• Randy Reek

GoneCamper To Alaska – And Back!

The Minimalist’s Guide to Driving to Alaska, including the Western U.S., British Columbia and the Yukon.

First, let me state for the record that it is a LONG way to Alaska from Arizona. I already knew this. I had previously made a solo high-speed tour of Canada and Alaska by motorcycle. I rode 7,500 miles in 15 days. Yes, that’s a 500 mile per day average.

The scenery was so spectacular, so remote and so different than the rest of the U.S. that I wanted to go again, this time by vehicle and with my wife, Laurie. My previous trip started and ended in Idaho. This trip would start and end in Arizona, adding a great deal of mileage. In addition, there were many areas of Alaska that I bypassed the first time, and many places I couldn’t explore as a solo rider. These extra destinations and extra activities would add days and miles to the itinerary.

GoneCamper minivan camper

Driving 65 miles to Eagle, Alaska

So, let’s cut to the end of the story: we drove to Alaska and back in 24 days and accumulated 9,921 miles.

We drove a Dodge Caravan, equipped with the GoneCamper minivan camper conversion package. The GoneCamper conversion requires only folding the Stow-N-Go seats into the floor. The camping package does not alter the minivan in any way. The GoneCamper package is easily removed between camping trips. We spent only three nights in motels during the trip. We camped every other night in the GoneCamper minivan.

I will post a complete recap of the trip later, after we sort through over 1,000 photos and videos. But this post will summarize what we learned on this epic adventure. I will also include advice for others that want to drive to Alaska. I hope you will accept this advice based on my experience of having made the trip twice. I also hope that you use this information to start planning your own dream trip to Alaska – it really is a trip of a lifetime!

GoneCamper minivan camper

One of dozens of bear sightings in BC, Yukon and Alaska

Now almost 10,000 miles gives you a LOT of time to think about your touring set-up. A 10,000-mile trip also provides thousands of comparisons with other drivers who are making their way to Alaska. I am going to give you my thoughts on WHY we chose to use the GoneCamper as our vehicle for both road-tripping and three weeks of camping. In the process, I am also going to try to convince you NOT to make the mistakes we saw repeatedly by thousands of travelers on the Alaska Highway, the state highways within Alaska, and about 400 miles of unpaved roads that we traveled to some of the best locations.

I hope everyone gets the chance to drive to Alaska. Alaska (and the Yukon and northern British Columbia, too) is beautiful, remote, stark, and on a scale that cannot be duplicated anywhere in the lower 48 states. After 17,500 miles I have some strong opinions on how to efficiently travel to Alaska.

Our vehicle and its contents are a function of our preferred traveling style. By that I mean, how far we drive per day, where we like to stay at night, what we eat while traveling, etc. So, while my recommendations are based on my direct experience, I also recognize that they may not match your personal traveling style. There will be required changes if you have a family versus traveling as a couple. Still, I hope most of this information will help you plan your driving trip to Alaska.

All these disclaimers aside, your trip to Alaska will REQUIRE some planning and personal decisions.

For example, how many days do you have available for your trip? If you want to cover 10,000 miles like we did, how many miles per day must you average? In our case, 9,921 miles/24 days equals 413 miles per day. Because we had several days with far less mileage (or even ZERO miles), we had to have a few days that we drove 500 or 600 miles!

Averaging 400 miles per day is about the maximum I would suggest. You could literally drive non-stop since it never gets dark in Alaska in the summer. But you can’t experience the many awesome sights if you don’t get out of the vehicle repeatedly every day and do some exploring by foot. On the other hand, if you don’t like to drive more than 300 miles per day, your 10,000-mile vacation is going to require at least 33 days. If you like to stay in one spot every few days, add more days to the total. With all the sights and hikes and tours to choose from, it would be easy to spend the whole summer making this same trip!

Which brings us to the next issue when planning your trip: fuel costs. Again, the distance to Alaska and back is a LONG way! And the fuel costs over 10,000 miles are going to be huge if your vehicle gets only 8 to 10 miles per gallon versus the 28 to 30 miles per gallon we averaged in the GoneCamper minivan.

