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
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
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.