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Alaska Trip Critique Request

Alaska Trip Critique Request

Old Aug 7, 18, 9:04 pm
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Alaska Trip Critique Request

Hi, All:

I am just starting looking into Alaska for June of next year and could use some direction to my early thinking. This is for a family of 4 from the Midwest. Here is my early itiniary…

- fly into Fairbanks. Minimal stay (the only thing that interest us here is a day trip to the arctic circle with a tour company - don't want to go do ourselves due to cell phone black outs). Probably 1 to 2 days in a hotel.
- drive to Denali and spend 2 to 3 days (hotel).
- drive to Anchorage and spend 2 to 4 days (hotel).
- take a cruise from there down to Vancouver or Seattle (preferably as short as possible - 4 night - as we are not cruise people).
- fly home from there.

We could do this in reverse order and nothing is set. We would like to see a few glaciers, do a flightseeing and bear sighting. Nothing crazy. So...
- Is this doable?
- Are we too late for next year?
- Are there 4 day cruises (I only seem to find 7 day minimum ones right now)? Or do I have to use the ferry system?

I think that's it for now. Any help would be very appreciated. Thanks to all!
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Old Aug 8, 18, 1:59 am
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Maybe I can be of partial help. Looks like you're trying to do a lot. Fairbanks in June has the really long days (sundown after 11, up around 3, never that dark). You don't get to see the aurora but you do get to see the state bird a lot (bring deet). If you hit it at solstice time there's even the celebration and famous baseball game. I dunno how much you can get out of an arctic circle tour if that rushed.

The surrounds of Denali will be very touristy and likely crowded...getting TO the park is not the same as getting IN, so it's really important to read all the info on the website and plan accordingly. The mountain tends to be out only one day in three, they don't allow cars for most of the park and there are often more people than spaces on the buses at peak times.

Anchorage has a lot of possibilities, including driving down Turnagain Arm to Portage Glacier or maybe further to Exit Glacier and Seward, etc. I can't be too helpful with the cruises, but with the Marine Highway (state ferries) you'd have to time it and allocate a good chunk of time, and just the part from Ketchikan to Bellingham is more than a day and a half. My own experience was going through the (then-) tunnel, parking at Whittier and doing an overnight RT to Valdez and Cordova that passed the calving glaciers.
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Old Aug 8, 18, 7:50 am
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Some items or suggestions for more targeted research...

1. One-way car rentals in Alaska are very, very expensive.

2, There are no 4- or 5-night cruises south (or north) between southcentral Alaska and Vancouver; they're all for seven nights. Because of federal maritime law, there are no one-way cruises out of Seattle, only Vancouver. All the Seattle sailings are round trips, and only go as far as Southeast Alaska. The state ferry is an option as the ships are all US-registered (unlike the cruise ships) and runs between Bellingham WA (90 min. north of Seattle) through the Inside Passage to Juneau, Haines and Skagway.

3. You may or may not see bears from the bus that shuttles you into the interior of Denali Park (8 hours minimum round trip to the Eielson Visitor Center.) June is early in the season at Denali. Bear-viewing flights on the Alaska Peninsula (e.g. Brooks Falls, Katmai) are generally later in the summer, and are very expensive, e.g. $700+ per person.

4. The cruises depart from either Seward or Whittier, connected to Anchorage by road and rail. No cruises or ferries depart from Anchorage.

Here's something you might look at:

Fly to Anchorage, get a car and visit Denali (minimum 3 days - one to get there, one to visit the park, one to drive back) and visit Seward for a couple of days - Kenai Fjords National Park cruise - whales, glaciers... Return to Anchorage and fly to Juneau. Spend a day or two visiting Juneau; maybe take a day trip on the ferry to one of the outlying small communities like Tenakee Springs. Then board the state ferry and take it to Bellingham - three nights. The ferry is more expensive on a per-person-per-day basis than the cruise ships and of course nowhere as comfortable, but it's a scenic ride. https://www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/ From Bellingham you can take the train or drive to Seattle, or fly out of BLI - several destinations with easy connections.

