Majestic Northern Rockies on the Alaska Highway

How to Plan (and Take) an Epic RV Trip Across Canada to Alaska

How to Plan (and Take) an Epic RV Trip across Canada to Alaska. This is going to be part one of a two-part story. The second part will be about how to plan an RV trip through Alaska. We have lots of recommendations about how to plan an RV Trip across Canada to Alaska. I will cover our route decisions and which tools we used to plan our trip. Planning an RV Trip across Canada to Alaska is perhaps the longest trip and furthest north destination that we intend to take our RV. Follow along and I will tell you how to plan an RV trip that will be epic across Canada to Alaska.

A nice farm in southern Alberta. We were surprised at how spring was in full swing in Alberta as we were making our trip across Canada to Alaska.
A nice farm in southern Alberta. We were surprised at how spring was in full swing in Alberta as we were making our trip across Canada to Alaska. In Great Falls Montana it was still cold.

Making a good plan for an RV trip across Canada to Alaska requires a good route (for about two thousand miles) before you even arrive in Alaska. Unless you fly, and rent an RV in Alaska, you are going to spend a lot of time going across Canada to Alaska. Remember, both Canada and Alaska are huge and any plan to visit most of the epic places will involve all three months of summer. Another significant fact is that winter comes early and stays late in Alaska and Canada. You need a good plan for an RV trip to Alaska.

Don’t reinvent the wheel.

RVers have been going across Canada to Alaska (for the summer) for a long time. In Canada, once you get to Alaska there are only a few options. Not only that you need to be flexible and not paint yourself into a corner without a reasonable route. A fifty-mile detour is probably considered a short detour in Canada.

The Banff Hotel was covered in smoke. On our trip across Canada to Alaska we hit smoke near Calgary and were not smoke-free until after a three day rain storm in Dawson Creek.
The Banff Hotel was covered in smoke. On our trip across Canada to Alaska, we hit smoke near Calgary and were not smoke-free until after a three-day rain storm in Dawson Creek.

I am going to say right up front, that I didn’t do most of the planning for our RV Trip across Canada to Alaska. Instead, we were included in a group of wonderful friends and they did most of the planning. They also didn’t start from scratch. They instead copied some of the “standard” routes that have been used for years. Most of the planning that I did was to stay longer in places important to us and then rejoin our group frequently so that we could see them.

How to plan an RV trip using RV Life Trip Wizard

In our group, all of the planning and multiple revisions were made using RV Life Trip Wizard RV route planning software. Each member of our group had their copy of the software and each time a change was made, they could then send copies out to the different group members and then discuss the changes.

RV Trip Wizard works on all computers and tablets.
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The fact is that RV Trip Wizard route planning software made planning our trip much easier than it would have been without it. I have a basic tutorial on how you can use it to plan any RV trip. The tutorial is based on our RV trip across Canada to Alaska. I will also tell you how to get a discount on RV Trip Wizard. Here is a link to my tutorial about how to use RV Trip Wizard and how to get the discount code. Easy Planning with RV Trip Wizard

We didn’t join a commercial tour

All our planning was done by ourselves in our group. We made all our reservations individually. Several commercial tours go across Canada to Alaska every year. We saw them come and go. For us, commercial tours were too organized, too inflexible, and way too expensive. I also think that they drive too frequently and too far on drive days. I am glad we didn’t join a commercial tour. At the end of our trip, we were all still friends. We have heard stories about commercial tours that can’t say that.

Job descriptions for multiple RVs on a trip together

Even though we were not on a tour, I would say that we benefited greatly by having a few “named” positions in our group. I think that these roles apply to any group of more than three RVs. This applies to both planning an RV Trip across Canada to Alaska and how to make the RV trip, especially a nearly five-month-long RV trip.

Wagon Master

Depending on the size of your group, you are going to need a leader. RV groups will often use the term Wagon Master to identify the leader. Instead of Wagon Master, we called our point RV, Rebel Leader. We also called our group the Rebels. (Being Rebels had nothing to do with our not being on a tour.) The leader will probably be one of the main planners. You should pick your leader early at least six months before you cross the border northbound in Canada. Our leader was also the main organizer for our trip as well as a key planner.

Navigator

You should also choose a navigator (planning leader). This may or may not be the trip leader. Expect that the navigator and the wagon master will need to talk and make decisions that later will be communicated to the group members. Not every decision needs to be made with every member of the group involved.

