May: Camp Alaska
The tent was positioned perfectly to take in the best views of Tutka Bay. Perched on a high bluff overlooking a tiny cove within the bay, it stood there like a sentry, staked in on all sides to keep it from blowing away in a gust of wind. I could easily unzip the tent’s mesh screen, pull back the rain fly and let the sun shine onto our sleeping bags. From my spot at the tent’s entrance I could see several playful otters frolicking in the water below.
This is camping in Alaska.
In a place that is perhaps best known for its outrageous scenery and stunning wilderness, it is no wonder that camping and outdoor adventure are some of the most popular reasons for coming here. In the summer, when the sun stays above the horizon nearly around the clock, visitors can enjoy the outdoors from the comfort of a tent, recreational vehicle or rustic cabin. Experiencing the Last Frontier in this way is really the best way to be part of Alaska. The sights, smells and sounds of the Alaska outdoors meld to create memories of the state that will remain etched indelibly in the memories of those who go to the effort to plan such an adventure.
Fortunately, Alaska has no shortage of camping options. The Alaska State Parks system is the largest in the country, and includes such gems as Chugach State Park, a half-million acre park surrounding the city of Anchorage; Denali State Park, north toward Mount McKinley; and Kachemak Bay State Park—home to Tutka Bay on the southern coast of the Kenai Peninsula. Alaska State Parks offer affordable public camping, as well as hiking trials, boating opportunities, fishing and sightseeing.
Likewise, the National Park Service—with Wrangell-St. Elias, Kenai Fjords and Denali national parks and preserves—has similar amenities. Visiting Alaska without stopping at these publicly owned recreation areas would be a major oversight.
But don’t ignore the private, family-owned campgrounds and recreation
areas that give visitors a chance to get to know the locals.
The campground members of Alaska Campground Owners Associationare generally privately owned, and each Alaska campground is as unique as its owner. Wherever you are in Alaska, you are never far from an ACOA campground. Because of the variety of members and services offered, ACOA is able to meet the needs of campers from all backgrounds. They hope that you find your own unique Alaska traveling experience, and would be happy to help you plan it. (866-339-9082)
- Denali National Park and Preserve (for the incredible wildlife-viewing opportunities)
- Valdez (for kayaking and fishing)
- Homer (for more kayaking and fishing)
- Glennallen (for warm weather and wilderness camping) and
- Kenai-Soldotna (can you say “king salmon?”)
- Wasilla (the gateway to the Mat- Su)
- Anchorage (a great base camp for an adventure in Chugach State Park)
In each of these locales, you’ll need a place from which to launch youradventure.
In the region near Denali National Park and Preserve, a first choice would be the Denali Grizzly Bear Resort and Campground, a pioneer Alaska family-owned and operated outfit for 42 years. It is located on the boundary of Denali Park, on the banks of the Nenana River. The resort has a liquor store, convenience store, gift shop, ice, LP gas, firewood and WiFi. And there are AAA-rates for camping. Denali Grizzly Bear is listed in Best of Alaska Travel Guide and Hunters Travel Guide, which say, “call these people first.” (866-583-2696)
If you’re looking for some extra adventure while in Denali National Park, visit the Denali Outdoor Center. Private campground and cabin rentals are available on Otto Lake. They also offer daily whitewater and scenic wilderness river trips with fun and professional guides for ages 5 and up. Oar rafts, paddle rafts, kayaks, canoe rentals and bike tours/rentals are all options. Custom dry suits are available for all river runners. Free local shuttles. Open 7 days a week. (888-303-1925)
Homer’s beaches are a great place to camp, but a slightly more peaceful destination is Driftwood Inn Charters & RV Park, which houses three distinct properties with a budget for everyone. The modern Seaside Lodges feature deluxe rooms with king beds, while the Historic Driftwood Inn’s economy rooms offer comfortable value. There are also guest rooms and fun fishing charters with a lifelong Homer captain. (907-235-8019)
For Valdez, look no further than Eagle’s Rest RV Park, located in beautiful downtown and offering some awesome scenery—the pristine Prince William Sound to one side and misty, towering waterfalls clamoring down the incredible majestic peaks on all sides. Eagle’s Rest offers RV sites, cabins and tent sites. There is an always-open convenience store, gas and propane, Laundromats, cable TV, dump stations, fishing licenses and free ticketing on all tours. Eagle’s Rest is centrally located in Valdez giving visitors easy access to shopping, fishing and more. (800-553-7275)
If you’re looking for a friendly place to stay in Anchorage, visit Golden Nugget RV Park. It has been rated the friendliest RV Park in Anchorage. It is also the largest RV Park in town, with 215 spaces and a picnic table at every site. Amenities include WiFi, hot showers and a Laundromat. The park is big-rig friendly, with large pull-through sites that make it convenient as well. Let their friendly staff help with directions to local attractions. The pet-friendly park is within walking distance to parks and bike trails, or stick around for the local entertainment performed at the Golden Nugget RV Park Pavilion. (800-449-2012).
