I think mine is the last 2016 AK recap to get posted! We were the last ones out! We were a bit concerned leaving so late – hit some snow – but all is well!
Everyone travels to AK and does their recap and summary of that trip differently – here are some links to friends of ours that came this summer: Steve & Linda – (who we traveled up with – they didn’t work, did a lot of boondocking, drive a Class A with a small toad) The Chouters part 1 and The Chouters part 2; Tracy & Lee – (they also Workamped like Bill & I, travel in a 40′ 5th Wheel, didn’t boondock a whole lot) Camper Chronicles; Les & Sue – (travel in a 40’ish’ 5th wheel towed by a medium-duty truck, didn’t work, traveled with another couple, did some boondocking) Rambling RV Rat AK recap and Rambling RV Rat – AK retrospect; and Jim & Barb – (put their 5er in storage and purchased a truck camper for this trip, didn’t work, boondocked and fished a lot, travel with their dog, Daisy Jim and Barb Great Adventure AK recap). I am including these links b/c to show there is many ways to see AK, many ways to divide your budget to suit your lifestyle, I believe it’s important to see as many perspectives as possible before heading up.
Let’s dig in on OUR way! We travel with our 40′ 2014 Heartland Landmark 5th Wheel, which weighs in at +/- 16,500lbs. We tow it with our 2011 Ford F-350 DRW 4×4 pick-up. I am reminding you of our set-up so when I report our mileage and other rig related items, you are aware of what I am referring to.
We crossed into Canada on May 4 at Sumas, WA, with no issues at all, easy peezy. We arrived at our Seward workamping destination, Renfros Lakeside Retreat, on May 25. You can read the details of our drive up here: Getting to AKOur stayed at our home base (minus 4 side trips) through 9/27 – a total of 127 days. Our side trips took us away 18 days – 3 nights to Homer, 6 nights to Denali, 5 nights to Glennallen/Valdez, and back to Homer for 4 nights. Let’s break those down to see what the costs were.
First Homer trip: miles from Renfros (towing) – 309 (round trip), miles exploring – 50, 3 nights at Fishing Hole CG – @$15 (dry camping) per night = $45. Entertainment this trip – $43.50 (dining out) $25 (brewery). You can read all about it here: Home in HomerDenali trip: miles from Renfros – 706 (round trip), miles exploring – 182, nights at Trapper Creek CG – 2 @ $34.65 (FHU, Good Sam discount) per night = $69.30, 3 nights at Riley Creek CG – @ $28 (dry camping) per night = $84, 1 night at Wasilla Elks Club – @ $15 (charged us the member rate) per night = $15 ; $137 (dining out and shuttle bus trip into Denali) entertainment. Details of this trip: Trapper Creek and Talkeetna and Denali
Valdez trip: miles from Renfros – 826, miles exploring – 77, nights at Northern Nights CG (Glennallen) – 1 (on the way there) , 1 (on the way home) @ $37.80 (FHU w/Good Sam) per night = $75.60, 3 nights at Valdez Glacier CG @ $30 (dry camping) per night = $90; $232 (glacier cruise, museum, dining out) entertainement. All you need to know is here: Valdez
Second Homer trip: miles from Renfros – 309, miles exploring – 132, 4 nights at Mariner CG @ $15 (dry camping) per night = $60, $332 (fishing trip, fishing license, Seldovia trip, dining out, drinks out) entertainment. Want to know more? Here it is: Second time in Homer
It may also be of interest that we put 2,542 miles on the truck doing day trips from Renfros to Anchorage, Whittier, Kenai/Soldotna, Palmer and also back/forth to Seward. The miles listed above with each side trip are not included here.
As far as fuel cost and mileage is concerned – while in AK we paid an average of $2.55 per gallon. Prices for fuel were much more reasonable in larger towns, like Anchorage vs Seward, Seward prices were better than Homer or Valdez. The most we paid was $2.91 in Glennallen; the lowest was $2.27 in Anchorage. Believe it or not, those were both on the same day! We averaged 9.6 mpg towing – which Bill was happy about considering the terrain (I also might mention he uses an additive in the fuel Ford Motorcraft Cetane Booser $8.50 per bottle at the Ford Dealer – Bill says it adds $.07 a gallon but he believes he gets all that back and more with increased fuel mileage, plus the added lubricity – which prolongs the life of the injection pump and fuel injectors) and 17 mpg not towing (the 2542 miles mentioned above).
