Alaska in September!

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Sep 26th, 2018, 02:11 PM
  #1
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Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 451
Alaska in September!

Prologue

The journey to Alaska actually began three years ago when my wife was celebrating a significant Birthday!

Our two adult sons wanted to do something special for her and I became the plus 1 when she insisted that I be included. So after many discussions and creating the time to get away it was decided we would all go to Alaska for a week with just " the boys", without the wives and grandkids. Our sons would make all of the arrangements, reservations and set the itinerary for the week. We were encouraged to extend our trip and we did so for an additional week.

We had the most wonderful experience traveling with our sons and seeing Alaska for the first time, Actually it was the first time for all of us in Alaska and it did not disappoint! We planned for cold and rainy weather ( especially in Sitka), bought rain gear at REI and lucky us experienced 2 weeks with no rain or cold weather and left the tags on our REI purchase ( which we ended up returning)!

Itinerary
Day 1 Anchorage
Day 2, 3, 4 Seward
Day 5, 6, 7 Denali National Park
Day 8 Anchorage
*Day 9, 10, 11, 12 Our sons return home and we fly to Juneau for 4 days
Day 13, 14, 15 Sitka
Day 15 Fly Sitka to Juneau
Day 16 Fly Juneau to Seattle and Seattle to NYC

Transportation

All flights booked on Alaska Airlines, Tip: There wasn't any television screens nor meals offered . Any extras ( food or drinks) were purchased.
Car rentals in Anchorage, Juneau and Sitka. Car rental arriving in Anchorage and returning 8 days later. We rented for 4 days in Juneau and 21/2 days in Sitka Tip. You probably don't need 4 days as 3 would be fine in Juneau and at most 2 days in Sitka.

Anchorage
My son booked the Hyatt Hotel closer to airport . Tip You are better off downtown. While the hotel was good with a nice complimentary breakfast and easy access to the highway to Seward it was still a 15 minute trip to the downtown area.

We arrived in Anchorage, picked up our car rental, drove to the hotel nearby and went for a walk on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. We walked for a few miles, however, you could rent bikes if you wanted to. A drink at the 49th State Brewing Company and oysters and drinks at the Bubbly Mermaid Bar. We walked in and around downtown Anchorage, found some street art ( which my wife loves to photograph) and eventually headed for dinner at Simon & Selfort (highly recommend). On our return to Anchorage we stopped for a hike at Thunderbird Falls ( fairly easy trail round trip 2 miles) and dinner at Kincaid Grill and Wine Bar ( also highly recommend). Tip: We all felt that Anchorage doesn't really offer
much and that it could be used as a starting and ending destination.

Seward
After a quick breakfast we left early for our drive to Seward. The drive can be made in 2 hours covering 127 miles, however, you can spend most of the day stopping off and exploring many of the turnoffs that offer scenic views of mountains and possible wildlife , hikes, tram rides up a mountain and countless photo ops! We spent almost 6 hours doing this and loved every minute especially my wife photographing everything! I have to say that our sons were incredibly patient and never hesitated to allow their Mom to do her thing and alway encouraging her to take her time to enjoy the moment! This is a coastal highway traveling along the shoreline of Turnagain Arms with the peaks of the Chugach Mountains and Kenai Peninsula keeping you company. Tip Take your time and do some research where to stop along the way. Check out Alaska.org and Anchorage to Seward ( Seward Highway) for some ideas!
We stopped in the town Girdwood and spent time going up the tram at the Aleyska Resort. Great views, hiking ( can be strenuous). Lunch at Girdwood Picnic Club ( loved food and ambiance).

After our lunch we continued on to Seward and stopped off at a supermarket for supplies as we had an Airbnb rental for the next 3 days. Our rental was a nice 10 minute walk into town and I must say one of the nicest views of the mountains and water that we have ever seen! We loved the town of Seward. It was charming filled with several restaurants, bars, shops, boat tours, hiking trails, cafes and Sea Life Center.
Absolutely loved the Major Marine Kenai Fjords 81/2 hour cruise. Tip Purchase the lunch they offer!
Spend some time at the Seward Alaska Sea Life Center
Go for a hike at Exit Glacier ( relatively easy hike).
Spend time at the Wildlife Conservation Center outside Seward
Best meals at The Cookery. You will have to wait, however, definitely well worth the wait!!
When hiking Exit Glacier check out the Salmon Bake restaurant on the road up to the Glacier
Have a coffee and pastry at the Resurrect Art Coffee house. Great ambiance, art work and see how they converted a former church into a cafe.
After 3 days we left early for our drive to Denali with a stopover in Talkeetna. It would be a very long day!

** Our time in Denali, Juneau and Sitka will continue in the next posting!
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Sep 27th, 2018, 04:25 AM
  #2
 
Join Date: Dec 2008
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Great start on your TR. This sounds like the trip we should have taken. I'm looking for the rest of the trip.
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Sep 28th, 2018, 09:32 AM
  #3
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A few more Tips before I continue: if you decide to do the boat trip be sure to bring some warm clothing: hat, gloves and scarf as it will become colder as you approach the glaciers. Also be aware that when stepping outside on the deck there is a high step. I forgot and fell injuring my hand .

