Join Date: Apr 2016
Location: Escondido, CA
Trip report - San Diego to Alaska - +11,000 miles
Myself, my wife Amy and our neighbors Rik and Lavonne recently completed a great trip from San Diego to Alaska.
I have gotten so much good info from this forum so I thought I would give some back.
I condensed as much as I could, but I will warn you right now that this is a long post.
I have spreadsheets and pictures that are not included. But if you are interested, email me and I can send to you.
We left on 6/4/16 and returned on 7/11/16. Almost 6 weeks…
My wife Amy, and Lavonne flew up to Anchorage to meet us at end of week 2 because my wife still works and could not get 6 weeks off.
The towing vehicle was a 2008 Toyota Sequoia 4X4 with 5.7L V8.
I put new heavy duty shocks and installed 1000 lb lift bags in the rear springs.
TT was a 2011 Stealth 27 foot SS22-16 Limited toy hauler with about 7200 lbs loaded.
I installed the Cadillac of hitches… The Hensley Arrow which eliminates all sway.
Total miles driven was 11,044 miles with average gas mileage of 9.08 MPG.
Stopped for gas 84 times as the driving range of the Sequoia with a 26 gal tank at 8-9 MPG was 150 - 175 miles. Total fuel bill was $1915.08.
The toy hauler has a 34 gal fuel tank for the toys and I had to use some of this fuel 3 times when I found that gas stations shown on the GPS were not there or closed.
Significant stops were at:
Jedediah Smith Redwoods, Crater Lake, Mt. St Helens, Whistler, Prince George, Fort Nelson, Johnson Crossing, Whitehorse, Tok, Copper Center,
Valdez, Anchorage, Williwa/Girdwood, Seward, Talkeetna, Denali National Park, Denali Hwy, Fairbanks, North Pole, Delta Junction, Destruction Bay, Watson Lake, Liard Springs, Dawson Creek, Jasper, Lake Louise, Icefields Parkway, Banff, Calgary
From San Diego to the Alaska Hwy:
From San Diego to Vancouver was mostly Interstate with no issues.
Border crossing at Bellingham was 45 minutes, but only because we brought a rifle and had to submit form and pay $20 Canadian.
Exchange rate was $1.24 Canadian to 1 US dollar. Gas price in USA was around $2.25 to $2.75.
Gas in Canada was around $3.75 USD per gallon, but varied from $0.99/liter to $1.37/liter Canadian money.
The road north coming out of Whistler had some serious downgrades with many sharp and steep turns.
There were several times I was concerned about my braking and I played with trailer brake setting quite a bit.
I was not happy with the situation and wished I had more engine braking with less reliance on vehicle and trailer brakes.
I had to apply the brakes too often. I was concerned that they would overheat and if I lost either vehicle or trailer braking I would definitely crash and burn.
I stopped several times to cool the brakes and I ending up increasing trailer braking setting from 8 to 11 on Hensley brake controller.
But sometimes I was behind a rig with big diesel truck going slower than me and I envied how much they could brake with their engine only.
Alaska hwy from Dawson Creek, Canada to Tok, Alaska was in good shape overall.
There are many stretches of construction zones where the road is packed dirt or loose gravel and one with tar that got on our vehicle and trailer when they are doing fresh paving.
There was a stretch of gravel/dirt over 90 km long before Beaver Creek with average speed around 30MPG.
In the rain you get covered in dirt and mud. In dry conditions, tons of dust.
Main concern is loose gravel areas where inconsiderate drivers are passing very fast and flinging rocks at you. Got 2 chips in the windshield.. No cracks yet.
When you see them coming from behind, get as far over the right as possible.
The road from the Alaska border to Tok is the worst stretch of road in the whole trip for paved roads.
It is all paved, but has many severe bumps and dips from frost heaves that can easily cause a bent axle or tire damage.
For some reason Canada seems to maintain these better that USA/Alaska side does. Drive slow (<30MPH) over these sections which last about 50 miles.
The rest of the roads in Alaska were pretty good except for the 134 mile stretch called the Denali hwy.
That is where I lost 1 tire on one day and 2 leaf springs on the next day.
The weird thing here is that the road doesn’t look that bad… But it is deceiving.
If you talk to the locals and mention towing a trailer over the 134 mile stretch (21 miles are paved on the east side), they just look at you and shake their heads.
They don’t do it and they don’t recommend it and I will not do it again…
Yes, if you could drive slow (<30 MPH) over the whole unpaved 113 miles, then you might be OK.
I did try to keep it below 30, but when the road looks that good is it easy to creep up to 50 MPH and I admit that I did much to my chagrin.
The scenery and wildlife were amazing and, for sure, every future trip I make to Alaska will include driving the Denali Hwy…
I could easily spend a week or two just on this highway. But not pulling a trailer.
