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Please help with a 3-weeks trip itinerary

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Going for a 3-weeks trip to Alaska in the summer this year - more specifically between July 20 and August 10, I would very much appreciate your comments to the itinerary that I've prepared so far. We will be flying there from Europe (the Czech Republic), renting a car (4WD 5-passengers SUV) for the whole time, it will be a group of three intermediate-to-semi advanced hikers. We love hiking and enjoying nature in its every sense, but not that we would be doing a 20 miles hike everyday :-)

Reading through this forum, I tried to absorb as many tips and recommendations as I could. As for priorities on the trip, apart from seeing Alaska as such (and I think I could stop right here), we want to make a Mt. McKinley flightseeing trip (from Talkeetna), undertake a whalewatching tour (probably in Kenai, but open to any other suggestions), definetely go for a bear watching tour (Kodiak?), some glacier tour (Kenai?) and perhaps a kayaking or similar.

Below is my initial itinerary for the three weeks, please feel free to comment and suggest anything and everything (in fact, Alaska is quite huge compared to countries in Europe and even though I tried to cooperate with Mr. GoogleMaps as much as possible, I might just be easily wrong in some distance estimates, trips etc. :-)

Day 1 (July 20): Flight arrival to Anchorage (approximately @ 5PM) from Frankfurt, picking-up rental car at the airport, going downtown and relaxing, night at Anchorage
Day 2: Drive from Anchorage to Talkeetna via Wasilla (anything interesting in Wasilla or along the road?). At Talkeetna, going for a Mt. McKinley flightseeing tour (any experience with Talkeetna Aero Services?). Departing Talkeetna heading for Denali National Park and Preserve. Arriving to the park in the evening.
Day 3/Day 4/Day 5/Day 6: Hiking in Denali. No specific plan here yet (even though I assume the sooner a plan for this part is in place, the better chances of successfully booking lodging/campground one has).
Day 7: Leaving Denali in the morning and heading towards Girdwood (via Anchorage), stopping by Turnagain Arm, Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge or Potter Marsh. Night somewhere on the road between Anchorage - Homer (campground, lodge).
Day 8: Reaching Homer, spending the day in or around Homer (a nice hike somewhere around). Night at Homer.
Day 9: Ferry Homer - Kodiak (takes approx. 9 hours). After reaching Kodiak city, a little walk around the town, finding the campground. Sleeping at Kodiak city.
Day 10: A day hike close to Kodiak city. Night at Kodiak city.
Day 11: Driving the Chiniak Highway to the very end and back. If there is still time, try to see some other driving destinations as well (e.g. Anton Larsen Bay or Monashka Bay). Night at Kodiak city.
Day 12: Last day on the island that we plan to devote to bear watching tour. Rest of the day is time reserve merely. Departing Kodiak via AMHS at 7:30PM, going for an overnight sail back to Homer.
Day 13: Driving from Homer to Seward. After reaching Seward in the afternoon, perhaps do some cannoying (instructor-led) and seeing downtown (including Alaska SeaLife Center). night at Seward.
Day 14: Exit glacier that seems to accessible by car. Go for Resurrection Bay / Kenai Fjords National Park. Night at Resurrection Bay.
Day 15: Whalewatching tour at Kenai. Hike at Kenai Fjords National Park / Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Night at Kenai.
Day 16: Driving from Seward to Valdez (through Anchorage) via scenic Richardson Highway. Night at Valdez.
Day 17: Drive from Valdez to Haines (I know it is far, but we are willing to depart early and we all three are drivers). Sleeping at Haines after arrival.
Day 18: Taking Haines - Skagway ferry. Spending some time in Skagway, departing for the Chilkhoot Trail (possible to leave the car in Skagway?). Night at the beginning of Chilkhoot Trail.
Day 19: Hike on the Chilkhoot Trail.
Day 20: Hike on the Chilkhoot Trail.
Day 21: Arriving at the end of Chilkhoot, departing back to Skagway. Picking up the car and heading to Anchorage. Night "somewhere along the road" between Skagway and Anchorage.
Day 22 (August 10): Reaching Anchorage at 3PM at the latest. Returning the car and leaving Alaska...:-(

We are not yet fully decided about going to SE i. e. to Haines and Skagway since it is quite a long drive and many hours in the car (but I understand riding Alcan Hwy might be a worthwhile experience itself). An alternative to this part of the trip (from Day 17 onwards) is going north to Fairbanks, Chena Hot Springs and spend a few days there...