It is nice to see a clear blue sky after several days of smoke.  This photo was taken near Jasper National Park on our way around the smoke and fires that blocked pre-planned route across Canada to Alaska.
It is nice to see a clear blue sky after several days of smoke. This photo was taken near Jasper National Park on our way around the smoke and fires that blocked the pre-planned route across Canada to Alaska.

At a minimum, the navigator needs to help make a plan that will include most of the most important locations in Alaska in the right season. A bad plan ignores the events that make Alaska so unique. A bad plan ignores the expected weather and hopes for the best. Weather in Alaska, even in the summer, is typically less desirable than most people realize. You want to be in the right place at the right time. This comment is based on summer weather. Winter weather in Alaska is something that most people understand as not being hospitable.

Pre-trip communications

Other than phone calls between the navigator and the leader, we exchanged emails frequently. We also made group video phone calls once a month to discuss priorities and review the route. Everyone was involved in the planning. We used video chat to get to know the people in our group. Based on these discussions, we made planning revisions for our RV trip to make sure that we met the desires of the participants.

Our group, the Rebels

Our main group (the Rebels) consisted of four very similar RVs who mostly stuck together. This main body of our group departed together and stayed together. Usually, the four and sometimes five RVs stretched out over a mile of roadway. We traveled in a very loose formation. Staying close to your group has advantages, including using radios to chat between RVs during the drive.

We didn't always travel with our group on their way across Canada to Alaska.
We didn’t always travel with our group on their way across Canada to Alaska. Going in a group has lots of merit in the enjoyment of the trip. Going in a group also has lots of merit in the safety and support department.

Our group used handheld radios. Each slow spot (sometimes more than fifty miles apart) allowed the group to close up the formation and collect the slower drivers. It is just like traffic lights. You may get passed (in your car) by some driver who zooms past you at top speed. Then you catch them at the next stop light. Slow spots have a way of negating any need for high speed.

Here is a photo of the RVs in our group at Fort Nelson Campground.
Here is a photo of the RVs in our group at Fort Nelson Campground. Our RV is the short one second from the left. They are all Tiffin’s and ours is about twelve years older than the rest of the Rebels. Perhaps I am more rebellious than the others.
Mid day view of Muncho Lake from our campground.
Mid-day view of Muncho Lake from our campground. Muncho Lake is on the Alaska Highway going towards Whitehorse. As we made our way across Canada to Alaska we saw so many pretty sites.

Other roles when traveling as a group

In addition to the leader and the navigator, there are other roles members of a group should consider.

Scouts and Tail Gunners

Sometimes we acted as a scout departing a location earlier than the rest of the group. Sometimes we stayed at a location longer than the group. Sometimes we stayed at locations more remote than did the group. We also stayed at several locations with the group. I describe our presence in the group as a floater rather than as a scout. When we were out front and assuming we could communicate back to the group we, sometimes acted as the scout.

Vista of Muncho Lake in the Northern Rockies on the Alaska Highway
Another view of Muncho Lake in the Northern Rockies on the Alaska Highway. I made this one try to look like a pastel painting. Yes, the colors were that vivid. The pastel look comes from the blur.

Sometimes we arrived at a location days after the group, so we never really acted at the Tail Gunner. When traveling together in a group, we were near the middle of the pack. One of the jobs of the tail gunner is to make sure that no one in the main body gets left behind. Likewise, the person in front of the tail gunner needs to make sure to keep the tail gunner in sight. Intentionally we put the person with the best camera in position as the Tail Gunner. Wildlife sightings were common, especially in Canada, and the Tail Gunner could stop and get pictures without impacting the group’s travel.

Floaters

Even though we were in the group, I described our role as being floaters. We went the same way as the main group and met them at many locations after staying at additional places along the way. This allowed us to meet other friends (not in the group) at different places and then meet back up with the group later. It also allowed us to stay at more remote locations with fewer amenities at a lower cost than others in the group. We were also able to travel fewer miles than the group traveled on travel days. Fewer miles is a two-edged sword, however, as it means you move more often.

Bison calf along the road north of Muncho Lake.
Unlike Yellowstone or in the Black Hills we didn’t see many Bison going across Canada to Alaska. Even more rare were moose sightings.

One of the cool parts of being a floater is that we had different stories to tell when the group was together. At the same time, we missed out on some of the group activities that would have been fun to participate in.

Dealing with Truck Drivers

Having a loose formation also allows truck drivers to pass each RV individually rather than as a group. In our experience, truck drivers always drive much faster than we do. They are just trying to get their job done and get home. I’m sure that they get a little grumpy to see a bunch of RVs traveling close to one another on “their” road. In the spring, truck drivers expect to see RVers heading north and then return to the south in the fall.