On the road to Denali

The drive from Seward to Denali will be long and we broke it up by stopping off at the Wildlife Conservation Center. Here you have an opportunity to see Moose, Bears ,Porcupines, Wolves, Bald Eagle, Caribou, Musk Ox and others.

We stopped for a few hours in Talkeetna which is a very nice town a few hours from Denali. It has many shops, a few restaurants and lots of charm! It also offers one of the best views of Denali down by the river!

Our next stop would be a cabin rental at McKinley Creekside Cabins ( short distance to Denali Park). Tip Unfortunately for us, since we were there in September after Labor Day the cafe connected with the cabins was shutting down the morning after we arrived. If you are planning on a September visit check to see when nearby restaurants will be closing for the season. This was the second time for us as we had the same experience at the Salmon Bake in Seward!

When in Denali you can only travel by car for 15 miles at which point you will either have to turn around or park and go on a hike. We opted to take the tour Tundra Wilderness which is an on/ of bus ridef for 8 hours. There are other options as well. Although it is a bit uncomfortable sitting on a bus for that long you do get several opportunities to see wildlife, take bathroom breaks and receive a narrated tour by a very experienced bus driver. Tip Be sure to bring your National Park Card as you will save money on the tickets. Bring food and drinks as there aren't any opportunities a long the way. We were very fortunate as we had incredible beautiful weather, clear skies and magnificent views of Denali with brilliant Fall colors. Also try to go on the earliest tour as it will give you more time to explore on your own if you choose to get off the bus and take a different bus going or returning. If you choose to get off you should know that while you are guaranteed a seat back there is no guarantee that it will be on the next bus! After a very long day we went for Pizza at the Prospectors Pizzeria and Alehouse outside Denali. Really good food and a wide variety of beers and wine! On the next morning we left early and took the 15 mile drive hoping to see some wildlife. We didn't ! On the 8 hour bus tour we did see moose, caribou, grizzly bears, red fox and a few smaller animals. We parked our car next to the guard house at the 15 mile cutoff and went on a very nice hike called the Savage River hike. It is a 2 mile loop which is easy. Our next destination was to see the Husky Dogs which are trained in the park. There was time to see the dogs, pet them and then see a training session. By the way on our 15 mile trip back once again we did not see any wildlife! The last thing we did was to go to the Visitor Center which I highly recommend. It is a magnificent building housing a theater, life size replicas of the animals , restaurant and a gift shop. While waiting on line to pay for a gift someone came running into the shop announcing that a moose was outside the Visitor Center. Finally, we saw some wildlife...roaming in the Visitor Center! Such a funny sight and of course an opportunity to tell a funny story. We ended up bringing home some food back to our cabin, made a fire in our outdoor fire pit and played corn hole for a few hours. In the morning we will be driving back to Anchorage after 3 glorious days in Denali. We have now been in Alaska for a week without any rain and experiencing warm days with lots of sunshine in September!

Leaving Denali and heading back to Anchorage

We left early and made our way back to Anchorage after taking a short hike at Thunderbird Falls close to Anchorage. It was a 2 mile hike, easy and mostly flat and worth the stop. Our hotel was the same Hyatt we had stayed in with close proximity to the airport. Tip One of the perks of the Hyatt was that they offer free Shuttle service to and from the airport. One of our sons took advantage of the service and left to return home that night after a great dinner at the Kincaid Grill and Wine Bar. The next morning our other son drove to the airport where we said our goodbyes as we were off to Juneau and he too would be returning home.

We had the most wonderful experience traveling with our sons and are so grateful for them making this possible! It was a truly memorable Birthday gift for my wife and we are happy to report: Not one disagreement!

Next stop is Juneau!
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Sep 29th, 2018, 06:34 PM
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Looking forward to more!
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Sep 30th, 2018, 10:04 AM
  #5
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Juneau

