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cmstraf Jul 28th, 2021 07:47 PM

2 week Alaska trip: help with itinerary
Hi all,
A planned 2023 Alaska trip may need to be moved up to 2022 due to situation in South Africa (have three week trip planned and paid for next May, but there is a real possibility that either COVID or the current violence and unrest, or both, may force me to use insurance to cancel it. Will reassess in December or January but want to have ducks in place.

I've been to Alaska before, but in 1972, when I hitchhiked to northern Vancouver Island with my best friend, we took the ferry (no berths) to Haines, Alaska, then hitchhiked through the Yukon down to Anchorage, took the train to what was Mt McKinley, backpacked for a week, took the train to Fairbanks, flew to Seattle, hitchhiked home. My husband and I are older now, have less time and more money. He can only miss 2 weeks of work.

We'd like to travel in early June or late August/early September. First week pretty settled. Fly into Fairbanks, spend the night, take train to Denali, and spend 4 nights in Camp Denali if there are spaces. Then take train to Anchorage, making an overnight stop at small town on the way. From Anchorage: A) spend much of week either in Glacier Bay Resort or on Kenai Peninsula (Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge), or divide time between the two. Are they different enough to make this a good plan? The highlight of our 72 trip was Denali, backpacking no longer an option.
I will be 74, husband 62, I hate kayaking and big ships. Have always wanted to go to Brooks Range but am assuming (no research yet) out of our price range and time limits.

All ideas gratefully received. Husband from Italy, has always wanted to see Alaska.
Mille grazie.

volcanogirl Jul 28th, 2021 07:52 PM

I'm so glad you posted this. We're interested in an Alaska trip too so I'm bookmarking for all the good information that I know Fodorites will share.

cmstraf Jul 28th, 2021 09:23 PM

Hi Volcano girl,
Check out Camp Denali. It's expensive (very), but all inclusive, and I know two people who have stayed there and loved it.

When I went many years ago, it rained every day and was sunny everyday and there were rainbows and the sunsets lasted forever and it never got totally dark. There was some truth to the jokes about Alaska's state bird being the mosquito. I felt romantic in my netting, but not when the mosquito fell in my Sierra cup.

HappyTrvlr Jul 29th, 2021 08:09 AM

I would split your time between Kensington and Glacier Bay with an edge given to Kenai.

Gardyloo Jul 29th, 2021 09:28 AM

If it was me I'd pick the August/September time frame, when the autumn color on the tundra at Denali can be spectacular. Also the mosquitoes will be much less plentiful than earlier in the summer; In Denali NP they can be a major pain.

I suppose I'd also think about what activities you'd be undertaking during your (longish) stays in Denali and/or Kenai Fjords and/or Glacier Bay, and possibly think about alternate ways to spend a couple (or more) of those days. For example, you say the Brooks Range is probably out of your time/price range, but what about some other destination in the bush? For example, you can fly from Anchorage round trip to Utqiaġvik (Barrow) or Nome or Kotzebue for under $400 (or use Alaska Airlines miles.) Those are this year's prices, of course, but not too different from what you'd have to pay to access Juneau or Gustavus for Glacier Bay. Both Utqiaġvik and Kotzebue are Inupiat communities located above the arctic circle (Kotzebue on the shore of an inlet of the Arctic Ocean) and Nome is a fascinating historic gold mining town, with a decent road system leading into the bush of the Seward Peninsula, with lots of birds and wildlife to be seen.

You've got plenty of time to research and plan an Alaska alternative, so go for it.

mlgb Jul 31st, 2021 08:07 AM

I was there this year. June 9-11 for Denali and June 13-14 for Seward Peninsula. We were in Nome 6/15-17. The whole mosquito thing is overblown for early June. There really weren't any in Anchorage or Seward. Even up in Nome they were not that bad (it was a drier year). Worst around marshes and streams. I assume you are not averse to bringing and using DEET. I carry those little wipe packets. For the tundra we sprayed up in the morning. I had a head net in my pocket and used it a few times if we weren't actively birdwatching.

Glacier Bay is really spectacular (I have only seen it from a Holland America cruise). Northwest Glacier and Exit Glacier were the two glaciers I saw this trip near Seward. There is severe glacier recession, and they aren't especially impressive anymore. So I'd vote for Glacier Bay or a time split. The Seward Sea Life Center was worth an hour. Before an early June 2018 cruise I did a Resurrection Bay cruise with excellent seabird, Orca and Humpback sightings (Major Marine). We didn't have great sightings of marine mammals this trip with Kenai Fjords (one fin whale, no Orca).

Nome town itself really isn't that fascinating unless you watch Bering Sea Gold on Discovery Channel (you can see some of the dredges working offshore and some old rusted on the outskirts of town). Hiking any distance through the tundra isn't easy. Plus going more than 50 feet off of a road isn't safe some times of year. The three roads are unpaved and can be rutted and difficult for a single driver, plus exhausting as a day trip (even though they are 70 miles long, going can be slow). Unless you are a "twitcher" or have Musk Ox as a bucket item, I would question whether Nome would be worth it to you.

We had great wildlife sightings in Denali and our driver (who lives there and keeps track of wildlife) told us that early June is really peak wildlife viewing in Denali. We missed wolves but saw the other 4 of the Denali "Big 5" as well as little mammals such as collared pika, hoary marmot and red fox just from the bus.

June is also wildflower month.

Accordingly, I vote June.

(PS yes I've been later in the year, we were in Glacier Bay on September 1 my first trip.)

mlgb Jul 31st, 2021 08:07 AM

June. Maybe my original post with more explanation will show up sometime today. You can also click my name for this year's itinerary.

Mosquitos were not a big deal. June is good for wildflowers and baby animals. Early June is one of the best times for Denali wildlife. We saw 4 of the Big Five (not wolves) and several smaller mammals. We had very good weather this year in early June.

Having been to both, I would chose Glacier Bay or a time split but I do think there will be overlap. However for marine mammals and birds, the short cruise on Resurrection Bay with Major Marine in early June was very good in 2018. I was in GB on September 1 on a cruise several years before that, which allowed us to go into one of the closed areas where harbor seals breed (Hopkins I think).

If you do go to Seward there were a lot of seals on floes on the NW Glacier cruise this year.

I would not go to Nome unless you have Musk Ox as a bucket list item or are a twitcher. Or have a fascination with "Bering Sea Gold". We could see some of the ocean dredges out at sea or in the harbors, and some rusted dredges and the remains of an aborted train to nowhere outside of town. But Nome town itself not that interesting. The roads out of town are mostly rough and exhausting especially if you want to drive all the way to the ends (140 miles return at maybe 20 mph average). As is walking through tundra (not recommended).

If you wanted to do some long drives with spectacular scenery I'd recommend driving to Denali instead of the train and then going east on Denali Hwy and back south on Richardson Hwy. But it isn't clear that is something you are even interested in, given your draft itinerary. Not fancy but we liked the Mclaren River Lodge on Mile 42 of the Denali Hway.

mlgb Jul 31st, 2021 08:36 AM

For volcanogirl, since I know she likes birds, see my trip report this year on a birding tour by clicking my name. I was lucky to get in on one at the last minute this year and not have to struggle with finding cars and making reservations (especially for the Denali transit bus). And I didn't have to drive!

cmstraf Sep 18th, 2021 08:56 AM

Thank you, everyone. Alaska went on the back burner while trying to decide what to do about a Utah road trip next month in the face of purple COVID scores. Alaska will go back up to the top of our plans after spending a week in the red rock country above Sedona and two nights at the Grand Canyon.

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