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  1. #11
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Location
    Phoenix, Arizona
    Posts
    345

    Default Highway confusion

    I just realized that in my earlier response, I confused the Denali Park Road with the Denali Highway. Everything I said was in reference to the former, (the road inside the National Park), but you were asking about the latter, AK-8 from Cantwell to Paxson. That's 135 miles of gravel, and no, I did not take that route (which is open only in summer). I'm sure it's an extraordinary drive, but again, you should check with your rental car agency, to be very clear about their policy regarding unpaved roads. Some will allow it; many will not.

    Rick

  2. #12

    Default Thanks

    Thanks for the tips so far - it's particularly good to learn that advance bookings aren't 100% essential. We will certainly pre-book some places to create a framework but I'd been under the misapprehension that everything needed tying down many months in advance. I think this may have much to do with the urging I've been receiving from alaska.org - a valuable resource in terms of what to see and do but they are very keen on handling / pre-booking the entire trip on your behalf.

    Thanks too for the ideas re. Denali - I'm guessing we'll have a couple of nights in Talkeetna and probably a couple of nights in somewhere like the Grizzly Bear Resort too (which, my wife was pleased to see, has 'wet' cabins too, albeit at a price!) so this will hopefully maximise our chances of a clear day.

    In terms of unsurfaced roads, it seems that the road to McCarthy has been improved in recent years to such an extent that companies other than the specialist 4x4 rentals will now allow you to drive it. As this and the Denali Highway were the reasons for considering a specialist vehicle, I reckon we'll probably forego the latter and just stick to a standard SUV-type rental.

    Re. the Kenai Peninsula, the more I read about it, the more it appeals (particularly Seward - thanks Buck) and yes, we will certainly be taking a boat for whale watching and a tour of Kenai Fjords N.P.

  3. Default RVing road trip in Alaska

    My husband I drove our RV to Alaska in 2009 so some things may have changed. We came into Alaska at Chicken, then drove to Fairbanks, making a big loop of almost all the roads In Alaska. We had purchased the Alaska Tour Saver coupon book before leaving. The attractions and experiences that are discounted vary from year to year but it can save you a lot of money. I noticed they have a discount through January 5, 2019 —worth it if you plan to visit several attractions in this year’s book.

    In Fairbanks, highlights there were a visit to Chena Hot Springs (they do have cabins to rent), University of Alaska Museum, and The Robert G. White Large Animal Research Station run by UA to see muskox.(There is also a muskox farm in Palmer, near Anchorage.) Another highlight was a tour to the Arctic Circle. We chose one where you go up by van and fly back. I would have liked to do one that went all the way to Prudhoe Bay but this was still an excellent trip. We saw the Alaska pipeline up close and had a demonstration of permafrost plus lots of mosquitoes!

    From there we went to Denali National Park. We lucked out with a clear day of viewing on our all-day Kantishna Experience bus tour. As others have mentioned, a tour is the only way to go to the end of the road. Long 12-hour day but worth it.

    We spent a few days in Anchorage. George was in Alaska for the Good Friday earthquake in 1964 so we rented bikes and visited Earthquake Park and continued on the bike path that follows the Cook Inlet for quite a few miles, coming upon a moose and her calf! We saw a couple of museums in including the Alaska Native Heritage Center. I believe we had a coupon for the Grandview Day trip on the Alaska Railroad. We took it from Anchorage to Portage and bused back.

    Bore tide kayaking the wave.jpgAnother special experience was watching the bore tide in Turnagain Arm near Anchorage. We drove down to Alyeska to watch since George had been a ski patrolman there when stationed in Anchorage and we wanted to look around. There are also pullouts along the highway to watch the tide. We watched one man kayaking the leading edge of the tide! It can be up to 10-feet high if you catch the right day. You can find a estimate online of the height of the tide on various days, depending on the phase of the moon.

    On the Kenai peninsula, our favorite place was Homer. We enjoyed the bookstore and coffee shop and used a coupon to do a boat tour. The weather was lousy so it wasn’t the best. Homer is the base for a number of tours via airplane to view bears but you do need good weather to fly.

    Our best boat tour was out of Valdez on one of the glacier and wildlife tours, using a two-for-one coupon. The trip started out in fog but the sun came out soon, lighting up icebergs and glaciers. We watched a glacier calve and saw all sorts of marine animals including humpback and killer whales, porpoises and otters. It was magical! We bought cases of canned salmon at a Valdez cannery to bring home, practical since we were in an RV. Some travelers bring an extra freezer along for fresh salmon.

    From Valdez we drove to Tok, then back on the Alaska and Cassiar Highways. We saw the most wildlife in British Columbia in Banff and Jasper National Parks and along the Alaska Highway on our trip north.
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 01-03-2019 at 04:12 PM. Reason: I was trying to find the image to make it larger, but couldn't find it

  4. #14
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    5,064

    Default

    Hubby and I have been to Alaska Mainland twice. Once was in 1989, when we were stationed in the Aleutians. We rented an RV in Anchorage for about a week. Highlights included the bus trip out to Eielson Visitor Center in Denali National Park and all the wildlife we were able to see; a walk out to Exit Glacier, the view of Portage Glacier, and the drive along Turnagain Arm.

