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Trip Report 11 Days in Alaska

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My wife and I took our 18 year old daughter to Alaska for her graduation present. We rented a car and drove ourselves from Anchorage to Seward, Homer and Denali. We had four busy days with excursions and the remainder were rest days with scenic driving and wildlife spotting.

Day 0 we flew from Arkansas to ANC via MSP. We got to the Clarion Suites in Anchorage at 6pm after two hours of driving to the airport followed by nine hours of flying. With a three hour time difference it felt more like 9pm, so we didn’t even leave the motel.

Day 1 we explored Anchorage, walked around the downtown area, went to the Anchorage Market and Festival and found a Safeway to buy sandwich fixings, drinks and a small cooler. Ate at Humpy’s for lunch and Glacier Brewhouse for supper.

Day 2 we drove to Seward stopping at various scenic viewpoints along Turnagain Arm. Took a detour to Portage which was the best part of the drive. Saw large icebergs floating just behind the visitor center on the lake. After checking in to the Holiday Inn Express in Seward we drove to Exit Glacier and hiked the trail to the glacier. Ate at the Salmon Bake on the way back for excellent salmon.

Day 3 was the only day of the trip that it didn’t rain. It was a perfect day for our boat trip to Kenai Fjords NP. We went with Alaska Saltwater Adventures because they ran smaller boats. There were only 15 of us on the boat with plenty of room. We saw Orca and Humpback Whales, Sea Otters, Harbor Seals, Sea Lions, Dall’s Porpoises that swam in front of the boat, eagles, and a mountain goat and her kid. We had lunch in front of a glacier with ice chunks floating by. This was the second best activity of the trip.

Day 4 we drove to Homer stopping at several state recreation areas along the way. Saw a moose along the road at the three of the rec areas and more eagles than we could count at Deep Creek Beach. Anchor River Rec Area is the further point west you can drive to in the US.

Day 5 we took a bear viewing trip to Hallo Bay in Katmai NP with Emerald Air. The float plane trip was a little over an hour each way and smoother than any passenger airline I’ve been on. We spent four hours on the ground observing three bears as close as 20 yards away. We hoped to see more bears than that, but that is nature.

Day 6 we spent exploring Homer. Walked through several art galleries in town and on the spit, drove the skyline loop for a nice view of the spit and saw another moose. We also visited the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center which was very nice and free. We stayed at the Ocean Shores for the three nights which had great views, but not much else. We ate at Captain Patties, Café Cups and Fat Olives which were all fine.

Day 7 we drove back to Anchorage for a one night pit stop with a detour to Glen Alps for a view of Anchorage. We stayed at the Springhill Suites in the University Area because I could get it free with points and it had laundry facilities.

Day 8 we drove to Talkeetna with stops at Eagle River Nature Center and Independence Mine along the way. Both were worth the side trips. Saw two more moose at Eagle River. I had planned on driving across Hatcher Pass but it doesn’t open until July. Spent one night at Talkeetna Lakeside Cabins and ate at the Wet Rib Pub and Grill.

Day 9 we had an 8am flight see trip with Talkeetna Air Taxi. The weather pushed it back to 11am, but we got a free upgrade to the Grand Denali tour. This was the best thing we did all trip. It was a two hour flight with about 30 minutes on a glacier about a mile from the base camp used by climbers. We got great views of Mt McKinley, especially our daughter who got to ride in the co-pilots seat. This was the only time on the trip we actually got to see the mountain. Afterwards we drove to Denali, walked through the visitor center, and then on to the Motel Nord Haven in Healy.

Day 10 we took the Denali shuttle bus trip to the Eielson Visitor Center. It was cloudy and rainy most of the day so we didn’t have good views of the mountain. We saw three bears and several caribou, all from a distance. The bus driver was great providing narration on the way out, but not on the way back for those that wanted to sleep. The windows kept getting covered with mud due to the rain, so every stop we had to clean them with paper towels. The bus made two bathroom stops each way, plus 30 minutes at the visitor center and was a little over 8 hours long. We ate at 49th State both nights in Healy, which had great food, large portions and good prices.

Day 11 we had a 11:30 pm flight so we took our time getting back to Anchorage. Stopped at the Iditarod Museum in Wasilla which was nice. Watched a 20 minute film and paid $10 each for a one minute sled dog ride on a wheeled cart. The dogs were eager to go and we got a good feel for how strong they and how fast they pulled. Killed a couple of hours in Anchorage at the movies and caught the red eye home.

It sprinkled just about every day, but not enough to ruin the day. The weather changes on an hourly basis and also depending on which side of the various mountains you are on. I’ll answer any questions you have.

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