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  1. #1

    Default Alaska circuit - itinerary advice please!

    After years of procrastination, we have finally bitten the bullet and booked flights to Anchorage (Aug 7-29) and now find ourselves in the slightly uncomfortable position of planning an adventure through a region entirely unknown to us. Advice, suggestions and other input from those with knowledge and experience would therefore be very much appreciated!

    My vague outline plan for the trip is to spend a few (3-4 days exploring Anchorage and environs (incl. Matanuska Glacier Hike, Independence Mine) before heading north on the George Parks Highway (i.e. via Talkeetna) to Denali NP. From here we are considering two options:

    1. Head north to Fairbanks / Cheena Hot Springs, then south on the Alaska / Richardson Highways to Chitina / Wrangel/St Elias NP / Kennicott mine, then take the ferry to Seward to start exploring the Kenai Peninsula.
    2. Head east across the Denali Highway, north to Fairbanks then back to Anchorage via Talkeetna. We would then head east to Chitina etc via Glenallen.

    We are aware that some of these routes (Denali Highway / McCarthy Road to Kennicott) probably require 4x4 vehicles approved for non-paved roads so are prepared to factor in the extra cost if these drives are recommended.

    A major objective of the trip is to get close to brown bears (Mark / Megan: yes, this is that Carole). As I understand it, mid/late August is not peak bear viewing season at Brooks Falls so we plan to take a day trip flight out of Homer to either Lake Clark or Katmai. If early August is better than later in the month, we could obviously switch things around. Again, we’re aware that this doesn’t make it a budget trip.

    In round figures, it currently looks like we’d be allowing a week for the area north and east of Anchorage, then a week on the Kenai Peninsula. If this results in us having a spare day or two at the end of the trip, that’s all well and good as it would allow us to take in the Alaska State Fair.

    We obviously want to do and see all the highlights (e.g. Denali, Kenai Fjords, bear viewing) but are also keen for advice on possible lodges / cabins (whether these be rustic / self catering or 'you're only here once' treats). Key interests are photography, wildlife, and breweries. It would also be great to take in a train journey but I don't see how this could be built in at the moment. Suggestions for 'experiences' would also be appreciated, but without necessarily including the 'white water' aspect of 'rafting'.

    Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    11,264

    Default Oh yeah

    Wow this sounds fantastic Peter. A Road trip to Alaska is high up on my bucket list, so I will watch with interest !

    I'm as much use to you on this one as a chocolate tea pot though !

    Dave.

  3. #3

    Default Into the wild(ly unfamiliar)

    Quote Originally Posted by Southwest Dave View Post
    I'm as much use to you on this one as a chocolate tea pot though !

    Dave.
    It's weird how one particular state can feel so different from all the rest.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Location
    Phoenix, Arizona
    Posts
    336

    Default Alaska is beyond amazing

    Hello, Peter!

    Alaska is huge, but the road system is fairly limited, so three weeks is actually a decent amount of time to pluck off the highlights. You've done your research, I'm sure, so you know that your odds on catching a clear day at Denali are one in three, at best. (That's why people who visit the park and actually get to SEE the mountain are considered members of the "30% club.") That mountain is so big, it generates its own weather, and cloaks itself in clouds far more often than not, especially in the summer. When I did my own Alaska road trip (three years ago), I watched the weather reports very closely, and timed my visit to the National Park for the one single day that predicted clear skies. Even at that, I got lucky; weather is pretty volatile in the vicinity of North America's biggest mountain, so there's never a guarantee. My advice--maintain some flexibility in your itinerary, and if you see a window of potentially clear weather at Denali, make a run for it, because that should be a priority. I have a little slide show on my personal website of my own Denali Adventure. Give the first page a minute to load, and the images will advance automatically, like a slide show.

    There's not a lot to see by road in Wrangell St. Elias. It may be the largest National Park in the U.S. system, but there are no amenities of any kind. If you do drive the McCarthy road to Kennicott, top off your tank in Glennallen, before you go to Chitina. It's all pretty remote!

    The Kenai is amazing. When you get to Seward, definitely consider a boat tour of Kenai Fjords N.P. Just extraordinary, and going by boat is the only way to see it. I still haven't gotten around to writing up blog posts about Alaska, but I have 16 or so photo galleries (in addition to the Denali pictures); Each of the photos on my Alaska Gallery page links to a seperate slide show.

    You're going to have such a good time, I truly envy you!

    Rick

  5. #5

    Default Denali advice

    Thanks Rick - yes, I'm aware of the challenging photographic conditions re. Denali so would plan to drive to Mile 15 one day, and take the bus further into the park the next to allow at least two bites of the cherry. When you did it and were checking the forecasts, where were you based? If it was Anchorage, how long does it take from there? Did you go there and back in day? Or perhaps you were based closer to the park? I'm reckoning on needing to pre-book a fair amount of accommodation so not sure just how flexible we can be. And which bus did you take? Did you drive the Denali highway?

