I am guessing right now the ferry is only if needed, so that works with what you said.
The Arctic Circle to me is a must, back in 1980, my Dad, Mom, an Aunt and & I did a trip to Alaska from Chicago in a month old Mercury station wagon, my Dad & I did the side trip to the Arctic Circle and I would like to do it again. Back then, you could only go a little farther north of the Arctic Circle and then the road was closed to most people. I would like to go to Deadhorse, but I see that as being a 4 day round trip from Fairbanks, with overnights in Coldfoot, unless we push it. Now Inuvik, could be done in 3 days with a couple of overnights in Fort McPherson. Time will tell on this.
As for the camping, well one of the other guys going with me, will have his 3 boys and I think that hotels and stuff would get very costly. As of right now, it looks to be 4 vehicles going and anywhere from 8-12 people, but this trip is at least a year off. We do plan to do hotels about every 6th day.
Most of the people coming with me, are coming from Houston. we plan to start this from Durango, CO
I welcome any and all advice I can get.
This is a quick description of our trip:
My son and I drove my Grand Cherokee (2011) from Dallas, TX to Prudhoe Bay and back. Took the ferry up to Haines from Bellingham and got caught in the same wash-outs. Had to take the ferry back to Prince Rupert and drove on home from there. We were moving a little faster though, 20 days total (left Dallas 5-27) including the day and a half we lost at the wash-out south of Destruction Bay. Saw some great scenery met some great people. I wish we had the time to do the camping but we seldom stopped before 11pm, and were back on the road by 8am. Drove the Denali and the Dalton while we were there. Such beautiful country, can't wait to go back. Left Dallas 5/27, Spuce Goose in McMinnville, OR, 5/30, Martin Mars on Vancouver Island 5/31, ferry north 6/1-4, Prudhoe Bay 6/6, Destruction Bay wash-out 6/8, Haines ferry 6/9, Prince Rupert 6/12, Dallas home and dry 6/15.
So we drove about 8200 miles in 12 day of actual driving. The Alcan is all paved but not all that smooth and north of Colorado you can spend a lot of time held up by road construction. Most all of the roads in Alaska and Canada are 2 lane. The Dalton has some paved parts but all in all you wish they had left them gravel. You can do Prudhoe bay in 3 days, 1 up, 1 there, 1 back pretty easy, it's 500 miles from Fairbanks. Leave early going up (I assume you're going in the summer) and even if you get there late it will still be light. Sleep a little late , see the sights or do the tour and spend another night or drive back to Coldfoot. We got help up by road construction several times but it was never very long (30 min +/_) and you get a chance to look around. Rooms up north go for about $100 PER PERSON so be prepared. Fuel is also more ($5.39 in Prudhoe when we were there). Having said all that, it's a once in a lifetime chance I wouldn't miss, there is nothing like the vastness of the North Slope.
The ferry is a nice ride. Clean, great view, food's OK or you can bring your own, get a cabin or sleep on the deck or lounge. Great down-time but does cost more than driving. Best deal is take it from Haines to Prince Rupert and drive home. You can lay over a day in Juneau if you want.
Everyones goal is different, our was to drive as far north as you can go. I wanted to drive the Haul Road and I did. It's like nowhere else on earth. Set a few goals and decide what is most important. Like everyone points out, you can't do it all in 1 trip. But I will tell you, planning it is half the fun.