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Old Jun 4, 07, 12:15 pm   #1
 
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Am I Insane for Considering ANC During July 4th Week?

I've been wanting to get to Alaska for years. I've got the week of July 4th for vacation this year, can get a standard level award ticket to ANC from DTW (NW) and can swing a cheap rental car (National free days). Hotels look pretty booked up and I don't have much in the way of points to use here.

I figured do some driving around for sight seeing, a day boat trip from Whittier or Seward, possibly try to hit Denali.

I was thinking of Saturday June 30 to Wednesday July 4 for a quick trip. Am I nuts for considering this week with crowds? I hate crowds. Would I be able to walk up for a boat trip or would I be out of luck?

How bad does it really get this time of year?
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Old Jun 4, 07, 1:44 pm   #2
 
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Originally Posted by tev9999 View Post
I've been wanting to get to Alaska for years. I've got the week of July 4th for vacation this year, can get a standard level award ticket to ANC from DTW (NW) and can swing a cheap rental car (National free days). Hotels look pretty booked up and I don't have much in the way of points to use here.

I figured do some driving around for sight seeing, a day boat trip from Whittier or Seward, possibly try to hit Denali.

I was thinking of Saturday June 30 to Wednesday July 4 for a quick trip. Am I nuts for considering this week with crowds? I hate crowds. Would I be able to walk up for a boat trip or would I be out of luck?

How bad does it really get this time of year?
Well, I won't speak for the crowds, but this does seem like a very ambitious itinerary for just a 5-day trip.
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Old Jun 4, 07, 1:55 pm   #3
 
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I can't tell you much about Alaska because I haven't been there myself, but I seem to recall reading that driving from Anchorage to Denali will take over six hours, some of it on unpaved roads. Seems like a lot for the short time frame you're looking at. Very ambitious indeed.
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Old Jun 4, 07, 4:08 pm   #4
 
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Three of us went from DFW to ANC over the fourth of July holiday about eight years ago. AA was having a sale where one person bought a full fare and two others received half price fares and all fares were upgradeable. We were only in Alaska for 72 hours; I remember because we checked on our upgrades as soon as we checked in our hotel and we did it right at the 72nd hour.

We spent our first night at an inexpensive but still over $125 per night chain hotel I think it was a Best Western). If you want a really inexpensive place to stay your first night, the Spenard Hostel has beds available for around $15 a night; if you want a private room you can pay $60 for all four beds. Don't laugh, the three of us stayed there on our next trip even though we flew first class and I got funny looks at the hostel when I dragged my Louis Vuitton bags up the stairs. The hostel is spotless and even has kitchen facilities! You do have to pay an extra $0.25 for a towel.

Our first full day was July 4 and we drove to Seward. Seward has the race up Marathon Mountain every Independence Day and the 4th is supposed to be one of the busiest days of the year. The crowds were very manageable. We stopped at Portage Glacier and at Exit Glacier before going to Seward; we also stopped at every spot that the Milepost (guide to Alaska that you really need; we checked out our copy from our local library). Our second full day, we took a full-day cruise of the Kenai Fjords. We did book in advance; however, they were still selling seats. We saw lots of wildlife (orcas, humpbacks, otters, seals, stellar sea lions, puffins, and eagles); we also saw amazing glacier calving. That evening, we hiked in a state park near Moose Pass. Our third and last day, we mined for gold at the Indian Creek Mine, visited the Reindeer Farm near Palmer (or maybe Wasila), hiked to a waterfall north of Anchorage, and did a few other activities.

I drove to Denali my first trip to Anchorage and it does take five or six hours; however, the road is paved or at least the Parks Highway is.

If you do decide to go to the Kenai Peninsula area, there are lots of cabins and B&Bs that are very reasonable. Teddy's Inn the Woods is about $125 per night with breakfast. Teddy's is a chalet with a living room, full bath, separate bedroom, and full kitchen. Six people can comfortably sleep there with two in the bedroom and four or more in the living area. My favorite place is the Spruce Moose B&B; they have two chalets that can sleep up to eight people; the rate starts at $150; it even has private hot tubs.

I've done the Whittier cruise four times (Prince William Sound). You see lots of glaciers and some wild life. If I only had time to do one cruise, I would take the longest duration cruise from Kenai Fjords (departs from Seward); you see glaciers and wild life.

Have fun!

Last edited by FlyForFun; Jun 4, 07 at 4:12 pm. Reason: spelling
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Old Jun 5, 07, 2:40 am   #5
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Well, FlyForFun just about covered it.

