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10 day (9 nights) trip to Alaska - May 2012

10 day (9 nights) trip to Alaska - May 2012

Old Dec 5, 11, 3:54 pm
  #1  
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10 day (9 nights) trip to Alaska - May 2012

Hello Everyone,

My wife & I recently started planning for our Alaska trip in May 2012. Here's our tentative itinerary :

May 18 (Friday) : Reach Anchorage in the evening (around 8). Walk around and enjoy the city since it wont be dark until 11.

May 19 : Drive to Seward and take the Kenai Fjord's 6 hr cruise (11.30 AM). I am still unsure whether I should go for the Kenai Fjord's cruise or the 26 Glacier Cruise from Whittier. Both have good reviews. We are interested in watching the glacier calving as well as wildlife. Drive to Exit Glacier , take pics and back to Anchorage for the night.

May 20 : Drive to Valdez from Anchorage. Leave by 7 Reach Valdez around 3 (sightseeing on the way, Matanushka Glacier). Not sure what to do in Valdez - Worthington Glacier / Columbia Glacier/Kayaking (short trips??). Stay in Kenny Lake for the night.

May 21 : Take a day trip to McCarthy/Kennicott (alaskayukontravel.com).
I am still unsure about this. Is it really worth the time? Drive to Fairbanks in the evening (start at 5 PM). I know the trip to Fairbanks will be tiring and will reach FB late late (1 AM or so) -still contemplating whether I should stay back in Kenny Lake area and drive early morning

May 22 : Visit North Pole (touristy), Chena Hot Springs and Ice Museum. Drive to Denali and reach by 7 PM. Take a short trip to the park visitor center, check for hikes etc.

May 23: Shuttle Bus & day hike inside Denali

May 24: Denali - Extra day so that I dont miss anything.

May 25: Whitewater rafting in Denali (can anyone suggest a better place?) and leave for Talkeetna. Explore & Spend night in Talkeetna.

May 26: Drive from Talkeetna to Matanushka Glacier Hike - Micaguides (Possibly) and drive back to Anchorage.

May 27: Explore area around Anchorage (Turnagain Arm, Mt Alyeska). part from Anchorage


This is just preliminary. However, I went ahead and booked the car for the above dates and paid $358 for a compact & above (depending on availability, compact guaranteed) thru Hotwire.

Am I missing something? I would have loved to do Katmai but its just too expensive. I am trying to explore a lot in these 10 days but I'm pretty sure this is going to be my only trip to Alaska before I move to a different country.

We both would love to add more adventure to our trip and do less touristy things. Questions in my mind :

a) Is the Ice Museum trip worth it?
b) Which would be the best glacier hike?
c) Kenai Fjords OR 26 Glacier Cruise?
d) Sea Kayaking or White Water Rafting - only one ....

I so wanted to do the Arctic Circle drive but dont want to take a risk with my rental car. Is the tour from FB a good value for money?


Thanks,
N
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Old Dec 5, 11, 8:36 pm
  #2  
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Welcome to FT!

One minor to big problem (depending on your viewpoint) is that you'll likely be at Denali NP before you can get very far into the park interior. The Park Service's vendor, Aramark, indicates that shuttle bus service to the Toklat visitor center only begins on May 20, "weather dependent" and, IMO and to be frank, the views of the mountain from Toklat are not the best (that's if the mountain is even visible, which it often isn't.) The better views are from the Eielson visitor's center, or from Wonder Lake, both of which won't be accessible by the shuttle bus until June.

Which is not to say that a trip to Denali is a bad idea in May, but it could be argued that the 3+ days you've allocated to Denali might be better spent doing other things, in areas that are more likely to be accessible. Others may disagree.

Overall your schedule strikes me as rather rushed. One day to go from Anchorage to Seward, take the 6-hr KFNP cruise, plus Exit Glacier and then driving back to Anchorage the same night, especially after only having arrived the day before? (From where? Watch out for time changes.) Whew, pretty packed.

Kenai Fjords v. 26 Glaciers - apples and oranges. Do both.

McCarthy in May... Hm. Haven't been there that early; I'd imagine the McCarthy road will be a mud and pothole fiesta, but if someone else is driving...

Have you identified a whitewater rafting operator for May? A lot of the rivers are mighty high and fast then...

One thing I'd strongly suggest is that you spend some time in the air. Even if you decided that the benefit/cost equation for Denali was less than ideal, if it was me and I saw the mountain from whatever distance, I'd hightail it to the nearest flightseeing operation (in Talkeetna, Fairbanks, Anchorage) and take a hop up to and around the mountain. There's really nothing like it, worth every penny.

Maybe off the wall, and knowing nothing of your flying arrangements, I'd just recommend you price out how much extra it would cost to treat Anchorage as a stopover en route between home to/from someplace in the north or west - Barrow, Nome, or Kotzebue, for example. Sometimes it can be pretty affordable, and the chance to get off the road system shouldn't be disregarded. There's a whole lot of Alaska (say, 99%) that you can't see from the road, and any chance to get in the air, or out into the bush, should be grabbed.

Hope this doesn't just add confusion to your planning.
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Old Dec 5, 11, 10:49 pm
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Here's the trip report I posted here from our trip back in '08; a fairly similar itinerary to what you're planning. Hope it's helpful to give you some ideas.

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/alask...11-7-20-a.html
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Old Dec 6, 11, 3:17 am
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As mentioned above, welcome to FT!

I'm an ambitious traveler, and even I must admit your itinerary looks a touch ambitious.

