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alaska trip with kids-planning help

alaska trip with kids-planning help

Old Nov 6, 13, 11:00 pm
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alaska trip with kids-planning help

very excited about our trip next summer to alaska-was looking for help on planning an interesting itinerary for family with 3 young kids(11,9,5)
arriving 8th aug 4pm leaving 15th aug 11.50pm

was thinking of going to denali for a few days and then seward-can anything advise some kind of an itinerary and anything interesting for kids-or somewhere else to vist /events on?
thanks
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Old Nov 7, 13, 10:57 am
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For a 7-day itinerary, most people do what you mentioned - Seward and Denali. The one thing with Denali is that it is not the most kid-friendly place. You can't drive your own car more than 15 miles into the park (the road goes 92 miles). Only you know your own kids, but I would definitely be sure to take plenty to keep them entertained, especially the youngest one - lots of snacks, toys, triple the batteries you think you will need, etc.

How about something like this:

Aug 8 arrive Anchorage, pick up rental car, overnight in Anchorage

Aug 9 shop for groceries for Denali, drive to Talkeetna for lunch, strolling the funky town, maybe playing in the park, continue to Denali NP. Stop at the visitor center today to pick up junior ranger backpacks for the kids. Pick up your shuttle bus tickets for the next day.

Aug 10 shuttle bus trip into Denali NP. I would probably book the shuttle bus to Eielson Visitor Center (note this is different and MUCH cheaper than a "tour" bus). It is an 8 hour round trip ride, but the bus stops every 90 minutes for rest stops and stops often for wildlife sightings. The time goes by quickly. If one of the kids needs a break, you can get off the bus anywhere along the route (so long as no wildlife has been spotted within 1/2 mile) and either walk on the road, hike off-road or just have a picnic lunch, then hop on any other bus with available seats.

Aug 11 drive to Girdwood (about 6 hours). Two nights in Girdwood. Stop between Anchorage and Girdwood at scenic pullouts and also at Potter Marsh (boardwalk and a good chance to see wildlife). I would spend two nights here.

Aug 12 Lots to see/do in this area. I would think about gold panning (Indian Valley or Crow Creek Mine), the Winner Creek trail and the unique hand tram (shorter to access the hand tram from the Crow Creek side of the trail), the Wildlife Conservation Center, Byron Glacier, the Portage Glacier 1 hour cruise, the Begich Boggs Visitor Center and more. Many of the activities in this area are very kid-friendly and inexpensive or free.

Aug 13 fairly early drive to Seward. You can take a Resurrection Bay tour (I think they start about noon and last 4 hours) or a longer Kenai Fjords tour (start at 11.30am and last 6 hours). The longer tour gets to see more marine wildlife and gets close to a glacier. But the longer tour goes into the open ocean for a while, so seasickness can often be an issue. Plus, with young kids if one acts up, there is no "escape." You are on the boat for 4 or 6 hours regardless.

Aug 14 spend time at the Sealife Center and at Exit Glacier, then depart late afternoon for the 3+ hour drive to Anchorage. I would plan on getting to the airport by 10pm for an 11.50pm departure. You can speed the process up if you are able to check in at first class and go through the preferred security line. Otherwise, you really need the full two hours to check in, go through security and get to your gate.

Normally I would suggest two nights in Seward. But the Portage Valley/Turnagain Arm area (that surrounds Girdwood) is so much more kid-friendly than Seward that I think you would be better off spending 2 nights in Girdwood and 1 in Seward rather than the opposite.

Look into both on-airport and off-airport car rentals. If you get an SUV on-airport for your time, you are looking at +-$600-$625 for the time. If you get a similar SUV off-airport, you are looking at +-$400-$450. It is a $15 and 15 minute taxi ride from the airport to at least a couple of off-airport locations.

Book your car rental ASAP and keep checking for price crops. There was an incredible deal on car rentals if booked early last month for rentals through the end of next summer. Budget had on-airport pick up for under $100/week plus taxes for a full-size car for example. So be alert to price drops. It happens fairly often in Alaska.
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Old Nov 7, 13, 1:42 pm
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Originally Posted by fti View Post
For a 7-day itinerary, most people do what you mentioned - Seward and Denali. The one thing with Denali is that it is not the most kid-friendly place. You can't drive your own car more than 15 miles into the park (the road goes 92 miles). Only you know your own kids, but I would definitely be sure to take plenty to keep them entertained, especially the youngest one - lots of snacks, toys, triple the batteries you think you will need, etc.
Having taken our son into Denali at age 6, I really want to emphasize the bits in bold above. Sitting on a shuttle bus was torture for him after around an hour, with many more to come. While you certainly can see wildlife from the bus, it's not always very close (often way, way out there) and not enough to keep little kids amused. Indeed, you know your own children, but I'd be pretty careful before committing them to an all-day bus ride.

