When we told everyone that we were going to take a road trip from Florida to Alaska in a VW GTI, we received a rather mixed response. We heard everything from “Are you nuts!?!?” to “That’s epic! Take me with you!”. I have to admit that before (and during) our trip Lauren and I both questioned our own and each others’ sanity at certain points. Even now, after we’ve returned home, there are moments when I look back at our pictures and question whether or not it all really happened. When you want to do something big, or different, you usually have to go a bit against the grain to make it work, and to me, that’s one of the things that makes it all worthwhile. I decided, now that we’ve made it, to try and summarize (if that’s even possible) our entire Key West, Florida to Deadhorse, Alaska road trip in one post!
All About Our Road Trip From Florida to Alaska
Before we get into all the nitty gritty I wanted to share a few facts about our trip:
- Days Traveled – 59 days
- Distance Traveled: 15,749 Miles on the road or 25,345 Kilometers for the rest of the world :-)
- Gas Consumed: 533 Gallons
- Amount of Coffee Consumed: 28.5 Gallons (and that’s a conservative figure)
- States & Provinces Visited: 22 US States and 3 Canadian Provinces
- Car Accidents – 1 (more on that later)
What Route did we take? – Road Trip Planner Florida to Alaska
When planning our route, there were a few key cities and destinations that were necessary on our adventure. After those few key points were chosen, everything else was pretty much spontaneous. We knew we wanted to start our trip in Key West, Florida so all we needed to do was find a suitable end point. We wanted to do something epic, off the beaten path, and make sure our trip would include some adventure driving.
With a little research we came up with Deadhorse, AK. It’s the furthest north you can drive in the US, Alaska would certainly be adventurous, and there was the challenge of driving the Dalton Highway. After that, we agreed that we wouldn’t double back on our return route and then sprinkled in a few key attractions we wanted to see along the way. Before we left, we focused all of our attention on getting to Alaska and navigating through Canada so we didn’t plot the return trip until we were on the road. Once the whole trip was completed our road trip route looked a little something like this map below!
Part 1 Getting Started and Crossing the United States
When the day came to head off on our road trip we were excited, but also incredibly nervous. This was our first ever “official blog trip” and we weren’t sure if we were even going to be able to make it to our goal destination. You see, when we originally planned the trip, we were supposed to leave in September. That would have given us enough time to drive through Canada and Alaska before Winter hit. Unfortunately, life got in the way of our plans. We didn’t leave until October 1st, which meant that we were faced with the reality that we might have road closures and unsafe conditions along the way. All we knew for certain was that we were committed to getting as far as we could, and like many situations, there were too many variables to control to really worry about it. We set off with loose plans, all the items on our road trip checklist, lots of guts, and figured we’d have a great time either way.
Our road trip started off with a rather counterintuitive step. We drove south before we drove north. We didn’t want to start our trip in a humdrum location like Hollywood, FL. It had no glitz or glam and it certainly wasn’t “epic”. We set our sites on Key West, Florida instead and chose an ideal landmark, the Southernmost point of the continental US.
Once we were 90-miles away from the homeland (I am 1/2 Cuban ya know :-) ), we took the first off many u-turns and made our way north. The drive through Florida took us through the Everglades, up the western coast and to our first stopping point, Atlanta, Georgia. We had one place we considered an absolute “must see” while we were there. The Georgia Aquarium, and it was absolutely mind blowing! It’s one of a few places where you can see a whale shark up close!
We also checked out the World of Coke and saw the first of many “bears” on our trip. I’m pretty sure seeing this guy jinxed us for the rest of our trip while also solidifying Lauren’s belief that bears don’t really exist.
We moved on quickly from Atlanta since we were feeling pretty excited about the trip and ready to head north. Being on such a long trip, it was actually hard to balance the desire to absorb every minute of what we were currently doing without being distracted by the anticipation of what was yet to come. It was the one constant pressure we had on the first half of the trip. We were racing against a clock set by mother nature. We spent the next couple of days driving through the American Midwest and enjoying watching the seasons turn. Autumn is one of the things we miss most when living in Florida, since there are basically two seasons there: “Crazy Hot and Humid” and “Really Warm and Slightly Less Humid”.
Our next major stop was in the city of Chicago. During our time there we were reminded of one of our key travel mottos. Always be spontaneous and let life lead your path.
When we first arrived, we had plans to spend our day touring the city and seeing the sights. The next morning though we had a change of plans. We decided to take advantage of the season and attend a Fall festival instead of going to downtown Chicago. We figured the city would always be there, but a Fall festival was something that would only be going on for a limited time. We ended up going to the Scarecrow Festival in nearby St.Charles. We had a fun time with our doggies, watched a wiener dog race, and ate too much fair food. It made us feel like kids again and it was awesome.