When a truck approached each RV we let them pass. In most locations, we were nearly alone on the road. So we would wait for a straight section, and slow down to allow the truck to zip past. This always worked. They zipped past us at the first opportunity.

Rendezvous Point

We wanted to travel across Canada to Alaska together and all start on the same day from the same place. To do this we picked a rendezvous point and all met there with plenty of time for our departure into Canada. Our rendezvous point was in Great Falls Montana.

Snowfields in the high mountains along the Alaska Highway.
In May, and this far north, as we were going across Canada to Alaska these snowfields were abundant. On our trip southbound, we were amazed at how many had melted completely.

We picked Great Falls because it was on the east side of the Rocky Mountains. In Great Falls we all gathered from six different starting points across the country. Yes, I said six different starting points. This is because we met other friends in Great Falls who were also traveling across Canada to Alaska although not on the same route. We saw these friends in Great Falls and then again in Alaska. We also saw them again traveling south through British Columbia. Being a floater allowed us to adjust our schedule, meet with them, and still mostly travel with the group.

Bicycling in Fairbanks in May can be a cold ride.
Bicycling in Whitehorse, in May, can be a cold ride.

I think that starting our trip across Canada to Alaska starting in Great Falls Montana was great. We were able to travel north through Alberta as warmer weather arrived in the spring. Alberta was much warmer than Montana or British Columbia.

We chose Great Falls as our rendezvous point, but that doesn’t mean that Winnipeg wouldn’t be a great place to start with a spring drive across Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Since half of our group was coming from the west, and the other half coming from the east, Great Falls seemed like a great place to start to the north.

There is nothing to say that you can’t use a rendezvous point somewhere in Canada. Calgary or Edmonton would have worked great.

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Perhaps traveling north through British Columbia would have worked as well and the mountain views would have been even more majestic than during our route through British Columbia in the fall. However, because of spring, and snowpack, some of the campgrounds we used in British Columbia would have been closed in the spring due to snow depth.

All roads go to Tok

Regardless of where you start your RV trip across Canada to Alaska, you will be going to Tok. Tok is the first city in Alaska on the Alaska Highway. Even if you go through Dawson City, departing the Alaska Highway at Whitehorse to Dawson City, you will be going through Tok. When you leave Alaska you will also be going through Tok on your way south.

The sign at the ALCAN border crossing means that we are less than 400 miles from the end of the Alaska Highway.
The sign at the ALCAN border crossing means that we are less than 400 miles from the end of the Alaska Highway.

The fact that Tok is the first city in Alaska makes route planning to Tok easy regardless of where you start. We started in Great Falls Montana, so that is where I started my RV Trip Wizard demonstration and I ended the demonstration in Tok. If you missed it the first time here is the link. Easy Planning with RV Trip Wizard

You will travel on the Alaska Highway

You cannot avoid traveling on the Alaska Highway when traveling across Canada to Alaska. We took the Alaska Highway from its starting point in Dawson Creek past Tok to Delta Junction. Delta Junction is the recognized end of the Alaska Highway. The other route to Alaska is to depart the Alaska Highway in Whitehorse and go to Dawson City. Then after Dawson City you rejoin the Alaska Highway in Tok. If you drive to Alaska through British Columbia, you will pick up the Alaska Highway at Watson Lake.

Mounting our sign at the sign at the Sign Forest in Watson Lake.
Mounting our sign at the sign at the Sign Forest in Watson Lake. Our sign was made out of scrap stainless steel. Is there such a thing as scrap stainless steel? Anyway, it should easily outlast the post that Mitch mounted it on. Mitch is one of our group who had an impact driver and thus is our ladderman.

If you choose the Dawson City route, you will be making a ferry crossing of the Yukon River to the west of Dawson City. You should also plan on extra time, not only due to the extra distance the Dawson City route takes but also because the road from Dawson City is known to be much more difficult than staying on the Alaska Highway. The section of the Alaska Highway you miss by going through Dawson City is between Whitehorse and Tok. The worst part of the road from Dawson City to Tok is called Top of the World. The Top of the World is a rugged road along a ridgeline between Dawson City and Chicken Alaska.

Our epic RV trip across Canada to Alaska

We departed Great Falls after a one-week stay in the middle of May. From there, we crossed into Canada at the Sweetwater Border Crossing north of Great Falls. Just across the border we stopped in Milk River and sorted out our new Canada cell phone and internet issues. As soon as we crossed into Canada, every phone and data device we had quit working. This was even after I upgraded my phone to Google Fi just for the trip across Canada. With Google Fi, I was supposed to get free roaming on Canadian networks and eventually, it worked but not until we fought with it for a while.

