July/August: It's Better Outside
Colleen wanted to make margaritas—she’d schlepped all the necessary ingredients to our U.S. Forest Service cabin hidden in the woods along Shoup Bay just outside Valdez.
But we’d been camping for days, spending the afternoons kayaking the bay, reading good books while tucked in our sleeping bags and talking by the campfire while our kids combed the beaches for seashore treasures.
And we had no ice. You can’t have a good margarita without ice.
So, while gazing out at the hazy turquoise waters that lead to Shoup Glacier, we hatched a plan. The small icebergs bobbing in the water had been drifting within site of our camp, and they beckoned us to come put them to good use.
We climbed into our kayak, with a length of camp rope tied in a lasso, and approached the first piece of ice, clear as glass and about the size of a small cooler. The sun had melted the ice in the middle, so it formed a natural barbell with fat ends and a skinny center—perfect for capturing.
Within a few tries, we had secured the ice and began hauling it back to camp. For the remainder of the trip we were able to chip away at that natural ice and enjoy our margaritas in style.
Now that’s what I call camping.
Alaska is one of the best places for camping and adventure. With thousands of miles of coastline, it’s a kayaker’s paradise. With trailless mountains and valleys, it’s perfect for backcountry hiking and backpacking. The rivers and streams teem with trout and salmon, giving anglers endless fishing opportunities.
Getting to these places is easier than you might think, too.
The Milepost, considered the “Bible of North Country Travel” since 1949, is a legendary trip planner and must-have for your Alaska camping adventure. It covers 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 also updated annually, so you’ll know what condition the roads are in and exactly what to expect along the way. (800-726-4707)
Traveling by motorhome is one of the best ways to see the more rustic areas of the state. Rentals are easy to arrange.
Great Alaskan Holidays is one of Alaska’s premier RV rental companies, with unlimited mileage, or pay-per-mile to save money. Reservations can be made online from start-to-finish, discount gas and propane is offered, and there is no risky prepayment of rental fees. Great Alaskan has the largest and newest facility and motorhome fleet, and free insurance, dumping, cleaning, linen and housekeeping packs, TV/DVD players and low rates. (888-225-2752)
Clippership Motorhome Rentalswas founded in 1982 and is family owned and operated. The company provides affordable and flexible Alaska vacations, and the folks at Clippership help clients create their own dream vacations. The most economical way to experience Alaska is by the comfort of a home on wheels. Clippership will help you write your own adventure. Their knowledgeable staff will help you design an itinerary that meets all of your wishes for the vacation of a lifetime. (800-421-3456)
ABC Motorhome and Car Rentals not only helps you reserve one of its motorhomes or rental cars, but the staff helps you plan your itinerary and book your tour reservations as well. The Anchorage-based outfit has an outstanding staff of long-time Alaskans who are always ready to assist you in planning your Alaska adventure. (800-421-7456)
Once you’ve got your transportation arranged, it’s time to hit the road. TheAlaska Campground Owner’s Association represents campgrounds throughout Alaska and is a member-owned, nonprofit business. Their mission is to provide outdoor hospitality excellence to the camping public in Alaska. (866-339-9082)
For our kayaking trip to Shoup Bay, we traveled to the seaside town of Valdez, parking and camping for the night at Eagle’s Rest RV Park. Eagle’s Rest RV Park is located in beautiful downtown, with awesome scenery that surrounds the park—the pristine Prince William Sound to one side, misty towering waterfalls clammering down the incredible majestic peaks on all sides. Eagle’s Nest offers RV sites, cabins and tent sites, and a 24-hour convenience store, gas and propane, laundromats, cable TV, dump stations, fishing licenses and free ticketing on all tours. They are centrally located, too, giving you easy access to shopping, fishing and more. (800-553-7275)
The next day, we picked up our kayaks from Anadyr Adventures. Rent kayaks on your own, like we did, or sea kayak and hike with professional guides in the spectacular Prince William Sound wilderness. Kayak among large icebergs, hike in old-growth forests, see marine wildlife, visit ice caves and hike a glacier. No experience is necessary. Anadyr has been in the business for 20 years with an excellent safety record, and their guides are trained naturalists who return year after year. (800-865-2925)
Other camping and recreation opportunities abound in Valdez, too. Valdez Convention and Visitors Bureau can offer information on sea kayaking, rafting, glacier and wildlife cruises, shopping, dining, biking, hiking, fishing and many more activities. As they say in Valdez, “even Mother Nature has her favorites.” Contact them for information on booking your adventure (907-835-4636)
For those traveling from Anchorage to get to Valdez, one of the neatest places to rest for the night is Tolsona Wilderness Campground. This beautiful campground is surrounded by untouched wilderness. All 80 campsites are situated beside the sparkling Tolsona Creek complete with a table and fireplace. It’s a full-service campground with tent site, water and electric RV hook-ups, restrooms, showers, dump station, laundromat, free Wi-Fi and, interestingly enough, an extensive turn-of-the-century antique displays. (907-822-3865)
Another popular camping and adventure destination in Alaska—also close to the water—is the Kenai Peninsula. The Kenai’s reputation as “Alaskans’ playground” is a worn, but very appropriate, moniker. Fishing, camping, hiking, kayaking—you name it, it can be done here.
