Last summer, The Pallares Family had an amazing 8-day Alaska adventure when they rented one of our vans in June. Hitting all three of Alaska’s National Parks that are accessible by car, they saw some of the most captivating landscapes of the state. They witnessed firsthand Alaska’s diverse wildlife throughout their drive, hikes and boat tours. Join in on their travels in this latest installment in the How They Got Lost series!
On the blog, we regularly feature interviews and discussions with our guests on how their trips went: where they took their vans, what they saw, what the highlights and challenges were while they were on the road, in our continuing series How They Got Lost. Read about the real trips that different travelers took in their travel vans.
(As usual, the responses have been edited only a little.)
Give us a brief overview of where you went and what you did:
Our Alaska itinerary was formed around our goal to visit the three Alaska National Parks that are accessible by car. The other five are only accessible by boat or bush plane. We flew from LAX to Anchorage, and then took an Uber from the airport to pick up our Get Lost Travel Van. Our experience checking the van out was fantastic. The van was described and demonstrated to us in detail, maps and recommendations were freely shared. There was a take some/leave some section in the office for items that previous renters had left behind, from which we found some items we had planned to stop and buy on our way out of town anyway, so that was very helpful to us and greatly appreciated!
Denali National Park
From Anchorage, we drove North to Denali National Park, which was about a four hour drive. I think the biggest town we drove through was not far out of Anchorage, called Wasilla, and after that the drive was mostly remote and forested. We even saw a black bear on the side of the road halfway to Denali! We camped at Savage Campground within Denali National Park in our van for three nights. What an adjustment we had to the never-ending daylight! But the black out curtains in the van provided more than enough light protection for us to sleep comfortably. In Denali, we went on several hikes that were recommended to us by park rangers, and we were lucky enough to secure a Teklanika Road Permit in advance which permitted us to drive the Denali Park Road in our own vehicle. This pass allowed us to drive as far into the park as the Teklanika Rest Area (Mile 30), which is normally only accessible by the park operated bus tours. Because of COVID, these tours weren’t being offered at the time when we visited, so we were grateful to be able to gain further access into the park than is normally allowed without a guide. The park is vast and beautiful. During our time in Denali, we saw eagles, moose, beavers, and caribou, as well as many other smaller mammals and birds.
Kenai Fjords National Park
We left Denali and drove South back through Anchorage, stopped over for some beer tasting and lunch at a couple local breweries, and continued south to the Kenai Peninsula. Our next stop was in Seward, a small town near our next destination, Kenai Fjords National Park. (Total drive time 6 hours—about 4 hours from Denali to Anchorage, and 2 hours from Anchorage to Seward). This drive was along the water mostly, and was beautiful. Kenai Fjords does not have a reservable national park run campground, so we stayed in a locally owned campground on the southern end of Seward, just a 15 minute drive from the national park visitor center, called Miller’s Landing. On this leg of our trip, we hiked to the Harding Icefield in the Kenai Fjords National Park one day and we took a boat tour out into the Fjords for some wildlife and glacier viewing on another day. I can honestly say this portion of our trip was shocking to us. It was magical, breathtaking, and hard to describe or capture in photos. We saw orcas, humpback whales, Dall’s porpoise, dolphins, seals, puffins, eagles, sea otters, and more. Just amazing!
Wrangell – St. Elias National Park
From Seward, we again drove North back to Anchorage, and then headed East to our last destination, Wrangell – St. Elias National Park. This trip took about 2 hours to get back to Anchorage, and then 3 1/2 hours to get to Wrangell – St. Elias, so nearly 6 hours total drive time again. If that seems like a lot of driving, keep in mind that road trips and long drives in Alaska are not tedious or boring, but full of sightseeing opportunities and once in a lifetime views. I pulled over enough times to drive my family crazy taking pictures from the side of the road, because I just couldn’t help it! Somewhere along this drive we saw a wolf along the side of the road! Wrangell – St. Elias is a very remote national park, with no national park service run campgrounds within the park. There are a couple locally owned campgrounds just before the foot bridge that leads into McCarthy, however, they were closed when we were there because of COVID. We ended up getting a first-come first-serve spot in a small state campground just on the edge of the park borders, called Liberty Falls State Park. Since the road into Kennicott (McCarthy Road) isn’t accessible by most rental vehicles, we hired a local tour guide to drive us into the heart of the park (2hr drive loaded with local history and stops for photos), to visit the town of McCarthy and explore the famous copper mines of Kennicott, as well was as to hike on the Root Glacier. After our two day adventure in the Wrangell mountains and national park, we headed back to Anchorage, returned the van (simple, seamless), took an Uber to the airport, and flew back from Anchorage to LAX.
Did you have your trip planned before you arrived, or did you choose what to do/where to stay during your trip?
We had our trip extensively planned before we arrived. It was planned entirely around our goal to visit National Parks (we’re on a mission to see all 63 of the U.S. National Parks some day). Cell service in many areas of Alaska is spotty or non-existent, so don’t count of making calls, surfing the web to make last minute reservations, or using your GPS reliably. The trip was mostly off the grid, which was nice in some ways and stressful in others. Definitely map it out ahead of time and know where you’re staying. I spent at least a month searching google, travel blogs, official local and state websites, etc. for travel tips and ideas. Our trip was somewhat limited by the COVID pandemic, but would have been pretty similar even in normal times. The best part about Alaska is that the people are few and far between; you spend much more time with your group and with nature than with anyone else.
What were the highlights of your trip, and did you do anything that was unusual or unique?
Everything we did in Alaska was unique! Our boat trip with Kenai Fjords Tour company was certainly a highlight. At times the trip felt more like a safari than a road/camping trip. We saw so much diverse wildlife, so frequently, it was exciting and memorable to be sure! The multiple glaciers that we visited were unique as well. They are melting and shrinking every day, and won’t be there forever to visit, so they were a well-appreciated monumental feat of mother nature to observe while we have the opportunity. Unforgettable!
Were there any unexpected challenges to deal with? If so, how did you manage to overcome them?
The weather changed quickly at times, from sun to rain, back to sun or clouds, and then almost cold enough to snow. We never knew quite what to expect and made sure to bring clothing and gear for any situation we might encounter. That was stressful but worked out in the end, Also making sure to fill up the gas tank whenever gas was available was an adjustment, because there were large stretches of road with no services at all, and no cell service either, so you wouldn’t want to run out of gas out there.
What advice or tips do you have for other travelers who might want to do something similar?
Do research and plan out your trip ahead of time, you won’t regret it! People and cell towers are few and far between, so it’s hard to book or search for things on the fly once you’re out there. Also, research the animals you may come across so you know how to react if you come across one in the wild. Bring a good camera. And also know that no matter how much you prepare, you’re bound to be surprised with how much you will love The Last Frontier! Unforgettable experience. Good luck!
Pallares Family, we’re so happy you had such an amazing trip and got to see three of the National Parks on your list! Thank you for renting a van from us last summer and making us a part of your Alaskan experience. We hope you have many more memorable adventures as you continue visiting all of the U.S. National Parks!
Check out more stories on the How They Got Lost blogpost page to find more campervan adventures from our guests! If you are considering going on a trip similar to the Pallares family, book your van now, or let us know if you have any questions. We’re happy to answer them!
All photos in this post © Andrea Pallares.