A couple of notes:

-If you are really a speed demon and don't stop for anything, it is possible to make Denali in 4 hours (driving straight through, you can do Fairbanks in 6). Give yourself 5-6 just in case you want to pull over and awe at the views of the mountain or spend a short time in Talkeetna.
-As FlyForFun mentioned, the Parks Highway, which runs north from Anchorage to Denali (and on to Fairbanks) IS paved. This is important, because rental car companies forbid you from driving on gravel roads. The only gravel road south of Fairbanks and west of Glennallen is the Denali Highway, which is not the highway you use to get to Denali (it's actually the old road to Denali before they built the Parks Highway and runs east/west between Paxson and Cantwell).

I'll second FlyForFun's recommendations on the cruises out of Seward and Homer. I did the 26 Glacier Cruise out of Whittier a few weeks ago and had a blast (saw two big chunks of ice calve off of Surprise Glacier), but you'll get more in the way of wildlife out of Seward. Lunch on Fox Island is a nice stop if you choose that option with (IIRC) Kenai Fjords Tours.

Five days is pushing it--Alaska really deserves two weeks to be fully explored (and even then, you can't cover everything)--but you should allow a full day in Denali National Park to take the shuttle bus into the park itself (you can't drive into the park, so you have to take the shuttle bus, and the up-to-90-mile-each-way trip can take 8 hours round trip (less if you get off the bus at one of the intermediate stops and catch a return bus). Check the park's website for more details (navigate around until you find info on the buses). Seward is one long day trip, or better, two days (especially if you do one of the longer, full-day cruises), so that shoots your itinerary right there. Add in a day to wander around Anchorage, and you're already over your itinerary. It's a hard choice, but I'd be inclined to suggest you choose either south of Anchorage or north of Anchorage and leave the other part for a return trip.

We in the tourist industry like to be melodramatic and like to make it sound like huge throngs of people are covering every square inch of the state in the three months of the summer tourist season and that all the car rentals and hotel rooms are completely sold out, but truthfully, it's nothing like, say, Disneyland even on a light day. Book early just in case, but you shouldn't have too much of a problem with even walk-on tickets on the cruises (but it wouldn't hurt to check with them beforehand...). Remember, we're more twice the size of Texas, and so the two or so million people that visit us each summer have a LOT of room to spread out.

I have a long list of sites to visit to gather information on things to do, people to call, etc., but I can't pull it up now. Skim through some of the other threads here in the Alaska section (there are two that have been extensively contributed to, one regarding a ten-day itinerary and one regarding a seven-day kid-friendly itinerary--if they're not displaying, see if you can find the option to display threads that are, say, six months old). I think I may have linked to my list there.

Best of luck and hope we see you this summer!
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Old Jun 5, 07, 8:07 am   #6
 
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Thanks for the replies. My first post was more ideas - not an itinerary. I definately lean more towards south of ANC and the cruises. I wish I had the time and money to spend a couple weeks, but no way can I do that now. Years ago I researched starting in Vancouver (I think) and taking the Alaska Marine Highway System ferries north over the course of a couple weeks. That will be for another trip someday, hopefully.

I was mainly worried about getting there and standing in line for anything and everything. I can deal with Vegas on a Saturday night and even survived the Kentucky Derby infield last year so I guess I can handle it.

Guess it is time to search for available rooms.
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Old Jun 5, 07, 10:16 am   #7
 
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Any more input on this plan? Have not booked anything yet, but think I will tonight if nobody scares me off.

June 30: Arrive about 10:00pm. Still need a cheap place for the night. Econo Inn (5th street) has some not too horrible reviews at tripadvisor for a rate of $89. Plan on being gone by 7:00am anyway to head south.

July 1 & 2: Trail Lake Lodge in Moose Pass - about 30 miles north of Seward - $99/nt. One day cruise, other day explore by car - Whittier, Homer?, ???

July 3: Return to Anchorage. Free night at either Hilton Garden Inn or Homewood Suites. Explore Anchorage

July 4: 7pm flight home - leaves most of day to explore Anchorage.

Totals:

Flight: 30-50K NW miles + $5 (will probably grab FC just to be safe)
Hotels: ~$300 + 30K Hilton points.
Full Size Car: $135 all in (two days free @ national)
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Old Jun 5, 07, 10:34 am   #8
 
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Since you are planning to stay in the Moose Pass area, I have a few suggestions of fun things to do. You can head to Cooper Landing (a short distance away on the Sterling Highway) and take a float trip. We saw scads of bald eagles, a moose, and lots of salmon (it may be too early for salmon but someone else can advise). The hike to the Russian River Falls is easy and you may see bears (especially if the salmon are returning). There are also some easy hikes in the Russian River and Kenai River area.

Exit Glacier is woderful. My 72 year old father managed the hike last Septemer and he was recovering from chemo. You can almost touch the glacier (we did see people doing it but thy had to stretch over a barrier). We have seen black bears in the Exit Glacier trail area (one actually hopped on the trail about twenty feet from us), mountain goats or sheep, and bald eagles. Exit Glacier is the star attraction. You get great views from a variety of angles.