I drove (albeit with a large group of people--10 in a 12-passenger van) from Valdez to Anchorage after taking the ferry to Valdez the day before. We left Valdez at a reasonably early hour (9am, give or take) and didn't get back to Anchorage until after 8pm. Yes, the drive can be done as a marathon in 5 hours, but that leaves absolutely no time to enjoy the scenery along the way, stop and eat, or anything else. Anchorage to Valdez to Kenny Lake in one long day is very ambitious. Stop in Valdez overnight and enjoy the area rather than making a brief pit stop before turning back around and going back north.

It's also ambitious to expect to do Kennecott/McCarthy as a round-trip in a single day followed by driving all the way to Fairbanks. McCarthy is a good six-hour round-trip drive (yes, it's not a long way in mileage, but 30mph is generous for that road), not to mention the time you'd spend visiting Kennecott/McCarthy itself (plan to spend at least a couple of hours milling around the mine ruins--it's not worth driving all the way out there not to do that, since the scenery will seem bland after passing through Thompson Pass). Plus, your rental car agency is guaranteed to prohibit you from driving to McCarthy--and for good reason; I had to replace all of my shock absorbers after my trip out there many years ago. I know many friends who have bought new windshields after driving out there, and one friend with a lifted four-wheel-drive truck with super-heavy-duty tires ended up getting stuck because he got not one but two railroad spike punctures. Add in that you're doing this in muddy May, and I'd definitely recommend against it. Stick to the paved, maintained roads.

I'd skip Kennecott/McCarthy and just go straight to Fairbanks.

If you skip Denali due to Gardyloo's salient advice, I'd stay a night at Chena Hot Springs. Be sure to hit the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum of the North. Way better than the ice museum. UAF is also home to some very interesting geophysical science research projects and a major supercomputer processing center; if you have time to check out some of their goings-on, it's a fun diversion. See http://www.uaf.edu/visituaf/ and http://www.uaf.edu/summer/visitor-in.../campus-tours/
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Old Dec 6, 11, 7:02 am
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Thanks a lot for your input Gardyloo. As I mentioned, the itinerary is still preliminary and I wanted to put it out for the experts to help me out.

Originally Posted by Gardyloo View Post
Welcome to FT!

One minor to big problem (depending on your viewpoint) is that you'll likely be at Denali NP before you can get very far into the park interior. The Park Service's vendor, Aramark, indicates that shuttle bus service to the Toklat visitor center only begins on May 20, "weather dependent" and, IMO and to be frank, the views of the mountain from Toklat are not the best (that's if the mountain is even visible, which it often isn't.) The better views are from the Eielson visitor's center, or from Wonder Lake, both of which won't be accessible by the shuttle bus until June.

Which is not to say that a trip to Denali is a bad idea in May, but it could be argued that the 3+ days you've allocated to Denali might be better spent doing other things, in areas that are more likely to be accessible. Others may disagree.
Yes I know the road doesnt open until May 20 and its only till Toklat. However, I am getting very good deals for the shoulder season and I am trying to take advantage of that in combination with the Memorial Day weekend. After June 1, the prices for all hotels & BandB's are going up atleast $30 per night! Thought a lot about it, but decided May would be the best bet though I might not be able to go till Wonder Lake.

How about the accessibility of hikes???? I know this wont be the best time but would there be good hikes available?

Originally Posted by Gardyloo View Post
Overall your schedule strikes me as rather rushed. One day to go from Anchorage to Seward, take the 6-hr KFNP cruise, plus Exit Glacier and then driving back to Anchorage the same night, especially after only having arrived the day before? (From where? Watch out for time changes.) Whew, pretty packed.
Yes that's what came to my mind when I started looking at my schedule closely. I am flying in from Houston to its a -3 hr time difference. Since the whole day would be pretty relaxing on the cruise, I thought I could make the trip since I will be driving to Valdez the next day. Do you think I should stay back in Seward? That would add about a couple of hours to go to Valdez but if there are things to do in Seward and the town is better than Anchorage, I wouldnt mind staying back here.


Originally Posted by Gardyloo View Post
Kenai Fjords v. 26 Glaciers - apples and oranges. Do both..
Still confused. Dont want to stay on a ship for 5-6 hrs on two days .... but I will do some more research.

Originally Posted by Gardyloo View Post
McCarthy in May... Hm. Haven't been there that early; I'd imagine the McCarthy road will be a mud and pothole fiesta, but if someone else is driving... ..
Yes I was thinking of the day-trip to McCarthy (http://www.alaskayukontravel.com/daytours.htm). From McCarthy, my next stop is Fairbanks. But I am still wondering whether I should stay back in McCarthy area for the night and travel the next day.

Originally Posted by Gardyloo View Post
Have you identified a whitewater rafting operator for May? A lot of the rivers are mighty high and fast then... ..
http://www.denalioutdoorcenter.com/ is my plan. I read on tripadvisor and this place had good reviews. However, I still need to check if they are open by then.

Originally Posted by Gardyloo View Post
One thing I'd strongly suggest is that you spend some time in the air. Even if you decided that the benefit/cost equation for Denali was less than ideal, if it was me and I saw the mountain from whatever distance, I'd hightail it to the nearest flightseeing operation (in Talkeetna, Fairbanks, Anchorage) and take a hop up to and around the mountain. There's really nothing like it, worth every penny. .
Again, I am unsure about this. But internet reviews are somewhat convincing me to do this trip and again if you so strongly suggest this, I will try to squeeze it in somehow. Cost is a major constraint since the trip is turning out to be almost 1.5 times of what I had in my mind (considering that I was foolish to think lodging would be cheap...then realized that Alaska has only 4.5 months of "tourist" season in a year)


Originally Posted by Gardyloo View Post
Maybe off the wall, and knowing nothing of your flying arrangements, I'd just recommend you price out how much extra it would cost to treat Anchorage as a stopover en route between home to/from someplace in the north or west - Barrow, Nome, or Kotzebue, for example. Sometimes it can be pretty affordable, and the chance to get off the road system shouldn't be disregarded. There's a whole lot of Alaska (say, 99%) that you can't see from the road, and any chance to get in the air, or out into the bush, should be grabbed..
I am flying in from Houston and I checked the prices. They are almost double of what I am paying for IAH-ANC! Getting off the road system and exploring the Arctic would be the best thing I can think of doing Maybe I would have to go with a bush plane ride/glacial landing trip ...