A quick overview of the GoneCamper minivan camper conversion package

Now we purchased the Dodge Caravan and designed the GoneCamper conversion package with the Alaska trip in the back of our minds. You don’t need to purchase a special vehicle for a trip to Alaska. Don’t delay your trip because you don’t have the perfect vehicle. The “Alcan” highway has been tamed. You can now drive from the lower 48 states to Alaska on paved roads, and that means you can drive anything from a scooter to a semi-truck. We even passed two Model T Fords along the route - at 25 mph!

But distance and fuel mileage are key factors in determining WHAT you will drive. Again, the entire route is paved, except for the inevitable sections of road construction along the way. This means that you do NOT need four-wheel drive for a trip to Alaska. On our trip, we passed several huge “overland” rigs, which are heavy-duty four-wheel drive trucks with camper containers. When we passed these rigs on the highway we were traveling at 65 to 70 mph and they were driving under 50. We were averaging over 28 mpg and they were lucky to get 10 mpg. The GoneCamper minivan conversion package costs less than $2,000. These huge overland rigs cost $250,000 to over $500,000!

Monster 4x4 overland rig in Tok, AK

Likewise, you don’t need a lifted 4x4 truck with off-road tires. Some of these rigs were hauling enormous fifth-wheel campers, while others carried truck campers in the bed. Some were enormous dual-wheel trucks with extended campers that included slide outs. In every case, the trucks wallowed on the bumps and hills and curves. These conditions will cut your fuel mileage in half! Also, don’t forget that gas costs from 50% to 100% more in Canada. Last summer we paid from $1.00 to $1.40 per liter – with rural gas pumps charging a premium. That works out to $3.76 to over $5.00 per gallon for regular unleaded 87 octane gas.

Even if you are planning to leave the paved road, four-wheel drive is not required for travel on gravel roads. We drove about 400 miles on side trips to McCarthy, Eagle, and Dawson City. A highlight of the trip was driving across the Top of the World Highway between Chicken and Dawson City. We never spun a wheel and never came close to getting stuck in the front-wheel drive Dodge Caravan. But that doesn’t mean that we didn’t pass all kinds of elaborate four-wheel drive monster rigs! How embarrassing for them…

A trip to Alaska and back means thousands of miles of straight highway driving. The hills are long, there are thousands of frost heaves, and many miles of headwinds and cross winds. In addition, you will drive many long, lonely stretches between fuel stops. Our Caravan has a 20-gallon fuel tank. That gives us a range of over 500 miles (very conservatively) before empty. We passed hundreds of fellow travelers driving bigger, bulky, and overloaded rigs fighting the wind, bumps, and curves – ALL who spent double or triple on fuel.

Recommendation Number One: Drive the most economical vehicle that fits your family.

In our case, a Dodge Caravan was the perfect choice for two travelers. Remember, you are going to Alaska to see incredible scenery and wildlife. But you must drive through several U.S. states and the full length of British Columbia and then across the Yukon Territory. From Seattle, WA to Tok, Alaska it is 2,100 miles. From Dawson Creek, BC (Mile Zero on the Alaska Highway) to Tok, AK it is 1,300 miles – one way!

GoneCamper minivan camper

Mile Zero at the start of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek, BC

A comfortable, economical vehicle is the only way to go! In addition, you are going to be stopping hundreds of times to take pictures, for fuel, and at rest areas, stores, museums, etc. You will thank me when you can pull into a regular parking place with a standard or compact vehicle.

I should also note that we saw many people, including young couples and single travelers driving smaller vehicles. These smaller options get even better mileage, but were too small for us. We wanted a full-size bed, not a twin size. We also wanted more headroom than micro-vans or small SUV’s provided.


Next is our discussion about camping. By now it has sunk in that you are going to be on the road for three, four weeks, or more. Where are you going to sleep for three or four weeks? In our case, we had a definite route planned but a very loose schedule. We didn’t plan our destinations more than a day or two ahead. We wanted to be able to sleep at the end of the day wherever we ended up and not rely on motels.

When we started planning our dream driving trip to Alaska we immediately concluded that it wasn’t economically feasible to pay for motel rooms every night. In the first place, summer is the prime tourism season in Alaska and Canada. This is when they must make their annual income so prices are high for a nice room. Secondly, some small towns only have a few older motels, and maybe only one that is still in business or has a vacancy.

