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Most tourists cruise to Alaska, but you can take your car
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- If you're planning a cruise to Alaska this summer, chances are you're booking it this winter. Most Alaska cruise tickets are purchased in January and February, with some earlybirds booking as far in advance as the previous October, according to the Cruise Lines International Association.
But while cruise ship travel accounts for nearly 65 percent of visitors to the state, not everyone wants to see Alaska from the deck of a ship with the occasional excursion or port of call. Fortunately, there are many other options.
You can fly to Anchorage, then rent a car; take the Alaska Railroad, or join a motorcoach tour. Or you can put your car on a ferry from Bellingham, Wash., or Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Or, if you have time, consider a road trip to Alaska from the Lower 48 through Canada.
The most often-traveled car route from the U.S. is to cross the border and head west on the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) into the Canadian Rockies, past Banff and Jasper national parks. Then drive north on Highway 97 to Dawson Creek, British Columbia, where the famed Alaska Highway begins with a signpost noting "Mile 0." The highway ends 1,523 miles later in Fairbanks. The scenery is spectacular, and the classic Alaska travel book, "The Milepost," provides a mile-by-mile guide to the road. From Fairbanks, if you head south, you'll hit Denali National Park, Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula.
"The same roads taken by Jack London, Wyatt Earp and others who explored the territory more than 100 years ago can be followed today," said Roberta Graham, a spokeswoman for Tourism North, a marketing organization for Alaska and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon Territory.
Here are some suggestions from Tourism North on how to plan a land-based trip to Alaska, including driving routes and car ferries. For more details or a free visitors guide, go to www.northtoalaska.com.
Alaska Marine Highway System ferries -- www.alaska.gov/ferry or (800) 642-0066 -- depart from Bellingham, not far from Seattle, and from Prince Rupert. From Bellingham, you'll sail through the Inside Passage in southeast Alaska to Haines or Skagway. The trip takes about four days. Two adults with a car traveling on a peak July weekend runs about $1,400. To reach the Alaska Highway from Haines, drive the Haines Highway to Haines Junction. To reach the Alaska Highway from Skagway, drive the Klondike Highway to Whitehorse in the Yukon.
* BC Ferries -- www.bcferries.com or (888) 223-3779 -- sail from the Tsawwassen Terminal, about 30 miles from the U.S.-Canada border or 30 minutes south of Vancouver, to Vancouver Island. Ferries also leave from Horseshoe Bay, north of Vancouver off Highway 1. From Vancouver Island, take the scenic drive north to Port Hardy and connect to the "Queen of the North" cruise to the port of Prince Rupert. The Alaska Marine Highway offers regular service from Prince Rupert.
Driving to Alaska through Canada
From Seattle: Head north on Interstate 5 toward Bellingham, to Vancouver. Take Highway 1 north to Cache Creek, British Columbia, then follow Highway 97 north to Prince George. From there, head west on Highway 16 to Prince Rupert and take a ferry, or keep going north on 97 to Dawson Creek to connect to the Alaska Highway. Seattle to Fairbanks is about 2,250 miles.
* From Couer D'Alene, Idaho: Take 95 north across the border to Golden, British Columbia, then head west on Highway 1, then north on 97 to Dawson Creek and the Alaska Highway. Couer D'Alene to Fairbanks is about 2,300 miles.
* From Montana: Traverse Glacier National Park on the Going to the Sun Road and cross into Canada, going north on Highway 2 to Calgary. Or pick up Interstate 15 about 60 miles east of Glacier National Park and head to Calgary. From Calgary, drive west on Highway 1 and north on 97 to Dawson Creek and the Alaska Highway. Glacier Park to Fairbanks is about 2,225 miles.
* From Edmonston, Alberta: Take the Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16) west to Hinton. From there, you can either go north on Highway 40, also known as the Bighorn Highway, to Grande Cache and Grande Prairie to Dawson Creek; or keep going west on 16 through Jasper National Park to Prince George, British Columbia. From Prince George, head north on Highway 97 to Dawson Creek and the Alaska Highway, or keep driving west on 16 to Prince Rupert and take a ferry. Edmonton to Fairbanks is about 1,825 miles.
Fly in and drive around: Rental cars and RVs are readily available in Anchorage and Whitehorse.
Drive to Alaska and fly home: If you want to drive one way, you can ship your vehicle back from Anchorage to Tacoma, Wash., via Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE) -- www.totemocean.com/ or (800) 426-0074.
By train: From Edmonton, VIA Rail -- www.viarail.ca/ or (888) 842-7245 -- departs three times a week to Prince Rupert, stopping in Jasper and overnighting in Prince George. From Prince Rupert, you can take a ferry to Alaska. Some ships are bound across the Gulf of Alaska for Seward, where you can board the Alaska Railroad to Anchorage, Denali National Park and Fairbanks. Or fly to Anchorage and take the Alaska Railroad; schedules atwww.akrr.com/ or (800) 321-6518.
Group tours: Tour companies offering trips to Alaska include Anderson House Tours, Globus, Collette, Intrav and Cosmos. For details, visit www.ustoa.com and click on "Alaska" in the drop-down menu. Most tours are by motorcoach or bus; some offer segments by cruise and rail.
Crossing the Canadian border: A driver's license is required to cross the border, but a passport or birth certificate is recommended and may help speed your trip through customs. It's also advisable to bring passports or birth certificates with photo identification for your children.
"The Milepost:" Guidebook to the Alaska Highway; (800) 726-4707.
Best time to go: May to September.