As an off-the-wall alternative idea, it sounds like you're not a North America resident. (Did I see a thread where you said you live in Japan?) If so, do your kids enjoy seeing new cultures?

Just as a "what if," what if you visited an Eskimo village in the arctic instead of Denali? There are daily flights from Anchorage to Kotzebue and Barrow, both fascinating native villages above the arctic circle. You could fly up, let the kids put a toe in the Arctic Ocean, visit exhibitions that talk about Eskimo lifestyles, see the "midnight sun" (you won't be there in time for 24h sun, but it won't get dark at all) and there are quite a few things to do that might interest your kids.

In terms of cost, obviously it will increase your airfare costs, but you might be surprised at how affordable the hotel is in, say, Kotzebue compared to hotel costs around Denali, and of course you wouldn't need a rental car for the two or three days you'd be in the north.

Combined with several days in Seward or on the Kenai Peninsula - Kenai Fjords, glaciers, whales, etc. - it would be an interesting cross-section of Alaska. Roads, no roads, trees, mountains, and tundra; people with unique cultures, languages, history. Might be fun and educational for the kids, and their parents too.

Just a thought.
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Old Nov 7, 13, 4:48 pm
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many thanks to the both of you for your kind and informative replies.

i was wondering whether to leave off denali altogether as it might be too much for the kids-including drive up etc-but is it really something that everyone should see?
regarding barrow-it seems a bit expensive for 5 people but thanks for the tip-if there is an inexpensive way to get there with miles we may try it!
is there anything at all to do round anchorage?
do you know of any events going on in aug which might be good for kids?
i saw there is a blueberry festival and a 10k run etc..

car hire tip is very good-i was shocked at how expensive the rentals seem already!
sorry for all the questions...
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Old Nov 7, 13, 7:15 pm
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Originally Posted by bryanwallace View Post
many thanks to the both of you for your kind and informative replies.

i was wondering whether to leave off denali altogether as it might be too much for the kids-including drive up etc-but is it really something that everyone should see?
regarding barrow-it seems a bit expensive for 5 people but thanks for the tip-if there is an inexpensive way to get there with miles we may try it!
There is if you have Alaska miles, 15,000 per person round trip intra-state. You could also use Delta or American miles, but no Star Alliance carrier flies intra-state.

Alaska has a sale on purchased miles at the moment - 35% bonus miles. If you bought 35,000 miles and get 12,250 as a bonus, the cost is around $950, so 3 pax at around $320 each. Then someone else (spouse? kid?) buys miles for the other two.

Note Kotzebue is much cheaper for purchased air tickets than Barrow ($370 RT vs. $700+,) and IMO it's probably a better experience - right on the water, and the hotel (2 rooms?) will probably end up costing enough less than the comparable nights in Denali that it will, along with the car savings, neutralize the upcharge in plane fare.

As for Denali, it's awesome and the park is great. However I do question its appropriateness for kids. The drive, IMO, is boring and not especially scenic except in a couple of places. It's all about trade-offs in terms of time/money.

One thing you might consider instead is a flightseeing trip - have the kids been up in a light plane? It's a fantastic experience, and I am of the firm opinion that everybody should get up in the air while in Alaska. Now that is a not-to-be-missed experience. www.flyrusts.com
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Old Nov 7, 13, 8:03 pm
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thanks again..
i thought an other air flight might be too expensive but seems quite cheap to use as with avios..
are any of these interesting nome,prudhoe bay,kotzubue etc..(anywhere else that as goes)and suitable for kids? barrow seems to go into the next range of avios(over 645miles from anc )so was going to count it out..
this could be interesting!!!

another question:is fairbanks worth visiting?

Last edited by bryanwallace; Nov 7, 13 at 8:19 pm
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Old Nov 7, 13, 8:37 pm
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Originally Posted by bryanwallace View Post
thanks again..
i thought an other air flight might be too expensive but seems quite cheap to use as with avios..
are any of these interesting nome,prudhoe bay,kotzubue etc..(anywhere else that as goes)and suitable for kids? barrow seems to go into the next range of avios(over 645miles from anc )so was going to count it out..
this could be interesting!!!
Oh, you're using Avios? Great, Alaska is a partner, and the redemptions ought to be cheap.