We committed to camping to save money and to gain the maximum flexibility in our travel schedule. Camping only meant a place to sleep and a way to prepare meals so that we avoid motels and fast food as much as possible. A campsite could be a spot in the woods, a rustic National Park campground, or a private RV park with running water and hot showers.

GoneCamper minivan camper

A clean, quiet National Park campground in Yukon Territory

Recommendation Number Two: If you plan to travel 10,000 miles to Alaska and back on a budget, plan to camp most nights.

Public and private camp grounds are numerous throughout British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska. And – if you are prepared for it – there are thousands of options for free camping along the way. You will see every size and shape of tent and camper during your trip.

Camping does not have to mean sacrificing comfort! As we listed all the places we wanted to visit and all the miles required to make a loop to Alaska and back, it became obvious that this trip was going to be 98% driving and sightseeing and 2% camping. On this trip, “camping” did not resemble your typical campground on a summer holiday weekend. We didn’t bring horseshoes, badminton sets, tiki lights, or a barbecue grill. We prepared a simple breakfast and supper. Lunch typically consisted of munchies, trail mix, fruit, and raw vegetables as we drove from one spot to another.

The culmination of our planning was the GoneCamper minivan conversion. Please see other articles at GoneCamper.com for the exact specifications of this package. In summary, the GoneCamper package includes a full-size bed behind the front two seats of the Dodge Caravan (or any other minivan.) At the rear of the minivan, under the rear hatch, is a “kitchen galley” consisting of drawers for cooking utensils, a compartment for a 12-volt cooler, a 5-gallon water jug, and a 2-burner stove. Under the bed there is storage space for all our clothes as well as the other miscellaneous items in four totes.

GoneCamper minivan camper

The rear kitchen galley in the GoneCamper minivan

The GoneCamper design has evolved and been tested and retested. By the time we left home for Alaska we were confident in the set-up of the camping rig, the cooking process, clean-up, tear-down as well as parking and leveling the GoneCamper for a restful night.

Looking back, my wife, Laurie and I agree that we could not have made such a long trip so comfortably and affordably without the GoneCamper package. We were on the road for 24 days and 23 nights. We spent three nights in motels to do laundry and get caught up on the Internet. We took the right clothes and the right amount of clothes and needed to do laundry every five or 6 days.

I can confidently state that we could repeat this routine indefinitely. We carried enough food for four or five days, with some exceptions. Every few days we stopped to buy more apples, some milk, some veggies to add to canned soup or stew, and a bag of ice. The 12-volt Coleman cooler performed perfectly. It was plugged into an outlet that was only “hot” when the van was running. All day long when we were driving, the cooler kept the few things that required refrigeration nice and cold. When we stopped for the night the cooler remained closed in the rear compartment and the ice did its job. A small bag of ice cost about $3.00 Canadian - about $2.50 U.S. - and needed to be replaced every three or four days. The cooler was only half full so we kept our breakfast fixings in there as well, which was oatmeal, craisins, chopped walnuts, brown sugar and cinnamon in a dollar store shopping bag. There was even plenty of room for a six-pack of beer from the Denali Brewery in Talkeetna!

Our routine was to cook a hot bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, with the variety of toppings to choose from. We brewed a pot of coffee in a percolator on the stove. We each had an insulated travel mug. We each also had an insulated water bottle that we filled as needed throughout the day. We nibbled on munchies during the day and sometimes grabbed a sweet snack at the gas station mid-afternoon. We cooked simple one-pot meals for supper at the campsite. Several days we stopped at restaurants for supper when we knew we wanted to put on more miles before quitting for the night.

GoneCamper minivan camper

Camping along the Kennicott River, McCarthy, Alaska

The kitchen in the GoneCamper is located under the rear hatch. This kitchen is patterned after the tear drop camper design. Despite this covered rear kitchen, three mornings we woke to rain and packed up the GoneCamper without cooking, then stopped for breakfast at the next town.

We did make one reservation at a camp ground on the outskirts of Yosemite National Park. We knew we were going to arrive on a Friday night and didn’t want to take the chance of scrounging for a site in the boondocks late in the day. In general, we looked for a private camp ground with showers every other day. We stayed in several forest service camp grounds with only pit toilets and no showers in between. And we boondocked in a picnic area in the Yukon one night.