Originally Posted by Gardyloo View Post
Hope this doesn't just add confusion to your planning.
Your information has been great..... Its better to hear from the experts than the stuff on the internet, which is confusing. I will re-analyse my trip and post the final itinerary (or another preliminary one) pretty soon.

Thanks,
N
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Old Dec 6, 11, 7:42 am
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Originally Posted by jackal View Post
As mentioned above, welcome to FT!

I'm an ambitious traveler, and even I must admit your itinerary looks a touch ambitious.

I drove (albeit with a large group of people--10 in a 12-passenger van) from Valdez to Anchorage after taking the ferry to Valdez the day before. We left Valdez at a reasonably early hour (9am, give or take) and didn't get back to Anchorage until after 8pm. Yes, the drive can be done as a marathon in 5 hours, but that leaves absolutely no time to enjoy the scenery along the way, stop and eat, or anything else. Anchorage to Valdez to Kenny Lake in one long day is very ambitious. Stop in Valdez overnight and enjoy the area rather than making a brief pit stop before turning back around and going back north.

It's also ambitious to expect to do Kennecott/McCarthy as a round-trip in a single day followed by driving all the way to Fairbanks. McCarthy is a good six-hour round-trip drive (yes, it's not a long way in mileage, but 30mph is generous for that road), not to mention the time you'd spend visiting Kennecott/McCarthy itself (plan to spend at least a couple of hours milling around the mine ruins--it's not worth driving all the way out there not to do that, since the scenery will seem bland after passing through Thompson Pass). Plus, your rental car agency is guaranteed to prohibit you from driving to McCarthy--and for good reason; I had to replace all of my shock absorbers after my trip out there many years ago. I know many friends who have bought new windshields after driving out there, and one friend with a lifted four-wheel-drive truck with super-heavy-duty tires ended up getting stuck because he got not one but two railroad spike punctures. Add in that you're doing this in muddy May, and I'd definitely recommend against it. Stick to the paved, maintained roads.

I'd skip Kennecott/McCarthy and just go straight to Fairbanks.

If you skip Denali due to Gardyloo's salient advice, I'd stay a night at Chena Hot Springs. Be sure to hit the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum of the North. Way better than the ice museum. UAF is also home to some very interesting geophysical science research projects and a major supercomputer processing center; if you have time to check out some of their goings-on, it's a fun diversion. See http://www.uaf.edu/visituaf/ and http://www.uaf.edu/summer/visitor-in.../campus-tours/
Hello jackal,

Thanks for the inputs. My wife & I are ambitious and adventurous travellers and love the wilderness. Thats why I would like to do more adventurous things and less touristy things!

My itinerary is preliminary and I agree with you "ambitious". It would be great if you could help me out with a few things :

a) I know Anchorage - Valdez is a marathon 5 hr drive or as I had thought a 7-8 hr drive with stops. If I leave early (around 7.30-8 AM), do you think I can make it to Valdez by 3, giving me enough time for stops and scenery? Since its only me & my wife, IMHO I think we would take less time than a group of 10.

b) What are the things to do in Valdez? I have read conflicting things where some people enjoy the place calling it "Little Switzerland" whereas others say there's not much to do since they closed the pipeline accessibility (except for tours) post 9/11.

c) I am taking a tour to McCarthy/Kennicott and they start from Kenny Lake at 6.45 AM. Thats my reason for going to Kenny Lake from Valdez the previous night. Unsure whether I should take the 8.5 hr or 12.5 hr tour - depends on whether I decide to stay back in Kenny Lake or drive to Fairbanks that night. The tour description says I get abt 2 hrs in Kennicott area - will that be enough?

d) Big Boss wants to see Ice Museum. We are from Houston and the only ice we see is in the refrigerator...

Supercomputers & stuff.... very interesting. Unfortunately, their tours dont start until late May, so wont be able to go there. As I mentioned in my reply to Gladyroo, I am taking advantage of the shoulder season deals and tour companies are also ready to offer further discounts... which makes me think that not many people visit AK during this time (definitely a plus) ! I thought of moving the dates to early June but the cost goes up significantly and I strongly believe airtickets & lodging is waste of money... Being nature lovers, we hardly spend any time in the lodge anyways.

Sorry to come up with so many questions, but if this is going to be my only shot at AK, I'd make it a trip worth remembering.

Regards,
N

Last edited by Xformers; Dec 6, 11 at 7:58 am Reason: Got confused with the museum stuff (d)
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Old Dec 6, 11, 10:09 am
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Originally Posted by Xformers View Post
Sorry to come up with so many questions, but if this is going to be my only shot at AK, I'd make it a trip worth remembering.
Precisely.

There's a tendency for people on travel boards (especially on places like TripAdvisor) to re-plan your vacation for you, and I don't want to do that. But I think you need to appreciate that Alaska is SO FULL of incredible visiting opportunities that you can swap, for example, a hike in Denali Park with one somewhere else, get a very comparable (or maybe superior) experience, but at a much lower time and dollar cost. There are umpteen hikes around Anchorage, or Seward, or in the Wrangell-St. Elias NP area, or elsewhere on the Kenai Peninsula, that are glorious but not nearly as weather-dependent as some might be at Denali in May (or muddy, or with washed-out trails, or as cold.)