Repairs needed and places to get parts:
In Alaska I was able to get parts very reasonably priced at Six Robblees who have everything needed in their Anchorage or Fairbanks stores.
We used CAT Transport to deliver two axles from Anchorage to Valdez next day for $102.
We lost a whole wheel assembly just a mile outside of Valdez. The whole wheel and hub came off! I drove for a mile and didn’t know until another car flagged us down and told us.
CAT delivered the axles right to us in the Valdez visitor center parking lot where we installed them the next day.
I should have replaced the bent axles in Fairbanks when I replaced the 2 broken and 2 unbroken leaf springs, but the axles didn’t look that bad.
Live and learn! Even slightly bent axles need to be replaced.
Total bill for repairs for the whole trip was $2671.36, but this included two new tires for the Sequoia ($565) and a 2nd trailer spare tire ($148) that I didn’t have to buy.
The 2 axles I got from Six Robblees were completely assembled with new hubs, bearings, brakes.. everything for $1202.10.
Also includes 2 bare axles from Stanton in Edmonton for $174.98.
After fixing everything in Valdez, I pulled a newbie boner and curbed the trailer bad at a gas station in Jasper, Alberta and totally bent one of my new axles.
You know… too impatient to wait for pump and tried to move to another pump… I am still kicking myself!
So I bought two bare axles from Stanton to fix it and now I have a spare axle. But I had to drive to Edmonton to get these and that was a 10 hour roundtrip drive.
One good thing came out of this… Me and my neighbor Rik can completely swap out an axle in less than 2 hours.
And yes… There is a left and right side due to the electric brakes configuration.
We learned that the hard way when a passerby mentioned it right after we finished installing the first new axle in Valdez.
We had a 50/50 chance to get it right and lost. But we made sure the 2nd new axle was correct and then re-did the first axle.
If you have to buy a new assembled axle, make sure to tell them to label the left and right sides. Six Robblees did not do this for us and it cost us 1.5 more hours of work.
1. Don’t drive too fast… We actually bent 1 axle slightly on the Alaska HWY where the road looked good. I thought it was OK, but it caused problems later…
2. Spare parts are good to have.
a. Two spare tires for vehicle and for the trailer
b. Leaf springs…
c. Axles… OK… axles are overkill, but if you have space, a bare axle is less than $100 and most have to be custom configured for your trailer.
d. Wheel bearings and seals…
e. I brought lots of tools and 3 jacks and 2 jack stands. Yeah… I would have loved to have those hydraulic levelers that can pick up the whole trailer.
3. 5 to 10 gallons of extra gas.
a. For vehicles with decent range due to bigger fuel tanks or better mileage this is not an issue.
b. But even then… Don’t push it! Fill up with at least a 100 mile range of fuel reserve.
4. The major learning... For me and my way of traveling… Pulling a trailer is not going to cut it. We plan to visit every National Park in the USA and I am not going to do it with my current rig.
a. I am going to sell the Sequoia and trailer and buy a 1 ton diesel truck with a slide in camper.
i. If needed, I will pull a small trailer with my Goldwing motorcycle and my wife’s SYM 250 scooter instead.
b. The biggest reason is the limitations there are pulling a 27 foot trailer in being able park or to explore areas without worrying about being able to turn around and get back to the road.
c. The next reason is that I want the engine braking provided by the diesels. I will put up with the cost and the noise and the smell and all the other diesel negatives to get this.
d. The next reason is the trailer’s susceptibility to damage from poor roads. A 4X4 truck with 1 ton suspension will laugh at conditions that will easily damage this trailer.
i. My Stealth SS22-16 trailer has two 3500 lb axles and I upgraded all four tires from load range C to load range E before I left. If I was going to keep this trailer and do Alaska with it again, I would upgrade to at least 5000 lb axles too. But I will not do this again.
ii. The trailer I am going to build for towing my motorcycles is going to be seriously beefed up, but I still won’t be driving down roads like the Denali hwy towing it.
5. Use a credit card without foreign transaction fees for gas and other purchases and be wary of cell phone roaming charges.
a. I paid for most of the gas with my debit card thinking I would be clever and keep all the fuel cost in one account… But I got a total of $26.96 in these foreign transaction fees. Not a lot, but it pissed me off.
b. ALSO… My wife has AT&T cell phone service and we forgot to turn off roaming before crossing into Canada… $174 in roaming charges! Our bad, but AT&T did agree to cut it in half.
i. I have T Mobile with unlimited data and free roaming worldwide so my phone was no issue.
ii. I do plan to get an Iridium satellite phone for about $400 and 2 month limited coverage for $60 for emergencies. The whole world has coverage.
