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alaska road trip

Richardson Highway Part 1 – Wild Camping & Crazy Rafting

We had no idea we were entering Alaska’s Adventure Corridor when we rolled onto the Richardson Highway from Fairbanks headed for Valdez. Perhaps it was that lack of expectations that made this 368 mile drive so spectacular. What we can say, in all honesty: this is where our Alaska road trip adventures really began.

The Richardson highway Alaska

The Richardson Highway

The Richardson Highway was Alaska’s first major road and has been drawing in those looking for riches, adventure and the unsoiled mountainous landscapes for decades. This was not only Alaska’s first road, but also the first trail into the interior of the state. Before this highway was built the only way of traveling into the heart of Alaska was by river.

Today it’s a stunning drive through the Chugach and Alaska mountain ranges with glimpses of the trans-Alaska pipeline carrying oil some 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay on the remote Arctic Ocean to the Port of Valdez, the end of the road and our planned destination.

Fairbanks to Delta Junction

This part of the drive is fairly uneventful as is the visitor’s center in Delta Junction.  Each visitor’s center we’ve stopped at on this trip so far has been fantastic, we thought this would be more of the same, but instead when we asked about hikes and fishing spots we were told apologetically by the woman working she didn’t know much. Luckily, we had already done a good amount of research at the Alaska Public Lands Information Center in Fairbanks (which we recommend visiting) so it wasn’t a big deal.

Red Rock Canyon

Our first stop on the Richardson Highway is one our Alaskan friend Eric let us in on.  Red Rock canyon is a local’s favorite for a host of reasons and we can see why.  There are long running ATV trails, towering rocks, narrow views of distant mountains and tons of hiking to be had all around.  This is #WildCamping at its best!

You’ll want to take note of this one: GPS Coordinates 63 21 8.60, -145 43 34.04

red rock canyon

red rock canyon wild camping

boondocking camping alaska

Fielding Lake

Just a short drive down the road is Fielding Lake. I was itching for some waterfront views and had the intention of getting out our paddle board.  The winds were whipping good when we arrived so we decided to drink in the views instead.  Fielding Lake State Recreation Site is completely FREE for basic dry camping, the sites are snug and most are made to share with one or two other RVers, but there’s fishing right out your front door, the views are intoxicating and the moose seem to enjoy a midnight river bottom snack. Yes, those last few evening shots really are just past midnight!

Fielding Lake State Recreation Site

Fishing Fielding Lake Alaska

Alaska Wilderness Roadtrip

Fielding Lake State Recreation Site

Alaska Wilderness

Gulkana Glacier Hike

Down the road and across the street is a hike that what was described to us as being “a lovely hike to a glacier that has an Indiana Jones style suspension foot bridge and…it’s where the annual Arctic Man competition is held.”  A description that no doubt had us excited. Sadly, we weren’t quite prepared to cross any rivers without a bridge, and that is exactly what we needed to do in order to get onto Gulkana Glacier.  We were able to make it all the way to the far right edge of the Glacier where the blue green water poured out from underneath, the main source of the river so that was neat. We were totally bummed we couldn’t safely cross the river (without getting drenched) to get up close and personal with the glacier, so if you make this journey bring an extra pair of shoes & socks for a glacial river crossing and possibly a pair of crampons (like these cheap multi-purpose crampons) if you really want to get up on the ice!

To get to the trailhead look for a gravel road next to the Richardson Monument at mile marker 197. Take the road as far as you feel comfortable, park and start hiking.

Alaska glaicers

Gulkana Glacier Hike

arctic man location alaska

Alaska glacier hike

Richardson Highway hikes

Amateurs Float The Gulkana River

We were told about a guy who rents rafts on the side of the road for the Gulkana river, if this sounds like the beginning of an adventure story or maybe a joke…we’ll, it’s kinda both!  We were told it’s a nice relaxed float and you don’t need any experience or a guide.  So, we convinced fellow traveling RV’ers The Bonelli’s and The Banks to join us for what turned out to be a much bigger adventure than we all anticipated.

float the Gulkana river

Bald Eagle

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Friends in Alaska

If you would like to make the same float I think this guy is the only one that does it: gulkanaraftrental.com

We parked it at the Gakona RV Park for our river float and much like our float, we got more than we expected.  The owners of the park are incredibly nice and love sharing their way of life.  They took us down the road to show and explain how their fish wheels work, demonstrated how to properly filet a salmon and even cooked up some wild-caught Copper River Salmon for everyone in the campground…for no additional fee!  There weren’t many campers (probably 12 or so total) but still, what an amazing unexpected surprise of hospitality!

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Alaskan Salmon Bake

Alaskan RV Park

Whew!!! Sounds like a lot right?!? Crazy part is we’re only half way down to Valdez and we’ve already had these amazing adventures!  Stay tuned for the second half of the Richardson Highway where we try our hand at catching some of the famous Copper River Salmon, we stumble upon more glaciers, waterfalls and we cruise through never ending mountain views.

Road Report

Fuel Prices – Fuel was least expensive in Fairbanks at around $3.40 a gallon and was about $3.70 a gallon in Delta Junction, Glennallen and Valdez. For the most recent pricing, check out the free Gas Buddy app.

Road Conditions – The Richardson Highway is primarily a two-lane road, but becomes a four-lane road as it approaches Fairbanks. The road is in excellent shape especially south of Delta Junction.

Weather – Temperatures were mild and pleasant with highs hovering in the 70’s and the lows in the mid 40’s.

Dates Visited – June 27 – June 29, 2015

Resources – We always chat up the locals, consulted the milepost, and read the Church’s Alaskan Camping book.