Most people, in their recaps, also talk about grocery costs and entertainment costs, since these items can be a good bit higher than “usual” on a trip to AK.
Groceries: we generally spend about $423 on groceries (average – not including alcohol) per month – here in AK that amount was $469 . The way we arrived at these amounts is we took 6 months prior to arriving in Washington State as our pre-AK baseline – once we arrived in Washington State, we stocked up on some items, such as coffee, paper products, etc. and things that were on sale in anticipation of these things being more expensive. I’d like to mention here that there were times we got food items as “tips” (things guests left in the cabins) – I don’t think it added up to too much, but as a few examples we got eggs several times, ketchup, milk a few times, sugar, bacon 3 different times (once 2 lbs!), the biggest thing was 3 lbs of Alaskan sausage, which we saw for sale in Safeway for $18! We only took unopened items and we did share some with our co-workers and put some in the lodge (how much ketchup can we use?). Actually I misspoke – the largest food tip was fresh caught halibut and salmon a guest left in the lodge freezer. There were several large bags, some of which was used for AK family dinners and 2 times we shared it with friends.
Entertainement: one of the first things we did after arriving in Seward was purchase a TourSaver app, which could also have been purchased as a hard copy book. It is basically a BOGO FREE coupon book, and it saved us a bunch of money. The cost to purchase the TourSaver app $85.
Summary of things we did using TourSaver: $9 Reindeer Farm, $77 Alaska Railroad Whistlestop train ride, $130 Glacier Cruise from Valdez, $14 Valdez Museum, $24 Seward SeaLife Center, $210 Halibut Fishing trip (this is actually half of one ticket b/c we split the coupon with Ben), $32.50 Ferry to Seldovia from Homer (also half of one ticket b/c we split it with Jo), $12.50 Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center – for a grand total of $495 spent/saved – $85 we spent on the app = $410. The question is would we have done all these things without having the app? I’d like to say yes, but honestly can’t be 100% sure.
Things we did not using the TourSaver: $142 ferry to Skagway from Haines, $42 Soapy Smith Show in Skagway, $69 Seavey Dog Sled Tour, $68 Denali National Park Shuttle Bus tour. The grand total for these items is $321.
Neither of the above lists include our “gift” from our boss, Gary – a Kenai Fjords National Park Wildlife and Glacier Tour.
Our total for dining out while traveling in Canada and in AK was $928. This number does not include Bill stopping in a brewery and having a beer or two – he puts that under the “booze” line item.
Another frequent topic for an Alaskan summary is the writers fav place or fav thing about their trip.
Our fav place was Renfros – by far! Loved the location, loved the beauty of the property, surrounding mountains and lake, love, love, love the owner/host/boss Gary. He, along with Bob & Marna, will forever be our AK family!
Considering that might be too obvious – our fav location aside from Renfros would have to be Haines. So much so that the 5 nights we spent on the way up were not enough, so we went back on the way out and stayed 3 more nights! We loved the drive down, one of the best roads on the whole trip, it is just spectacular! The views from Oceanside RV Park can’t be beat! We really liked the whole vibe of the town – some touristy stuff without being annoying, a few restaurants, a brewery for Bill and THE VIEWS! Also of note is we saw lots of bald eagles there – A LOT! And – on our second trip – bears and the Aurora Borealis!
We also really loved the town of Seward. It was a great place to live for the summer. It’s large enough to have 90% of what you need, yet small enough that it doesn’t have a Walmart or Home Depot. Plenty of restaurants, some touristy stuff, amazing views and also some community events to take advantage of (remember 4th of July?).There will not be a least fav or not liked category in this post!
Workamping related info:
We arrived at Renfros on May 25, but our first day of work was May 28. For June (including the 4 days in May), July and August we worked every other week for a total of 7 weeks, we also did 6 extra days for a total of 54 days. In Sept we worked a 5 days on/2 days off schedule for a total of 18 days. Total hours worked (for the 2 of us) is: 988.50. Our average hours per day we worked was 6.86. Our pay rate was $10 per hour. The first 25 hours per month each paid for our site, $500 per month total, total for season $2000. We were paid a total of $7,885.00 gross after paying for our site.
We also received cash bonuses and tips. Over the course of the summer we were given $500 each in cash as performance bonuses. We were also given $300 each in cash as an end of season completion bonus. We also had a tip jar that all tips, from weeks we worked plus the weeks of our co-workers, went into and were divided by 4 and distributed – we earned $196.50 each in cash. Total in cash for the season (for both if us) $1993.00! Not too shabby!
