Alaska

Old Jan 26th, 2022, 10:02 AM
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Alaska

Hello Everyone

Looking for advice on a trip to Alaska for 4 active 60+ year olds. We will be leaving from Charleston or Myrtle Beach SC in early September maybe even late August into September for 10 to 14 days. Not sure if Fairbanks or Anchorage should be where we fly into. We are looking to do a helicopter and dog sled tour and also a train and glacier tour. The glacier tour can be on a boat as long as it's within the view of land. We have one in our group who isn't a boat fan. We would like to see National Parks and any other sites we can add on. We are going to rent a car to get around and will look for places to stay that will work with whatever route we decide to take.

Someone suggested flying into Anchorage then drive to Denali and start there working south to Kenai Peninsula.

Thanks in advance to any advice

Donna
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Old Jan 27th, 2022, 08:09 AM
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A few notes and suggestions...

I would choose the earlier dates; while September can be wonderful, it can also start feeling like autumn - cloudy skies, maybe some rain, chilly nights. But this is important - any discussion about travel conditions and weather in Alaska MUST reference the where as well as the when. By that I mean that because of the state's huge size, one will encounter very different conditions depending on where in Alaska you're talking about at any given time. Being farther north, Fairbanks experiences autumn conditions before Anchorage does, and those conditions will be very different from those in the southeastern ("panhandle") part of the state and the Inside Passage.

So that said, another important item is the status of Denali National Park. Erosion has closed the main (and basically only) road into the interior of the park, and it's not going to be available for travel this summer beyond Mile 43, which is only a fraction of its length. Now this is not an unmitigated disaster but, combined with Denali's notorious cloud cover, it's likely to result in a lot of disappointed visitors who will have a very abbreviated picture of the park and its scenery and wildlife.

The good news is that there are plenty of other things to see and do, even if Denali (from the ground) is off the table. For example, you could still experience Denali from the air (which leaves most people gobsmacked) with a flightseeing tour out of Talkeetna or (my recommendation) Anchorage. Or without Denali you could allocate more time to the Kenai Peninsula, or even combine a week in southcentral Alaska (Anchorage, Kenai etc.) with a few days in southeast Alaska, so you could gain a sense of that spectacular part of the state. If you chose this course of action, then I'd fly in and out of Anchorage, and save Fairbanks and Denali for another time.

In terms of your wish list, here are some possibilities:

Helicopter tour: Instead of a chopper, I'd recommend a flightseeing tour of Denali, maybe including a glacier landing, out of Anchorage. Rust's is the preeminent provider of these flights but there are others. Alaska Flightseeing Tours & Air Charters | Rust's Aviation (flyrusts.com)

Train/dogsled: You might consider a round trip train trip to Seward from Anchorage. In Seward you can go on a Kenai Fjords cruise (which can be bumpy and maybe not the best for the anti-boat crowd) or experience some sled dogs with Seavey's Ididaride operation - Alaska Dog Sledding Tours - Seavey's IdidaRide - Seward, Alaska . Note one of the options for this is a glacier mushing trip using helicopters to get you up to the ice, so a twofer. The train ride between Anchorage and Seward is very beautiful.

Glacier cruise: There are glacier cruises out of Whittier, reached either by car or train from Anchorage. These tours are on protected waters always in sight of land, and are usually very satisfying. Phillips' "26 Glacier" cruise is the best known, but again, there are other providers. Phillips Cruises Alaska Glacier Tours Whittier Prince William Sound.
If you drive to Whittier, you can stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, which is located near the junction of the Whittier access road and the Seward Highway.

Some other thoughts:

- The Alaska State Fair occurs over Labor Day weekend in Palmer, 45 minutes north of Anchorage. This is a fun event where you can see (among other things) some of the giant vegetables for which the fair is famous. You could also combine a visit to the fair with a visit to Hatcher Pass and Independence Mine, in the mountains above Palmer - a spectacular setting. Alaska State Fair

- If you were to consider adding some time in SE Alaska (which I would strongly recommend) then I'd choose Sitka, which can be reached on Alaska Airlines via Juneau, and which offers nonstop service to/from Seattle. Sitka is beautiful, historic, and offers a wide range of activities - whale and wildlife viewing, the Fortress of the Bear and Alaska Raptor Center, Russian and Native American history... lots to see and do. Three or four days in Sitka would be a terrific way to end a first Alaska visit.

Hope this is of some help.
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Old Jan 27th, 2022, 12:42 PM
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Gardyloo, I've never been to Alaska, but your amazing suggestions make me want to!

