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Alaska

Old Jan 21st, 2012, 01:40 PM
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Alaska

I have always been so intrigued by Alaska's beauty, but have yet to visit there. Mountains covered in snow, log cabins and nature is the ideal mental image I have in my head. For the first-time visitor, what would be the best places to visit, as well as the best time of year to go?
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Old Jan 21st, 2012, 01:58 PM
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I will really confirm just how captivating the natural scenery of Alaska really is.

I decided to drive there, just because it is a bit more unique than most Alaska trips, and the hours of impressive scenery, which looked different and unique when seen from the opposite sides of the roads, was plenty worth it.

Within Alaska I took only the most basic trip to/from Tok, to Anchorage, to Seward, and back... and in early April the frozen lakes, wintery conditions (with reasonable roads), light traffic and mosquito-free sightseeing made for a great combination.

I've seen a postcard that shows "Alaska from outer space", and the mountainous terrain is extremely central to the card's appeal.

I can't give you the grandest details, because I doubt you're inclined to drive, but do consider that the scenery in "getting there" (between ANY two points in Alaska, I mean)... is majorly significant.

Even if you're going to some seemingly unimportant destination, where you can't list too many things to actually "DO" while there, it will be the trip along the way that most impacts you.

I don't know HOW I picked Seward as a side-trip - perhaps it was just the right distance from Anchorage - but I WOULD fully recommend that anybody who could do so conveniently should visit Seward.

I suppose you should first look into the cruise ships, to see if anything suits you that way. (having reason to go up the "Inside Passage" affords the chance to see much of the natural beauty from the sea, with somebody else driving)

The alternative would be to fly to Anchorage and then create your own itinerary, realizing that you just have to pick SOMEthing, and that you can't possibly cover it all. I guess most think of Denali (Mt. McKinley) as the first idea for travel from Anchorage. Fairbanks is up the road, and much smaller and more wintery than is Anchorage.

You'll probably have the best experience as the result of choosing outlying destinations/side-trips for yourself. Once you do that, people here will be better able to double-check your ideas for feasibility.

Have fun!
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Old Jan 21st, 2012, 02:31 PM
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We loved Kenai Fjords/Seward.

I hope to return and do Denali, Katmai, Glacier Bay, and Wrangel. I think they all look very good.
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Old Jan 22nd, 2012, 07:45 AM
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I think both previous posters have it right for a first trip. I have been to AK at least a dozen times now and my two favorite areas are the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak Island.

Kodiak involves either an additional flight or a trip by the Alaska marine Ferry so it may be too much trouble for a first trip but it is well worth the visit, espceially in the summer and early fall when the salmon are running and the bears are active.

The Kenai Peninsula is both accessable by road (much of scenic Alaska is not) and stunningly beautiful. The highway from Anchorage to Seward, once you get outside of Anchorage rivals anything else the world has to offer for mountain and marine grandeur. The drive (or train trip) to Seward is one I go back for quite often. Once in Seward, the town and its surroundings are beautiful. I always take a full-day boat trip to Kenai Fjords National Park while I'm there. You'll never forget floating near the face of a glacier, watching it calfing huge blocks of ice into the sea.

If you have the time, visits to the Homer and Valdez areas are also well worth it. I think my favorite view in the world is Katchemak Bay and the lower Kenai Peninsula as you come around the curve in the highway and down the grade into Homer. I also enjoy visiting some of the Russian Villages dotting the country around Homer.

I've posted some photo blogs from a few of my trips. If you are interested in seeing some of the scenery I've described, take a look at http://www.worldisround.com/articles/355248/index.html or http://www.worldisround.com/articles/347975/index.html or http://www.worldisround.com/articles/309702/index.html or http://www.worldisround.com/articles/209893/index.html.

Enjoy your trip.
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Old Jan 22nd, 2012, 03:38 PM
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Thank you, NorthwestMale! The drive sounds very beautiful, and while I hadn't thought of driving to Alaska, I am now most inclined to.

I'm curious to know how large Anchorage is? Say in comparison to an Oregon city?
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Old Jan 22nd, 2012, 03:46 PM
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Hello Spirobulldog. Thank you for the info! I'm curious what it was about those places, that makes you want to visit again?