Beluga Lookout Lodge and RV Park offers a unique camping experience overlooking the mouth of the world-famous Kenai River. Situated in Old Town Kenai with spectacular views of the Kenai River, Cook Inlet, Mount Redoubt and Mount Illiamna. Watch for beluga whales, and other wildlife. Browse for special treasures in their gift shop. Visit the tour desk for fishing charters, guided bear viewing, or wildlife and glacier cruises. (907-283-5999)
The Diamond M Ranch Resort, also on the Kenai, 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-and-breakfast and an 80-space, full-hookup RV park. Laundry, fish-cleaning station, freezer space, a large fire pit, horseback riding, tours and other activities are also offered. It’s the perfect place from which to launch an outdoor adventure. (866-283-9424)
Along the Kenai Peninsula you can take advantage of many fishing opportunities. Heavenly Sights Campgrounds & Charters offers fishing charters, cabins, and a campground. Heavenly Sights boasts a record 420-pound halibut on one of their boats. Try your luck with their experienced guides who will take you to some of their favorite fishing spots in pursuit of halibut and salmon. Charter lengths vary from 5 to 12 hours. (800-479-7371)
Popular destinations from the Kenai area include Homer at the road’s end (perfect for sea kayaking and halibut fishing); the Kenai River (for great salmon fishing); and Cooper Landing (where fishing, hiking and white-water rafting comes together).
In Homer, at the Driftwood Inn, Charters & RV Park you can park your RV on the Bluff in Old-Town above Bishop’s Beach without the wind of the spit. A family-owned, full-service RV park with 22 sites, cable TV, Internet and the cleanest bathrooms around. Book your fishing charter or just relax and enjoy the nearby shopping and dining. There are also guest rooms available for when your RV gets too crowded. (907-235-8019)
Other popular outdoor destinations in Alaska can be found north of Anchorage, where the sea gives way to massive mountains and wide rivers, all perfect for exploring throughout the summer. Those with RVs can start their trip from Anchorage and work their way up the Glenn and Parks highways to the Interior.
Golden Nugget RV Park 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 Wi-Fi, hot showers and a 24-hour laundromat. The park is big-rig friendly, with large pull-through sites that make it convenient as well. And here’s a superlative: They were voted as having the cleanest restrooms in town. Enjoy the gift shop, barbecue pavilion and pet-friendly atmosphere, including local nightly entertainment and weekend barbecues. (800-449-2012)
Heading north, travelers will want to stop in the Matanuska Susitna Valley to explore its recreation opportunities. The towns of Palmer and Wasilla are fun places to explore and resupply. Great early and late-season salmon fishing can be had here, as well as river running, mountaineering (even in the summer) and hiking.
Big Bear Campground and RV Park, located in Wasilla, is family-owned and operated. Its clean and friendly campground offers full hook-up and pull-through RV sites, tent camping, propane, and free Wi-Fi, laundromat and cabin rentals. (907-745-7445)
IceWorm RV Park is another great option. It’s a small, quiet family-focused RV park, located eight miles north of Wasilla’s city center, close to several restaurants and within short distance of many fishing spots, hiking, cultural activities and other day trips. IceWorm prides itself on being “a quiet pace, friendly place.” Pets on leash are welcome. They have picnic tables, fire pits and a small laundromat and shower. (907-892-8200)
Perhaps no adventure to Alaska is complete without at least seeing the largest mountain on the North American continent. And while you’ll be able to see it on a clear day from as far away as Anchorage or Wasilla, Denali National Park and Preserve is the place to get really up close and personal to Mount McKinley, also known as Denali. The park is one of the most-visited destinations in the state, yet it is so vast, you’ll still feel like you’re sharing it with just a few people. And when Denali is out—all 20,320 feet of it—you’ll feel absolutely dwarfed by its beauty.
Driving north from Wasilla, and the Mat-Su along the Parks Highway, you’ll get to Denali in just a few hours. Enjoy the drive along the way because it is breathtaking.
Just outside the park’s perimeter are several places to stay, but one of the most popular and long-standing among the camping crowd is Denali Grizzly Bear. It’s a pioneer Alaska family-owned and operated outfit that has been around since 1968 and has much to offer the visitor. Located on the boundary of Denali Park, it offers a variety of charming cabin types, new cedar hotel and campground. Most cabins and all hotel rooms have private decks on the river. Grizzly Bear has a convenience store, gift shop, liquor, propane and firewood. Free Wi-Fi is available. (866-583-2696)
Denali is the outdoors defined, with mountains, rivers for kayaking and rafting, fishing, flightseeing, wildlife viewing and more. A trip here completes a clear picture of what the outdoors in Alaska can offer, from oceans to inland.