Life Lessons From an RV Newbie

We’ve parked our RV mere feet from the lake’s rippled windswept cobalt surface, an expanse dominated by mountains painted red by the dying sun.

  • yukon

    (©Sharon Matthews-Stevens)

SUNSET and we’ve just pulled into the Cottonwood RV Park on the shores of Yukon’s Kluane Lake.

Earlier today we prowled through a ghost town and flew over the Klaskawulsh Glacier; now we’ve parked our RV mere feet from the lake’s rippled windswept cobalt surface, an expanse dominated by mountains painted red by the dying sun.

Day one is done and we’re bedding down in an attractive park we share with a host of other RVers – most of them veterans. License plates read Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.

We are RV Newbies, living two dreams of mine: piloting an RV (to wit, a 28’ Super Van Conversion booked from Canadream in Whitehorse) and exploring, at our own speed, some of the highlights of the Yukon.

Seven days later, wiser, though not sadder, we’ll have learned some life lessons that would serve us well next time we cast off from familiar shores on a land yacht voyage of discovery.

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Stop and Smell the Roses

We had five full days on the road and I knew the Yukon pretty well. This turned into a liability. We clocked roughly eighteen hundred kilometres, passing at speed many of those sites I knew and loved, or did hikes at near-running paces because we had reservations that night and had to get there.

Lesson one: plan your trip realistically.

Stopping and smelling the roses – doing lunch beside the flowing Yukon, admiring its teal-coloured waters, being hypnotized by the current with towering cliffs for a backdrop at Carmacks, for example – is one advantage of the flexibility you have when you are driving your room for the night.

RV adventure

Day one of our RV adventure. Making for Kluane National Park. (©Sharon Matthews-Stevens)

It’s also important to remember that you’re piloting a sometimes bulky, often big vessel. You’re not driving a Lamborghini.

Two lessons here: cut your desired distances by a third. And bring your credit card if you do try to make speed.

Bring Your Credit Card

Start of day two. Gas station in Haines Junction.

Ring, ring, ring. And your tank’s not yet full.

These vehicles offer untold advantages.

Fuel economy does not seem to be one of them.

Choose your Battles (and Overnight Stops)

Cottonwood RV Park is idyllic, scenic and friendly. The RV Park outside Takhini Hot Springs is wooded and appealing. Cook dinner on an open fire then ease the tension in those aching shoulder muscles in the nearby spring-fed pools.

Life lesson: all RV Parks are not created equal.

Cottonwood RV

A perfect place to spend the night: Cottonwood RV Park. (©Sharon Matthews-Stevens)

At least once we overnighted in one that might better be called an RV “Parking Lot.” A space on an open gravel expanse, four feet from our neighbour, a tiny picnic table wedged into the back corner.

Back in Whitehorse I told the proprietor of Canadream I had one regret.

“That’s exactly right,” he said emphatically. “Yukon Parks are beautiful and the sites are private. You should always try them too.”

Next time we will choose our battles (and overnight stops) carefully. You don’t need power every night and those territorial campgrounds, snugged down in prime forest, next to emerald lakes in the bosom of pristine wilderness, only cost twelve dollars a night.

You’ll experience the true beauty of the Yukon and, best yet, save enough money for that next fill-up.

Know Thy Vessel

On the last day of our journey, safely back in Whitehorse, we’ve unpacked, cleaned up and decided to go exploring just once more. We were going canoeing on the Yukon River.

Driving over to where we’d meet our guide I noted with some dismay that a number of other drivers were honking at us. One finally pulled over in front and strolled back to us.

Our particular vessel had two pullouts that allowed for extra room when camped. They must not be engaged while travelling.

I should have known that.

On another day we pulled out of a gorgeous rest stop onto the highway only to hear an alarming grating noise. No harm, no foul, but I learned a necessary life lesson. You can’t take as steep a slope in an RV that you can in a car.

In many ways we were more prepared than most for this trip.

My wife and I own a sailboat and there are many similarities, particularly in terms of power, cooking and the dreaded sewage and drainage issue. That meant that, for us, a lot of those concerns were moot.

If you’re new to this – or don’t own a sailboat – make sure you understand every system and procedure. Doesn’t hurt to write them all down during orientation even if they do provide a handbook.

Rent Before You Buy

Acerbic wit that he was, my first sailing teacher taught me one invaluable life lesson.

“Charter before you buy. Make your mistakes on someone else’s boat.”

That lesson proved equally valid here, though we never did crash our own landlocked yacht.

But we discovered that this was too much vehicle for us. We weren’t ready for the operating, purchase or rental costs, this vehicle didn’t always let me go where I wanted, given its size, and we didn’t need nearly so much room.

We’d still RV. We’d just try a different vehicle.

The realization struck me as we dined one afternoon at a table with a view that could bring Don Cherry to tears.

I was getting hooked by the RV lifestyle.

RV Yukon

RVing lets you get to those out-of-the-way places like the village of Keno City between Whitehorse and Dawson City. (©Sharon Matthews-Stevens)

Life Lessons from RV Pros

Writers Jo Matyas and Craig Jones were already hooked. But they were pros.

Even now they’re just finishing a six week journey in their fourth RV, having logged, lifetime, something like 70000 kilometres.

Before we set out they shared their take on RVing, particularly the multitude of advantages.

“Flexibility and independence are key,” says Matyas (check out their excellent site ). “Stop when you want, go where you want.”

Go RVing

They’re also my chief inspiration for making the choice to see the Yukon on my own personal land yacht. Forget the prospectors who suffered hardships to find gold in those hills. We discovered treasure in sheer comfort.

And we learned the most important life lesson of all.

Go RVing.

Again and again.

And again.


Planning the next stage of our trip. Heading west from Whitehorse. (©Sharon Matthews-Stevens)

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-To discover the multitude of attractions that are the Yukon, check out

-For stories on their travels, told by the travel-writing team of Jo Matyas and Craig Jones, including great trip planners and advice on buying an RV or how to plan a trip, click on

-For all things RVing, from dealer information to potential itineraries to a guide to RV Parks nationwide, log on to

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