Recommendation Number Three: Be flexible and keep all your options open.

You can’t control the rain. You can’t avoid cold or heat. You will stop at attractions that you didn’t plan for. You will skip places you had planned to visit. Some days you may stop early. Some days you may not stop until midnight – you do want to see the “Midnight Sun”, right? Pack to allow for flexibility and travel without over-planning every minute of every day.

The trip I am describing is a sightseeing vacation. We were not “overlanding” across four-wheel drive trails in the Rockies. We passed grocery stores and gas stations many times each day. We didn’t have to haul many gallons of water. Our GoneCamper had LED lights for reading before bed and even a USB fan to circulate cool air on humid nights. We also had electricity provided at several campsites. We camped but we were not “roughing it”!


I have spent literally thousands of nights in tents. Tenting was never a consideration when we began planning the camping trip to Alaska – we’ve been there and done that! When you go to Alaska during the summer you will have many rainy days – not daylong rain, just rain showers over and over and over. We no longer like sleeping on the ground. We didn’t want to haul a tent, sleeping bags, cots and mattresses. And we especially did not want to set-up a tent every night and take down a wet tent every morning.

We also rejected the current fad of roof top tents. They just look like all the problems of a ground tent attached to your roof. Our GoneCamper minivan actually has a lot more room than most tents with a solid roof and glass windows!

GoneCamper minivan camper

Private campground outside of Sequoia National Park

We required an enclosed camper with a good bed and a minimalist kitchen. This broad category includes many, many options and we saw ALL of them over 10,000 miles. At the outset, we rejected ALL options that included any version of camping trailer.

Recommendation Number Four: Please don’t drag a trailer – any trailer – all the way to Alaska and back!

If you already have a camping trailer, I am sorry. But remember the massive number of miles to travel, the road conditions, and the price of fuel? You can enjoy comfortable camping and maximum flexibility WITHOUT a camping trailer. To repeat, I STRONGLY advise against towing a trailer to Alaska.

Even the smallest tear drop camper or pop-up camper is still going to be a hassle. Large camping trailers are completely unnecessary for a sightseeing vacation. You are going to pay a penalty in fuel mileage with every trailer. You are going to endure continual bumps, jerks, bounces and slams as you encounter frost heaved roads, broken pavement, potholes, and miles of loose stone in construction zones. A fifth-wheel camper transits less road shock to the vehicle than a standard trailer hitch, but you are still going to feel every crack and bump. If you plan to leave the paved road to see the best scenery you are going to face miles of slop and splatter.

Obviously, every trailer adds to the likelihood of a breakdown. You have multiple axles and wheel bearings and tires to monitor. We saw blown out tires and ruined fancy aluminum wheels, as well as body damage to the camper. Full size campers have windows that can get broken by flying stones.

GoneCamper minivan camper

Fancy (center) aluminum wheel ruined when tire blew out!

Many, many of the best photo opportunities will be along highways with only a wide spot to pull into. Large trailers won’t fit. Some of the best scenery is totally off limits to trailers, like Going to the Sun road in Glacier National Park. Many trail heads and scenic parking lots do not allow vehicles with trailers.

The frost heaves are legendary on Alaska highways. The road is floating on permafrost and sinks unpredictably. The heaves and troughs can run across the lanes, down the lanes, or diagonally across the road. Your front wheels can be twisted one way while your rear wheels are twisted the opposite direction. When you add trailer axles to the problem you can be twisted in three or four directions at the same time! Most of these heaves are also marked with skid marks and gouges where the trailer dropped down on the wheels and caused a skid or bottomed out and dragged.

GoneCamper minivan camper

Thousands of frost heaves in Yukon and Alaska

Don’t tow a trailer to Alaska without two spare tires. Make sure your tires and wheel bearings are in excellent condition. Upgrade to larger tires if possible. You should also carry a spare wheel bearing as well as the jacks and tools necessary to change it on the side of the road. You may be hundreds of miles from anyone able to help you, if you could afford to pay for a service truck to come to your aid.

I can’t imagine what bad roads do to the structure and the contents of the campers. You will be braking continually for unmarked hazards. After 10,000 miles you are going to have dreams about rough roads. In contrast, driving the light and nimble Dodge Caravan, even after 500-mile days, was a pleasure and we weren’t beat up from fighting the road.

