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Trip Report Alaska Adventure Talkeetna, Denali, McCarthy, Valdez, Seward

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Before I begin you need to know that if you are driving across Alaska that you need to fuel up whenever you can. Many of the old stops no longer operate, you do not want to run out of fuel. We did not run out of fuel. However we were surprised at how few gas stations there were particularly around the Denali Highway.
If you go into this vacation thinking you will pay about 25% more than what you think is reasonable in the lower 48 I think you are prepared. The tourist season is limited for these folks so they need to make their money in about 100 days.
What we would do differently, we would rent a truck with a camper on it from Go North rentals. We could have used some flexibility in our travel plans that the reservations at hotels/B&Bs did not give us. We would still stay with CD in Copper Center at the Copper Moose. He is a born storyteller and gives you a perspective on the culture. After all you need a nice warm shower somewhere along the trip if you are RVing!
Day 1
Fly in Anchorage, overnight at Marias Creekside B&B

Day 2
Breakfast with Roberto and Maria was lovely. Nice little place on the creek.
Picked up Jeep Liberty from Go North rentals (one of the few companies that allows usage on all roads including gravel – Denali Highway and McCarthy road) and stocked up on supplies, snacks etc
Headed out to Talkeetna.
Flightsee with Talkeetna Air Taxi 1 hour 45 minutes with landing on glacier, neat experience flying around Mount McKinley, learning about the mountains and the people who attempt to summit them.
Pizza at Mountain High Pizza Pie
Drove to Denali
Stayed at Denali Bluffs Hotel
Ate at the restaurant onsite for dinner – not great, it was late.

Day 3
Breakfast at McKinley Creekside Cafe – very good.
Weather not so great, so we kicked around town for the day buying souvenirs
Scoped out Denali and the tours, drove all the way we could into Denali with our car. Saw a Momma Grizzly bear and he cub in the expanse of a river bed with a telephoto lens.
Attended the FREE dog sled exhibition at Denali Ntl Park, I would recommend it. It was interesting to learn about the history of dogs at the park. The dogs are fun to watch.
Bought some food at the store next to the Salmon Bake for lunch the following day, there are plenty of offers to make you a lunch for $15 if you don’t want to make it yourself. You need to pack a lunch and beverages for the bus tour at Denali.
Dinner at Grande Denali Lodge, view beautiful. Food – meh. The steak was not good. I asked my DH to send it back, he ate it even though he thought it tasted a little off. He got sick. Moral of the story – send the food back if it doesn’t taste right. Dessert was good.
Day 4
Early morning with the Denali hop on, hop off bus shuttle 730am to Toklat.
We saw very little on the bus shuttle – a few Dall sheep and caribou. This is not like Yellowstone in terms of animal spotting (at least for us).
The bus shuttle was grueling for us, we are independent travelers who like to stop and see what we can see when we want to stop. 6 hours on the bus was boring. I cannot stop you from doing it. You will feel compelled.
You are better off saving your $54 bucks and 6 hours, drive the Denali Highway instead.
Drove the Denali Highway to Copper Center, Stayed with CD McCurry and his wife at Copper Moose B&B

Day 5
Breakfast with CD and Cathy, many interesting Alaska stories told, many laughs.
Headed out towards McCarthy
Stopped at Yak farm- very interesting couple run the Yak farm, passionate conservationists. Worth a stop.
There are many sights along the way, there is one pull out for Liberty Falls outside of Chitina that we snapped a few good photos.
Ate Yak burger at Chitina hotel. Hotel is interesting peek into the history of the area. Yak meat is VERY lean. Healthy. Generally I like fat!
The McCarthy road is not as bad as they say it is. Caveat this with the fact that I am from a very small town that had gravel roads that were bad. It is all in perspective.
Great vistas on the McCarthy Road for photos.
Arrived at the end of the McCarthy road. AT&T has no service up here so I could not call Ma Johnson’s as instructed for pick up.
Luckily the parking lot attendant (it is $5 per day to park at the end of the road), has Verizon so he graciously called the hotel to pick us up.
Dinner at The New Golden Saloon, Salmon was very good, ribs were good too. Food is expensive, beer is reasonable.