After the festival we decided to find something to do in the city. I popped onto Facebook and suddenly realized some good friends of ours, from Miami of all places, were coincidentally in town for the same weekend. The flew to Chicago for a football game. We would have never known if we had just gone to the city first thing in the morning and followed our original itinerary. Instead we scrapped our remaining plans for the day and tried to meet up with them in the city.
It led us to having a pretty crazy evening where we tailgated for free behind Soldier Field,
went to a sold out College Football game for $20 a piece and,
meet up with our friends for drinks after! :-)
It’s amazing what can happen when you avoid overplanning every destination and let life lead you in it’s own direction. After Chicago, we moved on through Iowa and (I have to be honest here) it kind of sucked. I’m sure Iowa has some redeeming qualities to it, but we didn’t find any on this trip. Thankfully, we stopped off for only one night in Sioux City and then quickly booked it to Rapid City, South Dakota. We spent a few day there visiting some of the Parks and sights in the area.
At this point we had been on the road for 15 days and we were starting to feel the effects of long term travel. Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely love it, but covering that many miles that fast wears you down. We took our first pause in SD and spent a few days there resting and enjoying the area. We also had to take care of a few key things like servicing the car and getting snow tires installed before we entered Canada. Once we were ready to roll, we made our final stop in the US. We rambled on over to Kalispel, MT where we made sure to visit Glacier National Park.
Part 2- Crossing Canada and Touring Alaska
For the next 6 nights we cut through and along the Eastern edge of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. We spent the first two nights in a really cool town called Banff . It gave us the opportunity to connect with the Canadian wilderness and get some hiking in. We found that the Canadian wilderness is a lot like the American wilderness but friendlier. :-) While out on the trails, we were reminded that there are many times that we, as humans, get way to wound up with the day to day parts of life. We should all take more time out of our daily lives to try new things and focus on the natural world. I mean how can you not fall in love with nature and realize just how wonderful life is when you visit places like this.
After Banff, the winter weather really started to play a factor with the speed of our travel. We set out on the Alaska-Canada Highway and drove hard, probably too hard! Over the course of 3 days, we drove essentially non-stop through the Northern Canadian Rockies. We only spent one night in a hotel and then the next two days were a mixture of driving and napping in the car. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the weather was cooperating, but the temperatures had dropped well below freezing and ice had started forming on the roads.
Additionally, the days were getting short so we did a lot of driving at night. If we had to do it again, we would have cut that trip into much smaller pieces and only driven during the day. The night driving in those conditions was slow and, honestly, at some points terrifying. We were weaving through mountains and elevation changes without knowing what was ahead. The only part that made it worth it though was all the wildlife that came out in the evening to graze along the roadside. It was utterly surreal and can only be likened to driving through a National Geographic special.
We finally stopped for another night in a hotel when we hit Whitehorse, YK. We were exhausted and worn thin, but motivated by the fact that were were only days away from our goal. We moved on the next day and were elated to cross into Alaska.
Once arriving in Alaska, the enormity of what we were trying to accomplish really hit us. We made our way through Tok and into Fairbanks, AK. We stopped there for a few days of rest and to plan the drive up the Dalton Highway. We ran into quite a few obstacles at that point. Between the weather coming in and having to find somewhere to board the dogs, we were seriously concerned that we might not be able to make it. Thankfully we met some amazing people that were able to help us out. Thanks to their kindness we were able to board the dogs and continue our adventure. We made it to the Arctic Circle,
hit Deadhorse, AK,
and completed our goal of driving the Dalton Highway.
Once we looped back Fairbanks, Lauren and I both had the strangest mix of feelings set in. We were elated because we had hit our goal with nothing going wrong, but at the same time we were filled with this immense level of worry and stress. We overcame every obstacle thrown at us and made it, but in actuality we had only come half way. All of our plans and itineraries had been so focused and so driven, right up to the point of hitting Deadhorse we were both left with this “Now what?” feeling. We picked ourselves up and spent the next few days just enjoying the rest of Alaska’s Interior. We toured through Anchorage, Valdez and back to Tok. It was then that we truly fell in love with Alaska.
The day we left Alaska the weather finally stopped holding back and snow starting really coming down. We planned to book it out of Alaska and hightail it through the Western Rockies towards Vancouver, BC. It was at the beginning of this trip, just a mile from the Alaska-Canada border, that our first (and thankfully only) stroke of bad luck hit us. While driving down one of many mountains, the car suddenly went careening sideways towards a pullout along the edge of a cliff. Even though we had just spent weeks driving through icy and snowy roads without incident, this is when the car chose to loose control. Every evasive maneuver I tried failed and the car wouldn’t regain traction. We were headed straight towards the edge of a cliff and there was no guardrail. Suddenly, the car gripped for just long enough to change direction, went into a snow bank, and hit the only stop sign we had seen for miles.Lauren still jokes that I mistook the purpose of the stop sign. I disagree! It saved our lives. It was a miracle that the sign was there to stop us. When we got out of the car we realized that if we had slid for another 100 feet we would have gone off the edge of a cliff.