PS Welcome to FT!
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Old Aug 22, 18, 8:08 pm
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Thank you Rusty. Totally appreciated.
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Old Aug 22, 18, 8:14 pm
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Thank you Gardyloo - I appreciate it. It's weird - been around the world, but Alaska is intimidating me. Go figure.
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Old Aug 24, 18, 8:46 pm
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Originally Posted by DavidLS View Post
Hi, All:

I am just starting looking into Alaska for June of next year and could use some direction to my early thinking. This is for a family of 4 from the Midwest. Here is my early itiniary…

- fly into Fairbanks. Minimal stay (the only thing that interest us here is a day trip to the arctic circle with a tour company - don't want to go do ourselves due to cell phone black outs). Probably 1 to 2 days in a hotel.
- drive to Denali and spend 2 to 3 days (hotel).
- drive to Anchorage and spend 2 to 4 days (hotel).
- take a cruise from there down to Vancouver or Seattle (preferably as short as possible - 4 night - as we are not cruise people).
- fly home from there.

We could do this in reverse order and nothing is set. We would like to see a few glaciers, do a flightseeing and bear sighting. Nothing crazy. So...
- Is this doable?
- Are we too late for next year?
- Are there 4 day cruises (I only seem to find 7 day minimum ones right now)? Or do I have to use the ferry system?

I think that's it for now. Any help would be very appreciated. Thanks to all!
As already stated, a one-way car rental is pretty expensive. What we have done is fly into and out of Anchorage then drove a rental car on a long road trip that hit all the high spots - we devoted two weeks to the trip and had a blast.

If you really want to fly into Fairbanks you could rent a car just for your time there then take the Alaska Railroad from there to Denali - it's probably a half-day train ride. Once finished with Denali you can take the train on to Anchorage then rent another car for your time there. There is rail service daily during the summer but most likely only one train per day in each direction. It just occurred to me that with a family of 4, the extra one-way car rental fee might be cheaper than the train tickets... I would investigate and do the math...

At Denali you'll have a few choices in tours. There's the Tundra Wilderness Tour that is about 8 hours that goes 62 miles into the park. The turnaround is about 25 miles from Mt. Denali - if it's a clear day the mountain looks like it's much closer. The Kantishna Experience goes the full 92 miles into the park - about 12 hours total. There's another tour that only goes about 27 miles in that you might and might not see the mountain at all. An option I will do next time is basically a city bus type operation (they call it a Transit Bus) where you get on and off at your leisure at stops along the way - the other tours you are on a set schedule but the driver also is your guide who narrates the trip. Those transit buses make about the same stops as the scheduled tours plus it goes quite a bit further than the Tundra Wilderness tour - you can go as far in as the Eielson Visitor Center - 66 miles into the park. There is plenty of info about all this if you do some online searching.

