Go Back  FlyerTalk Forums > Destinations > America - USA > Alaska
Reload this Page >

Some help with structuring itinerary

Some help with structuring itinerary

Old May 10, 11, 12:06 am
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: NYC
Programs: Hyatt Diamond, AA Plat
Posts: 1,138
Some help with structuring itinerary

Hello all,

First, thanks to all the regular contributors on this forum - I have found the threads here extremely useful in coming up with a plan for our first trip to Alaska later this Summer.

My wife and I are planning to visit Alaska for 9-10 days (Aug 4-Aug 14) this year. This will be our first time there, and we are quite excited about our upcoming trip. We love hiking and the outdoors (and scenic drives) and are looking to craft an itinerary that will help us combine some of these elements into our trip. We get into Anchorage on the 4th (evening) and plan to start driving the morning of the 5th. We intend to take a red-eye flight back on the 14th (~1 am).

Given our time frame and our interests, I was thinking about an itinerary that will include around days inside Denali national park (possibly camping at Wonder lake), a day or two in Seward/Whittier, and if possible, a couple of days in McCarthy/Kennicott in Wrangell-St Elias National Park. From reading the various threads, it looks like this is possibly a little aggressive, and I wonder if we should just stick to two of the three places outlined above. I was wondering if I could get some advice on whether an itinerary like the one below was feasible:

Aug 5: Drive from Anchorage to Seward
Aug 6: Day cruise; drive back to Anchorage
Aug 7: Drive to Denali, stay at entrance
Aug 8, 9: Stay inside Denali
Aug 10: Drive from Denali to McCarthy
Aug 11, 12: Stay in McCarthy/Kennicott
Aug 13: Drive back to ANC to catch late night flight

The part I am mainly unsure about is getting from Denali to McCarthy. If we are spending time inside the park (esp at Wonder Lake), I am not sure what is the earliest time we can get to the entrance (i.e. when is the first shuttle bus from Wonder Lake out of the park)? If it so happens that we can reach the entrance only by evening, then this will certainly not work.

I am also not sure about getting to McCarthy from Denali - is that through the Denali highway (that requires special approval from the car rental company)?

If we would like to visit Wrangell-St Elias, are we then better off staying at the park entrance in Denali? Or should we simply stick to visiting Denali and Seward? We did explore other options but the area around Fairbanks didnt seem much appealing to us and arent really interested in embarking on more than one cruise from Seward/Whittier so dont want to spend too much time there ;

This will certainly not be our last trip to Alaska so we want to make sure that we dont squeeze too much into the time we have (and not spend enough time enjoying these sights) - at the same time, these parts of Alaska seem so spectacular that it seems a shame to not be able to visit them. Any advice that you can offer regarding better structuring our itinerary would be very welcome - I apologize for the somewhat rambling nature of my query, our thoughts on the itinerary are not fully formed yet and you can see that reflected in the post.

Thanks very much for all the help!
Quasiconvexity is offline  
Old May 10, 11, 10:24 am
  #2  
fti
FlyerTalk Evangelist
 
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: MN
Programs: Lots of programs, dirt on all of them!
Posts: 11,889
Wrangell/St. Elias NP is really nice and less touristy, but is tough to add. As you said, first of all, the most direct way is to drive the Denali Highway, but most rental car companies prohibit that. Also, the same rental companies prohibit driving on the McCarthy Road. But see below for an option.

Wonder Lake is by far my favorite campground in Denali. In fact, I am going there next month for 3 nights. But I will be staying at Tek campground for the first time in September.

I would change your itinerary a bit and do this:

Aug 5: Drive from Anchorage to Seward
Take the 3pm Kenai Fjords tour this day. That will give you the entire day tomorrow to see other things in Seward

Aug 6: morning Sealife Center if that interests you (kind of an aquarium but much better - could also do this upon arrival on Aug 5), hike part or all of Harding Icefield Trail. A park ranger leads this hike on Saturdays at 9am so if you want to go in a group, you could do this. Figure back by 4pm if you start at 9am and hike to the top. Excellent hike, but not easy. 3K feet elevation gain over 4 miles one way.

After activities in Seward, drive to Girdwood or Anchorage or Wasilla for overnight

Aug 7: shop at supermarket for groceries for Denali (no food inside the park except at the park entrance and any groceries north of Wasilla are much more expensive), drive to Denali (about 5 hours from Anchorage). Stop in Talkeetna if flightseeing is of interest to you. Veterans Memorial at mile 147 is nice and there are pullouts for Mt. McKinley viewing if the Mountain is "out."

