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  1. #1

    Default Alaskan Adventure: August 2019

    (Planning thread that led to this Trip Report)

    Once again, thanks to everyone who offered advice and suggestions relating to this trip and helped to ensure a truly memorable three and a half weeks. It’s a special place, one that presents challenges as well as rewards – it is most definitely frontier country in places – but a state that (finances permitting!) we will return to in the not too distant future.

    Despite being pretty seasoned road-trippers (this was our 48th state), I confess that I found the whole concept of planning this visit more than a little daunting. Alaska was completely unknown to us and while this lack of familiarity was part of its appeal, it also meant that we started out with a blank canvas other than the fact that we knew we wanted to see Denali.

    So, by way of thanks to those who helped us develop and route and pick out some highlights along the way, and more importantly to create a record of our experiences in case this helps other travellers, I have pulled together a day-by-day diary of our 2019 Alaska Adventure.

    One thing to point out first: This trip was planned and executed on the basis of it being a once in a lifetime visit. We were fortunate enough to have built up sufficient cash to do everything we wanted within reason so it ended up being expensive. Very expensive.

    It’s certainly possible to do things more economically but be under no illusion. Alaska is not cheap. If you want to be able to travel some of the less well-paved highways, you will need an SUV and you will need permission from your rental company to travel these roads. Most of the usual names do not permit their vehicles to be used on the Denali Highway, the McCarthy Road, the Dalton Highway etc.

    As we wanted to visit McCarthy (which can only be reached via a 60 mile gravel road), we booked a Jeep Wrangler 4x4 for three weeks from specialists Alaska 4x4 Rentals and it came to over $4000 (of which nearly $1000 was taxes etc.). You then need to allow for CDW and SLI coverage on top; we arranged ours in the UK through a company called Insurance4carhire .

    You can of course forget these roads and do the trip in something standard but a quick look at the Hertz site suggests three weeks in a standard vehicle would have cost us $2600 for a Compact or $3600 for an Intermediate SUV. If it’s going to cost that much anyway, you may feel, as we did, that a few hundred dollars more is a price worth paying for the flexibility to go further afield. As I say, it’s possible to make savings but you’re unlikely ever to think you’ve got a bargain in Alaska.
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 01-28-2020 at 05:40 PM. Reason: added link to the original thread

  2. #2

    Default Day 1 (Wednesday Aug 8)From the UK to Alaska

    This is essentially just a self-indulgent vent about the arrogance of international carriers so feel free to skip straight to Day 2.

    We booked our flights with Icelandair back in December 2018 – a full 8 months ahead of our trip – and reserved extra legroom on the long haul legs (Iceland > Anchorage > Iceland).

    A week before we’re due to fly, Icelandair inform us that they are using a different plane so we need to rebook our seats. Can we transfer our extra legroom bookings? “Sorry, no.” What about a refund? “Sorry, no. You’ll have to claim that after your flights have been completed”.

    A day before we’re due to fly, Icelandair inform us that our flights have been cancelled completely and they are rebooking us via New York and Minneapolis so our arrival in Anchorage will be in the small hours of the day after we’re due to arrive, not the civilised 16:20 arrival we’d expected.

    An hour later we receive a request to check-in and download boarding passes … for the flights that have just been cancelled. Another call: Hello Icelandair, WTF is going on? “Sorry, I don’t know. But if you have boarding passes you should be fine for your booked flights. Please turn up at the airport as planned.”

    On the day of the flight, check-in / bag drop appears to be some kind of lottery, with certain passengers being bumped and others checking in as normal. We’re among the lucky ones but are advised that, as the aircraft have once again changed, our seat reservations are no longer valid.

    That’s okay on the relative short (<3 hrs) leg from Manchester to Keflavik but more than a little frustrating for the 2nd part of the journey given that we’ve already paid twice for the privilege of a few extra inches. However, here our luck finally changes. As we board in Iceland, it’s apparent that my seat is broken and, yes!, the only spare seats are over the wing … with extra legroom. So we get to stretch at no extra charge and – eventually – manage to wring a refund out of Icelandair (this took until January, a full five months later!).