Back to Fairbanks: I think it would be a true shame to do the Arctic Circle with a tour group. We drove from Fairbanks to Coldfoot and back in one day and it was our favorite day of our trip. The regular rental companies won't allow you to drive their cars on the Dalton Highway because there is a good chance of getting a rock in the windshield or headlights - or a dent... We rented a 2nd vehicle from Arctic Outfitters near the Fairbanks airport that's specifically equipped for a trip up the Dalton. What we had was a newish Ford Escape all-wheel-drive. It had heavy duty tires (truck looking), two spare tires, a large tool box with items you might need (we didn't) and a large first aid kit just in case (we didn't need it either...) plus a CB radio so you can call for help if needed - there are trucks regularly and the odd car or pickup. Trust me, it's not nearly as treacherous as most things you'll read make it sound. There definitely is no cellphone service and we couldn't even pickup any AM/FM radio but we felt that's what made it interesting. We were there right around June 1 and happened to get an almost perfect day - high 50s or low 60s with blue skies and white clouds. It's nicer looking up that way than we expected too. There are several places along the way with picnic tables and a few outhouses too. A few miles after crossing the Yukon river is a little restaurant called The Hotspot Cafe (it sits maybe 1/4 mile off the road but you won't miss it - there are signs) that two ladies ran - EXCELLENT burgers and sandwiches. We left Fairbanks about 8:00 AM and got back to town around midnight - though it never got "night" - it was light enough to drive without headlights. The Dalton itself is gravel most of the way but is well maintained. There are sections (sometimes MILES long) that are paved but there was no rhyme or reason to where those sections are located - it seemed random. The gravel was actually better because it is kept fairly smooth - the paved sections was smooth but there are frost heaves that you don't see until right on top of them - we almost hit our heads on the roof of the Escape more than once. The speed limit is 50 mph but on the ride back I probably drove 55-60 quite a bit. We made more stops for pictures and to just look than I can remember - the pipeline is visible much of the way and there are a few pump stations too. From the Arctic Circle sign to Coldfoot is an extra 60 miles. I think it's totally worth the extra bit of drive. There is a combo visitor center/museum there called the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center that's very nice - a great turn around with clean restrooms. You can get gas at the Yukon river and at Coldfoot - we filled up at both stops just in case. I'm anxious to do the trip again but we'll go all the way to Deadhorse at the far north end next time.

Just in general driving around Alaska, my advise is to allow at least TWICE as much time as you expect to get somewhere. It's mostly because there is so much to see and so many opportunities to stop for pictures that it takes much longer than you would think. It's only about 120 miles from Fairbanks to the Denali area but it took us a half day to make the trip. Denali to Anchorage is about 250 miles and it took us an entire day to make it - to be fair, we did make a side trip to Talkeetna (about 15 miles off the main highway) for a couple hours - a very cool town. Besides wanting to make a lot of stops (you might not feel the need) there's always the possibility of construction or wrecks that can back things up. Summer tourist season is also the only time they can work on the highways in nice weather. We were delayed about 30-45 minutes because of a wreck north of Wasilla...

I've done a couple cruises that were round trip from either Vancouver or Seattle. Most of the cruises are a minimum of 7 days, some longer. I honestly like the road trips better. Even on the cruises we enjoyed renting a car for the day so we can explore on our own - we've driven all over Sitka, Juneau and Ketchikan - the train ride at Skagway is pretty cool but if you do that make it afternoon because the mornings can be foggy or have low clouds making it hard to see. That generally burns off up in the day.

Good luck! Alaska is pretty spectacular. I'm heading there again in FEBRUARY!
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Last edited by SupercrewBear; Aug 24, 18 at 9:13 pm
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Old Sep 6, 18, 1:10 pm
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Most of the good stuff has already been said, but I’ll add one more thing...you’re trying to do way too much in a short amount of time. Alaska is Vast with a capital V. Pick a region based on your interests and go from there.

Such as...

A. Focus on Fairbanks and Denali. Fairbanks is a very underrated destination if you’re into wilderness experiences, and also has the best weather in Alaska in the summer. In addition, it’s only about two hours from the Denali National Park entrance.

B. Focus on Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula/Prince William Sound. This is more touristy than Fairbanks, as in there will be more tourist-focused activities. But, you could easily fill up a week or more just by renting a car/RV at ANC and seeing the sights.

C. Focus on southeast Alaska. The Alaska Marine Highway, while basic, is a fantastic way to see the coastal areas. You can hop from town to town and get a real slice of Alaskana that you aren’t going to get anywhere close to on a cruise ship.
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Old Sep 6, 18, 11:56 pm
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Originally Posted by Chugach View Post
Most of the good stuff has already been said, but I’ll add one more thing...you’re trying to do way too much in a short amount of time. Alaska is Vast with a capital V. Pick a region based on your interests and go from there.

Such as...

A. Focus on Fairbanks and Denali. Fairbanks is a very underrated destination if you’re into wilderness experiences, and also has the best weather in Alaska in the summer. In addition, it’s only about two hours from the Denali National Park entrance.