Actually, AS flies ANC-OTZ-OME-ANC, so (not sure if you can do an enroute stopover using Adios) combining Nome and Kotzebue is very easy, flight-wise (40 min. apart.)

The two towns are very different - Kotzebue a major Eskimo center (Inupiat) with a lot of cultural activities, Nome a very historic gold rush town (1899) with plenty of artifacts from that era, plus one can hire a car and drive out into the bush on the Seward Peninsula - real wilderness, muskox... fab. Nome is where the Iditarod sled dog race ends every year. It's on the Bering Sea rather than the Arctic Ocean. http://www.visitnomealaska.com/thing...o-in-nome.html

Together they would make for a terrific experience for your families - history, culture, lots of fun activities, the midnight sun, pan for gold... great.
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Old Nov 18, 13, 6:52 pm
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Alaska last summer with kids 13 and 8:

Fly in, stay the night in Anchorage

- early rise, hike up Flat Top trail for a view of the area
- Alaska Native Heritage Center
- Anchorage Museum

Night in Anchorage

- Matanuska Glacier Ice Fall Trek - kids loved it
- Palmer - Reindeer Farm
- Palmer - Musk Ox Tour

Night in Anchorage

- Drive to Talkeetna
- Talkeetna Air Taxi with Glacier Landing - get the Northern Lights book for a discount
- Hang around town - small museum, great shops/eating
- Drive to Denali

Night in a cabin outside the park - we stayed at Carlo Creek in one of their large cabins

- Denali Shuttle Bus - you can hop on/hop off so we did hking in several places to break up the ride. No problems with the kids.

Night in the cabin again

- Wasilla - Iditarod HQ - worth a short stop
- (I'm thinking we did something else this day, but nothing in my planning notes)

Anchorage for a night

- Drive down Turnagain Arm with several sightseeing stops
- Hike up to Portage Pass - hard to find, but worth the hike
- Whittier - 26 Glacier Tour
- drive to Seward

Stayed at Havenwood Guest House - very nice

-1/2 day Kayak in Resurection Bay with Kayak Adventures Worldwide - dozens of bald eagles, seals, otters, etc. Great fun even if we did get caught out by shifting winds and had to be rescued by boat.

Stay in Seward

- Seavy IdidaRide - see the dogs, get a ride on a land-based sled (ours was with Conway, the winner of that year's Jr. Iditarod - very nice young man)
- Hike Exit Glacier
- Alaska Sea Life Center

Stay in Seward

- Portage Glacier Visitor Center and Cruise
- Hike Byron Glacier Trail
- Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
- Up Alyeska Tram

Night flight out


If you need to cut two days out of this, I would also suggest Denali. As you can see it's most of a day up there and most of a day back. Only go as far north as Talkeetna, and then down to Seward.

Be sure to go to Moose's Tooth for pizza.

Last edited by CPRich; Nov 19, 13 at 2:35 am
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Old Nov 25, 13, 2:44 am
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Originally Posted by bryanwallace View Post
thanks again..
i thought an other air flight might be too expensive but seems quite cheap to use as with avios..
are any of these interesting nome,prudhoe bay,kotzubue etc..(anywhere else that as goes)and suitable for kids? barrow seems to go into the next range of avios(over 645miles from anc )so was going to count it out..
this could be interesting!!!

another question:is fairbanks worth visiting?
I'm really impressed with the basic ideas that Gardyloo has suggested. I talk about this often, but I'll say it in a different way... :-)

Anchorage is a beautiful place. It is only an airplane ride away from Alaska too! Fairbanks is 360 miles or so up the road, which means the airplane ride will be shorter and less costly...

Seriously though, it is somewhat of a shame to see people spend so much money to come to Alaska and then drive the highway system looking at the part of Alaska that is virtually not really much different than what can be seen in a typical 700-800 mile loop anywhere in the Lower-48. An airplane ride gets you to something that simply doesn't exist in the Lower-48. Bethel, Kotzebue and Barrow are unique to Alaska. Almost the same is true of Nome or Dillingham.

