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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tustin, California, United States
    Posts
    272

    Default Roadtrip #7: Alaska and the Arctic Frontier

    Something new for a change...

    Our roadtrip series continue with some fresh territory to explore. My folks and I are heading to the interior of the great state of Alaska. On Tuesday evening, June 11th, 2013, we will fly to our hub in Anchorage and spend 8 days traversing the primary highways between the Arctic Circle and the southern coast. This will be my 49th state, with only Hawaii left standing. (Only took me 8 years to get there! Sheesh...)

    This will be a little different than roadtrips past. I signed up for one of those cheesy vacation packages where they lump your hotel, car rental, and a bunch of attractions together and throw in a hefty discount. We were able to save quite a bit of cash and have all the arrangements done instead of having to do everything ourselves. It's also a good way to curb my "speed run" tendencies and avoid shoehorning in 37 different destinations every day like I usually do. Some people might feel that using a tour agency is cheating, but we're still using a vehicle to get around and we have the freedom to see other things, thus it still counts as a roadtrip!

    Like usual, I'll be posting blogs on this thread whenever internet is available, with the obligatory conclusion/stats/pics at the end. Here's what's on deck for us:

    Final itinerary

    Day 0 (Jun 11) - Travel Day, fly to Anchorage, AK
    Day 1 (Jun 12) - Drive to Denali, white-water rafting event
    Day 2 (Jun 13) - Denali National Park, tour the entire park road via bus
    Day 3 (Jun 14) - Drive to Fairbanks, train ride, panning for gold
    Day 4 (Jun 15) - Riverboat cruise, drive back to Denali
    Day 5 (Jun 16) - Flightseeing tour of McKinley, land on glacier, drive back to Anchorage
    Day 6 (Jun 17) - Take mountain tram, drive to Seward
    Day 7 (Jun 18) - Kenai Fjords National Park, glacier cruise
    Day 8 (Jun 19) - Sealife center in downtown Seward, drive back to Anchorage
    Day 9 (Jun 20) - Travel day (taking 1:00am red-eye flight back home)

    Even though a number of primary goals will be attained for this round, I'll still be missing Juneau, Barrow, Glacier Bay and the overall ALCAN highway. I'll definitely have to come back later to finish up my other targets.

    Feel free to review past road trips if you feel so inclined: (Pics for all of these can be found in my RTA profile)

    Roadtrip #1 - 48 States in 30 Days (offsite)
    Roadtrip #2 - The Great West
    Roadtrip #3 - The National Parks of Utah
    Roadtrip #3A - San Francisco, CA and back
    Roadtrip #3B - Cambria, CA and back (sorry, no journal for this one)
    Roadtrip #4 - New Mexico and the Albuquerque Balloon Festival
    Roadtrip #4A - Sedona, AZ and back
    Roadtrip #5 - Washington, D.C. and the New England states
    Roadtrip #6 - Victoria, BC and the Pacific Coast
    Roadtrip #6A - The CA Mojave Desert and back

    If you think there's anything we can squeeze in during our daily downtime, please feel free to let us know. Thanks for following!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default Enjoy!

    You're in for a treat. Though I have to say, in 9 days barely time to scratch the surface.

    On your drive down to Seward, take your time. This is one of the great and most beautiful drives you'll ever do, and the aspect coming back is so different. See if you can take a side trip to Whittier. A great experience going through the tunnel which the train still uses. Stop at, and take the short hike to the Exit Glacier. There is a lovely short hike where you can see on top of the glacier. Quite spectacular, if you have never seen a glacier from the top. close up. But don't, like some, ignore the warnings of getting too close to the face of it. Along the road to the glacier you can see the signs of how far it has retreated in less than a century.

    There is also the trip to the Portier glacier, though I have not done that.

    At Seward, be selective as to which tour you take. There are many. We were on an all day tour on a small boat - 18 passengers, captain and assistant. After having lunch by one glacier a mile or so wide, which we could hear creaking, the weather turned and the open ocean became too rough to venture further. On our return at 3.00pm we were handed back 33% of what we had paid, because we had not been all the way. The great experience though was having a hump back and calf breach right in front of the boat. It was while I was chatting with the captain, and we were the only ones who saw it.

    The flight over the glaciers is magnificent, but I would skip the landing on the glacier. On your way back from Fairbanks to Anchorage, rather than retrace your steps along the Parkes Hwy, look at driving down through Delta Junction and Glenallen. Delta Jnctn being the northern terminal of the Alaska Highway and the Glen Highway is another not-to-be-missed roadtrip, along and beside the Matanuska River.

    Pity you won't have time to travel down the Homer Penninsula or visit Valdez and the Wrangler Mtns. But then, you could spend a lifetime in Alaska, and not have time to see and do it all.

    BTW you won't get anywhere near 'the Arctic Frontier'. That's another 500+ miles north of Fairbanks.

    Lifey

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tustin, California, United States
    Posts
    272

    Default

    Thanks Lifey. Yeah, I'm sure we would all love to visit longer, but there's this pesky budget to contend with and Alaska is one of those places where costs can spiral upwards the longer you stick around (unless you know someone up there you can stay with). I also had to consider the ages of my folks (mid-70s) with their limited abilities and choose something that accommodates them. I figured booking with a tour agency was the best value/convenience we could achieve.