Your suggestions, critics and recommendations will be more than welcome. Thank you very much in advance and apologies for such a long thread :-)

Petr

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    I have not bee to Alaska but we are travelling there this July for 2 weeks, so I have been researching. Here are some of my thoughts.

    With this much driving, you should purchase the Milepost, the driving guide for Alaska

    Look for enzians trip report of Alaska

    Day 1 (July 20): Flight arrival to Anchorage (approximately @ 5PM) from Frankfurt, picking-up rental car at the airport, going downtown and relaxing, night at Anchorage

    Airport car rentals are very expensive. If you can rent your Alaska car from a European travel agency, I hear they offer reduced rates. Otherwise look for a rental with a pickup in downtown Anchorage and return to the airport. There is no additional cost to return to the Anchorage airport. Right now I have an economy car rented for the 2 weeks but am paying about $800 for the 2 weeks ($328/wk+tax at Hertz on K Street--I am hoping to find something cheaper)

    Day 2: Drive from Anchorage to Talkeetna via Wasilla (anything interesting in Wasilla or along the road?). At Talkeetna, going for a Mt. McKinley flightseeing tour (any experience with Talkeetna Aero Services?). Departing Talkeetna heading for Denali National Park and Preserve. Arriving to the park in the evening.

    You may want to look at purchasing either the Northern Lights or Toursaver coupon books that offer Buy 1/Get 1 free flightseeing---and many other offers--see their websites after you determine what tours you are interested in doing.


    Day 3/Day 4/Day 5/Day 6: Hiking in Denali. No specific plan here yet (even though I assume the sooner a plan for this part is in place, the better chances of successfully booking lodging/campground one has).

    Book the shuttle to Wonder Lake as soon as you get your dates set. If the mountain is out, you will want to go to Wonder Lake. If not, you can get off at Eilson and hike there. Book the shuttle bus not the tour bus.


    Day 7: Leaving Denali in the morning and heading towards Girdwood (via Anchorage), stopping by Turnagain Arm, Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge or Potter Marsh. Night somewhere on the road between Anchorage - Homer (campground, lodge).

    Seems like Girdwood would be a good place for you to spend at least a night. Good hiking here.


    Day 8: Reaching Homer, spending the day in or around Homer (a nice hike somewhere around). Night at Homer.


    Day 9: Ferry Homer - Kodiak (takes approx. 9 hours). After reaching Kodiak city, a little walk around the town, finding the campground. Sleeping at Kodiak city.

    I don't know anything about Kodiak. I have been researching bear trips out of Homer and the best ones are overnights. I hope someone else will comment on Kodiak. What you are planning sounds amazing. I did talk to a naturalist, Brad Josephs who leads tours to Kodiak and Katmai. They were about a week long. He has amazing photos on his blog.


    Day 10: A day hike close to Kodiak city. Night at Kodiak city.
    Day 11: Driving the Chiniak Highway to the very end and back. If there is still time, try to see some other driving destinations as well (e.g. Anton Larsen Bay or Monashka Bay). Night at Kodiak city.
    Day 12: Last day on the island that we plan to devote to bear watching tour. Rest of the day is time reserve merely. Departing Kodiak via AMHS at 7:30PM, going for an overnight sail back to Homer.

    Day 13: Driving from Homer to Seward. After reaching Seward in the afternoon, perhaps do some cannoying (instructor-led) and seeing downtown (including Alaska SeaLife Center). night at Seward.