To the extent your visit is road-based, you need to understand that the road experience is often more rewarding than the destination experience. This certainly is the case with the Richardson Highway and Valdez; unless you're into oil and gas industrial architecture (oh wait, you're from Houston? ) the town of Valdez itself is not much to see. It's the getting there that matters - one of the most scenic roads in North America, with one "ooh look" opportunity after another - scenery, roadside glaciers, probably some animals way up there or way over there (cars pulled off to the side of the road = "stop.")

So rushing through to get to a destination misses the point; it's what you see en route that really justifies the drive.

You're right - mid-May is cheaper because not many people are there yet. They're not there because in some cases Alaska isn't ready for them yet. The key, in my view, is to work around the places that offer sub-par experiences at that time (or run the risk of sub-par) by substituting higher-percentage activities.

I think Denali definitely falls into that category, and, at the risk of offending some, I'll throw Fairbanks into that pile too. In terms of what you say you're coming to see - wilderness, outdoor activities, glaciers and wild scenery, etc. - frankly Fairbanks has much less to offer given your limited time than other alternatives using the same number of days. The town itself is okay (frankly no city in Alaska is going to be a finalist in any beauty pageants) and some of the things are interesting (the U of A campus, maybe, a couple of museums) but counting the hours to get there, is it interesting enough to consume a third of your total time in Alaska? In my view, no. Hell no.

One possible substitution - go to Valdez and maybe stop at McCarthy en route (but I would really pass on McCarthy too - if you want an "old mine" experience you could visit Hatcher Pass near Palmer - an easy day trip from Anchorage.) Take your time along the Richardson and through Thompson Pass. It's really worth poking along instead of trying to outrun the RVs.

But then from Valdez don't re-trace your route back up the Richardson. Instead, put the car on the ferry across Prince William Sound to Whittier (around 5 hours, super scenic, maybe close to the Columbia Glacier face) then head down the Kenai Peninsula to Homer. Spend a couple of days in Homer - maybe go across Kachemak Bay to Seldovia; maybe take a flightseeing trip over the Harding Icefield - go kayaking or halibut fishing, do some local hikes... There's lots to see, and you won't be constantly in the car.

(So there, I've gone and done it - re-planned your trip. )

But maybe you get my point.

Oh, wanted to mention on the arctic flight thing...

Right now Alaska Airlines is having a sale on frequent-flyer miles for purchase. Buy 22,000 miles for $600 or so, and they'll bonus you 8000 additional miles. Turn around and redeem those 30,000 miles for two round-trip tickets from Anchorage to Barrow, or Kotzebue, or Nome (or, for that matter, Juneau or Sitka in SE Alaska - a totally different environment.) Of course it's even cheaper if you happen to possess Alaska, Delta or American miles, all of which could be redeemed for the same flights, albeit at different "costs." Remember this is Flyertalk.

(I tend to recommend Kotzebue because you're above the Arctic Circle, it's a very interesting Eskimo village, right on the Arctic Ocean, and it's not as expensive or touristy as Barrow; however this applies also to Barrow.)

Go for a couple of days, maybe at the end of your visit. You wouldn't need a car for those days, and given car rental costs in Anchorage, the "net" cost might be surprisingly cheap in terms of trade-off, and because it would definitely be the shoulder season in the arctic, your accommodation costs might be decent too. And at the end of May, you'll be in "midnight sun" country - in Barrow the sun will be up 24 hours; in Kotzebue around 22.

In my view, even if the marginal cost ended up higher, the benefits - an entirely foreign environment, a remarkable cultural experience - would more than equal out, vastly so IMO. Alaska is as much about the people as it is the mountains and animals.

So more confusion to the pot, I suppose.
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Old Dec 6, 11, 12:27 pm
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Originally Posted by Xformers View Post
Hello jackal,

Thanks for the inputs. My wife & I are ambitious and adventurous travellers
I get where you're coming from. When sightseeing, I plan on driving about 4-500 miles per day. When I'm driving to get to a specific destination (i.e. Los Angeles to Branson, MO; I have family in both places), a thousand miles in a day is not unusual for me.

Some of my recent road trips have included:

  • November 2006: Branson-Little Rock-Lake Village, AR (overnight)-Vicksburg-Natchez Trace Parkway-Natchez (overnight in a plantation house)-Natchitoches‎-Vicksburg-Jackson (overnight)-Natchez Trace Parkway-Tupelo, MS-Cherokee, AL-Savannah, TN-Memphis-Branson (1,500 miles in 4 days)
  • August 2007: Charlotte (air arrival)-Columbia-Charleston (overnight)-Savannah-Saint Augustine-Daytona Beach-Orlando (overnight)-Charlotte (1,200 miles in 2.5 days)
  • May 2008: Salt Lake City-Brigham City (overnight)-Promontory Point-Spiral Jetty-Kennecott Copper Mine (Salt Lake City)-Ely, NV (overnight)-Great Basin NP-Zion NP-Hatch, UT (Cafe Adobe--mmm!)-Bryce Canyon NP-Escalante (overnight)-Capitol Reef NP-Canyonlands NP-Arches NP-Moab, UT-Colorado NM (Grand Junction, CO)-Glenwood Springs, CO-Aspen-Red Rocks (Denver)-Colorado Springs (overnight)-Denver (2,200 miles in 4.5 days)
  • October 2008: Cairns-Charters Towers, QLD (overnight)-Mount Isa, QLD (overnight)-Tennant Creek, NT (overnight)-Alice Springs-Ayers Rock/Uluru NP (overnight)-Kings Canyon NP-Eridunda, NT (overnight)-Coober Pedy, SA (overnight)-Port Augusta, SA-Laura, SA (overnight)-Adelaide-Victor Harbor, SA-Adelaide (multiple overnights)-Mount Gambier, SA-Grampians NP (overnight)-Great Ocean Road, VIC-Melbourne (multiple overnights)-Mansfield, VIC-Melbourne (overnight)-Canberra (overnight)-Bundanoon, NSW (overnight)-Michinbury, NSW (multiple overnights)-Sydney airport (5,000 miles in 14 days of driving)
  • May 2010: Denver-Rocky Mountain National Park-Grand Lake, CO-Denver (overnight)-Colorado Springs-Florissant Fossil Beds NM (Florissant, CO)-Durango, CO (overnight)-Mesa Verde NP-Telluride, CO-Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP-Colorado Springs (dinner with Randy Petersen, the founder of FlyerTalk!)-DEN (1,200 miles in 3 days)
  • September 2011: BOS-Manchester, NH-Concord, NH-Montpelier, VT-Stowe, VT (overnight)-Montreal, QC-Quebec City, QC (overnight)-Estcourt Station, ME (northernmost point in Maine)-Bangor, ME-Augusta, ME-Portland, ME-BOS (1,200 miles in 2.5 days)

