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Anchorage visit - recommendations?

Anchorage visit - recommendations?

Old Apr 19, 15, 9:49 am
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Anchorage visit - recommendations?

I am working on a surprise anniversary trip.

We will most likely be on a cruise that will finish in Whittier on August 26th.

We have never visited Anchorage so I am looking for recommendation on whether I should extend our stay for a few days vs just flying out.

Would appreciate any recommendations... like touristy things... but would not be active adventures!
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Old Apr 20, 15, 5:20 pm
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Originally Posted by wharvey View Post
I am working on a surprise anniversary trip.

We will most likely be on a cruise that will finish in Whittier on August 26th.

We have never visited Anchorage so I am looking for recommendation on whether I should extend our stay for a few days vs just flying out.

Would appreciate any recommendations... like touristy things... but would not be active adventures!
Well of course you should extend your time if you can.

Depending on how many additional days you can manage, there are umpteen things worth doing, both in Anchorage and farther afield.

For example, by late August autumn is definitely on the way in Denali National Park (around 5 hours by car from Anchorage.) The colors on the tundra, fresh snow on the higher mountains, no mosquitoes... terrific.

Or ride the gondola up to the Seven Glaciers restaurant on top of the mountain at the Alyeska resort in Girdwood (just up the road from the Whittier tunnel entrance.)

Or head down to Seward and go on a Kenai Fjords cruise - glaciers, whales... Or while you're there, go fishing for some of the late silver salmon that crowd Resurrection Bay.

In Anchorage, visit the Native Heritage center, or shop for wonderful native crafts at the Alaska Native Medical Center gift shop. Or head up the road to Eklutna, a native village with a fascinating graveyard full of painted "spirit houses." Stop at Mirror Lake, especially if it's an early fall and the leaves have started to turn.

Or hop on a floatplane at Rust's and go watch bears, or fly up to Denali (if you don't want to drive) for a never-forget experience (even for us jaded flyers, approaching Denali in a light plane will leave you gobsmacked.)

Or for a terrific off-the-path experience, use some Alaska or AA miles if you have any for an overnight visit to Kotzebue, an Inupiat Eskimo village on the Arctic Ocean above the arctic circle. In late August/early September things will really be hopping as folks finish up summer fish camps and start getting ready for winter. The main hotel in Kotz is very comfortable, doesn't cost a lot more (if at all) than Anchorage hotels, and you won't need a rental car.

Or (same plane) stop in Nome, the historic gold rush town on the Bering Sea. If you're really feeling adventurous, rent a car and drive out across the Seward Peninsula to Teller, probably passing muskoxen and maybe some bears in the process.

No shortage of options.
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Old Apr 22, 15, 8:07 am
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Thanks for the info.

Looks like we will arrive in Whittier on August 26th.... and will make our way to Anchorage.

Our flight will leave on August 29th.... so just a few days in Anchorage.
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Old Apr 22, 15, 8:48 am
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Originally Posted by wharvey View Post
Thanks for the info.

Looks like we will arrive in Whittier on August 26th.... and will make our way to Anchorage.

Our flight will leave on August 29th.... so just a few days in Anchorage.
Okay,

August 26 - rent a car in Whittier (Avis is the only game) and drive to Seward (around 90 min.). Maybe stop at Exit Glacier on your way.

August 27 - do a Kenai Fjords day cruise, drive to Anchorage in the evening (around 2 1/2 hours) or just back to Girdwood (1:45) and stay at Alyeska.

August 28 - flightseeing trip to Denali park.

August 29 - Native Heritage center or hospital craft shop, then fly.
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Old Apr 22, 15, 9:01 am
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Thanks... not sure I want to do another cruise after doing a seven day one.... but will look at it!

Appreciate all the advice.
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Old Apr 22, 15, 9:40 am
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I would definitely stop at Exit Glacier in Seward.

Once in Anchorage, drive a little ways north and hike the Thunderbird Falls trail and drive up to Eklutna Lake (better than Mirror Lake, IMO) and rent a kayak.

Denali is a must but don't get your hopes up on seeing the actual mountain. Weather conditions have to be right. On a clear and sunny day in Anchorage, stop by the Sheraton Hotel and ask for access to the Summit room on the top floor for some killer views of Mt McKinley and Mt. Foraker. You can also see them from the concierge lounge at the Marriott downtown.
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Old Apr 23, 15, 3:31 pm
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The 6 hour or longer Kenai Fjords boat tours from Seward get you out of the bay. You get much closer to glacier and marine wildlife than you will ever get on your cruise ship. You spend about 20 minutes at a glacier but the highlight of these cruises is the marine wildlife. They are definitely well worth it.

Note that a one-way car rental with Avis will not be cheap, but it lets you use your time much more wisely than paying to get to Anchorage to possibly rent one a bit cheaper. Figure +- $600 for a 3-day one-way car rental. If you made your way to Anchorage and rented from there, you would pay about $250 + the cost to get to Anchorage.
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Old Jun 11, 15, 7:32 am
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OK... rental car prices are killing me.