Ever been inclined to move there?
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Old Jan 22nd, 2012, 03:54 PM
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I made the trip in early July. We had beautiful weather. Flew into Anchorage, spent the night and enjoyed a nice day at history museums, etc. Got our car the next day and drove leasurily to Seward. Well worth the drive. Net day on the Fjord boat trip and another night in Seward. On our way out of town went to Sea Life Museum and Exit Glacier. Both great visits.

We drove back to Anchorage for the night and next am set out north to Denali. Arrived to visit the nature center and get our barrings. Started out the next am on the green park busses where we rode into the park and hiked.

Next morning we returned to the park for the sled dog exhibit and then to white water rafting. Spent another night in Denali and headed back to Anchorage to fly home. It was a 10 day trip. Perfect for us. Good luck.

When I go back in 2014, I might do the same route (taking kids this time) and add Nature Center north of ANchorage. ALl else was awesome.
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Old Jan 22nd, 2012, 03:56 PM
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Beautiful photos, dwooddon! Thank you! I appreciate all of the suggestions, and think that the Russian villages sound very intrigueing. With so many visits there, along with your clear love Alaska's beauty, have you ever considered moving there? If you were to ever move there, what area do you think you would be inclined to pick?
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Old Jan 22nd, 2012, 04:26 PM
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I'd love to move there except for the fact that I am close to my kids and grandkids and would not want live that far from them. I'm also getting a little long in the tooth to brave those winters. When I got out of the Air Force and was applying for law enforcement jobs, it was a hard choice between San Diego and the Alaska State Troopers. San Diego won.

There are a number of areas I could easily live. Homer and Seward, already mentioned are two. I love visiting Kodiak Island but it's a little too remote for me to want to live there. There are lots of lakes north of Anchorage, clustered around Wasilla, I could easily live - not in Wasilla itself, but in the area.
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Old Jan 22nd, 2012, 05:18 PM
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To answer your previous question about the size of Anchorage, it's about 300,000 within the city and 375,000 in the metropolitan area. It is not one of my favorite places but its unavoidable if you are flying into Southcentral or if you are driving or taking the train between the south and north areas of Southcentral.

There's an old joke about Anchorage: Wherever you are in town, you are no more than an hour from Alaska.
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Old Jan 22nd, 2012, 05:27 PM
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Thank you for the information, dwooddon! I really appreciate all of the information, especially from someone who has first-hand experience. Is Wasilla small or large? I am someone who does not like to live in the city. I don't mind living fairly close, but just have to have privacy, peace and quiet. I like to think that "remote" would work for me (like you described Kodiak Island), but it would probably not be very realistic.

I really am very grateful for the information though, and have definitely added the great places you have mentioned to my "must see" list. Thank you!
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Old Jan 22nd, 2012, 08:54 PM
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"Ever been inclined to move there?".

Be careful with that one. We went up to spend a year, and ended up staying for eight. It is that kind of place.
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Old Jan 22nd, 2012, 08:54 PM
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Countrychicks... While Anchorage is listed at 290,000 or so, I recall writing to somebody while I was there in early April, that is sorta 'played' like Yakima, Washington moreso than a town 4 or 5 times Yakima's size. (perhaps the emphasis there is on "EARLY APRIL")

Nowthen, IF at all inclined to at least review the idea of DRIVING up there, that entails a trip of NEARLY 1000 miles (from Portland, OR) JUST to reach the START of the Alaska Highway (Dawson Creek, BC).

The path from Portland to Anchorage is a mind-numbing 2530 miles. (you could get to Atlanta, Georgia in 2596 miles, FYI)

Upon seriously considering the idea of DRIVING up there, one must avail herself of "The Milepost" travel guide to Alaska and the Alaska Highway. It really is amazing at covering stuff.

Beyond that, you'd have to anticipate miles and miles, hours and hours, of nothing but you, the road you're on (visible well in the distance) AND nothing but thick forests all around - particularly in northern BC.

You'd want to bring lots of music and hopefully another 'country chick' to pass the time.

(one night I found myself an hour outside of Whitehorse (Yukon)... excited to finally pick-up the first radio station in hours... only to realize that they were wasting the ONE radio station that was coming-in on a simulcast of the town's Friday night BINGO game!!!) (The bad news is that I was so starved for interaction, that I found myself enthralled with "Oh-Sixty-One"... "I-Seventeen"... "Bee-Eight" for a short while)

IF you go into it with those understandings, then the scenery you will encounter along the way is hard to match in such abundance by a mortal soul traveling in North America.

