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Roadtrip Review: Ultimate Alaska

Roadtrip Review: Ultimate Alaska

April 1, 2020

Alaska has spent the winter in darkness, its immense land covered in snow and ice. Now, an awakening begins. Ice is melting and much of the snow is disappearing, leaving snowcapped mountains in the distance. The sun is flooding the land, and by now there are more hours of daylight than anywhere else in the United States. Whales and other marine life return. Bears are coming out of their dens and baby moose are born. Temperatures rise, alpine flowers bloom and spring is warmly welcomed. By early May, the sun won’t even dip below the horizon until 11 p.m. This is Alaska.

Fantasy tours Alaska in style, take last summer's 2019’s 61-Day Ultimate Alaska Tour, for example. If you watched the Fantasy segment on the Discovery television show, “The RVers”, you got a glimpse of last year’s group, led by WagonMasters John and Carol Tesley. Twenty-four rigs (including two staff) started off in beautiful Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and headed for Calgary, Alberta, site of Fantasy’s Calgary Stampede Rally. “The three days our group spent at the Rally is really the unique highlight of the 61-day Alaska itinerary,” said John. “We went to the chuckwagon races, the Stampede Rodeo and got to explore downtown Calgary.” “Then we went on and spent three nights in Banff,” added Carol. “It’s always crowded, but our tour buses picked us up at our campground and took us right into town, to Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon, Lake Moraine and all the famous attractions. It was just so easy to get around.”

Leaving the Rockies behind them, the group headed to Dawson Creek, British Columbia and Mile “0” of the famous Alaskan Highway. Next stops are Fort Nelson, then Liard Hot Springs (a favorite of the Tesleys’). They continue to Watson Lake, and then to Whitehorse for a river cruise on the SS Klondike and a tour of the MukTuk Sled Dog Kennels. In Dawson City, they bid farewell to Alaska with a visit to Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall and a visit to the Midnight Dome for a special farewell toast to Canada.

They ferried across the Yukon River and traveled the Top of the World Highway with a stop in Chicken, Alaska (and naturally there’s a story about how it got its name) before arriving in Tok. The cast and film crew from “The RVers” joined the group in Dawson City and traveled with them at this point. “We didn’t really know what to expect, and at first we were a little anxious,” admitted Carol. “But they made it really easy and we all became good friends. They fit right in with our group.” Later during the tour, when the group was parked on the beach on the Homer Spit, the crew met up with them again, and filmed one of their beach campfires making chocolate eclairs on sticks.

This group then headed north to Fairbanks, where they spent the next four nights. It was a busy time, with an authentic Alaskan salmon bake, theater show, riverboat cruise, the Susan Butcher Sled Dog Center, panning for gold, a visit to the Trans-Alyeska Pipeline and a visit to the University of Alaska Museum.

The next stop was the iconic 6 million-acre Denali National Park and Preserve, anchored by Mt. Denali, at 20,310 feet the tallest mountain in the United States. With four days here, there was plenty of time to explore, as well as enjoy a guided bus tour of the park, white water rafting, dinner theater, plenty of wildlife and wilderness before they drove on to Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city.

Departing from Anchorage, the group headed south to Kenai for a delicious King Crab feed, and then to a perpetual favorite of Fantasy group tours, Homer, where they camped on the Homer spit. There’s lots to see and do in Homer, while others just chilled at the campground and enjoyed the amazing scenery. “It’s the halibut capital of the world, but the eagle viewing is spectacular,” said Carol. “We could watch them swoop down on the beach in front of our rigs.” The film crew captured the group sitting around the campfires enjoying chocolate eclairs on sticks one evening.

Next stop was Seward, with a visit to the Alaska Sea Life Center and some up close and personal encounters with puffins. They also took a 5-hour cruise through Resurrection Bay, viewing glaciers and wildlife. On a previous Ultimate Alaska tour, one of the Fantasy guests entered a salmon fishing derby in Seward, catching a 74-lb salmon and winning 4th place! And he shared his bounty with the group.

The group turned inland to travel to Palmer, home of those extra large vegetables, thanks to all the sunlight. Then it was back to the coast and Valdez, gateway to Prince William Sound. Here, they took a luncheon cruise past the Columbia and Meares Glaciers, enjoying the wildlife and sea life. There was even time for optional chartered salmon fishing.

The group cut back to Tok and the Yukon Territories but then turned down to Haines to use as a base camp for the next four nights. From here, they cruised to Alaska’s capital city, Juneau, which is only accessible by sea or by air. There was plenty of wildlife and whale watching along the way, including a visit to Mendenhall Glacier. Another day was spent on a fast ferry over to Skagway, where they boarded the Yukon Railroad to travel over White Pass, aka “the railway built of gold”, the narrow-gauge route from Skagway to the Yukon Territory used by gold miners a century ago.

Then it was back to Whitehorse, on to Nugget City and Dease Lake in British Columbia. But it wasn’t over yet! They headed for Stewart, BC, population a little less than 500. Just down the road is the even smaller town of Hyder, which is across the border in Alaska, although the town with a population of approximately 87 embraces both Canadian and American lifestyles. Kids can decide if they want to go to a Canadian school in Stewart or the small country American school in Hyder. Sometimes Canadian currency is accepted, sometimes U.S. The town’s electrical system is American but is operated by a Canadian power company. What’s the attraction and why did they go to Hyder? One word – bears! Lots of them! Just north of town at the Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site brown and black bears feast on prolific runs of salmon spawning upstream. It’s a photographer’s dream from viewing platforms along the river.

The group continued south for a night camped on the riverfront in Fort Telkwa and then to Prince George, one of the largest cities in British Columbia for their traditional Fantasy Farewell Dinner. From Coeur d’Alene to Calgary through British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska, this group had enjoyed 61 days of the ultimate adventure!

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