Now you have a choice. Drive to Tek and spend 3 nights at Tek campground (and buy the "Tek pass" which gives you unlimited shuttle bus rides into the park from there) or spend the first night at/near the entrance and only spend 2 nights at Wonder Lake.

The main reason I am staying at Tek in September is this same problem. By staying at the entrance on Aug 7, you get one bus ride into the park on Aug 8, a full day of bus/hikes on Aug 9 and one bus ride out of the park on Aug 10. By staying at Tek all 3 nights, you can start early on Aug 8 and Aug 9 and get two full days of buses and hiking inside the park. If you book Tek for the night of Aug 10, you can leave your car at Tek while you spend yet another day in the park (otherwise campground check out time is 11am, so it would not give you any time in the park that day). Then later on Aug 10 you can drive to the entrance.

It is a tough choice. I really enjoy Wonder Lake, but you basically lose at least a half day in the park by spending the first night at the entrance and two at WL.

If you spent the night of Aug 10 in Denali, then I would go with your plan to stay at the entrance on Aug 7th.

Or, if you want to try and get to Wrangell/St. Elias NP, and you stay at Tek, you can get out of Tek earlier than Wonder Lake (absolute earliest to get from Wonder Lake to the entrance is depart WL at 6.30am, arrive the entrance about noon). With Tek, you can depart anytime in the morning, figure 60-90 minute drive to the entrance. Note there is a 3-night minimum stay at Tek and you can't move your car once you arrive at the Tek CG until you exit the park.

Are you interested in hiking on a glacier? How about this?

Aug 10 drive from Denali to Wasilla and along the Glenn Highway to Matanuska Glacier. Do an afternoon glacier hike (Mica or Nova guides), overnight in that area (several campgrounds and/or cabins).

Aug 11 drive to Chitina, take Wrangell Mountain Air to McCarthy at 2.45pm or 5.45pm (http://www.wrangellmountainair.com/g..._to_alaska.htm).

Aug 12 morning Root Glacier hike, afternoon Kennecott Mill tour or if you want a strenuous hike, hike to Jumbo or Bonanza mine (all day hike). Can tent camp near McCarthy or also not too far from the glacier in Kennicott.

Aug 13 morning flight back to Chitina, drive to Anchorage for flight home.

You can also stay in McCarthy, and pretty reasonable if you use a Toursaver coupon (toursaver.com, which also has Kenai Fjords tour coupons from Seward, Root Glacier hike coupons, among others).

If two glacier hikes are not in the cards, I would do the Root Glacier one. Then on Aug 10 you have time to enjoy the Matsu Valley (stop in Talkeetna for flightseeing if it was canceled on Aug 7), Iditarod HQ in Wasilla, Independence Mine area, Palmer, Muskox Farm and Reindeer Farm in Palmer, etc and stay as mentioned above for Aug 10. This is all on the way to Chitina via the Glenn Highway.

>>I apologize for the somewhat rambling nature of my query, our thoughts on the itinerary are not fully formed yet and you can see that reflected in the post.

You don't know a rambler until you read through my reply!

Last edited by fti; May 10, 11 at 10:30 am
fti is offline  
Old May 10, 11, 5:00 pm
  #3  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: NYC
Programs: Hyatt Diamond, AA Plat
Posts: 1,138
Thank you so much for that helpful and informative post! I am glad to hear that we may be able to include Wrangell-St Elias as part of our trip and your proposed itinerary seems like a great way to do it.

One thing I am still unclear about is the route from Denali to Chitina - is the road that goes via Wasilla and Girdwood the Denali Highway? Or can we take this road without any prior permission from the rental car company?

I will look into booking Tek for our time in Denali - thanks for the suggestions!
Quasiconvexity is offline  
Old May 10, 11, 9:15 pm
  #4  
fti
FlyerTalk Evangelist
 
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: MN
Programs: Lots of programs, dirt on all of them!
Posts: 11,889
The Parks Highway goes from Wasilla north to Denali to Fairbanks.

The Glenn Highway goes from Anchorage east to Glennallen (intersects the Richardson Highway, which goes north and south, toward Valdez and Fairbanks).

The Denali Highway goes from Cantwell (south of Denali NP entrance) to Paxson (which is on the Richardson Highway).

I was suggesting Denali NP south on the Parks Highway, then east on the Glenn Highway to avoid the Denali Highway if your car rental company prohibits it.