On the way home I took a 'detour' into and through Alberta. Upon heading west from Calgary and into/through the Canadian Rockies, I found myself thinking: "MAN this would be even more awesome... had I not JUST come from Alaska".

It really IS a heck of a time and distance investment to DRIVE up there... (oh, the absolute best scenery along the way seemed to be at Kluane Lake, Yukon - an hour or two west of Whitehorse {which is the largest city on the central "Alaska Highway" @ 26,000).

Once you get up there, your basic targets for plotting your overnight stays are spaced reasonably well, but you don't exactly have YOUR choice of places to stay, as you might when driving between Salem and Portland. You actually have to 'plot' with some consideration... but it is definitely and easily doable.

Driving up there isn't for everybody... especially considering the price of gas, but it is a little more along the lines of "something you'd have never DONE" than is going to Alaska via any form of public transportation that is readily available.

Looking BACK, I remain quite content about my having departed Seattle for Alaska on April 1. I am CERTAIN that most others would suggest a much later departure date for you, (and I can't say that they aren't correct in so doing).

The weather was decent (perhaps just a scant few miles of compact snow on the roadway amid 2400 miles of travel). Traffic was NOTHING (drove for nine hours one day and saw the sum total of SEVEN cars in my lane (going my way, I mean) during that whole period.

IF I rounded a bend and saw a great photo op, I did NOT need to abide by the sign that said "photo turnout 1/2 mile" - (instead I could just STOP right in the middle of the road and take the picture I wanted, for likely being able to hear anything approaching from 5 miles away or so)

In addition, most of the lakes were still FROZEN at that time, which made for unique photo opportunities. One time I rounded a bend and found Cariboo dotted IN the travel lanes on the highway. At other times there were Bison grazing happily on either side of the road.

Many complain about mosquitoes being ever so prominent during summers on the Alaska Highway, but that wasn't at all an issue in early April.

(oh yeah, a funny novelty along the way is in Watson Lake, Yukon, where there is a "sign post forest" in {what we'll call} full bloom. People bring city/locale-related road signs from all over the world, to nail to the many fences waiting there) (uniquely this is something that can be amusing 12 months a year (though I don't advise putting your tongue on a metal sign there in late January))

There are so many other interesting sights along the way, and I wanted to offer the true sense of what such a drive would entail.

(oh yeah, in 2400 miles I probably saw fewer than 30 miles of unpaved roadway (and only in spots where road repairs were beintg made)... there's no traffic, so you can just SLOW DOWN and go at whatever speed feels safe, along the gravel).

I drove a standard rental car sedan and had no problems at all.

(in closing, heed the call of others when wanting to learn the "best" time to make such a drive)

At least this lets you cover one scenario you might not have otherwise pondered.
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Old Jan 24th, 2012, 07:25 PM
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Kenai Peninsula has it all. Fishing of course, hiking, cruises, wildlife, fly-ins, Seward, Homer, shopping, most consistent weather

check out www.russellfishingcompany.com for help and great photos and information
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Old Jan 24th, 2012, 08:08 PM
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As a former long-time resident let me pluck a suggestion from off the wall. I gather you're in Oregon.

See if you can spring a couple of days free around the last weekend in February. Buy a RT ticket to Anchorage (or use miles if you have 'em) from Portland (numerous nonstops daily) and hit the Fur Rendezvous ("Rondy") in Anchorage. Championship dogsled races downtown, a fun fair, ice sculpture, snowshoe softball, a parade, a fur auction, fireworks... http://www.furrondy.net/

Spend a day or two enjoying the action downtown, then rent a car for a day and drive down along Turnagain Arm to Girdwood, a settlement near the Alyeska ski resort. Take the gondola up to the top (whether you're a skier or not) for some totally stunning views.

The summer in Alaska is pretty great; the winter is outstanding, as much for the people as for the scenery.

You'll be planning your return while you're waiting to get on the plane home.
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Old Jan 24th, 2012, 08:10 PM
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Meant to add, with luck and a clear sky in Girdwood (maybe in Anchorage too, away from the lights) you might get lucky with a big aurora show. Solar flares = big time Northern Lights.
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