If you insist on towing a trailer, please do not overload your tow vehicle. Manufacturers exaggerate the “rated towing capacity” of every vehicle. Just because your vehicle can move 10,000 pounds doesn’t mean it will be comfortable to tow or safe to stop when a bear runs out on the road. We see way too many vehicles that are towing too much trailer. Remember, you must tow and stop not only the weight of the trailer (and contents) but also overcome the massive front and side wind resistance.

Americans like to push the limits and get the biggest trailer their vehicle is “rated” to tow. You will be much happier towing a trailer that is only half as heavy! This is especially important for mid-size SUV’s and trucks. The advertisements that show SUV’s towing large dual-axle campers are written by people that have never driven to Alaska!

We even saw a few front-wheel drive minivans pulling campers, including tear drops. Many tear-drop campers cost over $20,000. You have the worst of all options driving a mostly empty minivan pulling an expensive camper: poor handling, poor mileage, and maximum expense. With a GoneCamper conversion, for less than $2,000 you could have the same sleeping and cooking provisions INSIDE the minivan and eliminate the trailer.

If you are on a sightseeing vacation, leave the cargo trailer at home, too. You don’t need that much stuff to enjoy your vacation. In fact, all the stuff and the trailer could ruin your vacation if it breaks down in the middle of no where!


You can probably guess that I am not a fan of huge motor homes, either. You would be right! I have lots of experience driving motor homes across the U.S. They are fuel-guzzling pigs on the road compared to any other vehicle. You continually fight head winds and cross winds. You have problems with overhead obstructions like trees on side roads and in campsites. You have problems with ground clearance and the extreme rear overhang in tight turns. Most motor homes have dual rear wheels so you have six tires hitting the thousands of frost heaves, cracks and potholes. You are in for a strenuous workout every mile!

Recommendation Number Five: make driving a motor home your LAST choice for traveling to Alaska.

That being said, there are THOUSANDS of motor homes on the roads coming and going from Alaska. We passed them all in our minivan.

Motor homes are an example of the American tendency to choose the biggest and most expensive solution to every problem. You want to make a dream trip drive to Alaska? Why not take a fully-furnished four-bedroom house on wheels? Because that’s what a big motor home is!

Let me apologize to the full-time RVers who are traveling to Alaska for the summer. They ARE driving their house. But the vast majority of motor homes on the road are only people, most typically a retired couple, on a vacation. And most of these couples had a similar itinerary to ours. That is, they drove every day to a new location. They probably ate at least one meal per day in a restaurant. They really only used their motor home as a place to sleep. Trust me, you DON’T need a full kitchen, a living room, satellite TV’s in every room, an outdoor patio set with surround sound, multiple beds, and 100 gallons of drinking water to drive to Alaska.

Why would you spend up to $500,000 for a deluxe motor home and then wreck it on the roads in Alaska. (You know those RV’s are just stapled together, right?) Why would you spend three times as much on fuel to cover the same distance? Why would you spend three times as much to camp each night? Even worse, why would you go to all this expense and then stay in motels? You wouldn’t believe the HUNDREDS of RV’s that we saw parked in motel lots!!!

I also strongly advise against towing a vehicle behind your motor home. You are only compounding the problem. Like towing a trailer, you are increasing your likelihood of breakdowns exponentially. We saw lots of motor homes towing a truck loaded down with canoes, kayaks, bikes and motorcycles. Why? You can rent any of these when you get there – or just skip the hour or two that they are used. For that matter, for the added fuel required to drag a vehicle to Alaska and back you could rent one for a day or two and save the wear and tear on both the motor home and the tow vehicle. Seriously, why put over 10,000 miles of wear and tear on TWO vehicles just to sightsee in Alaska?

GoneCamper minivan camper

GoneCamper minivan among rental motor homes on the spit in Homer, AK

Now many people also rent motor homes AFTER they get to Alaska. This is a far better alternative. If your family must have a home on wheels, renting a motor home is an option. Just realize that the rental fee will be $150 per day, or more, and does not include fuel or campground costs. Combined, you can stay in motels for the same price. Again, it is CRAZY how many rental motor homes were parked in motel lots everywhere!