    Our second trip took us up the Alaska Highway into Alaska, from San Diego. We were towing our own 5W this time. Highlights, other than the many stops along the AK Highway, included the boat trip out to Kenai Fjords National Park, returning to Exit and Portage Glaciers to see the changes that 11 years can make (this trip was in 2000), returning to Denali and taking a different bus trip, going all the way up to Fairbanks and seeing the University's museum there, going to North Pole AK to the Santa place there (that was fun for us), and driving down to Valdez. Down there we saw a river teeming with salmon. Somewhere in there, we got to look over the AK Pipeline and also a nice museum at the Wrangell-St Elias National Park visitor center.

    Would we go back? Absolutely.


    Donna

  5. #15
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    7,120

    Default Much is changing.

    Jumping in a little late here, Peter. My trips to Alaska have all been driving. On reflection, by far the best was in 2004 (long before my RTA days). I went back in 2009, and noticed how things had changed - not for the better. Once I had my own vehicle I went to Prudhoe Bay in 2012 - a spectacular trip which is rapidly being changed by the sealing of the Haul Road and the hoards who now travel on it, leaving their rubbish by the roadside, and everywhere else. Sadly my last trip was in 2016, by which time there was very little wildlife to be seen.

    Those trips (and my trip to Antarctica) are the highlights of my travel memories. Not a day goes by that I do not recall them, with the aid of digital photo frames.

    If you want to see bears, I highly recommend that you include a ferry trip to Kodiak (Bear Island), where they have guided tours to see the bears. I was not able to do one, as they involved a significant distance of walking. Other than that, I did not get to see a single bear on my 2016 trip - unlike 2004 when I saw quite a few - until I was on my way out of Alaska, when at Tazlin Airport there were two grizzly cubs at play under the watchful eye of their mother. (You can't plan those moments.)

    When in Homer, be sure to take a ferry ride to a small town called Seldovia. A short way from Homer, but without road access. You get about two hours in the town, which is enough to check it out, and the historic Russian church. The ferry also takes you by a sea-otter nursery.

    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.
    If you head north out of Anchorage, you cannot, in a rental car, drive east on the Denali highway. It is an unmade road. When I drove it in 2016 (in my own van) from Paxson to Cantwell, it was very rocky, and many vehicles and motor bikes had flat tyres. It is the worst road I have been on in Alaska, but I was told the views of Mt Denali are spectacular. Unfortunately it poured raining the whole time I drove it. Until the 1950s when the Parkes highway was built, it was the only access to Mt Denali. The history of that road is just west of Paxson, in a wonderfully laidout roadside area. The road is sealed from Paxson to Tangle River Inn - a lovely place where they have telescopes set up in the restaurant for you to see the wildlife in and across the river. The drive to Tangle River alone is worth it for the wonderful views and scenery high up in the Alaskan mtns.

    When driving to or from Steward, be sure to stop at Exit Glacier, and note all the signs which show how it is retreating. There is also a great short walk which takes you to the face of the glacier and another from which you can see on top of the glacier. Absolutely stunning.

    As others have said, if your time is limited - something to which I cannot relate - then choose carefully, and make notes so you can leave the rest for planning future trips.

    Enjoy your trip, no matter what you do, it will be unforgettable.

    Lifey
    Last edited by Lifemagician; 01-03-2019 at 05:09 PM. Reason: typo

  6. #16

    Default It's beginning to come together

    Thanks everyone - this is great. I'm now beginning to build the foundations of our trip (looking like a clockwise circuit taking in Anchorage > Talkeetna > Denali > Fairbanks > McCarthy > Valdez > Whittier > Seward > Homer > Anchorage).

    I'll start filling in the gaps and come back when I've taken things a bit further.

  7. #17
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    7,120

    Default Must include THE PIPELINE.

    Peter, while in Fairbanks be sure to take a trip north to Livengood, where you can see the pipeline, its history, construction and maintenance (the pig in the pipe). Can't recall where exactly it is, but it is before you get to Livengood, right on the highway - can't be missed. It is one of the few places where you can actually get up close with the pipeline, and touch it.

    Lifey

  8. #18
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    5,064

  9. #19
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    5,064

    Default

    I just found the journal I did for our Alaska trip, almost 19 years ago. We had some good pipeline views on the way between Glennallen and Valdez. We also stopped at Worthington Glacier on that route.

    The name of the Santa place in North Pole, AK is the Santa Claus House. Inside are so many Christmas decorations for sale, many of them with an Alaska theme. As we put up our decorations every year, we end up saying, "oh, we bought this at North Pole!" a lot, because we bought a lot for ourselves and for family members. Here's their website if you're interested.


    Donna

  10. #20

    Default Both useful tips Donna

    Thanks for these.

    I have to confess that going out of our way to view the pipeline probably wouldn't be a #1 priority as far as I'm concerned but the fact that its viewable between Glennallen and Valdez (a route we'll certainly be taking) is good to hear.

    And - some coincidence here - I read your North Pole comment literally less than an hour after making our first firm booking of the trip: a couple of nights in an idyllic looking cabin (Moose Walk) in / close by North Pole, AK. I've also requested confirmation of bookings at Hotel Chitina and The Ma Johnson's Hotel, McCarthy so it's beginning to come together.

    Anchorage question

    One further question if I may. We're looking at spending the first two days / three nights in Anchorage and not picking up a rental until we hit the road on the 3rd full day. However, every list of 'Things To Do in Anchorage' should actually read 'Things To Do Outside Anchorage' so I'm tempted to spend just the one day exploring the city on foot (museums etc.) and then hit the road. Or am I dismissing Anchorage's downtown attractions too readily?

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