    Also, re. Chitina to Kennicott: did you drive it in a standard rental or special 4x4?

    As you can see, my knowledge is sketchy as best so any advice gratefully received!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    9,691

    Default

    Peter, it's 240 miles from Anchorage to the Denali visitor's center, so I don't think this could be a simple day trip. It's another 120 miles from the visitor's center to Fairbanks.

    A Google search shows there is quite a bit of lodging in and near the park.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Location
    Phoenix, Arizona
    Posts
    336

    Default Dreaming of Denali

    I drove my Jeep all the way from Arizona, so I had good four-wheel drive, but in retrospect, there was no section of road where I truly needed it. I started watching the Denali weather reports from the moment I crossed the border into Alaska from Canada. I hovered around the general vicinity of Fairbanks for most of a week, then shot down to Denali (maybe a 2 1/2 hour drive), the moment the weather looked good. From Anchorage, it's a bit more than 4 hours drive, so it's possible to get to the mountain fairly quickly from either city, should the forecast appear favorable. I stayed near the park for three days in a place called the Grizzly Bear Resort, which has a campground, a motel, and some inexpensive "dry" cabins (bathroom and shower were down the hill). I had no reservations anywhere, and that worked out just fine. The only place that my customary lack of planning was a problem was in Homer, down in the Kenai, where I ended up paying $50 for the last space in a small RV park. They didn't allow tents, so all I got for my money was a place to park my car and sleep in it; that was quite literally my ONLY option that particular night.

    With few exceptions, private vehicles are only allowed on the Denali Highway one day a year, and on that one day (in September) the limited number of permits are assigned by a lottery system. Other than that, you can only go as far as the Savage River check station (where there is no view of the mountain, even on a clear day). Instead, you hop on one of the buses at the visitor's center, out and back. I took the bus to Wonder Lake, which was the longest trip in terms of distance into the park, and a very full day! Mine was the first bus on the daily schedule, and the advance weather report was spot on--clear skies all the way, but, fair warning, they didn't stay clear! By the time I was headed back out of the park, in the early afternoon, the clouds were already brewing, and, just like that, the face of the mountain was hidden again. Seeing Denali was one of the primary goals of my entire 58 day RoadTrip. That whole day (when I took the bus to Wonder Lake) was magical; the high point of my trip, for sure, and, quite possibly, one of the high points of my entire life!

    I didn't drive all the way to Kennicott because I was low on fuel (hence, my warning about gassing up in Glennallen). I doubt that you'd need four-wheel drive, but it IS a bit rugged, so if you plan to go, make sure the contract on the car that you hire permits you to travel on primitive roads.


    Rick

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Location
    Phoenix, Arizona
    Posts
    336

    Default

    There's an Alaska Page here on the RTA website, with links to a dozen or more mini-articles about road trip attractions in the "Last Frontier." It includes a fair bit of stuff about the attractions in Denali N.P.; since I wrote most of them, I can personally vouch for the information!

    Rick

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,737

    Default My Own Experience

    It's been a few years since our own fly/drive/rail trip around Alaska, but it is still one of my travel highlights. I'll list a few of my favorite things in a bit, but I first want to point you to the outfit that set up our trip: Rainbow Mountain Adventures. Just wander through their website for more ideas than you'll ever be able to pursue.

    My own personal favorites revolve around Talkeetna and Seward. Talkeetna is a VERY quirky little town that served as the inspiration for the TV show Northern Exposure. On the same day, we had lunch with an Elvis impersonator(!?!), took a flight that landed on the flanks of Denali for some sight-seeing and 'mountain climbing', and boarded the Alaska Railroad (complete with domed observation car!) down to Anchorage.

    In Seward, we took a whale-watching boat out into Resurrection Bay, visited the Alaska SeaLife Center, and got to witness the end of a local, and brutal, iron-man type race up a local mountain and back. One more totally unexpected windfall of our Seward stay is that my wife found a local artist whose watercolors still hang in our home.

    Basically, any trip to Alaska is going to be an adventure, and I hope you can make the most of it.

    AZBuck
    Last edited by AZBuck; 12-31-2018 at 11:26 AM.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,260

    Default The Name of the Adventure

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Thody View Post
    ...
    A major objective of the trip is to get close to brown bears (Mark / Megan: yes, this is that Carole).
    Peter, I almost purchased a tee-shirt for Carol that looks like this... But I (wisely) decided it might be in bad taste.

    Such an adventure does sound really fun. Jaimie Bruzenak, long-term RTA Advisor, has done several trips to Alaska. I will ask her to check into this thread as well.

    Mark

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