    I'll research your suggestions against our current schedule and see what we can fit in. The tours/events are all pre-reserved and set in stone, and cannot be changed without ponying up hefty fees, so we're pretty much stuck with whatever they have for us.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lifemagician View Post
    BTW you won't get anywhere near 'the Arctic Frontier'. That's another 500+ miles north of Fairbanks.
    Yeah, I know. :) The closest we'll get is 200 miles from the Circle. It was the catchiest title I could think of, and during the winter I'm sure where we're visiting can be just as harsh as north of the Circle.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default I can relate.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kinless View Post
    I also had to consider the ages of my folks (mid-70s) with their limited abilities ...
    Mate, show them my 2009 trip. I too remember WWII and find it difficult to walk even 200 metres. Been up there three times now.... longing to go again.

    Lifey

  5. Default

    Our Kenai Fjords National Park boat cruise (from Seward) was spectacular and remains one of our top travel activities. It's also good that you're spending a bit of time at/near Denali because it's not sunny and clear clear every day. Having done the loop. I agree with Lifey that if feasible then also do the Fairbanks -- Delta Junction -- Glenallen --Anchorage route. I don't recall a lot of places to stay on the route. We stayed about half way at Tangle Lakes (near Paxson).

    Enjoy!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    4,546

    Default

    We've been up to mainland Alaska twice now, and agree wholeheartedly with Lifey about being able to spend a lifetime in AK and not seeing it all. Yes, you want to stop at Portage Glacier and Exit Glacier, and any boat tour is pretty good at Seward but if you can get one into the Fjords...WONDERFUL! If you can get to Valdez, it's a great ride in. There are hotels in Valdez, but it's about 300 miles from Anchorage to Valdez, so you may want to save that one for your next trip to AK (that's what we did).

    Even with the "tour Plan", I would pick up a copy of The Milepost if you can -- check your local Barnes & Noble.


    Donna

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default I agree.

    Oh, I have to agree, a copy of The Milepost is essential if you are going to really get the most out of the trip.

    Referring to CAnative's post, there is B&B accommodation available in Glenallen. Tangle Lakes is not really along the route, though the drive there is out of this world. But you may not have time for that.

    Lifey

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tustin, California, United States
    Posts
    272

    Default Day 0

    Thank you all for the extra tips. I was able to pick up a copy of the 2013 Milepost. Most definitely an invaluable asset if you're heading up to the northern latitudes. We'll fit in those extra activities as we go along.

    We had a shuttle pick me and the folks up from my residence at 5:00pm PDT and take us to Long Beach Airport, where JetBlue has a seasonal non-stop flight to Anchorage. Once we left at 7:30pm, our flight path never allowed the sun to set, so we had daylight the entire way. During the last hour of flight, the views of the mountains and glaciers coming up the coast were amazing. We must have hit some good tailwind, because we landed 40 minutes early, at 11:05pm AKDT. Not until we arrived at our Best Western hotel just before midnight did it start looking like dusk.

    So now I've put 2 feet in my 49th state, but it doesn't stop there. Once we pick up our rental car in the morning, that's when the good times begin.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,060

    Default

    That is a cool non-stop flight - I have to remember that.

    Mark

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tustin, California, United States
    Posts
    272

    Default Day 1

    As early as we woke up, the sun was already high in the sky. Gotta get used to this extended daylight pretty quickly. We had our breakfast and left the hotel around 9:30am. We made a pitstop at the local Walmart and picked up a disposable cooler and snacks before beginning a northerly direction using Glenn Highway (Hwy 1) away from Anchorage.

    Various mountain ranges made their presence known as we rounded our way in the valleys. No shortage of magnificence, and despite being June, most of the peaks still had plenty of snow. We soon transitioned to the famous Parks Highway (Hwy 3).

    Around noon, we decided to make a quick stop in the town of Wasilla. They had a weekly Farmer's Market going at their Historic Town Site, so we spent 20 minutes making our rounds and looking at the old structures.

    Onward we drove, with the Alaska Range and its mighty Mt. McKinley easing it's way into our peripheral. The entire top of the tallest mountain in the US is complete white, while the lower surrounding peaks were looking more like white icing dripping off cupcakes. We found the South Viewpoint with the entire peak family posing for the many tourists stopping by.

    No more time to lose. We raced to Denali Cedars Lodge and checked in, giving us enough time to settle and rest up for a few minutes. But we had one more event to accomplish. We took a shuttle to Nenana Canyon (the commercial area for Denali) and signed in for our river rafting trip.

    Now from the title "Mild Water Evening" I thought this was just going to be a leisurely stroll down a calm river. Oh ho ho ho, noooo. We're dealing with Class I, II, and III rapids. Of course the parents almost balk at such an adventure, especially after hearing the instructions about what to do if you (or the raft) are thrown into 36°F glacier water. But they braved through the suiting up and the entire ride like champions. With our New Zealander guide Sophie, we blazed through 11 miles of the Nenana River for 2 hours, rounding the bends and taking in the scenery. I managed to take dozens of pics (thankfully the SLR is splash-proof) and capture much of the awesomeness. The only thing preventing it from being perfect is the wealth of mosquitos buzzing about. Yup, it's about that time to start applying the DEETS!

    We grabbed a Subway and headed back to our lodge. Day 2 starts at 5:00am. Woooo! Stay tuned for more Alaskan fun...

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