You can certainly drive on roads prohibited by the rental car company. But then you are liable for 100% of the damage, even if you accepted their coverages and waivers. Also, most third party coverages (credit card, travel insurance, personal auto insurance) don't cover you if you violate the rental contract.

If you drive either the Denali Highway or the McCarthy Road, it will make the car absolutely filthy. Inside and out, doorjams, you name it. If you don't spend close to an hour cleaning the car and running it through a car wash, there is no way in the world you can hide that you drove on such roads.
fti is offline  
Old May 11, 11, 9:16 pm
  #5  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: NYC
Programs: Hyatt Diamond, AA Plat
Posts: 1,138
Originally Posted by fti View Post
The Parks Highway goes from Wasilla north to Denali to Fairbanks.

The Glenn Highway goes from Anchorage east to Glennallen (intersects the Richardson Highway, which goes north and south, toward Valdez and Fairbanks).

The Denali Highway goes from Cantwell (south of Denali NP entrance) to Paxson (which is on the Richardson Highway).

I was suggesting Denali NP south on the Parks Highway, then east on the Glenn Highway to avoid the Denali Highway if your car rental company prohibits it.

You can certainly drive on roads prohibited by the rental car company. But then you are liable for 100% of the damage, even if you accepted their coverages and waivers. Also, most third party coverages (credit card, travel insurance, personal auto insurance) don't cover you if you violate the rental contract.

If you drive either the Denali Highway or the McCarthy Road, it will make the car absolutely filthy. Inside and out, doorjams, you name it. If you don't spend close to an hour cleaning the car and running it through a car wash, there is no way in the world you can hide that you drove on such roads.
Thanks a lot for clarifying - I have always been confused about the exact location of the Denali Highway and this clears it up. I would like to avoid driving on those roads as well (to the extent the agreement prohibits it) and this would be a nice workaround.

Thanks again for the help - I will post updates to the itinerary once it is finalized in case it is helpful to others as well.
Quasiconvexity is offline  
Old May 11, 11, 9:33 pm
  #6  
Moderator, Alaska Airlines & FlyerTalk Evangelist
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: SGF
Programs: AS, AA, UA, AGR (ex-75K, GLD, 1K, and S+), Choice Diamond, HZ PC, Costco Exec, NPS Passport
Posts: 22,882
Originally Posted by kingsubbu View Post
One thing I am still unclear about is the route from Denali to Chitina - is the road that goes via Wasilla and Girdwood the Denali Highway?
fti answered your question, but I wanted to make a couple of points.

Yes, the Denali highway looks like the most direct method, but going via the Parks and Glenn highways (i.e. Denali-->Wasilla-->Palmer-->Matanuska Glacier-->Glennallen) really doesn't take any more time despite going slightly out of the way because they're good, solid, paved 55/65mph roads (excepting RV road train delays), whereas the Denali Highway is unpaved for most of its length, meaning it takes a bit longer to travel.

Also, the Parks/Glenn route doesn't go through Girdwood, which is on the opposite side of Anchorage from the route you'll take.

Originally Posted by fti View Post
If you drive either the Denali Highway or the McCarthy Road, it will make the car absolutely filthy. Inside and out, doorjams, you name it. If you don't spend close to an hour cleaning the car and running it through a car wash, there is no way in the world you can hide that you drove on such roads.
Sounds like the words of experience!
jackal is offline  
Old May 12, 11, 9:24 am
  #7  
fti
FlyerTalk Evangelist
 
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: MN
Programs: Lots of programs, dirt on all of them!
Posts: 11,889
Originally Posted by jackal View Post
Sounds like the words of experience!
Enteprise allows their cars on the McCarthy Road under certain conditions. I just couldn't bring myself to returning the car in that condition. I figured that the more work they have to do to clean the cars after trips like that, the more likely they will be to say, "Forget this. No more driving on the McCarthy Road." So I had no problem cleaning the car before returning it.
fti is offline  
Old May 25, 11, 12:06 am
  #8  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: NYC
Programs: Hyatt Diamond, AA Plat
Posts: 1,138
Hi guys,

I would appreciate some advice from you regarding lodging in the Wrangell-St Elias area. I am considering booking Currant Ridge cabins in McCarthy or the Kennicott Glacier lodge in Kennicott for 2-3 nights. Can you please shed some light on how these compare in terms of location, esp with respect to convenience for starting hikes etc? The cabins look great and would afford us the option of cooking our own food but I am not sure how convenient they are location wise. It looks like they are only a few miles away from the lodge but given that we will have to take a shuttle each time to get to Kennicott, I was wondering if it would be a little inconvenient to be based in the cabins, if we are planning to do some hikes (root glacier, or one of the mine tours). The lodge gives us the option of flying in, and I am not sure if we can do that if we stay at the cabins (I am checking that with the owner).