I have seen your lodging choice from the road; it looks ok and the price is good.

The Kenai Fjords cruise is a great option; you will not be disappointed. As I and others have said - take the longest cruise possible. We have taken cruises on Major Marine, Kenai Fjords, and Reknown. All were excellent. Our captain on our Reknown cruise was participating in a research project so we got to observe and count stellar sea lions. He was one of the best captains and naturalists; he is especially noteworthy because he has no hands.

Since you are arriving late, you may want to consider the Spenard Hostel. It is very near the airport; you cannot find a cheaper place. They also offer shower facilities (at a cost of about $5) if you want a shower before your flight home. I may be wrong, but I have never been able to locate shower facilities at ANC.

The Eagle River area, just north of Anchorage has great hiking trails; they also have float trips (I have not done one here so cannot comment). The Chugach State Park surrounding Portage Glacier has some great trails for glacier viewing. If you want a great photo opportunity take the road towards Whittier and stop in the parking area before the toll tunnel. The scenery is spectacular.

In the Anchorage area there are tons of things to do. Potters Marsh is on the Seward Highway just south of Anchorage; there is a boardwalk and wild life viweing opportunities. Beluga Point also south of Anchorage is an area where whales are seen; I've not seen a Beluga yet but hope to. There is also a bay that has amazing tides. You can also spot Dall sheep in these areas. You can see these areas either to or from you drive to Seward.

Earthquake Park is near ANC; we saw a moose in the parking lot.

Last edited by FlyForFun; Jun 5, 07 at 10:39 am. Reason: added more info
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Old Jun 5, 07, 6:22 pm   #9
 
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Well, you talked me into it. Burned some miles with NW and will do 6/30 to 7/4 as planned.

Don't think I want to deal with a hostel, so I booked the Econo Inn for $89 the first night. Second and third are at the Trail Lake Lodge, and last at the Homewood Suites. Seems like a pretty flexible plan - and not bad cost wise. Everything can be canceled if something better pops up.

Any chance of a decent priceline deal this time of year?

I think I'll go for the 9.5 hour premium cruise with Kenai Fjords. It's only $40 more than the half day. I'm not going to book now. I'll wait until the trip gets closer or just walk up to have a better idea on the weather.

One last question (for the moment). Any good brewpubs in the area?

Thanks again for all the help.
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Old Jun 5, 07, 9:25 pm   #10
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Again, great suggestions from FlyForFun. Exit Glacier is wonderful. For that extra day, I'd vote for a side trip to Homer, although to really make Homer worth it, you should book a halibut charter and catch some fresh fish. Everyone I know who's done that says it's the most fun thing they've ever done.
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One last question (for the moment). Any good brewpubs in the area?
Hmm...we just ate at Moose's Tooth last night. They have great pizza (the blackened halibut is my favorite), but they brew their own beers and do a fine job of it. The Glacier Brewhouse downtown has great food and excellent beers.

The Econo Inn is the former Econolodge--they took the Econolodge logo and hung a printed sign with the word "Inn" over the word "lodge". I don't know why they disaffiliated themselves with the Econolodge chain (or if the Econolodge chain disaffiliated itself with the Anchorage property). It seems like a well-kept piece of property and is probably fine inside, but it's in a mediocre area on the east edge of downtown (a few random homeless and drunk people, but nothing major) and will be surrounded with traffic (it's at the intersection of 5th Avenue and Gambell Street, otherwise known as the Glenn Highway and the Seward Highway. Ozstamps recently stayed at the Best Value Inn Executive Suites out near the airport on Spenard and said it was a fine place at a great bargain. I've driven by it hundreds of times and can say that it looks like a clean property, too, and I've noticed on searches of random dates that they usually have pretty good prices. If the price is close, consider that one instead. You won't find too much cheaper than $89 per night anywhere in Anchorage in the summer (even the normally bland and cheap Motel 6 is $130 per night...), and what you do find will be of marginal quality (except I hear good things about the Spenard Hostel).

On that note, as far as I know, there are no shower facilities at the Anchorage airport. There is a unisex/family bathroom located in the central atrium area on the baggage claim level where you can wash yourself in privacy with a washrag (or paper towels).
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Old Jun 9, 07, 2:26 pm   #11
 
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I agree with the advice to choose north or south of ANC, but not both, in the limited time you have. Also, a friend stayed at the Econo in March and she said it was a dive, smoky, dingy and loud with thin walls. YMMV, I've never been in it.

I second the recommendation for the Exit Glacier trip and also recommend stopping at the Begich-Boggs visitor center at Portage Glacier about an hour south of Anchorage.