    There is a very highly rated kayak tour in Seward--or if you don't kayak, you could take the Kenai Fjords Boat Trip (Buy1-Get 1 with Major Marine with the coupon books)We are actually staying at a B&B that offers free kayaks on their small lake. (Bear Lake B&B)

    Day 14: Exit glacier that seems to accessible by car. Go for Resurrection Bay / Kenai Fjords National Park. Night at Resurrection Bay.


    Day 15: Whalewatching tour at Kenai. Hike at Kenai Fjords National Park / Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Night at Kenai.

    Hope someone else can help you here

    Day 16: Driving from Seward to Valdez (through Anchorage) via scenic Richardson Highway. Night at Valdez.

    You could also take the ferry from Whittier to Valdez. We were going to do this but the ferry doesn't run the day we need to take it. We are going to do the Prince William Sound Cruise out of Whittier (Buy 1-Get1)

    I can't help with the rest of this itinerary. Your trip sounds fabulous..........

    Day 17: Drive from Valdez to Haines (I know it is far, but we are willing to depart early and we all three are drivers). Sleeping at Haines after arrival.
    Day 18: Taking Haines - Skagway ferry. Spending some time in Skagway, departing for the Chilkhoot Trail (possible to leave the car in Skagway?). Night at the beginning of Chilkhoot Trail.
    Day 19: Hike on the Chilkhoot Trail.
    Day 20: Hike on the Chilkhoot Trail.
    Day 21: Arriving at the end of Chilkhoot, departing back to Skagway. Picking up the car and heading to Anchorage. Night "somewhere along the road" between Skagway and Anchorage.
    Day 22 (August 10): Reaching Anchorage at 3PM at the latest. Returning the car and leaving Alaska...

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    You are very likely to see plenty of whales on your Kenai Fjords tour of the Glacier. They will stop the boat for 10-30 minutes normally. They may do this 2 or 3 times. Of course, then this might mean only seeing one calving glacier instead of two or it might mean only spending 20 minutes each of the glaciers instead of 45 minutes. It is up to the captain and whales(at least thats they way I think it works).
    If it were to do over again, I think I would go with a shuttle to the glaciers and go kayaking there. The big boat was great, but there is a ton of people. The sound of the glaciers calving is something I'll never forget. I don't know what I was expecting, but I hadn't thought about them being like thunder or fireworks.

    I haven't gone with Talkeetna Air, but when my parents went last year, it was probably the biggest highlight of their trip.

    I might add we enjoyed Salmon Fishing. We also saw plenty of bears within 50 feet of out boat. We probably saw 20+ black bears up very close. Didn't see Grizzly's up close but saw 2 or 4 of them very very far away and also from the floatplane. It was really good experience.

    It sounds like you have a very good plan.

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    I'm exhausted reading your itinerary, and have a lot of comments but I don't want to go on for pages, so just a few quick ones:

    You should be very careful that your rental car company will allow you to take the car (1) on the Kodiak ferry and especially (2) into Canada.

    I haven't calculated the relative costs, but I'd be very surprised if it wasn't cheaper to leave the car in Homer and travel to Kodiak as foot passengers, then rent a second car in Kodiak, vs. paying for the car on the boat. But frankly, having been to Kodiak enough times, I don't honestly know why you're going there at all. If it's all about seeing bears, there are plenty of places that don't require bouncing all night on the ferry (this is big water). Just my view.

    Same thing for your venture into SE Alaska. It's an awful lot of driving, time you could better spend (IMO) being someplace rather than getting there. You can fly to Juneau in 90 min. from ANC, and take the ferry from Juneau up to Skagway. (Skagway will, by the way, be awash in cruise ship passengers. There are often five 2000-passenger cruise ships in port in one day, thus outnumbering the local population of Skagway by a factor of ten.)