So, as you can see, I'm no stranger to putting on the miles.

Originally Posted by Xformers View Post
and love the wilderness. Thats why I would like to do more adventurous things and less touristy things!

My itinerary is preliminary and I agree with you "ambitious". It would be great if you could help me out with a few things :
You might be ambitious, but such an ambitious itinerary also seems to infringe upon your second comment about being adventurous and loving the wilderness. I love the outdoors, too, but when I'm doing one of my mega-marathon road trips, I don't have a lot of time for experiencing the wilderness. I have to choose whether I want to take it slow and enjoy nature or pack as much as I can in. (When traveling, I usually choose the latter, as I have the outdoors at my beck and call in my backyard at home. No need to travel somewhere to experience wilderness that doesn't live up to what I have here. )

Originally Posted by Xformers View Post
a) I know Anchorage - Valdez is a marathon 5 hr drive or as I had thought a 7-8 hr drive with stops. If I leave early (around 7.30-8 AM), do you think I can make it to Valdez by 3, giving me enough time for stops and scenery? Since its only me & my wife, IMHO I think we would take less time than a group of 10.
You are right that you'll go faster than a group of 10. We were intentionally taking a (relatively) leisurely pace, too. I think a day to drive to Valdez is plenty; it's the rushing back up to Kenny Lake that I thought was a touch excessive, but perhaps it's doable if you understand that it is a long day and are OK with that.

Originally Posted by Xformers View Post
b) What are the things to do in Valdez? I have read conflicting things where some people enjoy the place calling it "Little Switzerland" whereas others say there's not much to do since they closed the pipeline accessibility (except for tours) post 9/11.
Admittedly, not much. Again, I was mostly trying to avoid you feeling rushed like you had to get back up to Kenny Lake that night. Valdez can be seen in 20 minutes. (I've never stopped to check out the old townsite, though--always forget that's there until it's too late. That may be worth another 10 minutes.)

Originally Posted by Xformers View Post
c) I am taking a tour to McCarthy/Kennicott and they start from Kenny Lake at 6.45 AM. Thats my reason for going to Kenny Lake from Valdez the previous night. Unsure whether I should take the 8.5 hr or 12.5 hr tour - depends on whether I decide to stay back in Kenny Lake or drive to Fairbanks that night. The tour description says I get abt 2 hrs in Kennicott area - will that be enough?
Yes, especially if they provide you transportation on the other side of the footbridge up to the ruins.

I was underwhelmed with Kennecott, though. To be fair, my aunt had visited there the year before (1994; we went in 1995) and proclaimed it to be the greatest spot on earth (or something like that). She thought the hand-pulled tram across the river was neat, as was the way the mine buildings (which she said she got to walk all through) were just littered with all kinds of goods and supplies as if someone told them a tsunami were coming and they just dropped everything and ran. We got there just after they had pulled the hand-tram down and installed a footbridge, and all of the mine buildings we saw were locked up tight. The scenery is nice but vastly pales in comparison to what you'll see driving the Glenn and Richardson highways.

Originally Posted by Xformers View Post
d) Big Boss wants to see Ice Museum. We are from Houston and the only ice we see is in the refrigerator...
Fair enough. It's worth 20 minutes.

Originally Posted by Xformers View Post
Supercomputers & stuff.... very interesting. Unfortunately, their tours dont start until late May, so wont be able to go there. As I mentioned in my reply to Gladyroo, I am taking advantage of the shoulder season deals and tour companies are also ready to offer further discounts... which makes me think that not many people visit AK during this time (definitely a plus) ! I thought of moving the dates to early June but the cost goes up significantly and I strongly believe airtickets & lodging is waste of money... Being nature lovers, we hardly spend any time in the lodge anyways.
Despite the challenges of visiting Alaska in shoulder season, this is smart if you're not rich (I'm not, for sure). The cost of everything goes up substantially once the hordes of tourists show up as the weather improves and tourism operators swing into full gear.

Whatever you decide, you'll have an amazing trip. We can finagle a few things here and there (as we have already been doing, and definitely pay attention to Gardyloo's sage advice), but even if you just go with the plan you have now, you'll leave satisfied (and perhaps wanting to come back--which is the goal! ).

Originally Posted by Gardyloo View Post
Go for a couple of days, maybe at the end of your visit. You wouldn't need a car for those days, and given car rental costs in Anchorage, the "net" cost might be surprisingly cheap in terms of trade-off, and because it would definitely be the shoulder season in the arctic, your accommodation costs might be decent too. And at the end of May, you'll be in "midnight sun" country - in Barrow the sun will be up 24 hours; in Kotzebue around 22.
Sounds like the OP may have already committed to a car with a prepaid Hotwire reservation. Still, if the rate is cheap enough (which it likely is in May; the rental car prices don't start climbing until June 1 and don't start peaking until about June 10-15), it could be worth leaving the car parked or returning it early (knowing a refund won't be given) for this experience.

