priority destinations consider this instead of the RV http://www.alaskatravel.com/alaska-railroad/?gclid=CNv7r_vW3LMCFal_QgodLzsAtA
Nov 19, 2012 9:47 PM
310 weeks is only a little over 2 months. Not nearly enough time to see the whole US. 4.5 to 5 weeks in Alaska and western Canada is enough time for a quick overview but that only leaves 5 to 5.5 weeks for the rest of the US? Not doable. You are going to have to let some major things go for another time. Maybe Alaska, parts of BC and Alberta and the US west coast. That would work out pretty nice time wise and time of year wise. Start in the north and work south.
Nov 19, 2012 11:12 PM
4Mark - thanks for the advice mate. I hear what you're saying about making the trip north. I've got a rendezvous planned with some friends in California in mid September which is why I was planning on flying to anchorage and then heading south. With 5 weeks in Alaska and BC/ Alberta, I figured that might leave enough time to pop across from Seattle to Yellowstone, drive down to Salt Lake city and then double back up to Portland (I'm conscious that's a big detour - too far?) and drive down the Pacific highway to California. I'm intending to spend 10 days in NYC and Maryland at the beginning of the trip which will leave me with 2.5 weeks to see the sights in the western US. Is this achievable or should I be considering skipping Yellowstone and Salt Lake City?
Bob - cheers for the links. Any reason you'd recommend the train over the RV? I figured that cost wise RVing would probably be cheaper than hire car/ train and eating/ out plus high season accommodation and it'd give me the freedom to flex my plans.
John - thanks for your suggestion. As per my comments to Mark, what your proposing is very similar to what I am currently planning. I realise I'm going to have to miss out on some amazing places in the rest of the US but to your point, 10 weeks isn't nearly enough time to see the whole country at an enjoyable pace. I'd be interested on your thoughts on the question I asked Mark about whether my trip from Vancouver to San Fransico via Yellowstone, Salt Lake City, Portland and down the Pacific highway is a viable plan? (I'm not worried about extra driving)
Nov 19, 2012 11:54 PM
5I wouldn't take trains in AK over a car or RV as you have less flexibility with the train and you then have no transport when you stop in each place. An RV is not my thing - i would prefer a car and hotels or camping but that's a personal preference. July is the height of the season and hotels and campgrounds fill up fast - an RV may give you options you would not have in a car, I suppose.
I believe it is possible to rent a car from Avis in Anchorage and drop it off in Skagway which is at the top of Southeast Alaska and the end/start of the AK ferry which runs down the inside passage. Depends on how you want to spend your time - out and about or on a ferry for three days - it takes three days to take the ferry from Skagway to Bellingham, WA. As the other poster mentioned, the AK ferry doesn't go to Vancouver and it doesn't run that entire route every day. You have to check the schedules. There are times in the schedules where the AK ferry that stops in Prince Rupert BC can link to the BC Ferries going south to places like Nanaimo and Vancouver. You would have to look into that on the respective websites (#2 provided the AK ferry site link, here is the BC Ferry link.
Scheduling trips to towns within SE Alaska will require careful review of the marine hwy timetable. For example, the ferry that makes the run to Bellingham stops in Juneau, Ketchikan, Wrangell and a few others if memory serves, but it doesn't stop in Sitka - that is a separate route. As you work in side trips, you may have to wait another day or two or more for the next ferry going where you need to go - or you could opt to fly from Sitka to Ketchikan or whatever. SE is beautiful and worth the time, just takes a bit more planning in some respects.
Nov 20, 2012 12:50 AM
6"There are times in the schedules where the AK ferry that stops in Prince Rupert BC can link to the BC Ferries going south to places like Nanaimo and Vancouver."
The Alaska ferry goes from Prince Rupert to Bellingham, USA, from where you can take a bus to Vancouver.
The BC ferry goes from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy, from where you can take a bus to Nanaimo or Victoria, from where you can take a boat to Horseshoe Bay or Tsawassin, from either of which you can take buses to Vancouver.
OP, I don't really understand your scheduling. You're going to California after or before going to Alaska? And where does the trip to Yellowstone and Salt Lake fit in? I mean, I strongly suspect it doesn't. If you want a trip where you don't really do much besides glance at stuff before pushing onward to rush to the next place, you're probably on the right track. If not, well....you know what to do.
Nov 20, 2012 1:29 AM
7Mark - thanks for your comments. Our current plan is fly to Anchorage at the start of August. Travel round for 10 days or so and then head to Juneau and travel down the Inside passage over the course of about a week. This takes me up to 3rd week of August. I'm then planning to spend 2 weeks in western Canada which takes me up to the start of September and then head south towards California.