And for a local favorite, take the turn off to Alyeska about 45 minutes south of ANC and eat at either the Double Musky (authentic cajun food - blackened fresh fish) and/or the Bake Shop in the ski resort - famous for its monster cinnamon rolls.

For a beautiful hike along Turnagain Arm, take the Hope exit to the right after Portage Glacier and go to the end of the road and take the trail along the cliffs from the campground - just gorgeous.

And don't miss the July 4th parade in the morning in downtown Anchorage - it's always kitschy and fun and lame all at the same time and takes about an hour.

Have fun!
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Old Jun 11, 07, 9:28 pm   #12
 
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The only place that will be crazy is Seward for the July 4 Mt. Marathon Race. Town is innundated with people to watch the runners and it can resemble a zoo.

Compared to outside cities, this place is positively quiet!

A good and unknown bargain for lodging is student housing at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus. A car is a necessity but room go for between $45 and $85 a night depending on type of accommodation. Since the campus is fairly new, these are not run down; in fact, some are condo-type units and quite nice. You can check with University Housing and Dining at www.uaa.alaska.edu or call directly at 786-7212. The campus is only five miles from downtown and the dorms are surrounded by woods and the occasional moose.

By the way, the road to Denali on the Parks Highway is completely paved. You drive out of Anchorage on the Glenn Highway until it connects with the Parks. It is the Denali Highway (the old park access road) that is mostly unpaved. Certainly wouldn't drive it in a rental car.

For more on what's in Anchorage and Southcentral Alaska, go to www.anchorage.net

Enjoy your visit.
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Old Jun 12, 07, 7:04 am   #13
 
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I went to Alaska for 4 days in March and it was pretty incredible. There are some suggestions for things to do and see here. Alaskan Spring Break DO - March 16-24

Enjoy your trip!
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Old Jun 12, 07, 7:47 am   #14
 
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I've decided to just stick to the South of Anchorage for the trip. I'll save the North for another time. My plan so far:

Saturday - arrive late, will deal with the Econo Inn unless something good comes up on priceline/hotwire.

Sunday - Probably drive to Homer and explore. End the day in Moose Pass at the Trail Lake Lodge.

Monday - Kenai Fjords 9.5 hour cruise out of Seward. Still deciding on the big boat or small boat with Mariah Tours. It's only $10 more for the 22 person boat instead of the 100+ person. I'm going to wait until a day or two before to check the weather before booking the non-refundable cruise. Can anyone compare the two boat trips?

Tuesday - Exit Glacier, will probably do the easy hikes. More exploring around Seward.

Wednesday - Migrate back towards ANC. Maybe hit Whittier just for the tunnel experience.

Wednesday night - fly home.

The order is subject to change based on weather. I hate having an overly detailed plan, so I'll probably just print out this thread, grab a map/Milepost book and go from there.

Thanks again for the help.
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Old Jun 12, 07, 2:35 pm   #15
 
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Are you insane for considering ANC during July 4th week? Well, I dislike crowds but I've headed to Alaska for the 4th of July week for each of the last 15 years -- crowds in Alaska are really nothing like the crowds you find "outside". I've even spent the 4th the last few years in Seward which is likely the most "crowded" place in Alaska on the 4th.

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Originally Posted by tev9999 View Post
Sunday - Probably drive to Homer and explore. End the day in Moose Pass at the Trail Lake Lodge..
Anchorage to Homer back to Moose Pass in a day is a heap of driving, especially if you've never done it before and wish to see some things along the route.

It also really shortchanges Homer. [An interesting and quirky place where Tom "We'll leave the light on for you" Bodett lived for years and featured in his "As Far As You Can Go Without A Passport, the View from the End of the Road" stories.]

You also need to understand that July isn't just the tourist season when you end up getting stuck behind slowmoving RVs, it's also the road construction season. Road work in Alaska happens even over "nights" and weekends. While after a couple of years, the majority of major road work between Moose Pass and Seward is finally done (I believe), there are a bunch of other projects on the Kenai Peninsula that can slow things down. The bridge project over the Kenai River in Soldotna has been an example.


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Originally Posted by tev9999 View Post
Tuesday - Exit Glacier, will probably do the easy hikes. More exploring around Seward.

Wednesday - Migrate back towards ANC. Maybe hit Whittier just for the tunnel experience.

Wednesday night - fly home.
Again, be forewarned that the busiest day of the year for Seward is the 4th of July when a lot of Alaskans and vistors (possibly including a couple of cruise ship loads of tourists) are in Seward for the race, parade and street fair festivities. Since the 4th falls midweek this year, it won't be as busy as some years past, but it will be busy. On the 3rd and 4th there will be some extra traffic, as well as increased numbers of folks looking for places to stay or camp in Seward, Moose Pass, Cooper Landing and beyond.
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