Last edited by jackal; Dec 6, 11 at 12:37 pm
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Old Dec 6, 11, 12:58 pm
  #9  
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Gardyloo & Jackal : You guys are the 'gurus' !!! I am glad I came here for questions rather than wandering around on the WWW.

This is a lot of information to digest and I will need a few days to analyze my options. I will post a new itinerary soon.

Thanks Guys,
N

Last edited by Xformers; Dec 6, 11 at 1:03 pm
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Old Dec 6, 11, 2:47 pm
  #10  
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I am hesitant to jump in because I have been criticized for criticizing itineraries that are extremely rushed (like yours!). In fact, someone mysteriously and surprisingly joined FT one day, found the AK forum, found the thread and found my post, just to criticize my post. They never posted again (wink, wink)

I have no problem with your dates - in fact I am planning a trip almost the identical time.

If it were me I would totally skip Valdez unless you have something very specific to do there.

If it were me, I would consider either taking the train to Seward for the Kenai Fjords tour or perhaps driving on May 18 at least to Girdwood, maybe to Moose Pass or even to Seward that day. That way you get to spend some time stopping on the way along Turnagain Arm as well as having more time in Seward. Exit Glacier is best if you spend an hour or two, walking to the face of the glacier.

>>I am still unsure whether I should go for the Kenai Fjord's cruise or the 26 Glacier Cruise from Whittier. Both have good reviews. We are interested in watching the glacier calving as well as wildlife.

You get both glacier viewing and marine wildlife on the Kenai Fjords tour, though mostly marine wildlife. No guarantee of glacier calving, though it usually happens. The Whittier tours spend more time at glaciers and marine wildlife is secondary. So it depends on your priorities.

My plan is to do both Kenai Fjords and Prince William Sound cruises but since they are different and since I am using 2-for-1 coupons, I want to do both. If you reversed your itinerary (per a possible suggestion I make below), you could work it out such that you drive to Whittier for the afternoon PWS cruise then after that continue to Seward, taking the Kenai Fjords tour the next day.

>>May 21 : Take a day trip to McCarthy/Kennicott (alaskayukontravel.com).
I am still unsure about this. Is it really worth the time?

What are you planning on doing once you get there? You said you only have 2 hours in Kennicott.. Not enough for a Root Glacier hike, maybe enough for a mill tour (probably not even that since they are only scheduled a couple of times a day - and no way to get into the mill building without a tour), but certainly not my idea of spending a day in Alaska just to take the mill tour. Plus, by going to McCarthy, you are not allowing yourself any time for the visitor center (on the Richardson Highway), which is probably more interesting, also with great views and a couple of available short walks.

>>May 22 : Visit North Pole (touristy), Chena Hot Springs and Ice Museum. Drive to Denali and reach by 7 PM. Take a short trip to the park visitor center, check for hikes etc.

Probably way too much packed into this day. I would be surprised if you got to Denali by 9pm. Seriously. Also, if you skip McCarthy/Kennicott, you can stop in North Pole on the way to Fairbanks. In North Pole, basically you are going to a Christmas store. That is it.

I know that rafting is possible at Denali at this time and I am pretty sure with DOC (I just Emailed them 2 days ago to confirm their opening date, haven't heard back from them yet).

I have been in Denali on May 18-20 and it is a great time to be in the park. Fewer crowds, shuttle bus gets you to Toklat, but if you take the time to walk further (or rent bikes and take them with you) you can actually get much further. A 7am departure could give you 6 more hours to explore/hike further than Tolkat and still be back at the entrance by 7pm. There is some great hiking about a mile or two west of Toklat (some nice hikes east of there too - you can hop off the bus at any time to hike).

In fact, I would even consider reversing the itinerary and going to Denali first. That way you get to drive the first 30 miles of the park road yourself on May 19th before the shuttle buses start operating the next day.

>>May 24: Denali - Extra day so that I dont miss anything.

I would probably book a second shuttle bus. That way if the weather was not good the day before or if the Mountain was not out, you have a second chance. Plus, wildlife viewing is varied each trip. It is not a zoo, so you never know what to expect.

>>May 27: Explore area around Anchorage (Turnagain Arm, Mt Alyeska). part from Anchorage

I would do this on your way to Seward. That is why I suggested perhaps driving the first day to Girdwood. No need to backtrack when your time is fairly tight. You could move things around and add a night in McCarthy or an extra night in Fairbanks (or Valdez if you really want to go there) rather than backtracking to Girdwood.

>>Am I missing something? I would have loved to do Katmai but its just too expensive.

Katmai is a total waste of money in May. No bears to be found. You will see bears at Denali, especially if you take the shuttle bus on two different days.

Last edited by fti; Dec 6, 11 at 2:57 pm
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Old Dec 6, 11, 4:09 pm
  #11  
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Originally Posted by fti View Post
I am hesitant to jump in because I have been criticized for criticizing itineraries that are extremely rushed (like yours!). In fact, someone mysteriously and surprisingly joined FT one day, found the AK forum, found the thread and found my post, just to criticize my post. They never posted again (wink, wink)
Constructive criticisms are always welcome... I end up with rushed itineraries but fortunately have never had a problem... that doesnt mean I am going to rush this too .. I am here for suggestions from people who know Alaska a lot better than me (10 days ago I had no idea about Seward or Valdez) !

Originally Posted by fti View Post
I have no problem with your dates - in fact I am planning a trip almost the identical time.

