The Park Chasers are heading to Alaska! This is the fourth installment in a series on how to prepare for an unforgettable Alaskan vacation. Check out our first few posts on choosing dates for your trip, selecting a base camp, and traveling North of the Arctic Circle on your adventure. With millions of acres of national parks to explore, follow along with us as we plan our next adventure!
Since the last update we have spent some time vetting our Travel Option B, to travel for a longer trip in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and then north of the Arctic Circle to Barrow, Alaska. As you might remember, this option means that we visit fewer parks but get a better overall sense of the area and if we would want to spend more or less time at the other parks in the future. Until we have a chance to get acquainted with what it is like we don’t really know if we will want to move to Alaska or just get the passport stamps and head home.
Now that we secured the details and a basic plan for where we want to visit in our first 3 days, we have to make the next biggest decision of the trip: To camp or not to camp!
Deciding to Camp in Alaska
When it comes down to whether or not we camp in Alaska, the decision starts with Denali. We both really want to camp in Denali National Park, especially since last month we read Denali’s Howl, a detailed account of one of the deadliest climbing disasters on Denali. While we have no intentions of climbing during our stay, the book gave us some ideas of key locations in the park and what we would like to see when we’re there.
But so far, we are going to only spend 3 of the 14 nights of our Alaska vacation in Denali. When we’re planning several commercial and chartered flights during the trip, we really cannot afford to use up close to half our luggage capacity on camping gear (tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, basic camp cooking gear, etc.) we will use in only 1 location.
During a 2015 camping trip to Rocky Mountain NP we were able to get most of the essentials into one bag (49.5 pounds to avoid the 50 pound overweight charge!). We had enough space for clothes, camera, and our living essentials in the other check bag, but even that was far from ultra-light. Taking anything more than two checked bags and two carry-ons starts to add up, both in the energy to carry it between destinations and in the charges. We’re already looking at around $200 in luggage fees without extra bags.
We have to find at least another 3-5 nights of camping along our travel route in order to make hauling all the gear worth it.
Where Else To Camp in Alaska?
The step we’re in right now is looking at campgrounds in the other locations that we are planning to travel to. We know we’re already looking at stops in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve and near Kenai Fjords National Park. If we can find a few other camping options there and in Fairbanks, Anchorage, or Seward to add to Denali then it would be well worth packing up our gear and hauling it to Alaska.
Unfortunately, what we’ve found to online to camp in Alaska has been discouraging for us first-time travelers.
Many of the campgrounds we’ve looked at don’t take reservations. Can we really risk being stuck without a place to stay in Alaska if we arrive only to find all the campsites booked? Some places only offered 10 or 12 non-reservable sites in the location we needed. How much of our treasured hiking time would we be willing to give up trying to hunt down a different spot to camp?
Even more concerning was what we’d find once we did have a reservation. While we’re not too serious about reading the online reviews of other travelers (after all, everyone wants something different from a vacation!), occasionally we do check comments for places we’ve never been. Some of the reviews of campgrounds in Alaska’s state and regional parks have been pretty sketchy. Many of the campgrounds are in remote locations with little security or regulation. Drug use and theft were two things we were definitely NOT wanting to encounter on our trip!
So for now, the question of ‘to camp or not to camp’ in Alaska is still up in the air.
If we are able to it could reduce our nightly lodging from $200-300 a night down to $20-40, which means more cash for day excursions and souvenirs. We also know that the right campgrounds are out there, even if we haven’t found them all yet. For our readers who have experience camping in Alaska, we’d love to hear about where you stayed, whether you had to risk not making a reservation, and what you found when you arrived. Share in our comments below or hop over to our Facebook page to join the conversation on Alaska trip planning.