See all our Alaska Travels and tips here: #Alaska Bound

Have you traveled the Richardson Highway? Share your stories, tips and thoughts with us in the comments below! We love hearing from you.

Hello there! I honestly don’t know what to say, so I am going to tell you a bunch of random facts instead. I'm a fish eating vegetarian who hates spiders and loves snakes. I almost never took vacations growing up. I wanted to be Pippi Longstocking (still do). I misspell about every other word I write and still struggle with grammar. I love splurging on a good high tea (which is really hard to find these days). And whatever you do, don’t tell me I can’t do something, because then I'll HAVE to do it!

Comments (27)

  • mark Clark

    what can you tell me about the Gakona RV park? I found a advertisement and then I seen the mention of the park here. any info would be greatly appreciated.

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  • Bob Beltz

    Wow. This is memory lane. I spent several months at Pump Station 9, just south of Delta Junction. Drove Richardson Highway back and forth to Fairbanks many times. That was in 1976 or 77. Worked on the pipeline as part of the startup group and worked for Westinghouse Electric Corp under contract to Alyeska. What an experience in an incredible place.

    It is very interesting following your journeys and while I couldn’t do what you two enjoy, these pages allow me to live your adventures vicariously.

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  • Jim S.

    Great posting…My trip to AK. next summer I’ll have that raft float trip (Gulkana) on my list of “to do’s”. I have a question. I notice looking at the websites for many of the BC., YK. and Alaskan campgrounds, is the use of the dump station an extra charge, even if you stay overnight in their campground? I understand if you had a full service site, it’s a non-issue, but many are listing a dump and fresh water fee.

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  • The Richardson Highway was our favorite part of Alaska and Valdez our favorite city. We were there a long time ago and dream of going back. Thanks for the description and pictures your adventure. It takes us back to those wonderful memories of ours.

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  • Your photos for part 1 and part 2 Richardson Highway seem to be more vivid than previous photos. Are you taking HDR? Or post processing somehow to increase the vividness? Were you using your Canon or your Sony?

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  • Such a great video! I felt like I was with you guys. I can imagine what that much have been like. So fun! Great photos wonderful writing. Really interesting!

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  • Bruce Kane

    Another great video and pictures of your adventures, thanks

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  • Patrice

    Just wondering…and you’ve probably answered this question a hundred times…but what camera and lens are you using for these pictures? I have a Canon Digital Rebel XTi that I bought at least 8 years ago and am looking to buy maybe another Canon (because I have a large investment with lenses) with more pixels. And what camera do you video with?

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  • Cathy Lackey

    I enjoy your video’s so much. It seems to me Alaska is turning out to be the the trip of a lifetime for the two of you, But then again your just living your life, A Blessed one at that, Thank You both for sharing the adventures.

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  • Jason Murray

    Great video you two. Nice mix of activities, people and places you post. Very entertaining. Two best quotes get equally split:
    1. Jason: “Right is right, left is left. Okay, it’s easy!”
    2. Jason: “Nikki’s about to take over paddling. Any last thoughts?”
    Nikki: “I’m sorry.” HA!

    Onto the rafting. OF COURSE, I have to mention your rafting skills but, I do this so that you can enjoy your next trip-should you come into a similar setup. You do not need to use the oars for propulsion-meaning, you do not need to row (only when stuck). The river will take care of that (meaning propulsion). Steering through propulsion is very, very difficult-as you found out-because by the laws of physics, you only get any meaningful steering accomplished when you row faster than the river is moving. So the faster the river, the faster you need to row. How in the heck are you supposed to relax, enjoy yourself, and down some cold ones while rafting? I’ll tell you how. Steer through braking. Steering through stop holds (i.e. braking) is much easier physically and effectually. What I mean is all you need to do is put the right oar in the water to go right and the left oar to go left (remember that little quote of yours Jason?). By braking it turns rather quickly. The faster the boat is moving the better your braking effect. You can also control the intensity of the “braking” (i.e. turning). For example, skim the oar for tiny corrections and flat drop it (perpendicular to the water surface) for hard turns. Both oars together for hard slows and stops.

    I assure you, it really truly is much easier than you might think. I’m kind of surprised the owner did not provide some useful tips in steering. Oh well. Maybe he gets a kick out of the watching the City Slickers pinballing down the river. I would. Hope this helps.

    I am very much looking forward to your documentary!

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  • We love you guys! And we love following your adventures. It’s a joy to see you both living such a courageously mindful life. Spread that bliss like raspberry jam! Woohoo! Cheers!

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  • Randy R.

    Love your videos…… the rafting trip was great! The best part of the videos are Nikki’s spontaneous comments…..very real reactions and she says just what we are all thinking!!

    Great camera work….you guys really capture your surroundings and make us feel like we are right there with you. Oh, Jason, I think the video showed that the ladies had better control of the raft! 🙂

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  • Just finding your blog, a wealth of information and stunning photography! We have an inflatable Tower SUP and love it. A great tricep workout pumping that thing up 🙂

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  • William (Bill) Weaver

    Several years ago, a group of us rafted and fished several rivers in Alaska. We tent camped on the river bank and ate some of the salmon that we caught. I am glad that you had the river rafting experience. Thanks and keep your adventure coming. I’m having travel envy.

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  • Jeff Auch

    Great post guys. Loved the rafting trip.
    Safe Travels
    Jeff

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  • Nancy Fernandez

    LMAO, “Gentle Float My a$$” Love following your adventures. Keep them coming!!! Safe Travels.

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  • Edward elbers

    Wow! You guys sure looked like you were having fun! And you seemed so relaxed while your camera equipment was getting splashed, I would have been a wreck! It is nice to see the bald eagles making a comeback as well.

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