Considering an Alaskan RV Trip? Afraid/unwilling to do it on your own?
You might consider a paid RV Caravan as a solution to your hesitant wanderlust!
We joined a paid Alaskan caravan Summer of 2016. We are usually independent RVers who enjoy doing our own planning – and we really plan out our trips. Many folks are happy with more spontaneity, however, with a 45′ Motorhome – towing a vehicle – we like to know we will have a place to park that beast! In addition we want to ensure that we can get in popular places such as Summer in Yellowstone (got in!) -and we have been shut out of properties Mono Lake, September!
We chose a paid caravan for ONE reason. I did NOT want to take this trip – I was concerned about fuel availability, breaking down in the middle of nowhere and taking such a long trip solo. We asked other RVing friends if they wanted to make the journey – and we were met with “No Way!” “You are nuts!” and flat out “NO”!
I then tried the social media route – RVillage Alaska groups, Facebook groups, etc. I did not find any suitable groups – going from “I’d be happy to go with a group if someone else did all of the work” (yep, that is a quote!) to “its just us and our friends, not looking for anyone to join.” Ok – so that was out! You might have better luck – a check on various social media platforms might yield some good results.
One gentleman who wanted to do the trip – and was willing to participate in the planning – decided on a paid caravan.
I discovered the least expensive RV caravan company – which worked well since I am cheap. A main attraction – besides cost – was a guaranteed small caravan group – max of 17 rigs.
Some better-known caravan companies have 35 rigs participating. Sounds like a nightmare to me – could not imagine rolling into a campground or fuel stops with up to 35 rigs. If everyone travels at a different pace it could work. I was not comfortable with that situation.
Another factor in our selection was starting from Dawson Creek, British Columbia and ending in Prince George, BC. Other, longer caravans launch from Montana or Washington State and include visits to Alberta, Edmonton, Jasper & Banff. We did this on the front end of our trip and are glad we did. These were easy to plan and navigate on four lane roads with reasonable fuel stops. We then met up at the group start point, Dawson Creek, BC.
In addition to a potential logistical nightmare, larger caravans may increase your chance for Drama! We crossed paths with other Large caravan groups – folks we spoke with were satisfied, but we received no rave reviews.
We witnessed one caravan member man deck another in a campground, another caravan had two parties that refused to park side-by-side.
Two gentlemen we met while taking a small plane to Barrow, Alaska did not appear to know each other – even though they were part of the same caravan group. So the big caravan group – at a distance – seemed cold. I am sure others have great experiences they can share – we just did not witness the larger groups as a big, happy ‘family’
The best part of a paid group is your campground reservations are made & paid. Routes have been planned out; based on experience and knowledge of roads, appropriate distances of travel and activities planned and paid for. A guest can take advantage of all or none of the schedules events. We also left and rejoined the caravan when we wanted to stay additional days at an interesting spot.
The best part of a paid group is your campground reservations are made & paid. Routes have been planned out; based on experience and knowledge of roads, appropriate distances of travel and activities planned and paid for. A guest can take advantage of all or none of the schedules events.
This worked especially well in the Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park. The largest US National Park has few facilities and takes time to explore. We spent extra days in the town of Glenallen to take advantage of our proximity to this great park. It was a great decision – as Wrangell was one of our favorite stops.
The caravan company we used allowed for a 23 or 50 day trip. Guests who were in the 23 day group departed the group in Anchorage. 5 rigs departed the group – we were sorry to see them go but lucky to run into them at other stops – fun! The now smaller group allowed us to get to know our other caravan members even better. This was a great unforeseen treat. You might want to consider this shorter option up front – as the wagon master can add you to the campground reservation should you decide to do the entire 50 days.
The campgrounds selected by our caravan company were mixed. Some were fine (and many used by all caravan companies) while others should have been skipped as better parks were available nearby. One offered a rickety scary bridge to cross with big rigs, another’s electricity was not working when we arrived and the problem was not a concern for the owner. Husband Donald worked two hours to get it fixed. Please note that campgrounds are not that plentiful in many areas – but you will find delightful surprised in unexpected places. We elected to return to a remote property with no sewer (a common occurrence) and only 20 amps because is was beautiful.
Our caravan company also offered side trips (extra charge) to remote spots in Alaska. We did most of the side trips through the caravan organizer – which was convenient – the downside was no support provided by the Trek Master for these trips. Another factor – we could have saved some money planning these trips on our own – possible using the caravan schedule (provided well in advance of the trip) and using the organizer’s suggested excursions as a start point.
While the Trek Masters are paid to organize activities outside of those already scheduled, we did that ourselves. We organized our own excursions including a Minor League baseball game in Anchorage, ATVing in Denali, a Denali Ranger-lead hike. Fishing trips (in Homer for example) can be done on your own. We were able to get a discount on some of these activities – just ask! And they were lots of fun with our group.
A great advantage to caravan participation is the presence of a Trek Master (usually a couple) who lead the caravan and employed to check you into campgrounds, lead activities and provide information regarding the road ahead. In addition to the Trek Master, a Tailgunner (also a party of two) “tails” the group to ensure if any breakdowns occur you will have some help – as long as you are on that day’s route. And if you look at a map of Northern B.C., the Yukon and most of Alaska – there is only one route for the majority of the trip.
Our Tailgunners were great! Tailgunners Dale & Gwen are warm, generous people who we enjoyed immensely! This was their first caravan – and we had a great time with them. We had two (two!) flat tires on our Jeep – occurring on an empty road. Once we made a fairly quick drive to the campground, Dale nicely helped us with the spare and the repair kit. While he did not have to do this, he said he couldn’t miss giving husband Donald a hard time about the flat. We had fun joking back and forth with Dale. Gwen was a great Trekmaster (as well as Tail Gunner) ensuring we were informed and shared great information about every spot we visited. The memory of Gwen coming out of her shell & briefing us while standing on a picnic table in a crowded area will not be forgotten. The presence of the Tailgunner was a main reason for us to join the caravan – having two great people doing the job was an extra treat! We knew we would not be stranded.
Other than seeing the beauty and majesty of Alaska (and there is a lot of it!) we throughly enjoyed our fellow Caravaners! With zero drama, our small, fun-loving group (which got smaller) enjoyed each other’s company and were sorry to see the caravan breakup. Nightly Happy Hours at the Happy Hour campsite were enjoyed by the group and gave us a chance to share the day and make plans for the evening. We have seen a few people since last summer – Summer of 2017 will find some of us meeting up at the Albequerque Balloon Fest!
In summary, if you want to travel to Alaska in your RV you may want to consider a caravan. It worked for us!
A caravan may suit you if:
- You want to travel with others,
- Are unsure of where and when to go
- Want the security of a Tail gunner or Trek Master; and
- Still want some degree of independence
Some items to consider (and maybe research):
- Number of rigs?
- Who are your Tail gunners & Trek Masters – what is their experience? and their recent reviews
- Does the caravan stay at the spots you want to visit?
- If you can find your own references, do so. A question on social media might yield useful info. References provided by the Caravan company might not share the bad info, just the good or their cousin’s review….
- Can you break away from and rejoin the group – can you take a half-trip (23 vs. 50 days)? Can you do a campground-only caravan – no side trips included?.
- Organize extra activities (not included with your Caravan base price) on your own (sightseeing flights, fishing trips, etc.). Use the side trips suggested by the Caravan company as a guide.
I would encourage you to travel to Alaska – no matter how you choose to get there. Solo, a group of friends, or a paid caravan. Hopefully you will enjoy it as we did – or maybe more. Safe travels!