Is there a way to get to Denali from Whittier by train? Any tour group? Perhaps we just head that way after we dock on the 26th?

Our flight leaves ANC around 7 pm on August 29th.
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Old Jun 11, 15, 9:36 am
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Originally Posted by wharvey View Post
OK... rental car prices are killing me.

Is there a way to get to Denali from Whittier by train? Any tour group? Perhaps we just head that way after we dock on the 26th?

Our flight leaves ANC around 7 pm on August 29th.
The train to Denali leaves Anchorage at 8 in the morning and takes 8 hours. You need a full day to see anything of the park, so counting the train ride back, you'd have to leave on the morning of the 27th and come back on the 28th, as returning on the 29th would make you miss your plane. Besides which, it's pretty unlikely you'd be able to find lodgings that are remotely affordable close to the park. So in my opinion, Denali is simply out.

Without knowing what deals and arrangements the cruise lines might offer, you can ride a bus from Whittier the morning your cruise ends for around $70 per person (maybe cheaper if you take the cruiseline's transfer) and rent a car when you get to Anchorage. 3 days rental at ANC will run around $350, so you're looking at ca. $500 for bus+car for 2 pax.

Or there's a train that will take you to Anchorage in the evening that's ca. $10 more per person (again, maybe different using cruise transfers) but would save a day's car rental, so maybe ca. $350 all in for that option. Spending the day in Whittier would allow you to take a glacier cruise as mentioned above.
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Old Jun 12, 15, 5:46 pm
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As you may have noticed from everyone's comments, the best stuff is outside of Anchorage. Don't worry about getting to see "Anchorage." The only interesting street is Fourth Avenue downtown, and it is full of tourist T-shirt stores. There are some good restaurants and coffee shops, but you really shouldn't worry about trying to spend time in town.

Also, Talkeetna has one of the best views of Denali on a clear day. Go to the end of main street, park, and keep walking out to the riverfront. It is breathtaking.
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Old Jun 16, 15, 9:13 am
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OK.... this is getting to be a pain! An agent came back and had us leaving Anchorage on a train before we could possibly get there from Whittier! Guess I have to rely on the folks here!

OK.... questions:

1. Assuming I can get us to Anchorage on the 26th.... where would you suggest staying for one night? Or just we get to Anchorage, get a car.... and start driving towards Denali (really would like to spend our few days there if possible!).

2. Anyone know of any tours that we could get if we drive to Denali? Nothing strenuous as my bad back/knee would not be able to handle it.

Was thinking we could get a rental car in Anchorage (or should we just bite the bullet and get the car in Whittier? Is the drive worth the cost?) and head towards Denali... anything to see on the way?

Or am I just crazy trying to get to Denali?
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Old Jun 16, 15, 12:14 pm
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Here's how Denali works. You get there somehow - rental car, train, tour bus. You then board either a shuttle bus or a tour bus (different prices and amenities) which will take you into the park's interior. Private vehicles are not allowed into the park past around 15 miles. To see the mountain (which is visible maybe 50% of the time, maybe a little more, always a crapshoot) you need to go farther in, preferably to the Eielson visitor center, at mile 66 on the park road, roughly a four hour bus ride. You'll probably see some animals from the bus - maybe close, maybe not. The shuttles and tour buses require reservations for a departure time; the shuttles are hop-on-hop-off after that.

So the math works out like this - four hours from Anchorage to Denali, more if you stop for nature or food. Then call it an hour to wait for your turn on the bus - if there are openings to be had - then four hours to Eielson. Then four hours back.

So, bottom line, you really need a full day within the park to do it justice, plus two half-days, or at least one, to get there and back from Anchorage.

That doesn't even address the accommodation question. There are a cluster of hotels and faux log cabin souvenir shops and cafes around the park entrance ("Glitter Gulch") which are usually chock full of cruisetour and guided tour people. They are expensive and usually booked solid. Otherwise, there are lodgings in Healy and some B&Bs around, but these will also entail additional driving, to and from the park and to and from Anchorage.

So you can do the math. I'm maybe in a minority, but if I had such a short time in Alaska, I'd think twice before committing to a long and expensive road trip when the odds of actually seeing the mountain are not terrific. The benefit/cost calculus wouldn't work for me.

That's why I tend to recommend "sure things," or at least "pretty sure things" for visitors in a time crunch.

"Sure things" include a glacier cruise out of Whittier, or a longer Kenai Fjords cruise out of Seward. You'll get glaciers (up close, not cruise-ship distances) in both, wildlife in both (much more in the Fjords) and gorgeous scenery, guaranteed.

And I recommend getting off the deck at least once. You cannot appreciate the scale of the place until you're in the air.

As you now know, rental car costs are extreme during the summer. So what if you skipped a couple of days car cost that Denali would require and allocated those savings (as well as probable hotel savings Denali v. Anchorage) to a flightseeing trip out of Anchorage?