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For extra adventure in the Anchorage area, check out theAlaska Aviation Museum, where you can learn about Alaska’s rich aviation history with four hangars of vintage aircraft, bush pilot exhibits, flight simulator, unique store, and three theaters. The museum is located on Lake Hood, the world’s busiest seaplane base. Take the free airport shuttle it’s only 5 minutes from Anchorage Airport. (907-248-5325)
On your way up the Matanuska Valley, make sure stop in Wasilla at the family owned and operated Big Bear Campground & RV Park. Their clean and friendly campground offers full hook-up and pull-through RV sites, tent camping, propane, free WiFi, Laundromat and cabin rentals. (907-745-7445)
Near Glennallen is the very popular Tolsona Wilderness Campground. Every site in Tolsona Wilderness Campground is beautiful. This full-service campground is beside sparkling Tolsona Creek and offers a table and fireplace at each site. There are handicapped-accessible spots and hot showers, dump station, Laundromat, hiking trails, antiques display and WiFi. Like Denali Grizzly Bear, it’s family owned and operated—since 1970. (907-822-3865)
Then there is the Kenai-Soldotna area, a wildly popular place to be in the summer, when the monstrous Kenai River king salmon make their way upstream. Anglers flock to the Kenai, each hoping to catch his own behemoth.
The Diamond M Ranch Resort is owned by a longtime Alaska family and features 80 acres, offering a two-story lodge with four suites, each with a private bath, bedroom with a fantastic view and full kitchen. Cabins range from rustic to modern, and there is a two-bedroom bed & breakfast and a full hookup RV park. They offer laundry facilities, a fish-cleaning station, freezer space, a large fire pit, tours, potluck socials and other free activities. It’s the ideal Kenai-Soldotna getaway. (866-283-9424)
If tent camping is just a tad too rustic, don’t fear. Why not combine the comforts of home with the accessibility of wheels to get you into the great outdoors.
If a camping road trip is in your future, make sure to have your No. 1 survival guide: The Milepost. The Milepost has been considered the “Bible of North Country Travel” since 1949. This legendary trip planner is a must-have for your Alaska camping adventure. It covers—mile by mile—all the details of the highways, roads, ferries, lodgings, recreation, sightseeing attractions and services along the Alaska Highway to and within Alaska, including Alberta, British Columbia, Northwest Territories and the Yukon. It’s updated annually. Don’t hit the road without it. (800-726-4707)
Motorhome rentals can be had throughout Alaska, but there is a particularly good selection to be had in the Anchorage area, where affordable motorhome rentals can serve as your own private, roving hotel rooms.
Clippership Motorhome is Alaska’s oldest RV company and is family operated. Clippership Motorhome has been awarded Business of the Year and has a huge selection of motorhomes for every budget. They have some of the best rates in Alaska, too. (800-421-3456)
ABC Motorhome & Car Rentals not only helps visitors reserve one of its motorhomes or rental cars, but the staff helps plan exciting itineraries and books tour reservations as well. The Anchorage-based outfit has an outstanding staff of longtime Alaskans who are always ready to assist their guests in planning your Alaska adventure. (800-421-7456)
Another fine option is Great Alaskan Holidays, one of Alaska’s premier motorhome rental companies with one of the largest and newest fleets and facilities in Alaska. Reservations can be made online start-to-finish, with a discount for gas and propane offered, along with free insurance, dumping, cleaning, linen and housekeeping packs. These units offer TV/DVD players, low rates, and no risky prepayment of rental fees. Unlimited mileage or pay-per-mile rates are offered to save money, too. (888-225-2752)
Whether by motorhome or hoofing it with backpack and tent, an adventure in Alaska is best experienced up close and personal.