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Quick Alaska getaway (Sept or Oct?)

Quick Alaska getaway (Sept or Oct?)

Old Feb 20, 19, 1:40 am
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Quick Alaska getaway (Sept or Oct?)

Quick Alaska getaway?? I know, I know! It sounds ridiculous given the sheer size of the state. However, I have limited amount of time and a Alaska companion fare wasting away. Some travel is better than no travel, right?

I have been to Alaska once before (kind drove around, hopping between towns like Kenai, Seward, Girdwood etc). Although the experience was great, I'd like to try something new. Please advise if my desired activities will suit my timeline and season.

Option 1 - Denali NP around Labor Day (on or before; not after). Probably 5 day trip. Fly into ANC and drive to Denali NP next day. 3-4 days inside the NP (probably stay at Skyline or Backcountry lodge). Explore, explore, explore. Head back to ANC for flying back. Nothing else to be done on the trip.

Option 2 - Chance for Northern lights - Mid to late Oct. Probably 4-5 day trip as well. I have been told Fairbanks is a good place for any chance to catch Northern lights. But other than that, I am not sure what will be there to do at the time with short and cold days.

I am leaning towards Option #1 since Denali NP has been on the list for some time and it is a huge area. Mrs CnO loves NPs, hiking and wildlife so this will be a good experience but not sure if dedicating the trip to it is an overkill.

Any thoughts/ suggestions?
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Old Feb 20, 19, 7:28 am
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Of the two, I'd also go with Denali. The reason is that there are lots of places in the world where you can see the aurora, many of which are both more convenient and (IMO) more interesting when you're NOT outdoors in the cold hoping to see lights in the sky. Norway, northern Scotland, Iceland... check out Up-Helly-Aa in the Shetland Islands for example.

The problem with Denali is obviously going to be weather. It might be great, it might be crappy, and if the latter, you might find yourselves feeling a bit cooped up. You'll probably have fabulous colors on the tundra, and you ought to see some beasts, but 3 or 4 days in the park can potentially be overkill. But as I say, of the two I'd go with that.

Now that said, just as a thought experiment, let me throw out a different idea, just to research. Nome. If you have a (presumably Alaska Airlines) companion certificate, think about using it to get out to the edge of things, big time. Nome is an historic gold rush town on the Bering Sea, best known these days as being the end of the Iditarod race but also as the TV setting for numerous daft miners diving to the seabed for gold - https://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/bering-sea-gold/

However, what Nome has that other bush communities don't is a significant road system that extends from the town out into the Seward Peninsula. You can have vistas of wild mountain and tundra country, impressive relics left over from 120 years of gold mining, Inupiat Eskimo villages, isolated lakes and seacoast, and lots - that's LOTS of birds and wildlife. You might see muskoxen, moose, caribou and reindeer, foxes, maybe the odd bear, and umpteen birds. In September the bugs will be gone, and activities around the town will be accelerating (as they do all across Alaska) as people get ready for autumn and the long winter.

You could rent a vehicle in Nome or arrange for somebody to drive you around, and come back having seen a face of Alaska the vast majority of visitors never experience. As I say, just a thought.

Nome Scenic Drives | Driving The Nome Road System
Wildlife Viewing on the Seward Peninsula, Alaska Department of Fish and Game

The "last train to nowhere" on the Council Road.



Traffic jam

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Old Feb 20, 19, 12:58 pm
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Gardyloo, that is actually a very refreshing thought! But unfortunately at this short notice (I need to make the reservation soon to save my Companion fare from expiration), this would be difficult to plan. Also, it raises the question... if the weather is iffy around labor day for Denali NP, wouldn't it be worse in Nome given that it's in Arctic region. But nonetheless, this is a good option to explore for future.

I had exactly same thoughts on Option #2 . Many other places to northern lights especially since Scandinavia and Iceland are on my to-visit list as well.