If Denali is visible (which you'll be able to tell before takeoff) then approaching it in a light plane is something that will rewire the part of your brain that measures things. It may cost four hundred bucks per person, but (I think) it's well worth it.

But the thing is, if Denali isn't visible, there are other flightseeing options that will be - overflying some glaciers or icefields, for example, or into the Chugach Mountains or out over Cook Inlet and down toward volcano country... Or landing on some lake where it's just you and the moose and the loons. That's the real deal, something the tour bus people don't see.

So my vote would be to take Denali by land off the table and focus on some activity that's more of a sure thing. But I'm only one vote.
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Old Jun 16, 15, 1:15 pm
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Originally Posted by wharvey View Post
OK.... this is getting to be a pain! An agent came back and had us leaving Anchorage on a train before we could possibly get there from Whittier! Guess I have to rely on the folks here!

OK.... questions:

1. Assuming I can get us to Anchorage on the 26th.... where would you suggest staying for one night? Or just we get to Anchorage, get a car.... and start driving towards Denali (really would like to spend our few days there if possible!).

2. Anyone know of any tours that we could get if we drive to Denali? Nothing strenuous as my bad back/knee would not be able to handle it.

Was thinking we could get a rental car in Anchorage (or should we just bite the bullet and get the car in Whittier? Is the drive worth the cost?) and head towards Denali... anything to see on the way?

Or am I just crazy trying to get to Denali?
Contrary to what Gardyloo wrote above, it is impossible to get from Anchorage to Denali in 4 hours. It is 240 miles and that means an AVERAGE of 60 mph. The max speed limit is 65 and in many places it is 35-45mph. Also there is some major road construction and a pilot car about Mile 130. I would figure an absolute minimum of 5 hours from Anchorage to Denali.

You can take a transfer service from Whittier to Anchorage (Magic Bus or others). If you rented an Avis car in Whittier, a one-way, one-day rental to Anchorage costs $321 before using any discount codes. But if you take an early transfer you can get to Anchorage easily by noon.

Then on the 26th pick up a car rental in Anchorage. I see a compact with Alamo with airport pick up for $211 for 3 days including all mandatory taxes/fees. Intermediate is about $30 more. These are without any discount codes. If you returned it later on 29th Aug than you picked it up on 26th, figure 4 days and the rate goes to $281 for a compact with Alamo for 4 days.

Denali NP is not all about the mountain. Scenery even without the mountain being visible, wildlife sightings and hiking are excellent. You can arrive by evening of Aug 26th, spend two full days in the park (Aug 27/28) then make your way back down to Anchorage on 29th. Fall colors should be at their peak in Denali at that time.

On the 29th you will have plenty of time to make stops/detours from Denali to Anchorage. Talkeetna or Matanuska Glacier (glacier hiking) or one of a myriad of other things. You could even do a flightseeing trip from Talkeetna over Denali NP on the way back if you want.

With the time frame you have, it is extremely easy and not rushed to head to Denali. Also, in your case I would definitely opt for the shuttle bus not the tour bus. Way cheaper, more flexible, not always 100% filled like the tour buses. Seat 2A drives one of the shuttle buses and you might be able to get on one of his buses. He gives excellent commentary and his passion for the park shows on his trips.

Even if you skip Denali, you really will probably need a rental car anyway. So that cost is fixed no matter what you do. If you head to Seward (also a great idea) it means a logistical backflip to get from Whittier to Seward, heading via Anchorage for a car rental or a taxi from Whittier to Seward (very expensive) or perhaps a bus if it is operating that day. Then getting back from Seward to Anchorage won't be cheap on the bus, train or a one-way car rental with Hertz. So you will have transportation costs no matter which option you choose. I would venture to guess the car rental used to get to Denali would be cheaper than trying to get from Whittier to Seward to Anchorage. But you need to crunch the numbers for yourself and also decide what is most important to you.

Last edited by fti; Jun 16, 15 at 1:25 pm
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Old Jun 16, 15, 3:24 pm
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Originally Posted by fti View Post
Contrary to what Gardyloo wrote above, it is impossible to get from Anchorage to Denali in 4 hours.
Not impossible, but you're right, not likely.

Last time I made it in four hours I was highly motivated because my not-yet-wife was having a gall bladder attack and the PA in Healy said it was either go-fast or he'd call in a medevac from Fairbanks.
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Old Jun 18, 15, 7:09 am
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OK.... here is where the plans are right now.

1. We will take a bus or train from Whittier to Anchorage. Arriving in afternoon/evening of Aug 26.

2. We will stay in Anchorage for three nights (want to use points for either IHG, Hilton or Marriott, suggestions?)

3. We will get a three day rental car in Anchorage.

4. We are going to do the McKinley Glacier Landing tour on August 27th. http://www.flyrusts.com/flightseeing...r-landing.html

5. We will then use the 28th and 29th to head out of Anchorage and explore before our flight early evening of the 29th.
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