B. Focus on Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula/Prince William Sound. This is more touristy than Fairbanks, as in there will be more tourist-focused activities. But, you could easily fill up a week or more just by renting a car/RV at ANC and seeing the sights.

C. Focus on southeast Alaska. The Alaska Marine Highway, while basic, is a fantastic way to see the coastal areas. You can hop from town to town and get a real slice of Alaskana that you aren’t going to get anywhere close to on a cruise ship.
The rates for the AK Marine Highway look very expensive, especially if you have a car. Any routes you would recommend in SE AK? Maybe from Whittier or Portage area?
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Old Sep 8, 18, 10:16 am
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Originally Posted by philemer View Post
The rates for the AK Marine Highway look very expensive, especially if you have a car. Any routes you would recommend in SE AK? Maybe from Whittier or Portage area?
There’s no need to take a car between the towns in SE. If you need one, you can rent one in whatever town you’re in.
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Old Sep 8, 18, 12:32 pm
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Originally Posted by Chugach View Post


There’s no need to take a car between the towns in SE. If you need one, you can rent one in whatever town you’re in.
We're going to fly into ANC and then rent a car and see Denali, Girdwood, Seward (then boat trip to see Kenai coast), Soldotna/Kenai area, half day fishing & then back to ANC. This doable with 9 full days? Don't want to rush.
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Old Sep 10, 18, 11:34 am
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Originally Posted by philemer View Post
We're going to fly into ANC and then rent a car and see Denali, Girdwood, Seward (then boat trip to see Kenai coast), Soldotna/Kenai area, half day fishing & then back to ANC. This doable with 9 full days? Don't want to rush.
Doable. Why Kenai/Soldotna? If for fishing, there are closer alternatives. Big question is when?
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Old Sep 10, 18, 11:41 am
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Originally Posted by Gardyloo View Post
Doable. Why Kenai/Soldotna? If for fishing, there are closer alternatives. Big question is when?
Just finalized dates yesterday. Arriving 6/2/19 and departing 6/12/19.

I'm really open as to itinerary. Thought Kenai river might be the best for half day of King Salmon fishing. Historically it is.

What areas do you recommend for 9 full days of sightseeing and fun? No hiking.

Edit: Found this suggested 10 day itinerary: https://www.valisemag.com/10-days-al...inerary-guide/ Your thoughts?
TIA

Last edited by philemer; Sep 10, 18 at 1:46 pm
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Old Sep 11, 18, 8:42 am
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Originally Posted by philemer View Post
Just finalized dates yesterday. Arriving 6/2/19 and departing 6/12/19.

I'm really open as to itinerary. Thought Kenai river might be the best for half day of King Salmon fishing. Historically it is.

What areas do you recommend for 9 full days of sightseeing and fun? No hiking.

Edit: Found this suggested 10 day itinerary: https://www.valisemag.com/10-days-al...inerary-guide/ Your thoughts?
TIA
The early king salmon fishery in the Kenai River drainage has been miserable for years, and the ADFG may just close it altogether next year. This year they closed it after a tiny number of fish had been landed - something like 20 - between late May and early June. Combined with the long (and frankly boring) drive I'd just skip it altogether. However, there's a small King fishery in Seward; they are hatchery fish (as opposed to wild fish in the Kenai River) so that's a possibility. In June you could go fishing for halibut in Homer or Seward, and possibly some other species, including Kings, in Seward.

It's also very early in the season for Denali, and while the shuttle service to the Eielson visitor center technically begins on June 1, it's not unknown for it to be delayed, so at a minimum I'd plan to visit Denali last - give the weather and conditions time to improve.

With nine days Id head south first - down as far as Homer, possibly for some fishing or maybe a ferry across gorgeous Kachemak Bay to Seldovia or Halibut Cove. Then work your way back north to Seward for a Kenai Fjords cruise or also some fishing.