Personally I would most recommend a 4 or 5 day trip to Barrow! Alaska is an adventurous place, and there is nothing that tops Barrow for adventure (Unalaska might be its equal though). The only problem, and this is true of Bethel and Kotzebue as well, is that there virtually is no tourist industry as such. There are no real guides. There are no signs either! You can't get off the plane and expect to look around and quickly determine how to spend the next day or two. It takes research before hand, and some (probably very pleasant) effort once you've arrived. But people who do that get a real treat.

Typically a little walking about and talking to whoever they happen to meet works well. Some of us literally watch for folks that look "lost" and latch onto them. One very good way to get things going is to eat lunch or dinner in almost any of the restaurants in Barrow, and strike up a conversation with locals. I would most recommend Sam & Lee's. Just ask Mr or Mrs Kim, the folks who own it, and they will find someone to explain Barrow.

At it's core Barrow is an Inupiat whaling village. The value systems, the politics, the schools, the stores, and virtually every aspect of life here is based on Inupiat Eskimo culture. But there are a large number of Filipino, Korean, Thai, Samoan, Tongan, Mexican and American people here, plus a smattering of several others. It is a very international place too. On any given day it is impossible to operate here without interacting with at least 4 or 5 different cultures and languages. For example, at Sam & Lee's the staff speaks Korean and English of course, but French, Thai, Laotian, Malaysian, Spanish, and Mandarin are also heard every day in the kitchen!

A bit of pre-planning can go a long ways in terms of picking exactly the right time to visit. Barrow is one thing in the summer, and something very different in the winter. Matching up local events and things of interest to travel dates is important. You won't see ice in the ocean in September, or the sun in December. Seeing an Eskimo Dance in the summer is easy, but it's put on for tourists and not particularly good. Catching Nalukataq in late June means seeing a blanket toss and an Eskimo dance that is meant for local entertainment, and it's the "real thing". And you can try a variety of whale meat too!

We have a Spring Carnival the first week of April, Arctic Games on July 4th weekend, and Arctic Christmas Games the entire week from Christmas to New Years. Plus Nalukataq in late June and some years there is Kivgiq (Messenger Feast) in February. Spring whaling is in late April and early May, while the fall hunt is much more accessable for a tourist and happens in late September and early October.

The significance is that whether it is Barrow or any other village, once you get away from the road system, it's unique Alaska.


Last edited by apaflo; Nov 26, 13 at 10:23 am
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Old Nov 26, 13, 1:55 pm
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I've been to 46 of the lower 49 and don't know where I could go glacier hiking, flying around the tallest North American mountain and landing on a glacier, riding a summer dogsled with an Ididarod winner, and ocean kayaking among whales, bald eagles, and various other critters within a 7-800 mile loop.

I'm sure Barrow and others are a very different experience, but I just don't see those as an enjoyable week-long vacation with 5-11 year old kids. Perhaps an adventurous adult that has been most "normal" places and is looking for a unique cultural experience. But not a 5 yr old, for a week. YMMV, I suppose.
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Old Nov 26, 13, 2:09 pm
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If your kids are dog fans, I highly (and I mean highly) recommend a little side trip to the Denali Park Kennels (free!). Most folks don't realize that the Park is still patrolled by dog sled in the winter (a combination of nostalgia and the fact that dog sleds are more reliable than snowmachines in those conditions) and maintains a large kennel year-round. The dogs are chosen based on friendliness and athletic ability, and love to have visitors. You can walk right up to the dogs and love on them, and a couple times a day, the rangers will put on a demo and kids can ride the sled (on a gravel track) behind some dogs. It's really a neat experience for the dog lover-- expect to leave covered in dog kisses/spit.

Also, if you go at the end of August, you can take the kids to the Alaska State Fair in Palmer-- very kid friendly (lots of critters, some rides, arts and crafts) and a really mind blowing display of giant vegetables (40 kg cabbage!). The summer is short, but ~20 hours of daylight/day is evidently very conducive to growing world record veggies. There are typically some decent musical acts as well if your kids are in to that sort of thing.
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Old Nov 26, 13, 4:25 pm
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Originally Posted by CPRich View Post
I've been to 46 of the lower 49 [...]
Hawaiians might use "lower-49", but in Alaska Lower-48 refers to the fact that we were the 49th state admitted to the Union. It isn't a geographic distinction, though admittedly we pretty commonly adjust it a little by using "Lesser-48" in reference to size or quality. :-)

and don't know where I could go glacier hiking, flying around the tallest North American mountain and landing on a glacier, riding a summer dogsled with an Ididarod winner, and ocean kayaking among whales, bald eagles, and various other critters within a 7-800 mile loop.
All of that is available in the Lower-48 with the exception of the highest mountain. Of course you can substitute the biggest canyon, Yosemite and any number of things from the Lower-48 that are not in Alaska.