Day 6
Ma Johnsons offered a breakfast for $10. The breakfast was very light – yogurt, limited pastries, coffee. Luckily enough we had brought some rations in with us, we always have food we like with us. We also needed to supply our own food for lunch on the ice hike.
Ice hike with St. Elias guide Anna. Terrific fun for mildly athletic people. If you have a hard time with hiking 7 miles under variable terrain or problems with balance then I would say you should not participate. I think the website undersells how strenuous this might be for people.
Kennecott mining town tour with St. Elias guide Anna. Very informative and interesting, worth the money.
Dinner again at The New Golden Saloon, exactly the same food we had the night before – consistently good both beer and food. Alaskan Blonde beer – yum.

Day 7
Breakfast at the Potato in McCarthy. The woman who runs Ma Johnsons came by and bought us breakfast saying that they are trying to figure out how to make breakfast work. The Potato had great breakfast muffin and a good philly cheese steak. Latte was respectable.
Staying at Ma Johnsons was an experience. It is the smallest room we have ever stayed in. We knew this going into it. The shared bathroom, also an interesting experience. We were there before it was crowded, not sure if the shared bathroom would be OK if the place was at full occupancy.
Here is the deal. McCarthy has more of a little town feel than Kennecott does. Kennecott is more of a destination lodge. So you have a choice stay at the creature comfort place in Kennecott or stay at Ma Johnsons in McCarthy. If you stay at the lodge in Kennecott be aware their dinners are prix fixe. Yup – that means you get to pay for food you might not like at all. Getting to McCarthy isn’t easy either – you have to get a shuttle. So if you want to have beers in McCarthy then go back to your comfy spot in Kennecott – well good luck. I am sure there is a way, like for $10 you might be able to get one of the locals to give you a four wheeler ride back to the lodge.
Drove to Valdez, stopped at Native American artist around Copper Center based on CD’s recommendation. Picked up an animal pelt as a signature Alaska souvenir.
Many scenic photo opps along the road to Valdez.
Unexpected oil smell from the car – led to road stop at the Marks auto service – no worries just a dripping oil filter that was easily fixed.
Dinner at Mike’s Palace in Valdez – shrimp fettucine, veal parm – good but expensive.
Couple of beers at the Best Western lobby bar
Stayed at Valdez Best Western – nice harbor view, adequate breakfast.

Day 8
We had planned on doing the Stan Stephens tour. We showed up and told it was cancelled due to high seas.
We had another day of kicking around town. We drove around a bit, took photos, bought a few souvenirs and booked a boat tour with LuLu Belle for the following day.
We ate at Fu Kung for lunch – large portions, OK food.
Mike’s Palace for pizza and mozzarella sticks for dinner - -tasted good, but the Margherita pizza had artichokes on it. New for us.

Day 9
Breakfast at the hotel
Adventure aboard the LuLu Belle – Fred the Captain has a clean ship and many years of experience. The food aboard was good and reasonably priced. Swells were from 8-10 feet. Stan Stephens sent a boat out and retreated. Not the LuLu Belle. We pushed on. We had a great time floating in the ice around the Columbia Glacier.
We hit the road directly after the cruise to get to Seward for our next adventure. We arrived in Seward at 240am the following day.
Day 10
Staying at the Best Western Seward – grabbed a quick breakfast before pressing on for the Kenai Fjords tour.
We took the Northwestern Fjords tour. It was well worth it, we saw seals, sea lions, puffin, humpback whales, dall porpoises and were up close to the glaciers for calving.
After the tour we hit the road again for Anchorage. Rainy weather – there would have been great photos.
Arrived in Anchorage around 930pm – grabbed food quickly at Burger King – overnight at Marias Creekside B&B.

Day 11
Flight at 6am.

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