Thankfully the car was mechanically sound enough to continue driving and we were able to make it down the Cassiar Highway and back to civilization in Vancouver. The 5-day trip down was terrifying and exhausting. There was a persistent snowstorm that seemed to stay right ahead of us ensuring the car had a constantly fresh layer of snow to drive through. It continued that way for kilometer after kilometer.
We were both on edge the entire time and ready to snap. To make matters worse, the car’s alignment was shot so the car was slipping and sliding all over the road. Then, right when we were at wit’s end, the most amazing thing happened. The snow suddenly cleared up. It just stopped. We spent the next two days counting our blessings while being given the chance to observe one of the most surreal experiences ever. We watched the seasons turn backwards. You see, we were leaving an area that hard winter had already hit and were driving back to warmer climates. So as we went south the the trees went from bare and leafless, to the roaring reds and oranges of fall.
We finally hit Vancouver, BC and spent a day there enjoying the urban life again and reveling in all the city had to offer.
Part 3- Back into the US and the Long Road Home
We made our way back into the US with only one known destination, Portland, OR. After that, the entire back half of our itinerary was entirely unplanned. We had done extensive planning to achieve our goal, and cross through Canada safely, yet had no idea how we were going to get home. The day we hit Portland all our travel stress and physical wear and tear caught up with us and we got the flu. Honestly, we were shocked it took so long considering all the weather we had been through. We managed to have a good time in Portland for the 2 nights we were there, but definitely need to return to really appreciate the town.
While plotting our return trip we had set two goals. We wanted to get somewhere warm and blow off some steam. With that in mind, the first leg of our return road trip took us to Reno & Las Vegas for some gambling and then Arizona and New Mexico for some National Parks and nice desert warmth. After that we were hitting San Antonio to see family for Thanksgiving, then to New Orleans for some post Thanksgiving day partying, and finally home.
First order of business though was some sleep. We knew we wouldn’t manage that if we stayed in Portland so we drove to a town called Redding, CA and did nothing for 2 days. Its one of the little secrets of full time travel that we learned on this trip. Every once in a while, it’s necessary to just stop somewhere to reflect and recharge. The more boring the town, the easier it is to do it. There’s only one thing I can tell you about Redding, they have a cool bridge that looks like a sundial. :)
Once we recovered, we spent a total of 4 days between Reno and Vegas bouncing through casinos and enjoying much of the fine dining. It hardly seemed like we were even on the same trip at that point. We were no longer surrounded by mountains and snow and we hadn’t really communed with nature since we left Alaska.
We remedied that by the next leg of our journey as we went through AZ and NM. It’s one of my favorite things about road trips in America. The place is so huge that you can change your surroundings completely in just a couple days worth of driving. My favorite part of this leg was by far the Grand Canyon. If you ever want to feel like you are small in comparison to the rest of the universe, this is the place to do it. Standing there on the precipice of something so deep and so wide, really puts the world into perspective.
Our next stop after NM took us to San Antonio for Thanksgiving weekend. It was a splendid stay and the first time in years that my two brothers and my father were all in the same place. It allowed us a few days for fun, reflection, and a reminder that family is the most important thing in the world to us.
After San Antonio, I have to admit, we were both traveled out. It had to do with the combined effects of being on the road for so long and the fact that we had just driven through the same part of the country a couple months earlier. Don’t get me wrong we still had fun visiting New Orleans. On top of finding a couple new places to eat and see while we were there we also managed to get some more rest.
With NOLA complete, there was only one thing left to do. Drive home! We flirted with the idea of stopping one more place on or road trip between New Orleans and Miami, but then just drank gallons of coffee and did the drive in one 15 hour shot. We arrived home at 3 AM, left the car full of our luggage, and passed out in our own bed for the first time in 2 months. When we woke up the next day it took us both a few minutes to realize we were even home. I mean all of our stuff was there, but we hadn’t seen it in so long, it didn’t feel “homey” to us anymore. It was at that moment that we learned the most valuable lesson of our journey. Home truly is wherever you want it to be, and when you’re filled with the nomadic spirit, that home can be the road!
Things We Learned – Road Trip from Florida to Alaska
So … was it worth it? Absolutely! Even though I’ve tried, it’s almost impossible to put into words what an amazing and empowering life changing event this was. It taught us priceless lessons about what we are capable of and about each other’s limits. Spending that much time side-by-side with the person you love really redefines your relationship and your priorities in life. One might think a trip like this would sate one’s wanderlust (or at least temper it), but all it’s done for us is create an unquenchable appetite to do one thing: Keep Rambling!