The point is that driving a road, and exploring the culture of a road community, is just not what Alaska is all about, compared to the Lower-48 where that is exactly what it is about.

I'm sure Barrow and others are a very different experience, but I just don't see those as an enjoyable week-long vacation with 5-11 year old kids. Perhaps an adventurous adult that has been most "normal" places and is looking for a unique cultural experience. But not a 5 yr old, for a week. YMMV, I suppose.
In fact though, a week long vacation driving with a 5 year old is not a great idea. Keeping a child that age entertained while traveling between distant sites of interest becomes a major chore. Compare that to visiting a place where the greatest distance between things of interest might be 10 miles, and usually is far less than half that. And further everything between any two places you go is "different" than what they've ever seen before.

Ever drive around and see caribou skins hanging here and there to dry, at every 4th or 5th house? And there are places where various kinds of meat are also visible. And odd boats, snowmachine and ATV's. And a museum where a 5 year old can touch a stuffed polar bear, a stuffed wolf, a stuffed muskok. Or look at the scariest mask, the spookiest carving, or the nicest too! Things like an Eskimo dance are not just complex art that a child won't be interested in, and instead will provide a photo op where your child gets involved!

It's a wonderful place for children of all ages. I've watched as 12 year olds took a dive into the Arctic Ocean, as 9 year old visitors explored the beach, or learned how to drive an ATV. It's hard to get a visiting kid cranky from boredom here!

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Old Dec 2, 13, 9:04 am
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Originally Posted by CPRich View Post
I've been to 46 of the lower 49 and don't know where I could go glacier hiking, flying around the tallest North American mountain and landing on a glacier, riding a summer dogsled with an Ididarod winner, and ocean kayaking among whales, bald eagles, and various other critters within a 7-800 mile loop.

I'm sure Barrow and others are a very different experience, but I just don't see those as an enjoyable week-long vacation with 5-11 year old kids. Perhaps an adventurous adult that has been most "normal" places and is looking for a unique cultural experience. But not a 5 yr old, for a week. YMMV, I suppose.
I have to agree with you. Actually, Alaska is not a great place for 5 year old kids in general, but that is for a different discussion.

Yes, you can see most of the features you see in Alaska in the lower 48, but not in such a concentrated area like you can in Alaska. And certainly not in the abundance. I just returned from Haines, AK where there are up to 3,500 eagles in the Bald Eagle Preserve. Yes, you can see eagles in Wabasha, MN in a similar setting, but it is NOTHING like seeing them in the quantity near Haines, not to mention the fishing and flying habits they have near Haines. Similar differences to similar experiences can be said of other activities too.

I guess you just have to take all recommendations with a grain of salt and realize where they are coming from. People who live/have lived off the road system have a natural bias that it is the "better" or "best" way.
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Old Dec 10, 13, 2:27 pm
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thanks for all these tips -i like the look of the week itineraries suggested and will prob go with this-am just wondering whether denali is really worth it or not?
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Old Dec 10, 13, 4:44 pm
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Originally Posted by apaflo View Post
Yes, you can see most of the features you see in Alaska in the lower 48 with the exception of the highest mountain.
I'm curious where I can hike a glacier, ride with an Ididarod winner, go ocean kayaking with whales and bald eagles within a driving distance miles in the Lower-48. I must have missed it.

Originally Posted by apaflo View Post
In fact though, a week long vacation driving with a 5 year old is not a great idea.
Been there, done that, I guess we can disagree as to whether this is a "fact".

Driving around looking at skins, meat, boats, snowmachines and ATVs isn't something that would keep my kids very interested, as I know them. Though the stuffed animals at the Anchorage museum and dancing at the Native Heritage Center did indeed interest them. We obviously have different experiences and expectations taking kids on vacation.

Originally Posted by bryanwallace View Post
thanks for all these tips -i like the look of the week itineraries suggested and will prob go with this-am just wondering whether denali is really worth it or not?
While we enjoyed both trips to Denali, I would have to say that it would be what would drop off our itinerary if we had to drop two days. There's a decent chance of bad weather (we cancelled one all-day bus trip), and if you only have one day, that's a long way to go for a 50-50 chance.
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