Any insights on how these two options compare would be much appreciated! Thanks!
Quasiconvexity is offline  
Old May 25, 11, 8:33 pm
  #9  
fti
FlyerTalk Evangelist
 
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: MN
Programs: Lots of programs, dirt on all of them!
Posts: 11,889
Have you considered using a Toursaver coupon? Check with the hotels before buying the coupon book, but I think they have both Kennicott Glacier Lodge and Ma Johnson's Hotel in McCarthy in the book. Reduces your cost quite a bit. I assume the Currant Ridge Cabins in McCarthy are on the side of the bridge where the McCarthy Road is, so not quite as convenient as the other two options I mentioned above. The hikes are mostly in Kennicott so if that is important to be near the trailheads, opt for that. It is a $5 or so one-way shuttle ride from McCarthy to Kennicott.

I would think you can fly in if you stay at the cabins. The airstrip is in McCarthy then probably get the shuttle to the bridge and have the cabins meet you at the bridge (or walk from the bridge). I don't think the shuttle runs much after 5-6pm, but I can't imagine they would stop the shuttle before the last flight into McCarthy.
fti is offline  
Old May 25, 11, 11:57 pm
  #10  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: NYC
Programs: Hyatt Diamond, AA Plat
Posts: 1,138
Thank you - I think we are leaning towards the lodge as well. While the cabins look great and have terrific reviews, the proximity of the lodge to our planned activities makes it more appealing. I do plan on using toursaver and noticed a coupon for the lodge - the T&C say it is only applicable to mountain view rooms and those are not available for the days of our travel. I might try calling and asking them in any case. The lodge also seems to have all-inclusive options (flights + room + meals) that we may end up booking.

One clarification: in one of your earlier posts, you had mentioned a 3pm Kenai Fjords tour...can you please let me know which one in particular you were referring to? I checked online and found the latest departure to be 1130 am - do I need to be looking for a different tour (I checked for the national park tour)?

Thanks.
Quasiconvexity is offline  
Old May 28, 11, 2:55 pm
  #11  
fti
FlyerTalk Evangelist
 
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: MN
Programs: Lots of programs, dirt on all of them!
Posts: 11,889
If you stay at Kennicott Lodge, including the meals is best. There is nowhere else in Kennicott to eat!

You might ask them about applying the value of the coupon to your package or something. Some vendors are more cooperative in that regard than others.

Oops. Kenai Fjords Tours stopped their 3pm departure. I took it a couple of years ago. So yes, I think 11.30am is the latest departure. Key is to get a tour that is 6 hours or longer. Fox Island is not appealing to me - I would rather be on the boat looking for wildlife.
fti is offline  
Old Dec 14, 11, 1:51 pm
  #12  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: NYC
Programs: Hyatt Diamond, AA Plat
Posts: 1,138
A belated update to this thread. We had an absolutely fantastic time in Alaska, and cannot wait to return. Many thanks to the contributors in this forum (esp. fti and Jackal) for their helpful input.

I have finally gotten around to posting a trip report (focused on pictures mostly) for our trip. You can find it here: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/trip-...-pictures.html. I will be updating it over the next week or so. Hope it helps others in planning their trip!
Quasiconvexity is offline  
Old Dec 14, 11, 11:36 pm
  #13  
Moderator, Alaska Airlines & FlyerTalk Evangelist
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: SGF
Programs: AS, AA, UA, AGR (ex-75K, GLD, 1K, and S+), Choice Diamond, HZ PC, Costco Exec, NPS Passport
Posts: 22,882
Originally Posted by kingsubbu View Post
A belated update to this thread. We had an absolutely fantastic time in Alaska, and cannot wait to return. Many thanks to the contributors in this forum (esp. fti and Jackal) for their helpful input.

I have finally gotten around to posting a trip report (focused on pictures mostly) for our trip. You can find it here: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/trip-...-pictures.html. I will be updating it over the next week or so. Hope it helps others in planning their trip!
Thanks for coming back and letting us know! Always fun when folks do that.
jackal is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread