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6 days in SouthCentral Alaska- Itinerary Advice

6 days in SouthCentral Alaska- Itinerary Advice

Old Jun 14, 12, 5:14 am
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6 days in SouthCentral Alaska- Itinerary Advice

Hello Alaskan (and Alaskan-enthusiast) FTers!

First trip to Alaksa is scheduled for this summer, and I'm really excited (and not just because it'll be the 50th state I've visited). I've already learned a load reading old threads, so I have just a couple questions remaining.

We’ve got flights booked on miles, arriving 7pm 12 July and flying out 7pm 19th July from Anchorage. I have a rental car booked from the morning of the 13th to the 19th, just to lock in something and have been checking back to see if I can find a better price (around $100/day including taxes and fees). As it’s a short visit, we’re thinking of focusing on the Southcentral Area this time. Probably not going to do Denali as I would rather come back and spend a longer time just focused on that, rather than rushing through it.

We’re both somewhat athletic mid-30s and are most excited to see nature and animals and scenery in general. Love to do day-hikes up to about 7-8 miles although longer would be OK if they’re relatively flat. Don’t fish. Prefer traveling at our own pace to pre-packaged tours in general. We do tend to move through tourist attractions more quickly than the average people but are also happy to take a relaxed pace if the scenery is great.

So our two main planned activities are going to be a day hike on Exit Glacier and a long sea kayaking trip, both of those are out of Seward. I was thinking that staying in Seward at least 3 nights might be a good idea-- we can stop and see stuff along the way (in the Girdwood area, maybe?), have those two excursions, and have some time to just explore the area, do some of the hikes in the area, as it seems like it might be an ideal 'home base' for exploring the penninsula.

That would leave 2 nights. I was thinking about then driving up to Palmer and staying there and doing the Knik Glacier tour, and exploring around there a bit.

Would we be better off staying 2 nights around Palmer, or would 1 night be enough? Could do a night in Talkeetna? Or a fourth night in Seward? Any suggestions would be most welcome.
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Old Jun 14, 12, 1:52 pm
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fti
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You can do a lot with 7 nights.

Maybe something like this:

July 12 arrive Anchorage

July 13 pick up car rental, drive to Seward with stops along Turnagain Arm (lots of places to stop - Potter Marsh, Beluga Point, Bird Point, Girdwood, Wildlife Conservation Center, Portage Glacier visitor center and more).

Keep checking on car rental rates. They really bounce all over the place. Also, a quick check of prices shows me rates of $500 for the week if you rent off-airport for a compact or intermediate car. That way you avoid the hefty airport surcharges. You can even return the car to the airport on July 19th for no extra charge. Think about it.

July 14 if you want to do the Harding Icefield Trail with a ranger they do it on Saturdays. 8 miles round trip with a 3,000 ft. elevation gain. Great hike with great views. Expect snow at the top (we had snow 2 summers ago in August and the snowfall the previous winter wasn't nearly as much as it was this year). Can also do this on your own either this day or swap with another day.

July 15 sea kayaking trip to Aialik Glacier (this doubles as a Kenai Fjords tour).

July 16 you could consider a glacier hike with Exit Glacier Guides. They will get you onto the glacier. You could do this on Matanuska Glacier near Palmer but it is further away and not as long of a trip as this one.

July 17 perhaps drive to Girdwood and you can do some hiking along the way. There are some really nice trails north of Seward.

July 18 perhaps do a hike near Girdwood. Winner Creek Trail is nice and the hand tram is unique. Another option if you are interested in glaciers is to take a Prince William Sound glacier tour from Whittier (usually 4-5 hours in the afternoon). They are great tours and you also see some marine wildlife and seabirds. Discounts abound.

July 19 if you go to Whittier on July 18th you might do some hiking this morning either near Girdwood or even Glen Alps east of Anchorage. Be at the airport 2 hours before departure for your 7pm flight.
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Old Jun 15, 12, 3:25 am
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Thanks, fti! I'm glad you agree that we're going to be able to fit a lot in for a fairly short trip. I'm super excited but trying to balance doing/seeing a lot and also leaving us some time to just kind of drink in the atmosphere without rushing around the whole time.

I'll have a look into the Harding Icefield Trail, that sounds very cool and isn't something I've read about yet. We're definitely planning on both a half-day Exit Glacier guided hike and a full-day kayaking trip to Aialik Glacier.

With regards to the cool hikes you mention north of Seward, that is definitely something I'd like to explore. But the hotels right there are really really expensive (I know it's high season and don't blame them, but am not keen to spend almost $300/night for a room). Would it work to either stay in Anchorage or Seward and make the Girdwood a day trip? Or are the drives too long for that?
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Old Jun 15, 12, 10:07 am
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You can stay in Seward and take day hikes north of there - only 3-10 miles north of Seward are some nice hiking trails.

Staying in Seward and making Girdwood a day trip is too far. But you could make Girdwood a day trip from Anchorage.

When I was in Girdwood last month I stayed in a private cabin at the Alyeska Hostel. Three beds, private shower and toilet, full kitchen, $75/night for two people. It was a great deal but it books up quickly obviously due to the price. Also there are B&B's in Girdwood that are much less expensive than $300/night. Check the tourist office's website.
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Old Jun 15, 12, 12:16 pm
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There's a great book of hikes in the area called 55 Ways to the Wilderness in Southcentral Alaska. I'd definitely check it out.
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Old Jun 16, 12, 3:49 am
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fti, that's funny-- I'd just emailed the Alyeska Hostel yesterday morning before my post to check on availability and am hoping to hear back soon! Glad you liked it, I definitely like the idea of staying in a cabin with a kitchen area to allow more food on our own options.

Here's our current plan:
Thur 12th-- arrive ANC, check in at airport Microtel Inn and Suites (booked on Wyndham points)

Fri 13th-- pick up rental car, drive to do afternoon Knik Glacier boat tour
Stay in Hatcher Pass B&B. I'll keep checking prices, have also managed to price out at around $500 for the week which isn't terrible.

Sat 14th-- Hopefully stay in Alyeska Hostel cabin and do hikes around that area?

Sun 15th-- Check in to a cabin at Renfro's near Seward, staying 3 nights
Maybe sea kayak trip Sunday?

Mon 16th-- free day around Seward

Tue 17th-- Exit Glacier day hike

Wed 18th-- Meander north from Seward doing some of the hikes etc along the way

Thu 19th-- Flight has changed and now we're departing at 12:30pm, so I'm thinking we might want to stay closer to Anchorage on the Wednesday night. Maybe another night in the Alyseka Hostel cabin? See a bit of Anchorage on Thursday morning?

Jackal, thanks for the suggestion of a good book for the area, I'll have a look for it!
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Old Jun 16, 12, 6:28 pm
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If you are driving from Girdwood to Seward on the 15th I would not plan the sea kayaking trip that day. Do the sea kayaking to Aialak Glacier on Monday. It is a pretty drive with lots of stops between Girdwood and Seward - Wildlife Conservation Center, Begich Boggs Visitor Center, Byron Glacier Trail, perhaps a stop in Hope, maybe other scenic stops? We left Girdwood mid to late morning and didn't get to Seward until 6-7pm. We did make quite a few stops and hiked part of the Winner Creek Trail (too much snow to get very far though).

You can stay in Girdwood or in Anchorage the night of the 18th. Not really much time to see Anchorage on Thursday morning. You should probably be at the airport by 10.30am to return your car rental, check in, go through security, etc. ANC airport can be quite crowded in the summer with all the tourists, including thousands of cruise ship passengers.
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Old Jun 18, 12, 7:35 am
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Thanks for the suggestion of shifting the kayak trip to the Monday, makes a lot of sense. I heard back from the Alyeska Hostel and have the cabin booked for 2 (non sequential) nights, fingers crossed it all works out!

Now just to figure out two nights in British Columbia between Banff and Vancouver, and our trip will be totally sorted...
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Old Jun 22, 12, 7:29 am
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Thanks again for the advice to keep checking car prices, got it down to $460 for the week, which saves about $100 over the best rate I'd found before! Will keep checking for the next few weeks as well, of course.
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Old Jun 22, 12, 2:55 pm
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I have a question:

"July 16 you could consider a glacier hike with Exit Glacier Guides. They will get you onto the glacier. You could do this on Matanuska Glacier near Palmer but it is further away and not as long of a trip as this one."

Can we get onto the glacier at Matanuska Glacier ourselves?



Originally Posted by fti View Post
You can do a lot with 7 nights.

Maybe something like this:

July 12 arrive Anchorage

July 13 pick up car rental, drive to Seward with stops along Turnagain Arm (lots of places to stop - Potter Marsh, Beluga Point, Bird Point, Girdwood, Wildlife Conservation Center, Portage Glacier visitor center and more).

Keep checking on car rental rates. They really bounce all over the place. Also, a quick check of prices shows me rates of $500 for the week if you rent off-airport for a compact or intermediate car. That way you avoid the hefty airport surcharges. You can even return the car to the airport on July 19th for no extra charge. Think about it.

July 14 if you want to do the Harding Icefield Trail with a ranger they do it on Saturdays. 8 miles round trip with a 3,000 ft. elevation gain. Great hike with great views. Expect snow at the top (we had snow 2 summers ago in August and the snowfall the previous winter wasn't nearly as much as it was this year). Can also do this on your own either this day or swap with another day.

July 15 sea kayaking trip to Aialik Glacier (this doubles as a Kenai Fjords tour).

July 16 you could consider a glacier hike with Exit Glacier Guides. They will get you onto the glacier. You could do this on Matanuska Glacier near Palmer but it is further away and not as long of a trip as this one.

July 17 perhaps drive to Girdwood and you can do some hiking along the way. There are some really nice trails north of Seward.

July 18 perhaps do a hike near Girdwood. Winner Creek Trail is nice and the hand tram is unique. Another option if you are interested in glaciers is to take a Prince William Sound glacier tour from Whittier (usually 4-5 hours in the afternoon). They are great tours and you also see some marine wildlife and seabirds. Discounts abound.

July 19 if you go to Whittier on July 18th you might do some hiking this morning either near Girdwood or even Glen Alps east of Anchorage. Be at the airport 2 hours before departure for your 7pm flight.
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Old Jun 23, 12, 11:57 am
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Originally Posted by mhm63 View Post
I have a question:

"July 16 you could consider a glacier hike with Exit Glacier Guides. They will get you onto the glacier. You could do this on Matanuska Glacier near Palmer but it is further away and not as long of a trip as this one."

Can we get onto the glacier at Matanuska Glacier ourselves?
Matanuska Glacier is kind of unique. It is "free" but you have to cross private land so they charge something like $20/person to access it.

In any case, I would never attempt to get onto a glacier on your own without the proper equipment and knowledge. It is cheaper to take the guided tour at Matanuska than at Exit Glacier, but going on your own is at your own peril.
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Old Aug 20, 12, 7:32 am
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Hi all, I just wanted to post a trip report in case it's helpful to anyone that reads my original questions. Thank you so much to everyone here for the very helpful advice along the way!

We flew in to Anchorage from Seattle in the evening, and enjoyed the views along the way for most of the flight. Clouds moved in about 30 minutes from ANC, though. We phoned the Microtel Inn shuttle and were taken over to the hotel. Arrived just in time for warm cookies and milk, which was a nice touch. We were pretty tired and didn’t have a car, so ate sandwiched we’d made earlier. Grey, cold drizzle was the main description for the little of Anchorage we saw.

Friday morning, I took the shuttle back to the airport to rent a car. OK getaway from Anchorage.

Stopped to get some groceries along the way and then drove to the Matanuska Glacier. We’d read a lot of conflicting information about it, so here’s my thoughts in case they’re helpful to anyone else: There is an overlook at Mile 101 on the Glenn Highway. That has toilets and picnic tables and you can see the glacier off in the distance. If you stay more than 30 minutes, you need to pay the daily parking fee. There are also a number of very reliable companies that can take you out on more extensive hikes onto the glacier. They get great reviews online and if you want a half-day trip, probably worth going with one of them.

However, we decided to take the advice at
http://www.alaskahikesearch.com/Hike...skaGlacier.htm and do it ourselves. Basically, the glacier is privately owned, and if you follow the directions in that link, you can find the shop to purchase tickets. When we visited it was $25/person (NOT per car, which I’ve seen reported somewhere). We parked and followed the path which was fairly clearly marked. Once we got to the icy bit, we slowed down but followed several other people who were out on the ice. None of them had crampons or helmets, and were clearly on their own. We walked around for probably 30 minutes on the glacier, which was beautiful. Then got a bit lost coming back and had a scary moment sinking into some mud that seemed to be acting as quicksand! We moved quickly and turned around and were soon back on a familiar trail. When we got back to the edge of the ice, we noticed a sign saying you shouldn’t go past this point on your own. However, the sign had been covered by a group of people so we didn’t see it. That would explain the lack of proper trails on the ice, but I don’t feel bad that we did it. The half day hike would have been too long for us as they moved at a really slow pace and took ages to set off. Was pleased with the way we did it.

We stayed at the Hatcher Pass B&B in a smaller cabin and were very pleased. It was perfectly clean, with nice cozy bedding and thick curtains. My husband didn’t like that the bathroom wasn’t totally partitioned off from the rest, but was only minor.

Saturday we drove up to Summit Lake on Hatcher Pass, on the B&B owner’s recommendation. Once we drove to the lookout, we walked the path and then kept going and were very pleased to catch a glimpse of said Summit Lake, which was otherwise hidden. Very cool. We then drove back through Anchorage, picking up more groceries along the way, on our way to Girdwood/Alyeska. We decided to do the Winner Creek trail, which includes a hand tram over a gorge. Couldn’t actually find the trailhead at the resort, so went to the other end. Worked great with team work moving the tram, and was a fun little hike. Checked into the cabin at the Alyeska Hostel and it was OK—too dirty for me, but nothing fatal.