We had an early departure out of Anchorage on Alaska Airlines and headed to Juneau! Arrived on time and picked up our rental which was very easy and headed to our B & B: Alaska's Capital Inn. We loved our stay here with the owners Linda and Mark being such gracious hosts. Our breakfasts were delicious, plentiful and the wine and cheese hour each afternoon was great. Tip The downtown area where you will find all the shops, restaurants and sights are located 10 minutes away from the B & B down a steep hill. If you have any difficulty walking you can look for parking, however, it may be hard to find . After checking into our room we walked into town and had lunch at The Rookery ( wonderful tasty vegetarian options), explored the waterfront area, shops and the Cruise ships and took advantage of our free passes from our B & B for Mt. Roberts Tramway. It was a quick trip to the top offering incredible views of Juneau and also two optional hikes. After returning from Mt. Roberts we continued to explore the downtown area, shopped for some groceries at a nearby supermarket and headed back for some wine and cheese! Dinner at Bocca De Lupo ( Italian) was delicious! Tip Make reservations: we didn't and just got lucky here. The next day we had reservations for our Adventure Bound Tracy Arm Fjord Boat Trip ( 81/2 hours) to see up close glaciers. While a bit pricey this boat trip was everything we had wished for and more. We saw seals, eagles and a mountain goat and lots of floating glacier remnants due to iceberg calving. It takes you almost two hours until you first reach these floating icebergs and when you first see them you are blown away by its sheer beauty , blue color and size! Our captain brought us so very close to the glacier and we stayed in the area for almost an hour waiting for and being rewarded by witnessing calving taking place. The sounds from the calving are both frightening and exhilarating at the same time. There is this wonderful shared experience that all of us on the boat came away with. Tip Unlike the boat experience we had in Seward this company doesn't offer a very good lunch so I would advise you bring your own along with some snacks. Since the boat is not large you don't have the luxury of being able to walk around a lot outside and due to the speed of the boat causing huge waves of water hitting the sides it becomes wet and slippery. Bring, some waterproof clothing, shoes, camera protection, warm hat and perhaps gloves as it becomes colder as you near the glaciers. After a long day we returned to our B & B and had dinner at 26 Hangar on the Wharf ( while many love the food and views of the waterfront we found it to be just okay). The next day we were off to the Mendenhall Glacier, Auke Bay, lunch at Gonzo's ( good food), The Shrine of St. Therese and the Salmon Hatchery! All excellent choices including an easy hike to Nugget Falls at Mendenhall. Our last day in Juneau would be spent exploring Douglas Island. Only a few miles from downtown over a small bridge you enter onto Douglas Island. If you turn right and travel approximately 12 miles you will reach the Rainforest Trail. You have a few options here: hike on a dirt path or on a narrow boardwalk which both lead to the seashore. We elected to take the boardwalk and it was easy and beautiful! Once you reach the shore it becomes a bit more difficult to navigate over rocks and in the soft sand. After our hike we headed back into the "downtown" location of Douglas Island and went for pizza at the Island Pub ( which we really enjoyed). Took a drive to Sandy Beach. It's a really nice park to walk around, see some Totem Poles and watch the floatplanes soar by from the nearby airport. We had noticed on the bridge back a huge sculpture of a whale below us and found The Breaching Whale statue located on the New Riverwalk in Juneau. It is definitely something to see! Our last exploration would be at the MuseAlaska State Museum ( very interesting, informative, beautiful and if you have the time spend more time there). Tip Some of the things we didn't do or see while in Juneau: take a Floatplane over Juneau, Helicopter flight, Whale watching with Harv and Mark, touring the State Capitol Building and drinking/eating and listening to music at the Red Dog Saloon. Dinner was at Salt ( tasty and expensive). In the morning we will be on our way to Sitka and the landing on Sitka ( oh my!)
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Oct 1st, 2018, 09:52 AM
  #6
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Sitka

We loved our 21/2 days in Sitka! It is a beautiful town surrounded by mountains, a volcano, water, a few restaurants, shops, magnificent views and people passionate about where they live. The highlights for us: walking and sitting along Harbor Drive, Alaskan Raptor Center, St. Michaels Cathedral, Castle Hill, Totem Square Park, Russian Bishop House, Russian Cemetery, Fortress of the Bear, New Archangel Russian Dancers performance, view of Sitka from UAS, Bayview Pub, Highliner Cafe, Back Door Cafe, The Nugget Restaurant at the airport. Tip Although the Sitka Hotel( where we stayed) is in an excellent location to tour the town on foot, I cannot fully recommend it as our room presented us with several issues. I think that 2 days is sufficient for Sitka, however, at the time we were there in September the ferries were not running on a daily schedule and flights to both Seattle and Juneau were not scheduled often. As a result we ended up staying an extra half day and ended up spending hours at The Nugget in the airport eating, drinking and watching a football game. Talking about the airport!!! The landing strip in Sitka is short and narrow. Flying from Juneau is a 20 minute flight and you fly over mountains and very close to the water. In fact during the actual landing you are convinced that you are landing on the water! Of course you don't and it all makes for a very interesting experience and story to tell.

Flying Home!

We had a night flight out of Sitka back to Juneau ( not as exciting) and 20 minutes later we were picked up by the free shuttle to the Best Western Country Lane hotel which is a 3 minute drive. Our room was fine and the free breakfast was okay. With a few hours free before heading to the airport for our flight to Seattle and eventually New York City we walked from our hotel to a nearby mall. Tip For those considering whether or not to stay by the airport or in downtown Juneau I would absolutely suggest the downtown area...hands down!!

We loved our trip to Alaska . The beauty of it all and the opportunity to see animals in their natural surroundings, witnessing glaciers, seeing mountains, meeting the people, taking hikes and spending time with our sons will be memories that will last for a lifetime!!
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Oct 1st, 2018, 10:01 AM
  #7
 
Join Date: Dec 2008
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Sounds like a truly wonderful trip. Thanks for the report.
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