I consider the huge truck campers that sit inside the bed of a pickup worse than motor homes. The center of gravity is too high. All the tanks and plumbing and built-ins are above the floor, as opposed to motor homes where many heavy components and water tanks hang below the frame.

This weight imbalance leads to lots of handling problems. Even dual wheel one-ton trucks waddle down the road. Drive them on rough or uneven side roads and you need to crawl along. Even worse are the huge campers that overhang the rear bumper and have slide-outs. The rear weight distribution is terrible. You can’t safely attach a trailer, even with a hitch extension. There is just too much torque on the extended hitch. And slide-outs – just like in many motor homes – mean you can’t access the kitchen or bed without extending the slides. You need two parking places to have lunch!

Recommendation Number Six: avoid pickup truck campers.

I will concede that the SMALLER, pop-up truck campers on a full-size pick-up may be an exception. The cab-over bed area only adds about one foot of added wind resistance when collapsed for travel. But when extended you can actually stand inside. Still, I would advise against any models that extend beyond the bed. There is a reason the truck wheels and suspension are designed to be centered under the box. And I don’t recommend these campers on any mid-size trucks. The smaller six-cylinder engine is going to leave you wanting on the long hills and in head winds and cross winds.

Now if you have your heart set on traveling the really remote and sloppy roads of Alaska, like the Denali Highway or the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay, then I could justify a pop-up truck camper on a full-sized, single rear wheel, four-wheel drive pickup – but only the smallest and lightest model campers. Even then, you should have overload springs or air bags and beefy sway bars to overcome the added height and weight.

Also, avoid the temptation to add cargo carriers extending behind the bumper. The forces of the rough roads are multiplied when you hang heavy weights behind the bumper. We even saw one carrier break off after miles of Alaska frost heaves.

GoneCamper minivan camper

This hitch carrier hauling this cooler and generator broke a few miles down the rough highway!

You should be convinced by now that a trip to Alaska and back is going to be a marathon. ANYTHING you can do to reduce the size of your camping package will pay dividends in fuel costs, comfort for the driver and passengers, wear and tear on the vehicle, and expenses like campground fees, tolls, parking fees, and car washes. (You will not believe the layer of bugs you will accumulate!)

One way you can reduce the number of miles (but not necessarily days) is by cutting out one leg of the driving and taking the Marine Highway ferry to or from Alaska. We did not choose this option because we wanted to do a loop and see different scenery on the way back. But if you are content with seeing only half of the loop we completed, then the Alaska ferry is a good – but expensive – option.

Obviously, the larger the vehicle, the more it is going to cost to take the ferry. It would have cost over $3,000 to transport our Dodge Caravan from Whittier to Bellingham, WA – one way. It would cost over $7,000 to transport a vehicle with a camper on the same route – and this is the shortest and least expensive route! These costs do not include meals or sleeping berths. Of course, in theory you can eat and sleep in your camper – assuming you can reach the bed without extending any slides. This would have been perfectly fine in the GoneCamper minivan. Not so much in most campers or motor homes.


In conclusion, I sincerely hope that you plan and then actually undertake a driving trip to Alaska. It will be the trip of a lifetime – unless, like me – you do it again and again! I hope this information made you think long and hard about the logistics involved in a 10,000-mile road trip. I urge you to go small and travel light!

County campground outside of Wasilla, Alaska

Before reading this information, you likely never considered a minivan as a legitimate adventure and camping vehicle. I hope you review this article again as well as the other information at GoneCamper.com. Like us, you may come to agree that a minivan is really comfortable and economical for long distance travel. When you add an inexpensive package of bed and kitchen, the basic minivan is transformed into an amazingly comfortable and efficient camper.

There simply is no other option that provides so much utility and value in such a compact package. Minivans are such a good value today. For less than $2,000 you can convert your Dodge Caravan (or Chrysler Town & Country, or any minivan with the seats removed) into what we believe is the best value and most versatile vehicle available today. That’s why we summarize the GoneCamper experience with the following motto and challenge:

“Traveling Efficiently, Camping Comfortably, Living Frugally”

GoneCamper minivan camper

GoneCamper minivan camper

Twin moose calves in Denali National Park

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