Sunday we woke up to pelting rain and cold weather. We drove over to Portage and after watching the crashing surf on the icebergs for a while, put on our waterproof clothes and did the Byron Glacier trail. Hardly anyone out there, but it was pretty cool and the weather was nicer—sheltered in the valley, I guess. We then wanted to see the bore tide, and having read that it was best seen from Hope we drove over there, to find the aftermath of a big amateur run, including the raffle (prizes including guns and chainsaws!). It was very pretty out on the shore (although grey and drizzly), but unfortunately we didn't see the tide, so we headed for Seward. We stayed at Renfro’s, which was a great option for us, nice big cabin, clean and warm.

Monday we got up fairly early to head into Seward to Liquid Adventures for our sea kayaking trip to Aialik Glacier. Got there to find it would just be the two of us and our guide, Jeff, which was good. Got fitted for waterproof boots, and then headed down along the beach to the boat, which we were sharing with two other couples doing overnight trips and their guides.

Awesome journey out to Aialik glacier - saw (and heard) humpback whales and orcas, and also sea lions on the rocks. Got dropped off on the next beach over from the glacier, and kayaked over to it, which took about an hour. Lots of ice (from the glacier) in the water. We could hear the noise of the glacier calving from some distance away, and when we got closer we could see the large pieces falling off - amazing! We had lunch on the beach in front of the glacier (after walking through the glacial river), and then wandered over to take some photos closer up . Then we kayaked back to the original beach to get picked up by the boat at 3:30 (we'd been dropped off at around 10:45). We were the only passengers on the boat this time, and had a relatively speedy trip back (a little under two hours, including time looking at puffins). This ended up being the only paid/guided tour we did, which suited us.

Tuesday we drove out to the Exit Glacier parking area, having read some reviews about the Harding Icefield Trail that made us decide to try to tackle it. We set off at a fast pace and overtook a lot of people at the bridge. Usually we end up finishing hikes in ˝ to 2/3 of the time suggested by guidebooks, and figured we’d be on this hike for 5 or maybe 6 hours. Once we past the bridge, we were on our own mostly for quite a while. Gorgeous views, very glad we did the hike up to there. We got to the icefield and it caught us by surprise as it was 75F and sunny. The snow was melting on the top, so very slippery and wet, and somewhat steep. Was really glad to have two trekking poles each. We decided to turn back because my husband’s knee was bothering him—I think we were probably .75 miles from the end? But at the pace on the snow that would have taken us best part of another hour to get there. I don’t regret turning around, the views were stunning where we were. I’m sure they got better, but was satisfied with what we did. We were out for about 6 hours altogether. We enjoyed a campfire at our cabin when we got back and did s’mores as a reward for a nice hike.

Wednesday we were pretty exhausted from the long hike the day before and kayaking on Monday. We were staying back at the Alyeska Hostel, and decided to drive into Anchorage to see the bore tide and try to hike flattop mountain. Unfortunately, as it was a gorgeous day, so did everyone else in Anchorage. We couldn’t find a parking spot and ended up leaving. Did see the bore tide at Beluga Point (at least we think we did), but can’t say it was worth the effort. The hostel was a bit cleaner on this stay, but still a bit gross.

Thursday we got up and returned the car and checked in. Our flight schedule had changed since it was originally booked, so we ended up doing ANC-PDX and PDX-SEA. Didn’t really need the hassle of the extra leg, but had to get there somehow. Wasn’t dazzled by Alaska Airlines in terms of flights on either leg, but considering the normal cost and the fact that we booked on AA miles, couldn’t really complain.

Overall a great trip and many great memories and photos to look back on.
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Old Aug 20, 12, 9:20 am
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Thanks for the great report. Just a note that Matanuska Glacier itsrlf is not privately owned but you have to cross private land to access it thus the fee.
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Old Aug 20, 12, 9:25 pm
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And I'll add that I took the 3-hr tour with MICA Guides on the Matanuska Glacier and it was way worth it. We went places that would have been impossible to get to without crampons, including an ice version of Antelope Canyon (a narrow passage about 3 feet across with 15 ft. walls on either side), an ice bridge, into the collapsing leading edge of the ice fall, etc., with a very knowledgeable (geology, biology, etc) guide.

Great to hear you had an enjoyable trip. We just wrapped Denali and are on our way to Seward to trace many of your steps.
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Old Aug 21, 12, 2:35 am
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Thanks for the clarification about the ownership, fti. Slightly bizarre setup, but cool in the end.

CPRich, I'm glad you enjoyed your MICA tour-- they sound like they do an amazing job, and if we'd been up for a guided tour that day we definitely would have gone with them. We were both feeling a bit under the weather and so just a short wander around the ice suited us, but I can imagine it would have gotten even cooler if you get to the places with guides.

Similarly, with Exit Glacier, what we did was great and perfect for us, but we could see (only with binoculars!) people doing the ice climbing with the Exit Glacier Guides waaaaaaay down below, which looked fun and amazing in a totally different way. Nice that there are so many good tour companies around the area.
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