6. Get bear spray and have it with you all the time. We had it and never had to use it, but there were a few times we left it in the trailer or the car and it didn’t do any good there.
a. We had 3 close encounters with grizzly bears and were charged by a moose on the trail. Twice grizzly’s came right into our camps at Denali and once while we were doing laundry at the visitors center.
b. We all had the bear bells also, but the rangers said they do not do a thing and are a waste of money. Talking loud is better and my wife and Lavonne got that covered well.
c. Yes, we also brought a gun. A 308 rifle and filling out the form at the border and paying $20 Canadian was no problem…
i. Handguns are much more difficult and no guns with <4 inch barrel.
ii. We didn’t have to use it, but twice I had it ready if needed.
iii. There is nothing I can say to the anti-gun people to change their minds, so please don’t try to change mine. I always take a gun when doing this kind of trip… legally!
d. We are not those crazy guys that get out of their vehicles and try to get close up pictures. That’s what zoom lenses are for.
e. I had many bear encounters on this trip and one hiker got mauled by a grizzly on a trail in Denali National Park near Savage River campground we were staying at.
f. They evacuated all tent campers in the campground after a few tents got destroyed by a grizzly.
7. Overall, I was disappointed with Denali National Park…
a. Not with the wildlife… This was one of the best places to see moose, bear, elk, antelope and the sled dog show was great.
b. We did not opt in for the minimum of 5 to maximum of 14 hour bus tour inside the “restricted” road which is 80% of the park
i. I looked at the dirty and uncomfortable busses and talked to the people who did it and we decided that this is just not for us.
ii. The people who did it said it all said it was great. (I think to justify the time and cost they spent…) But when I asked them if they would do it again, almost all said no.
c. The scenery and views are less spectacular than most other areas of Alaska and Canada. Yes it is beautiful, but there are many other areas that blow this away.
8. Valdez is our favorite town in Alaska and the road to Valdez has the most spectacular scenery and views. (Richardson HWY)
a. Take the cruise on the Lu Lu Belle. Captain Fred is amazing. He talks most of the time during the cruise and shares a mountain of information you would not hear anywhere else.
b. We dry camped for free in the old town of Valdez that was wiped out during the 9.2 earthquake in 1964. The town was leveled and relocated, but we camped right off the bay and had a momma grizzly and 3 cubs near our camp.
c. There are 3 nice RV parks with full hook ups right in town within walking distance of all the shops and things to see. But they are compacted together like a parking lot… Not my style…
9. The Icefields Parkway drive is a tie with the Richardson Highway drive to Valdez as far as the most stunning, spectacular scenery. These 2 drives were unanimously voted as the best scenic drive we have ever done in our lifetimes.
10. Stop at Liard Springs for the hot springs. It is the best outdoor hot springs setup I have ever been to. We stayed at the campground one night and went in twice.
11. Whittier is our next favorite town… The town of Hope was disappointing.
a. You have to drive 5 miles through train tunnel to get there and may have to wait up to an hour for the train to clear… Yes, you drive on the train track road built around the rails.
b. Whittier is the small coast town you see in all the puzzles.
c. Hope is more like a small group of buildings where there was once a hippie commune.
12. Talkeetna was a great town for a day visit for food and shopping.
a. We didn’t take our Goldwing motorcycles in the toy hauler on this trip and if we had, the bikes and trailer would have been trashed…
b. But we did rent motorcycles and did a day trip from Anchorage to Talkeetna. It was great except I got a Harley Road King and let’s just say… I wish I had my Goldwing…
i. Don’t bash me for not liking Harley’s.. To each their own. I am an engineer and I don’t like the noise, the vibration, and the poor performance and reliability.
ii. I stupidly wore shorts which was never a problem on my bikes, but I got a nice 2nd to 3rd degree burn on my lower leg from the exhaust pipe. Yeah, my bad… Don’t ever wear shorts on a Harley.
13. There is a historic village at the Mile 0 RV park in Dawson Creek that was amazing. Amy and Lavonne spent lots of time there and said they wanted to live there.
14. Canada has more wildlife seen from the Alaska Hwy than you will see in Alaska.
a. If you see a vehicle or more pulled over, then slow down and prepare to stop… 90% of the time they are viewing some awesome wildlife… But stay in the car!!!
b. Alaska has higher density of people and we did not see much wildlife from the roads there.
c. Highlights of the roadside wildlife was:
i. Whole herd of Bison running, rolling in the dirt and lots of Bison babies.
ii. Black bear chowing down on a roadkill elk.
iii. Herds of Stone sheep
iv. Lots of grizzly and black bears, moose, red fox, porcupines…
15. Bring lots of mosquito spray.
a. Most area were not as bad as advertised, but there were places where I covered myself with 100% DEET and it worked great.
b. I bought the screen pants and jacket with full head cover on Amazon for <$20 each and they worked great for me. You look like a dork, but a dork with no mosquito bites.
Like I said. Email me if you have any questions or want more details.
This is just my report to share experiences from this Alaska trip.
No intent to judge or criticize anybody else.
I understand that many may not agree with my opinions or preferences and that is fine with me.
Viva la difference!