I visited Alaska for the first time last summer, shortly after my sister-in-law and her husband got stationed in Fairbanks with the Army.
It had been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember (although, Alaska is probably on everyone’s bucket list, right?). But the thing is, it’s so remote. And wild. And enormous. I didn’t know where to start and honestly felt intimidated by even attempting to plan a trip to Alaska. Now, with family there, I was (fortunately) out of excuses.
As we started looking at the logistics of planning an Alaska trip, we decided fairly quickly to rent an RV and camp. Alaska’s a really, really big place and we wanted to see as much of it as possible. However, renting a vehicle and booking multiple hotel rooms in each area was expensive and offered very little flexibility.
A Cruise America RV rental, on the other hand, fit all of us comfortably, combined our rental car and nightly accommodations into one, and provided amenities like a kitchen and bathroom — which proved to be invaluable on the road. It was an easy decision.
Preparing for Alaska
Prepping for a trip to Alaska is a unique experience. Many things are notoriously expensive in Alaska, such as food and toiletries (there’s also the fact that many places have a limited selection).
Because of this, we brought a lot more of everything with us than we normally would, especially favorite snacks like flavored almonds and REESE’S Peanut Butter Cups. You know, priorities. Although we knew we would hit a grocery store to stock the RV as soon as we arrived, we wanted to make sure we had these little treats along the way.
Another thing to consider is that it’s cold in Alaska year-round. Even if it’s 80 degrees during the day, you may experience near-freezing temperatures at night, not to mention the always-present possibility of rain and snow.
That means packing lots of layers! If you plan to spend time on or in the water (and you should!), you may also want to bring waders or bog boots, which are both bulky and a bit pricey but well worth it.
My Favorite Things To Do in Alaska
To be honest, there’s nothing I don’t love to do while camping in Alaska! If you love the outdoors, gorgeous scenery, and being active, I’m certain you’ll feel the same. If I have to pick just a few things, though, I guess I do have a few favorites.
You simply cannot visit Alaska and not fish. It’s a way of life! Plus, fish are abundant and the water is exceptionally clean and clear. There’s nothing like grilling up a salmon larger than your entire forearm an hour after you caught it! There are so many rivers and lakes in Alaska that you can fish from almost anywhere, including major cities like Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau.
I wasn’t kidding when I said we wanted to see as much of Alaska as possible. We drove our RV from Fairbanks to Anchorage, then around the Kenai Peninsula, stopping in Homer and Seward. We camped and fished the entire way, oftentimes lucking out and finding incredible — and free — riverfront campsites and fishing right from camp.
If you want to check something off your bucket list, you can also go on a guided deep-sea fishing trip. We went out with Seward Charters (and caught more salmon, halibut, and rockfish than we knew what to do with!), but several outfitters operate out of both Homer and Seward.
Pricing varies somewhat, but we consistently found half-day excursions for between $250-400 per person. Most also include professional fileting and packaging of your fish for transport home!
There aren’t many places in the world where you can hike on a glacier, but Alaska is one of them. The National Park Service estimates that there are 100,000 glaciers in Alaska, which includes 616 named glaciers and 1,000 glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park alone.
We hiked on the absolutely enormous Matanuska Glacier, just 2.5 hours from Anchorage (visiting Alaska involves a ton of driving; you’ll find that anything under five hours is considered nearby). Matanuska is just one example, but there are numerous other easily accessible glaciers from several Alaskan cities.
Of course, you don’t necessarily have to hike on a glacier — there are hiking trails everywhere. Alaska has so much public land that it’s difficult to wrap your mind around! We enjoyed hiking in the Chena River State Recreation Area in Fairbanks, plus used the AllTrails app to find trails nearby when we were on the road.
Bonus: Hiking in Alaska is also basically a wildlife viewing adventure since moose, foxes, elk, bears, deer, and even caribou are everywhere!
Alaska has some of the darkest, clearest skies in the entire world, thanks to minimal light pollution and relatively few people who live there. These conditions make Alaska optimal for stargazing — for about half the year, anyway.
Alaska experiences almost full daylight in the summer (meaning no nighttime and no darkness), but if you’re visiting in the fall or spring, you absolutely have to make time for stargazing. If you’re lucky, you may even catch the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.
Visiting Alaska’s National Parks
There are a whopping eight national parks in Alaska, and they’re some of the least-visited in the U.S. Here, you experience Mother Nature at her absolute finest. Alaska is so incredibly vast that you’ll likely have to pick one or two parks to visit during your trip, but hey, you can always go back!
We did exactly this and visited Denali and Kenai Fjords. Just being in the presence of Denali is a transformative experience. You can see 20,310-foot-tall Mount Denali –– the tallest peak on the continent –– for hundreds of miles in any direction.
In Kenai Fjords, you’ll want to sign up for a boat tour. We were lucky enough to see both orcas and humpback whales, along with several glaciers.
An RV Is the Way to Go for Exploring Alaska
If Alaska is on your bucket list, I honestly can’t recommend renting an RV highly enough. It was such a convenient and comfortable way for us to not only explore Alaska but also create memories as a family.
Fishing for our dinner just outside our front door, then cooking it around a campfire, and watching the stars come out is something none of us will ever forget!