Then head back toward Anchorage, with a stop at the historic mining village of Hope and the Wildlife Conservation Center at Portage. If you haven't had your glacier sighting needs satisfied in Seward, drive through the Whittier tunnel to Whittier and do a "26 Glacier" cruise, or one of the competitors. This will take you to the face of umpteen tidewater glaciers in and around College Inlet - pretty amazing stuff. Spend the night in Girdwood.

Head north toward Denali. Spend two nights near Denali, and on the full day take the shuttle bus in as far as Eielson, and back. Then on the drive back to Anchorage, stop at the cemetery in the Native village of Eklutna right off the highway 30 miles or so north of Anchorage.

Spend your last day/night in Anchorage; visit the Native Heritage Center at a minimum. If you can, take a flightseeing trip on a float plane from Lake Hood; I'd recommend Rust's, the premier service there. Alaska Flightseeing Tours & Air Taxi Services | Rust's Flying Service

Possible timetable, overnight locations listed.

Sun 2-Jun Arr ANC
Mon 3-Jun Homer
Tue 4-Jun Homer
Wed 5-Jun Seward
Thu 6-Jun Seward
Fri 7-Jun Girdwood
Sat 8-Jun Denali
Sun 9-Jun Denali
Mon 10-Jun Anchorage
Tue 11-Jun Anchorage
Wed 12-Jun Dep ANC

You will need to book a car and also accommodation at Denali ASAP.

Map - https://goo.gl/maps/XsbgcN51k6z

Now I'm going to throw out a real curve ball, just for your consideration. Call it a "thought experiment."

WHAT IF you scrubbed Denali and used those days somewhere else? Here's my thinking, bear with me.

You're very early for Denali and, while of course nobody can say for sure, your odds of seeing a lot of wildlife are somewhat lessened as they're just emerging (bears.) Oh you'll see some, but it's not like the late summer when they've very active getting ready for winter. In addition, something like half the visitors never see the mountain due to clouds and rain, and - just to me, YMMV - it's a lengthy and rather pricey excursion if the main attractions are hidden or scarce.

So what if you limited your time in southcentral Alaska to Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula including Seward, but then jumped on one of numerous daily flights and went down to Juneau? You could see something of the glorious Inside Passage country, maybe take a ferry to one of the interesting old villages near Juneau like Tenakee Springs, or even rode the ferry to fabulous Sitka - the historic capital of Russian America - and flew to Seattle and onward from there?

This would give you an utterly different Alaska experience; you could fish or go whale watching, visit more glaciers, and just experience the fantastic mountains-and-sea environment of SE Alaska.

Anyway, just throwing out the thought.

Here are some pictures of some of the places mentioned.

Homer and Kachemak Bay -



Hope AK -



College Inlet (Whittier glacier cruise) -



Eklutna cemetery -



Tenakee Springs -



Sitka harbor and Mt. Edgecombe-

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Old Sep 11, 18, 9:50 am
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In my 20 years of following the Denali road opening, the road into the park has never been delayed in opening on the dates they say - June 1 to Eielson and June 8 to Wonder Lake and Kantishna. There may be a couple of hours delay due to light snow on the road but never a blanket postponement of the road opening.

Since the higher elevations in the park don't green up until a bit later, you often see wildlife at lower elevations earlier in the season.

I strongly suggest a transit shuttle to Eielson or Wonder Lake. On average 80% of visitors who travel that far see a bear. If you take multiple shuttles or transfer multiple times for better bear viewing, you have a better chance of seeing a bear up close.
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Old Sep 11, 18, 10:54 am
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Wow

Thanks for the detailed reply and nice pics, garde a l'eau.
Lots to mull over. We'll probably skip the Juneau/Sitka suggestion. We've seen those towns plus have return flts from SEA-ANC-SEA already.

Visiting the park last makes sense. Will do that. And we'll do a version of your itinerary for sure. Homer, Hope, Girdwood, Seward, maybe Whittier, Kenai cruise and Denali. Not in that order but close. May skip the park if it's raining or overcast. Seeing a bear or other wildlife isn't critical.

Thanks for the Park info fti.

Last edited by philemer; Sep 11, 18 at 11:03 am
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