North across Canada to Alaska

Since we started in Alberta on our way north, we were able to visit Lethbridge, Calgary, and Edmonton in Alberta before making a westward turn towards Grand Prarie, Fort Nelson, and Dawson Creek. Since our launch date across the border into Canada was during the middle of May, we were greeted by long days and didn’t see any snow until our turn to the west near Jasper National Park. If you have the time I would take the opportunity to visit Banff and Jasper on your way north to Dawson Creek. This story describes our route to Dawson Creek and some details about dodging wildfires along our route. Here is a link to that story. Crossing Canada, going to Alaska

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I am reviewing this to make a point about planning an RV Trip across Canada to Alaska. Make sure to leave plenty of time in your plan to address the unknown obstacles to your trip. When planning an RV Trip across Canada to Alaska, there was no way we could have known that wildfires early in the spring would have presented such an obstacle to our progress. Smoke from these fires was a problem. The fires, right on the roadway, caused us to reroute to locations that we did not anticipate visiting.

Departing Edmonton

Wildfires blocked our path from Edmonton to Grand Prairie. The only way to get to Grand Prairie was to go around. We chose to go directly west toward Jasper once at the entrance to Jasper we turned north toward Grand Prarie. Once at the entrance to Jasper, we had a decision to make, do we go north to Grand Prarie and rejoin our route (and our group) to Dawson Creek or would we skip the start of the Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek and instead cross into British Columbia and rejoin the route north of Dawson Creek at Watson Lake.

British Columbia Fire Zone Map
British Columbia Fire Zone Map while we were going across Canada to Alaska. Dawson Creek is on the bottom edge of the map. These fires put a stop to our progress until a three-day rainstorm solved our problem. In May of 2023, these weren’t the only fires we had to dodge.

Skipping Dawson Creek would have been a big detour, and had we not built in extra time to make this detour work, we would have been stuck on the road with no place to stay. We elected to go north from Jasper to Grand Prarie and it was a choice that didn’t leave us many options to skip the wildfire north of Dawson Creek. Once you are in Dawson Creek there is only one way reasonable way to make it to Alaska and that is to drive the Alaska Highway. The other routes would have included detours of hundreds of miles.

Vista of Muncho Lake in the Northern Rockies on the Alaska Highway
Vista of Muncho Lake in the Northern Rockies on the Alaska Highway

Overall our decision worked out and a three-day rainstorm in Dawson Creek allowed us to travel the Alaska Highway from the start in Dawson Creek to Delta Junction in Alaska.

Here is our reading list about our northbound journey across Canada to Alaska.

Final thoughts

Remember I mentioned that winter stays late and arrives early in Alaska? Depending on your location, chain laws require each vehicle to carry chains in some areas of both Canada and the United States. These chain laws usually end on May 1st and start on October 1st. When you plan an RV trip across Canada to Alaska make sure you consider the chain laws.

How to Plan (and Take) an Epic RV Trip Through Alaska

Here is the link to our trip through Alaska… Epic RV Trip Through Alaska

About the photos

Every scenic photo in this article was also included in previous articles. These two links are lists of all our articles about Alaska and Canada. When using these links note that there is plenty of overlap in these two links. Alaska Canada

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8 thoughts on “How to Plan (and Take) an Epic RV Trip Across Canada to Alaska”

  1. We intend to go to Alaska this Summer and we’re planning on crossing near Seattle and coming back through Banff. Is there a reason you didn’t choose this route? Or come into Washington at all.

    1. Hi Mark, we routed southbound through Seattle. British Columbia gets more snow and therefore northbound routing lacks places to stay. If you route through Banff and then over to Calgary you won’t have a problem.

  2. We did this trip in May 2014 and enjoyed the whole 48 days on the way. We visited Fairbanks, and Anchorage also. We traveled the Cassier Highway on the way home with a side trip to Stewart/Hyder. I had been there flying a float plane, but never on the ground. We started north of Havre, MT, and traveled the same route with a 27′ Flagstaff trailer, and had no problems, except a Dometic 300 toilet failure in Whitehorse. It is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. I would highly recommend it.

  3. Pingback: How to Plan (and take) an epic RV trip through Alaska - FoxRVTravel

  4. It’s like you read my thoughts! You appear to know a lot about this,
    such as you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you
    just could do with some % to drive the message house a little
    bit, but instead of that, this is a great blog. An excellent read.
    I’ll definitely be back.

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