I believe it is fair to say if we had not worked that we definitely would have spent more money. More money on campground fees for sure – maybe or maybe not on fuel. I say that b/c most people make a big loop when they come to AK, while we did our exploring going in/out from Seward. I’m not sure if that saved us or cost us miles/fuel. I’d also assume we would have spent more on groceries and dining out. Probably would have spent more on entertainment, although there’s no way to be sure.
Having said all that – we most probably would not have stayed 4 months if it weren’t for the jobs. We would probably have headed out a month or more ago, like everyone else, so that would have been less time to spend up here. There isn’t any way to know how it it would have played out.
Bottom line: we enjoyed an awesome summer – we do not feel as though we didn’t have enough “play” time, the week on/week off schedule was perfect. We didn’t see all there is to see – didn’t get near Fairbanks or Delta Junction area at all. If visiting those areas had been of huge importance I may have asked Gary about combining 2 of our weeks off and gone up there, but we decided it wasn’t that big a deal. I would have loved to have seen Denali in its full glory, but it was not to be! We spent time working – as long as it doesn’t get in the way too much – that isn’t a bad thing! We spent plenty of time with friends and seeing new sights and doing new things!
SUMMARY HEADING OUT:
We began our trip out on Tues 9/27 and 2,863 miles and 12 days later, we pulled into Great Falls, MT.
On the way out we stopped at the following places: Eagle River Fred Meyer – one night cost $0, Tok Chevron – one night – cost $0, Oceanside RV Park, Haines AK – 3 nights @ $36 ((FHU, Good Sam rate) per night = $108, Whitehorse Walmart – 1 night – cost $0, Watson Lake gravel lot – 1 night – cost $0, Fort Nelson gravel lot – 1 night – cost $0, Dawson Creek – Walmart – 1 night – cost $0, Whitecourt – Walmart – 1 night – cost $0, Edmonton – Glowing Embers CG – 1 night – cost $36, Calgary – Helen & Pats house – 1 night – cost $0. Total nights: 12 nights – cost – $144
Fuel on the way out: 9.9 mpg on the way out – all towing. Bill is actually pretty happy about this considering the grades and wind conditions we drove in, and that he used 4 wheel drive for awhile. Highest cost per gallon $3.45 in Fort Nelson, British Columbia, Canada ; lowest price $2.59 in Eagle River, Alaska. I already converted liters to gallons and Canadian to USD.
I also wanted to talk about propane use. Out of the 12 night we took to get from Seward AK to Great Falls, MT, we boondocked 8 of them. Because we decided to boondock so much instead of use CG’s more, we used a lot of propane for heating, as well as cooking. Bill figured out that we used an average of 8.5 pounds per night. We didn’t have the heat on while driving, but once we arrived for the night, the rig was around 40 degrees inside, compared to outside temps in the 30’s during the day and in the 20’s at night. The thermostat was set to 65 degrees while we were awake and turned down to 60 while sleeping. We also use propane for heating our water for showers and dishes. The cost of the 68 pounds of propane was about $5 per day. Bill paid an average of $0.60 per pound.
We also used some gasoline for the generator, which had to be run daily since there was little to no sun most days. Only one day had enough sun to make enough solar, but the gennie still had to be run in the morning, since heavy cloud cover had returned. We used a total of 4 gallons. Our one Honda EU2000i runs about 3.5 hours per gallon under high load and 8 hours on quarter load. He was generally running it about 2 hours in the morning and 1.5 hours in the evenings. The average we burned was half a gallon of gas per day for a cost of $1.25.
Using the above numbers, it cost us about $6.25 per day to boondock in the colder temps we had to deal with. We had checked CG prices, most were at least $40 per night, so we figure we saved about $270 by not staying in CG’s.
The only thing we really did (other than drive) on the way out was our time in Haines, going to the mall in Edmonton, and meeting Helen & Pat. You can see more pics and get a detailed accounting of the driving out here: Going OUT!, Back in the Lower 48! For the record, I do not recommend driving out the way we did. It was just crazy, but we did what we felt to.
So there you have it – our trip to AK in a nutshell. It is my sincere hope at least some of you found this info useful and maybe even a bit entertaining! Hope you continue to follow along with us!