Have a great time, Donna.
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Old Jan 28th, 2022, 05:35 AM
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Gardyloo advice

Gardyloo,

I was feeling frustrated and a bit deflated about planning this trip but your post has inflated and excited me again!!! Thank you so very much!!

Donna
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Old Jan 29th, 2022, 12:32 PM
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We took a trip to Alaska in June 2019, and it was wonderful. One of my favorite things we did was to take the train from Anchorage to Seward, the scenery was spectacular! As we traveled along the water of Turnagain Arm and into the mountains, it just kept getting better and better. Even though we were just in a coach car, those all had glass covered observation areas upstairs where you could go sit for panoramic views. Everyone in our car was considerate and only stayed in that area for 15 - 20 minutes at a time, so as not to hog those seats, and give everyone a chance to enjoy them. I was able to go up there several times for the wonderful views (though the views from our regular seats were pretty great, too).

We spent a couple of days in Seward, which has a lovely harbor surrounded by mountains. Just a short drive out of town, in Kenai Fjiords National Park, there's a trail you can hike up to near the base of Exit Glacier, it takes less than an hour to hike there from the visitor center, and we didn't find it too strenuous. The Alaska SeaLife Center is in Seward, and very much worth visiting, with various live sea animal and bird exhibits. One day we took a boat tour that went to the base of two different glaciers, which was cool because you could see and hear them calving into the water, and see large chunks of ice floating all around. A crew member scooped up an ice chunk from the glacier, and then used an ice pick to make smaller pieces of ice that he used to make margaritas that we could buy. We really enjoyed the boat trip, and we were never far from land. It was all in fairly protected waters, and once again, the scenery was spectacular. We saw whales (orcas), dolphins, seals, otters, eagles, puffins, and various other types of wildlife. We were never in rough water the day we went. Some members of our party also rented kayaks and went out exploring afterwards, which would have been fun, but we were tired and needed to have a relaxing dinner after a long day.

Anchorage has a great museum, which has two sections. One area has comprehensive exhibits about the history of Alaska, its native people and culture, its geology, and more - we learned a lot there. The other section is an art museum with wonderful paintings, sculpture, and art installations from Alaskan artists. We visited the Alaska Native Heritage Center, which we found very interesting and educational. We also went to the Alaska Botanical Garden in Anchorage. I really enjoy visiting botanical gardens, and that one was nice enough, but I was underwhelmed - I didn't think it was as good as some others I've been to, and I didn't see any unusual plants I haven't seen elsewhere. If you're looking for something to do and want to be outdoors, it's fine, but I wouldn't put it at the top of my list. We spent an afternoon at the Eagle River Nature Center in Chuchag State Park near Anchorage, and enjoyed hiking on the lovely trails along the river there, with a variety of forest and meadow scenery, and beautiful wildflowers.

I agree with Gardyloo that this is not the best time to visit Denali, since the road has been closed by a landslide before you get to the most scenic parts of the park. We were lucky that the day we spent there it was clear, and we had good views of that incredible mountain - we were told most people don't have that good fortune! If you can afford to take a plane or helicopter tour there, that might be your best bet for seeing the mountain. Once the road is rebuilt, which will probably take at least a couple of years, you can consider a return trip! Several members of our party took a whitewater raft tour near the park; my husband and I had planned to go too, but I came down with a horrible cold the night before, and was just too sick to go. Our friends enjoyed it, though.

We ended our trip in Fairbanks and flew home from there. If you don't go to Denali, I'm not sure it's worth going to Fairbanks, it's so far away from other things you might want to spend more time doing and seeing. We did enjoy the trip we took there on the Riverboat Discovery, which stopped at the Chena Indian Village, a recreated village that showed how the Chena people lived, it was interesting.

Good luck planning your trip!
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Old Jan 29th, 2022, 05:58 PM
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Two of my favorite things I did in Alaska was whale watching and a visit to Halibut Cove.
We did the whale watching out of Juneau and were so fortunate to see the whales bubble net feeding. It is absolutely incredible. You can watch this on YouTube. We saw the whales doing this multiple times- sometimes they were right behind the boat.
Halibut Cove you can reach from Homer. You have to go in a boat. We went on the Danny J which is an old wood ferry. Through them you can arrange dinner at the Saltry Restaurant- another treat. Following dinner there is time to walk around on the boardwalk and see the rest of the area. When we were there, there were a couple of artist studios which were open with art for sale. This was before Covid so don't know if artist studios are still there, but it is a beautiful place.
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Old Jan 30th, 2022, 08:09 AM
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Sara Thank you so much!!
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Old Jan 30th, 2022, 08:13 AM
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sunbum1944 Thank You!!!
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