    I understand the appeal of the Chilkoot Trail, but just for the sake of research, have a look at the Resurrection Pass Trail instead. Start at the gold mining village of Hope (only settlement on the south bank of Turnagain Arm - just miles from Anchorage but feels like a light year) and head up into the mountains on the Kenai Peninsula. At the time you're coming, it could be a lovely hike - wildflowers, animals (definitely bear country so be careful) and nowhere near as high-density tourism as Skagway.

    Then I'd suggest using the cost savings that would come from not driving for days and hundreds and hundreds of miles/km to take a trip up into the arctic. The vast majority of visitors to Alaska never get off the road system, but just an hour or two in the air (from ANC) and you can immerse yourselves in an environment and a culture that's unique in the world. Instead of seeing tourist-kitsch "gold rush" relics in Skagway (sorry, cruisers) fly to Nome, out on the Bering Sea. Nome was a real gold mining center (Skagway just a way station en route to the Klondike drainage) 100+ years ago, and there's still a lot of evidence of it, as well as present-day gold mining still going on.

    The same plane to Nome also goes to Kotzebue, an Eskimo village north of the Arctic Circle. See the real "midnight sun" and put a toe in the Arctic Ocean. Learn about the Inupiat culture and lifestyle, see whaling boats. No rental car needed (or possible - only accessible by air) but you'll remember your stay vividly.

    As far as the rest of your trip goes, just be sure you have alternate plans as weather can make back-country hiking or flightseeing dicey or even impossible, depending on the day. I wouldn't schedule things too tightly.

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    Thank you very much for your comments and suggestions.

    I do plan to buy the 2012 Milepost book as well as a coupon book or even both (I still need to do my homework as to what discounts I could use and will decide based on that). Hope to get one-day bear watching tour, it doesn't have to be on Kodiak as long as I can find something more and reasonable elsewhere. Thank you also for your buy1-get1forfree tips, I'll want to leverage that for sure. Car is allowed to go to Canada, not checked Kodiak though(thank you for pointing that out - will do). Kodiak is not about bear watching, I just bounced into pictures from that island and it got my attention, so I thought I would connect bear watching and hiking reasonable to the island together.

    Thanks for that tip for the Resurrection Trail, sounds like Chilkoot might be too crowded. Still not given up the idea to go SE, but perhaps Fairbanks / Chena Hot Springs and a flight to the Artic would be doable. Initially I thought that flying somewhere "into the wild" would be very expensive, but you are right I could put side-by-side to that SE trip and see what the difference could be..

    The other thing I want to add is driving the Denali Highway. On the other hand, I will probably refrain from driving down to Valdez.

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    The other thing I want to add is driving the Denali Highway. On the other hand, I will probably refrain from driving down to Valdez.

    I would pick the Valdez drive over the Denali Highway any day. If you really want to spend money to put the car on a ferry (but avoid a long day's driving instead) then book the ferry from Valdez across Prince William Sound to Whittier. It's extremely scenic, and it "closes the loop" to/from Anchorage, rather than requiring a long doubling-back.

    From what I am reading, car rentals will not allow driving on the Denali Highway

    There are a few local companies in Anchorage that will allow it; the majors don't allow their cars on gravel roads. If you damage the vehicle (on the Denali, McCarthy, Taylor et al) any insurance you've purchased will be voided and you'll be responsible for the full cost of repairs (as well as a pricey sum to get the car towed someplace.) Some years the Denali is easy, in other years it's a nightmare. It's quite scenic in places, but IMO not in the same league as the Richardson Hwy to Valdez.

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    I should clarify - the Avis Police won't arrest you for taking your Ford Focus on the Denali Highway, and if you clean the mud off it (REALLY well) before turning it in, they'll never know; they haven't yet installed GPS recording devices. But it's risky behavior, and I would always apply a benefit - cost calculation before doing it. Just my own view (as are all these things) but if it was a choice between the Denali and Richardson Hwys, I'd pick the Richardson in a blink.

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