Vanlife? In Alaska? How do we do this trip right?
July 12, 2021 7:40 AM   Subscribe

We are heading up for our first trip to Alaska at the end of August. The wrinkle is that we rented a camper van for the whole trip! We're backpack and tent people, so this is all very new to us. Help us plan our time on the Kenai Peninsula.

What we need the most help with is figuring out the campsite situation. From what I can gather, most state parks are first-come-first-served, but some require reservations. I've also heard that you can park off the side of roads legally, but that sure doesn't sound right. We are wholly uninterested in any RV parks. Seclusion and quiet come before electrical hook ups and convenience!

If any of you fine folks have experience with 'Van Life' on the Kenai Peninsula, please post whatever advice you have.

Also, we'd love to hear of any 'must-sees' in the region. So far, we've booked a fjord tour out of Seward. We will then be heading down to the Homer area. We might take a boat out to Seldovia if you think it is worth it. We're also looking for hike recommendations (moderate, perhaps less than 8 miles round trip).

Thanks much in advance!
posted by Don_K to Travel & Transportation around Kenai Peninsula, AK (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I just got back from Alaska a few weeks ago. We did B&Bs rather than a van, but spent some time in Seward.

The hike up to Exit Glacier (just outside Seward) is worthwhile. There are a number of loop hikes of varying lengths; the one you want to do, provided you have time, is the longest route which gets you as close as you're allowed to the face of the glacier.

Roadside camping, mostly in turnouts, seemed to be A Thing and allowed/tolerated anywhere there weren't specific "No Camping" signs. (There were signs posted at most of the scenic overlooks on the Seward Highway, so you might need to get off the main highway and onto side roads.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:19 AM on July 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Just a "van life" comment in general, make sure you're familiar with the van's electrical system before you leave the rental place. Ask if the van needs to run every day for a certain period of time to recharge the house batteries. If you're not going to be hooking into line power every day, you may find yourself short on electricity.
posted by hwyengr at 9:40 AM on July 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

I saw a bunch of camper vans parked at the the waterfront park in Seward just a few days ago. Appears to be a common option. (Like five or ten of them, not a million.) The Northwest glacier kayak expedition was a Top Ten Life Experience and the aquarium ("Sea Life Center") was surprisingly cool including a lovely aviary/lake, with puffins.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:49 AM on July 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

You can google up terms like "dispersed camping" and "boondocking" to get info on camping on BLM land outside of campgrounds. Very generally you can often camp almost anywhere along roads on BLM land with some restrictions. It depends a lot on the exact area you're in.
posted by GuyZero at 10:22 AM on July 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

You're flying in and renting a van when you get there, right? Because if you were planning to drive from the states, Canada is not going to let you across the border, even if you're heading to Alaska. They did allow that last year but too many people got caught vacationing in BC so now it's not allowed for US citizens to enter the country at all.
posted by ananci at 10:52 AM on July 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Seward has a city campground on the waterfront. Homer has lots of spaces on the Spit. You will have room.

You can pull over many places on the highway.

Seward: kayaking, fishing, Caines Head. Homer: Bishop’s Beach, more kayaking and fishing, eating at Fat Olive’s. Walking the docks.

Hope is very nice. Good hiking- Gull Rock and Palmer Creek valley.

Good luck!
posted by kerf at 1:32 PM on July 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Unless things are WILD right now on the Kenai (we were there last week, it was busy but not insane), you should be fine paying for campsites waterfront in Seward or on the Spit in Homer except for maybe on weekends. I know that you are not interested in RV parks and there will be lots there buuuut those waterfront spots really are pretty.

En route from Anchorage to Seward
-wildlife conversation center in Portage is actually pretty fun (especially on a nice day) and is good for a 1-2 hour detour
-you could detour to Whittier and hike Portage Pass (4 miles rt and maybe 1000 feet of elevation, really nice and mellow, the midpoint puts you at Portage Lake pretty close to the glacier)
-you could detour into Girdwood and hike Crow Pass to Raven Glacier (7 miles rt, 2000 ft of elevation) or Winner Creek from the hotel Alyeska to the gorge and back (can’t remember distance but…mellow) or North Face up Alyeska (pretty! very steep 2 miles/2000 feet of elevation, but then you can get drinks or snacks at the top and take the tram down for free, bring a mask for that)
-Girdwood Brewing is a great place for post-hike beers in Girdwood, I also like Jack Sprat’s there (get the yam fries)

-the hikes to Tonsina Point or Caine’s Head along the water are nice; Caine’s Head is dependent on tides
-you can have a pretty good time kayaking for a half day; I think we used Sunny Cove for rental/guide
-restaurants and food: Resurrection Coffeehouse is a nice place to hang out, the Cookery is one of my favorite restaurants in Alaska, Woody’s Thai is excellent, there’s also a good new poke truck in town
-if you decide you are up for more of a hard hike, Harding Ice Field is one of my favorites; it’s about the max length you asked for but it’s a lot of up. Lost Lake is also amazing; you couldn’t do the whole traverse with your length restriction but you could go up to the lake and back.
-the Sea Life Center is worth it, if only to see the sea birds underwater
-getting out on the water is the correct choice, you should take whatever gets you out on the water for the longest period of time to maximize your chance of seeing wildlife. Bring all your layers, including a hat and gloves, even if it looks nice; you don’t want to be the person forced to buy the desperation Seward sweatshirt.

-the Alaska Center for Coastal Studies sometimes do tidepooling tours that are fun, and other neat ed stuff; check their schedule
-we love slices at Fat Olives, and the bagel shop on East End road is pretty decent for an Alaska bagel shop. Two Sisters bakery is another favorite, but they are only doing intermittent takeout right now
-wandering around Bishops Beach is great; if you want a walk you can also hike the Diamond Creek Trail 2 miles down to get to a nice beach there with good low tide tidepooling
-paddling across the bay in Kachemak Bay is *great*; we usually do it on our own but there are companies that will take you out on guided tours (True North is one, I am sure there are others)
-Grewingk Glacier Lake is a nice and very chill hike across the bay that gets you to a glacial lake and glacier; you do have to take a water taxi out there (we like the folks at Mako’s).

For pretty much all AK summer hiking you should pick up a can of bear spray and have it with you in a place you can just pull it out and use. I have run into bear on literally every one of those trails mentioned above; nbd but it is good to have for an emergency. You should also make sure you know, generally, what to do when you encounter bear and moose on trails; one or the other seems inevitable if you are outside enough over two weeks.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:17 AM on July 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

« Older Series Presented by Another Author?   |   Would you repurpose this wedding band? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.