I've got the whole of September to see the west coast of the US so maybe I drive from Seattle to San Fransico, spend some time with my mates in the Sierra Nevada and then head to Salt Lake City from there. Then id only miss out on Yellowstone. Any idea what the drive from San Fransico to Salt Lake is like? Is it worth the trip or should I head to San Diego instead?
Nov 20, 2012 3:50 AM
8I have visited/lived in most of your destinations. Yellowstone is beautiful, but not as much as Banff National Park or Denali National Park or the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park or Glacier Bay. I recommend following alapah's itinerary. My own ferry from Bellingham to Skagway did include a stop in Sitka, but that was en route north and I did not get off of the ferry during my first trip. I do recommend stopping in Juneau and taking either the boat or flight to Gustavus/Glacier Bay for the cruise into Glacier Bay. Skip Salt Lake City.
Nov 20, 2012 4:09 AM
I suggested the train instead of RV as a budget alternative. If you have the money, then by all means rent the car (or RV), but you don't have to.
I've backpacked all over Alaska by riding ferries, busses, trains and hitchiking including all the destinations on your list and others more remote (Kodiak, Haines & Skagway, Cordoba). Carried my backpack with me with backpacking gear (food, tent, sleeping bag) and just set up whereever I landed.
In fact, come to think of it, I've taken five trips to Alaska now - two of them over three months long, and I've still never driven a car in Alaska.
Nov 20, 2012 5:16 AM
10A month to get from the Rockies to California? Is that correct? With that, I think you'll have enough time to drive south from Calgary through Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, and then down into the parks of southern Utah (e.g. Zion, Bryce National Parks). If time is a concern, I'd focus on the latter because you will see a completely different landscape (red rock desert) than what you would have encountered earlier in your trip. Also, two weeks to get from Bellingham to the Rockies should be sufficient, depending on how long you want to spend in Vancouver. Although I love Vancouver Island, you can skip it since you will have seen beautiful coastal forest in Alaska. Have fun!
Nov 20, 2012 5:26 AM
11The train makes a lot of noise en route through the wilderness to Denali NP and scares the wildlife. The Alaska Grayline motorcoach and several smaller shuttlebuses have frequent trips to Denali NP from Anchorage. Talkeetna, which is worth seeing, is a whistle-stop on the railroad and I am not sure that it is usually included in the shuttlebus/motorcoach trips to Denali NP. There are several nice RV campgrounds along the Parks Highway en route to Denali NP and in Talkeetna. I usually car-camped in my SUV with the back seat folded down and a warm sleepingbag for cool nights.
I recommend "The Milepost" http://www.themilepost.com 1,000-pages directory of most access roads throughout Canada (including the Icefields Highway between Banff NP and Jasper NP) and the Alaska-Canada Highway plus all roads in Alaska. (You can buy it at most grocery stores and gas stations in Alaska and western Canada plus Wal-Mart. Also check http://www.Amazon.com ) It also includes the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry schedule and I think the B.C. Ferry schedule. It even includes the roads to Yellowknife and the Great Slave Lake in Canada's Northwest Territories, which I have also visited, plus the Dempster Highway from near Dawson City, Yukon Territory, to Inuvik, Northwest Territories, on the MacKensie River/Beaufort Sea. That should be for your next trip to the far north! There are shuttlebuses and charter planes to Inuvik, which is mostly Inupiat Eskimo peoples. I visited them during their Summer Solstice Festival.
Try staying in hostels in Alaska http://www.AlaskaHostel.com gives a list of their web addresses.
Edited by: trekker502
Nov 20, 2012 10:40 PM
12Thanks for correcting me in #6 Mark I admit I got lazy and didn't check. Nanaimo didn't sound right and I forgot about that road link portion. My bad.
Nov 21, 2012 8:37 PM
13Whittier is about 100 miles from Anchorage, and there is infrequent service from there to Juneau. Be advised that while most Alaska ferry service is through the Inside Passage, the Whittier-Juneau run is acorss the Gulf of Alaska and fully exposed to whatever the North Pacific dishes up. My trip on that leg was delayed for one day due to bad weather and was a rough ride. I had driven the Alaska Highway before, and took the ferry as an alternative, but I will not do Whittier-Juneau again. Juneau-Bellingham is a fine run.
Nov 22, 2012 7:50 PM
14The Gulf of Alaska across the entrance to Prince William Sound is very rough. Whittier can be accessed via Alaska Grayline motorcoach or Alaska Rail from Anchorage. Whittiier is more like 60 miles from Anchorage; Seward is 100 miles from Anchorage. There is a tunnel between Portage Valley and Whittier -- trains and cars/buses alternate in using the same tunnel.
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