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Story by John Pangilinan
Photo by David Scheleske

DESTINATION ALASKA

Adventuring in the 49th State Without a Rig

A large puddle at the bottom of the hill had pooled up on the ground from the rainy skies. I looked over at one of the guides as he gave me a slight nod and said, “Send it,” to which I immediately obliged. Pedal to the floor and no care in the world, I drove the vehicle into the foot-deep water. A large wave engulfed the UTV as it splashed through to the other side. Grinning ear to ear, my inner child satisfied, I couldn’t wait to see what else Alaska had in store.

Many overlanders, by nature, are nomads ready and willing to explore along the way to their destination. For those that simply don’t have the proper vehicle, the time, or the know-how to travel to the 49th state, it can be a daunting task that requires an endless amount of preparation and planning. Thankfully, there are options when it comes to adventure travel that don’t require a fully built-out overland rig. I traveled with Yamaha with only my bags at my side—and had the time of my life.

Off-Roading on an Alaska trail

The vast open land of Alaska is ready to be explored.

Getting to Alaska by Plane

Only a day earlier, I boarded my delayed flight from Santa Ana, California, airport to Seattle, Washington, to catch a connecting flight to Anchorage, Alaska. I had traded the warm California temperatures during a mini heatwave for the cloudy and slightly chilly Alaskan climate. I collected my belongings at the baggage check and hopped on a quick shuttle ride to the RV rental company located a mere 5 minutes away from the airport.

The 4WD and grippy tires handled the various terrain that we encountered from the mud, water, and dirt trails.

After a long day of travel, I was greeted by a familiar and friendly face. Casey, my host for the weekend would help me check in for my first-ever RV experience. He had pre-booked my very own RV and as the last person to check in due to the delays, I had the last choice—the largest one left on the lot. I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous about driving a brand new Forest River Forester RV, which was quite large and long. I watched the mandatory safety video that the Great Alaskan Holidays require and after signing some paperwork, I was behind the wheel of the RV.

The RV was well-equipped with camping accessories including a BBQ, Keurig coffee maker, toaster, tea kettle, and a couple of camp chairs. After loading up on food and supplies, we would make our way north to Willow Creek Resort located in Willow, Alaska.

Vehicles circled up in Alaska wilderness

Pulling up to Willow Creek Resort

The hour-and-a-half drive provided plenty of time to get acquainted with the oversized vehicle. Even as a newbie, I found it very easy to get accustomed to driving. With snacks in hand, the drive was pleasant and smooth. The beauty of Alaska was evident even from the highway with plenty of gorgeous landscapes as eye candy. Eventually, we reached our destination.

Conversations filled the air of what was to come, what to wear on the adventure, and overall, how excited everyone was to simply be in Alaska.

Willow Creek Resort is a centrally located RV park that sits next to Willow Creek. The grounds are quaint with picnic tables, electrical hookups, and the main office building. We formed a line of RVs, each person with their own home away from home. The sound of the water rushing nearby reminded us how close we were to the river. If the sound didn’t remind you, then the mosquitoes sure did.

It was a long day, but the skies remained brightly lit well into the evening, only to darken around 10 p.m. A few people decided to call it a night early as they had traveled from the East Coast. A couple of us huddled into one RV for dinner. The casual atmosphere of dinner between strangers in an RV made it easy to get to know one another prior to the event unfolding the next day. Conversations filled the air of what was to come, what to wear on the adventure, and overall, how excited everyone was to simply be in Alaska.

Two vehicles on the trail

Snowhook Adventure Guides of Alaska

The next morning, I utilized the RV’s amenities and made a simple breakfast complete with coffee and Pop-Tarts before gathering with the group. With rain in the forecast, I threw on some adventure gear from Tourmaster that included the Horizon Line Highlander jacket and pants. The waterproof jacket and pants would prove to be invaluable in keeping me warm and dry throughout the day.

The group gathered and we caravanned to Snowhook Adventure Guides of Alaska. This company provides once-in-a-lifetime experiences from dog sledding with trained dogs that compete in the Iditarod, snowmobiling, and side-by-side tours through remote areas of Alaska. Being a Destination Yamaha partner, I knew we would be in for a memorable experience.

The sounds of the roaring water as we crossed streams, the occasional gusts of wind, and the sprinkling of rain instantly connected us with nature.

After a quick overview of the vehicle, we sat inside our own Yamaha Wolverine X4 850 XT-R. I got acquainted with the machine, put my helmet on, slid on my gloves, turned on the ignition, and we were on our way. The day-long excursion took us through remote parts of Alaska to places that you may only see by vehicle, helicopter, or by snow dog, and it was absolutely beautiful.

The vehicles themselves added to the adventure. The open cabin sans windshield immediately reminded you that you were in the elements. The sounds of the roaring water as we crossed streams, the occasional gusts of wind, and the sprinkling of rain instantly connected us with nature. The tour traversed through rugged landscape of towering mountains, glaciated valleys, and mountain streams. Rounding each corner unveiled a new breathtaking view.

Snowhook Adventure Guides of Alaska sign

Guided adventures are a great solution for those looking for convenience, expert knowledge, and an overall good time.

From Overlanding to Rafting

Behind the wheel I felt confident. The 4WD and grippy tires handled the various terrain that we encountered from the mud, water, and dirt trails. The suspension absorbed the rougher parts providing a smooth and comfortable ride. The transmission was responsive, and the vehicle had ample power for our trip.

Thankfully, there are options when it comes to adventure travel that don’t require a fully built-out overland rig.

Back at camp we were ready for a good night’s sleep and excited for the next day ahead. Our second day consisted of a guided fishing trip down Willow Creek. The team at FishHound Expeditions met us at our RV camp. We were set to take off a convenient 100 feet away from our RVs. After a quick tutorial, as many of us had never fly fished before, we were outfitted with fishing waders and a pole. We hopped into our rafts and made our way down.

Two men River Rafting Dog with a vehicle in the background

 

Fly Fishing in Alaska

Wild Alaska

Within a minute and on her first cast, my fishing partner got a bite and pulled in a large rainbow trout. It would be the first of many for her. I also was able to catch a couple, while more got away then I would have liked. The guides were energetic and kept the spirits up with their occasional banter between the boats. Yelling about “hogs,” apparently large fish that are often biting, the guides helped to make this a memorable first-time experience.

As expected, the scenery was beautiful. Drifting down the river and frequently docking the raft to fish from the shore, there was never a dull moment. While most of the fish caught were trout, I did catch one salmon. This time of year, most of the salmon had spawned. But I had a goal to catch salmon in Alaska to check it off the bucket list. In fact, this trip checked many things off my list—but also added many more. I can’t wait to visit again and explore more of what the 49th state has to offer. While this trip was in the summer, my next goal is to have a snow-filled adventure.

Alaska is a vast and wonderful place. While this may have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, this certainly will not be my last time to visit the 49th state.

Two men with a fish they caught

Docks before a mountain in Alaska


The beauty of Alaska can be found in it’s land and in the people.

Driving through a river

One thing is for certain, you may get wet when riding through Alaska. Having proper attire is key.

Yamaha Wolverine goes through a water crossing

Through various terrain, the Yamaha Wolverine handled each natural obstacle with ease including water crossings.

Wolverine on the trails Burgers on the grill.

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the November/December 2022 Issue of Tread Magazine. 

 

 

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