Would Denali trip be better at another time? Or perhaps make it shorter. With half-day drive to get in/out of park, 3-4 days didn't seem that much. But again, I'd lean on opinions of those who have spent time visiting Denali NP.
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Old Feb 21, 19, 5:14 am
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fti
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Late August and early September is my favorite time in Denali. Skyline Lodge would be great - kind of the budget option in Kantishna. If you don't stay there then consider Camp Denali or North Face Lodge. They have rights to bring you back into the heart of the park for hiking etc. Other lodges don't.

Denali scenery and hiking is unsurpassed. Plus you get the chance to see wildlife. Fall colors should be amazing.

Yes you could encounter snow at that time of year. I did twice including my first time in Denali years ago. But it doesn't usually last long.

You might consider flying into Fairbanks vs Anchorage to save 3 hours of driving each way. Plus the car rental might be less expensive in Fairbanks.
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Old Feb 21, 19, 10:24 am
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Well, a couple of other thoughts just for the drill.

First, consider flying into ANC and spending a day or two in the Matanuska Valley before heading up to Denali, or v.v. Not everybody's cuppa, but I personally think the Alaska State Fair in Palmer (the week before Labor Day but including the weekend) is a major hoot, with things like the usual state fair junk food and merchants of Ginzu knives, but also displays of the mutant vegetables grown in the unending daylight of summer (pumpkins or cabbages the size of Toyotas, etc.) Watch a rodeo with an impressive backdrop, e.g.





Or second, visit a part of the state you missed previously. Fly into beautiful Sitka and visit the Fortress of the Bear and the raptor center, then fly or ferry over to Juneau and explore Alaska's historic capital. Or take a second ferry out to some tiny SE Alaska village like Tenakee Springs or Pelican, or do an excursion to Glacier Bay. There are lots of options in SE Alaska.


Last edited by Gardyloo; Feb 21, 19 at 10:32 am
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Old Feb 21, 19, 5:32 pm
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Originally Posted by Gardyloo View Post
Well, a couple of other thoughts just for the drill.

First, consider flying into ANC and spending a day or two in the Matanuska Valley before heading up to Denali, or v.v. Not everybody's cuppa, but I personally think the Alaska State Fair in Palmer (the week before Labor Day but including the weekend) is a major hoot, with things like the usual state fair junk food and merchants of Ginzu knives, but also displays of the mutant vegetables grown in the unending daylight of summer (pumpkins or cabbages the size of Toyotas, etc.) Watch a rodeo with an impressive backdrop, e.g.

....
You should be working for Alaska tourism! Some more great options. I will definitely consider these though being tight on time may prove this to be difficult.

Originally Posted by fti View Post
Late August and early September is my favorite time in Denali. Skyline Lodge would be great - kind of the budget option in Kantishna. If you don't stay there then consider Camp Denali or North Face Lodge. They have rights to bring you back into the heart of the park for hiking etc. Other lodges don't.
....
You might consider flying into Fairbanks vs Anchorage to save 3 hours of driving each way. Plus the car rental might be less expensive in Fairbanks.
Thanks for the suggestions on Fairbanks. Although not sure if AS operates ORD-FAI.... might need to explore 1-stop options.

What did you mean other lodges don't have the right to bring me in heart of park? Are there restrictions where can I go exploring?

Last edited by carsnoceans; Feb 21, 19 at 5:38 pm
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Old Feb 21, 19, 8:02 pm
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If you stay at the Backcountry Lodge or Kantishna Roadhouse, they have activities for you there and near Wonder Lake. But they don't have permission to drive their vehicles back into the park past Wonder Lake. You can buy a separate bus ticket to get you into the "heart" of the park as I call it to go hiking, etc. But then you are defeating the purpose of spending all that $$ at the lodge and missing out on their activities (which except for Camp Denali and North Face Lodge, are not worth what they charge IMHO).

If you are coming from Chicago then yes you would need to change planes in Anchorage. Probably arriving in Anchorage non-stop might be best. That does give you more options to explore on the way to/from Denali. If you are interested in hiking on a glacier, the Matanuska Glacier is not a long detour from the road between Anchorage and Denali (a good hour plus each way). You can take a 2 or 3 hour guided hike on the glacier for +-$100. Gardyloo gave you some other options above.
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