If it were me I would totally skip Valdez unless you have something very specific to do there.
I am going to Valdez for the scenic drive from ANC to Valdez. Just found something about the Worthington Glacier enroute to Valdez... maybe worth a visit.

Originally Posted by fti View Post
If it were me, I would consider either taking the train to Seward for the Kenai Fjords tour or perhaps driving on May 18 at least to Girdwood, maybe to Moose Pass or even to Seward that day. That way you get to spend some time stopping on the way along Turnagain Arm as well as having more time in Seward. Exit Glacier is best if you spend an hour or two, walking to the face of the glacier.
I reach ANC only around 8 PM and then completing formalities at car rental place, dinner etc will mean I will leave the airport only by 9 PM earliest .... too late for Seward I feel. Also, I am accounting for flight delay.

Originally Posted by fti View Post
>>I am still unsure whether I should go for the Kenai Fjord's cruise or the 26 Glacier Cruise from Whittier. Both have good reviews. We are interested in watching the glacier calving as well as wildlife.

You get both glacier viewing and marine wildlife on the Kenai Fjords tour, though mostly marine wildlife. No guarantee of glacier calving, though it usually happens. The Whittier tours spend more time at glaciers and marine wildlife is secondary. So it depends on your priorities.

My plan is to do both Kenai Fjords and Prince William Sound cruises but since they are different and since I am using 2-for-1 coupons, I want to do both. If you reversed your itinerary (per a possible suggestion I make below), you could work it out such that you drive to Whittier for the afternoon PWS cruise then after that continue to Seward, taking the Kenai Fjords tour the next day. .
I plan to do only one of the tours so that I dont spend 2 days on a cruise...still undecided.

Originally Posted by fti View Post
>>May 21 : Take a day trip to McCarthy/Kennicott (alaskayukontravel.com).
I am still unsure about this. Is it really worth the time?

What are you planning on doing once you get there? You said you only have 2 hours in Kennicott.. Not enough for a Root Glacier hike, maybe enough for a mill tour (probably not even that since they are only scheduled a couple of times a day - and no way to get into the mill building without a tour), but certainly not my idea of spending a day in Alaska just to take the mill tour. Plus, by going to McCarthy, you are not allowing yourself any time for the visitor center (on the Richardson Highway), which is probably more interesting, also with great views and a couple of available short walks.
Plan to visit the Richardson Highway visitor center on my way from ANC to Valdez. From everyone's suggestions here, I think I will end up either staying a night in McCarthy and do the root glacier hike OR just skip it altogether. I do think just 2 hrs in Kennicott isnt worth spending a whole day in a van!

Originally Posted by fti View Post
>>May 22 : Visit North Pole (touristy), Chena Hot Springs and Ice Museum. Drive to Denali and reach by 7 PM. Take a short trip to the park visitor center, check for hikes etc.

Probably way too much packed into this day. I would be surprised if you got to Denali by 9pm. Seriously. Also, if you skip McCarthy/Kennicott, you can stop in North Pole on the way to Fairbanks. In North Pole, basically you are going to a Christmas store. That is it.
I plan to drive to Fairbanks after the McCarthy tour so that I reach FB at around 11.30 PM/12 AM. I know it might be a long day but thats okay. Done such things before (Flew into Salt Lake City at 10 PM and drove to Yellowstone straightaway to stay on the eastern side ) .

Originally Posted by fti View Post
I know that rafting is possible at Denali at this time and I am pretty sure with DOC (I just Emailed them 2 days ago to confirm their opening date, haven't heard back from them yet).
Thats good news. Lets hope they also offer discounts for the shoulder season

Originally Posted by fti View Post
I have been in Denali on May 18-20 and it is a great time to be in the park. Fewer crowds, shuttle bus gets you to Toklat, but if you take the time to walk further (or rent bikes and take them with you) you can actually get much further. A 7am departure could give you 6 more hours to explore/hike further than Tolkat and still be back at the entrance by 7pm. There is some great hiking about a mile or two west of Toklat (some nice hikes east of there too - you can hop off the bus at any time to hike).
Good tip! Thx....

Originally Posted by fti View Post
In fact, I would even consider reversing the itinerary and going to Denali first. That way you get to drive the first 30 miles of the park road yourself on May 19th before the shuttle buses start operating the next day.
Unsure about this since I will be travelling south to Seward first for the cruise.

Originally Posted by fti View Post
>>May 24: Denali - Extra day so that I dont miss anything.

I would probably book a second shuttle bus. That way if the weather was not good the day before or if the Mountain was not out, you have a second chance. Plus, wildlife viewing is varied each trip. It is not a zoo, so you never know what to expect.
Yes that's my plan right now to get into the park and do some hikes.

Originally Posted by fti View Post
>>May 27: Explore area around Anchorage (Turnagain Arm, Mt Alyeska). part from Anchorage

I would do this on your way to Seward. That is why I suggested perhaps driving the first day to Girdwood. No need to backtrack when your time is fairly tight. You could move things around and add a night in McCarthy or an extra night in Fairbanks (or Valdez if you really want to go there) rather than backtracking to Girdwood.

>>Am I missing something? I would have loved to do Katmai but its just too expensive.

Katmai is a total waste of money in May. No bears to be found. You will see bears at Denali, especially if you take the shuttle bus on two different days.
Lets see how this turns out. I am trying to mix hikes into some leisurely stuff so that I dont get burned out by the end of my vacation and come to office "wanting a vacation to recover from my vacation"!

Again, thanks for your inputs!
N
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Old Dec 6, 11, 7:07 pm
  #12  
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I'll disagree with fti on two points: one, I believe the drive from Anchorage to Valdez is one of the prettiest in the world, second only to perhaps Jasper/Banff in Canada and maybe tying with some of the Swiss Alp and/or better Colorado passes. Two, I would say that doing both cruises on the same trip--especially consecutive days--is overkill. Yes, they have different focuses, and yes, you see different things, but they're similar enough that it'd feel like you're on one long 10-hour cruise.