    And by around 6:00 pm we’re sitting outside the very pleasant Lakefront Anchorage hotel under a baking sun (approx. 80 degrees!), enjoying a beer, and watching the floatplanes take off from the adjacent Lake Spenard. It’s amazing how quickly the trials and tribulations of travel become a distant memory.

    Last edited by Southwest Dave; 02-12-2020 at 09:04 AM.

  3. #3

    Default Day 2 (Thursday Aug 8)Anchorage to Matanuska

    Journey proper starts today. We collect the Jeep from the wonderful Alaska 4x4 rentals (“We know that people choose Jeeps for a reason so don’t worry about minor scratches if you take it down a dirt road. All we look out for are dents and cracked windscreens. Have a great trip.”) and hit the road.

    Our first stopping point is to buy provisions. We pull into a Carrs Quality Center on Gambell Street and, well, all I can say is that it’s the roughest supermarket we’ve ever visited in all our years of USA travel. I ask where the restrooms are and have to be escorted there. The door is unlocked and my guide / warden waits outside, presumably to make sure I’m not shooting up. Cigarettes are kept under lock and key. At the check out desk, another shopper rambles incoherently before walking out.

    This isn’t quite how I’d pictured Alaska. Looking at Govt figures, it would seem that, while on their way up, poverty rates in the Anchorage municipality are actually lower than those of the rest of Alaska, which in turn are lower than the national average. So I guess we just chose the wrong location.

    Leaving Anchorage we head north and stop for a restorative walk along the short nature trail at Eagle River Nature Center. This is more like it. There’s a Beaver Viewing Deck (but no beaver), wonderful scenery, and the reassurance of knowing that if a bear does make an appearance, there are plenty of small children present who would surely represent an easier meal.

    Reaching our destination from here is simply a matter of following the spectacular Glenn Highway north past lakes, through Palmer, alongside the grey glacial water of the Matanuska River, past the spectacular Matanuska Glacier that we will visit tomorrow, to our idyllic cabin – Tundra Rose Cottage at milepost marker 109. Next door is Grand View Café, a fully licensed restaurant owned by the same people, and a great place to end our first day on the road with a brick oven-baked pizza and a few beers.

    Oh yes, the name Grand View. Look out of the window of the café and you do indeed get a grand view of the mountainside opposite, complete with the tiny white dots high up there that are Dall sheep.


    Eagle River




    Glenn Highway



    Matanuska Glacier



    Tundra Rose Cottage
    Last edited by Southwest Dave; 02-12-2020 at 09:05 AM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Location
    Phoenix, Arizona
    Posts
    383

    Default

    Hey, Peter

    Good show--I've been looking forward to reading about your Alaskan adventures. (Me, and everyone else, I'm sure!) Your report is already bringing back memories. Nice looking Jeep; I'd say you did quite well in your choice of vehicles!

    Rick

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,362

    Default George gets the well-deserved credit

    Yes, we are looking forward to reading this report.

    George, (glc) provided the impetus and suggestion to move this field report into it's own thread.

    And once it is summer again, Tom will make a trip map and place in this thread.

    Mark

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    7,148

    Default Not only a magic place - Alaska calls you back.

    Peter, you are already bringing back so many memories. I love the Glenn Highway and the Matanuska Glacier region. Must also say, I am so fortunate to have my own vehicle. It goes where I tell it to go, without restriction.

    The first time I went to Alaska (2004) I rented a car in Seattle, and was told I could take it anywhere north of the Mexican border. I'm sure the gentleman did not expect this senior female to take it to Alaska. I never mentioned Alaska to them. No mention of forbidden roads either. I did not learn about that until I got to Alaska. On that first trip I stayed on the main highways, which filled the 18 days I had to make sure I got the car back in time.

    It may be expensive, but no-where near as expensive as the true last frontier - Antarctica! Alaska is a magnetic place.... calling you back. It was good to read in your first paragraph that it is not out of the question. After four trips, two in my own vehicle, I long to take another trip, but alas! I doubt it will happen. All good things must come to an end.

    Can't wait to read more of your trip.

    Lifey.
    Last edited by Southwest Dave; 02-05-2020 at 01:41 PM. Reason: Changed typo at posters request.

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