I'd reconsider Gardyloo's suggestion of driving to Valdez and taking the ferry back (or vice versa). I've done that twice and found it to be worthwhile each time. Fairbanks is nice but not worth time you could be spending doing other things in Alaska. If you do go to Fairbanks, I'd make it more of a destination and stay at Chena.
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Old Dec 7, 11, 9:26 am
  #13  
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Hello again,

Deviating somewhat from the topic : My flight tickets from IAH - ANC went up by $400 suddenly (non-stop by Continental) and the 1 stop flights went up by about $250 in a day! Ouch!!!!!!

Any ideas if I should wait or book it straightaway? I know its all speculation but views would be appreciated.

Regards,
N
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Old Dec 7, 11, 9:32 am
  #14  
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Originally Posted by jackal View Post
I'll disagree with fti on two points: one, I believe the drive from Anchorage to Valdez is one of the prettiest in the world, second only to perhaps Jasper/Banff in Canada and maybe tying with some of the Swiss Alp and/or better Colorado passes. Two, I would say that doing both cruises on the same trip--especially consecutive days--is overkill. Yes, they have different focuses, and yes, you see different things, but they're similar enough that it'd feel like you're on one long 10-hour cruise.

I'd reconsider Gardyloo's suggestion of driving to Valdez and taking the ferry back (or vice versa). I've done that twice and found it to be worthwhile each time. Fairbanks is nice but not worth time you could be spending doing other things in Alaska. If you do go to Fairbanks, I'd make it more of a destination and stay at Chena.
My issue was not with the lack of scenic drive to Valdez. I think the drive between Valdez and Anchorage is great (actually better traveling west than east IMHO) but to go as far as Valdez just to basically turn around again is not worth it, considering all the other driving the OP is trying to do.

Alaska is best seen in many cases by boat or by air. Therefore I still strongly recommend if at all possible to consider both day boat tours. But it totally depends on the OP's interests. Scenery, wildlife and glaciers are usually high on most tourist's list when visiting Alaska. Great "bang for the buck" on all counts for these two tours - moreso if using a discount coupon.
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Old Dec 12, 11, 11:44 am
  #15  
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Thumbs up Revised Itinerary

Hello Everyone,

I thought over the entire itinerary with all the suggestions that I received (took some time for research too) and here's a revised itinerary :

18 May : Reach Anchorage at 8 PM , pick up car + dinner + roam around

19 May : Drive to Seward. I am still unsure whether to take the Kenai Fjords cruise or the 26 Glacier cruise - will decide over due course of time. Drive to Exit Glacier after the cruise (will reach around 6.10-6.15) and will leave to go back to Anchorage around 8 PM. Reach Anchorage by 10 PM. I decided against spending time in Seward since I am not into fishing + I will be driving to Valdez the next morning. Didnt want to add another 1.5 hrs to the drive

20 May : Drive to Valdez (Worthington Glacier on the way + other things) and stay over at Copper Center/Glenallen. I am still looking for a good place to stay over here.

21 May : Glenallen/Copper Center - Fairbanks (Ice Museum / Chenna Hot Springs) - Denali. This is going to be a loooooooong day. Decided against McCarthy/Kennicott after taking suggestions from the experts here. Tried looking for the cruise info from Valdez - Whittier and figured out that I will not be able to drive to Denali (and enjoy the drive from Whittier to Denali) and I didnt want to spend another day in that area.

22 May : Take shuttle bus in Denali and do a hike

23 May : Do a short hike in Denali and whitewater rafting in the evening

24 May : Leave Denali for Talkeetna and take a sightseeing tour - I took everyone's advice here in the forum and also found a great deal! Talkeetna Aero Service offers a free glacier landing if you book before 31st December (for fti , if u are interested). Stay over in Wasilla

25 May : Drive to Matanuska Glacier and do the Ice Fall Hike with Mica Guides. Drive around / back toward Anchorage. The Ice Fall hike is about 3 hrs long and I am sure we'll be tired after the drives and hikes

26 May : Flattop Mountain hike OR other hike in Chugach Mountains - Any suggestions?

27 May : Return to Houston.

Since I booked early, I was fortunate to get a First Class one-way airfare and Cattle Class return (using my miles) and transferred 4K miles (for $60) so that my wife could also get a first class.

I had seen the return flight (ANC-IAH) for $325 a few days earlier and was dilly-dallying over the schedule. After a few visits to the continental websites, the price shot up to $367 and stayed there for 3-4 days. Finally decided to book the return flight for $367 and as soon as I did that, in a few hours the prices dropped back to $325. I am not sure whether this is a coincidence or its the flight booking systems of the airlines playing games with me. I read on a couple of websites that the reservation system does this if you go to the website a few times and dont buy. The increased price leads the buyer into panic-buying. I am not sure if that was the case, but the prices dropped as soon as I bought the tickets. The "same seats" were available (before and after).

Nome/Barrow/etc : The flights were expensive and I wouldn't say I didnt try. I would have loved to go there... maybe I'll get a chance to cross the Arctic Circle some other time , some other country (or Alaska, who knows!)

So, here's my revised itinerary. Not perfect and will be tiring (and ambitious too, I'd say) but I didn't want to be at the mercy of the cruise (Valdez - Whittier) and had to stay within budget. So there are a few hits and a couple of misses but overall, I hope to have a good vacation !!!!

Feel free to trash and rework this itinerary. It gave me a lot of ideas and suggestions though I wouldnt say I incorporate every suggestion !

Can anyone suggest a good place to see the sunrise / sunset in Alaska?

Thanks,
Xformers
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