Alaska Itinerary -Trying to do too much?

Old Jan 17th, 2006, 07:10 PM
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Alaska Itinerary -Trying to do too much?

16 days -probably trying to do too much
Traveling with my wife, son (8) and daughter (11). We are experienced long distance car travellers

7/22 Anchorage early afternoon -drive to Whittier -various stops along Seward Hwy
7/23 Sound Eco Whale Watching on PWS -then drive to Cooper Landing
7/24 Trail Ride a.m., Hike to Russian River Falls p.m.
7/25 Visit Soldotna, Kenai (look for Belugas) Fish from Lodge Dock (Catchem River Front Lodge) Float Trip in Evening (?)
7/25 Drive to Homer -clamming, Ninichik, -return to Soldotna for night
7/26 -Drive to Homer again -maybe some boat tour, Return to Soldotna again
7/27 Drive to Seward -visit Exit Glacier, Sea Life Center, Ididaridew Sled Dog Tour
7/28 -Kenai Fjords Boat Tour (any recommendations?)
7/29 -Drive from Seward to Denali -various stops along the way based on stuff in Milepost
7/31-8/1 Denali Natl Park
8/2 Drive to Fairbanks -visit Pioneer Park, Botanical gardens, museum at University
8/3 -Rent car and drive to Arctic Circle and back (how feasible is this?) -my daughter (and I) would really like to cross the Circle.
8/4 -Drive Richardson/Glenn Highway to Palmer (7.5 hours without stops, right?)
8/5-8/7 various Anchorage sites -Including drive up to Talkeetna to Flight-see.

Any thoughts?
Too much? none of the drives seem too bad Seward-Denali the longest at 8.5 -but we'll have a several stops or short hikes/visits to break it up a little.

Thanks
Kevin from Minnesota
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Old Jan 18th, 2006, 02:05 AM
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Old Jan 18th, 2006, 04:13 AM
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Frankly, yes too agressive. Some point to consider.

If your priority is whale watching, Whittier is NOT the place to do it, sightings there are probably only about 25%. You have NO options for whale watching anywhere unless you want Hoonah or Juneau. Even out of Seward you are looking at 50% and then only a small part of the trip. Whittier trips are pure glaciers and should be the priority for boat trips there. for wildlife then Kenai Fjords out of Seward..

I would not base out of Soldotna and travel back and forth to Homer, Homer is worth the overnights. There is also very little direct beach access in the city Kenai, and not likely to see belugas either. Best would be to ask at the Anchorage visitor center where they are, they used to have trackers reporting. It can be weeks without sighings in any give spot on the Cook inlet and it is much bigger than you probably realize.

You need any Kenai fjords boat trip with at least 6 hours on the water. Are you considering purchasing www.toursaver.com ?? Then use Renown for the coupon benefit.
Take precautions if prone to motion sickness, I see sick passengers every trip.

From Seward to Denali Park - you are looking at 9 hours with stops. Too long of a day in my opinion. I would adjust your routing to allow a night in Talkeetna, rather than back tracking at the end of your tour.

I would not suggest you drive yourself to the Arctic Circle unless you are skilled in gravel road driving, flats are common, no cell service and no service anyway for 100's miles. It is just a sign and 200 miles one way from Fairbanks, not a day trip. I suggest you may want to consider one of the fly ins and shuttles, with a guide that will tell you what you are seeing and having no risk of breakdowns or unsure driving. Trucks have right of way and the times I have ridden/driven, you need to announce yourself to each one coming and pull off the road. www.northernalaska.com is a company I have gone with the last 2 years. They do a great job if you want to cross the circle.

The most scenic portion of the Richardson is Glennallen to Valdez which you are bypassing. I would instead suggest 2 days to get there then the ferry back to Whittier.

Overall, you have planned a trip that I would take in 3. A great deal of your time is in transit and you can not count on marathon driving with 65mph consistantly. Construction will be a given, last year 25 miles of the Parks was torn up with hour waits for the pilot escorts, slow moving vehicles, you are going peak time for RV's and buses. There is so much to see along the way, you won't have that option with this schedule. There are plenty of activites in areas that is better done over a couple days. Your Kenai Peninsula planning overall allows this time. Your interior Alaska planning does not.

As an adjustment, I would definately add the day in Talkeetna on the way up and then not backtrack there.

Keep fine tuning your plans, read and do your homework. Focus on activites rather than packing on the miles. Kids couldn't care less about scenery which this is packed with. Be sure to have twice the batteries you think you'll need. Binoculars are necessary for each person, at least 10 power for wildlife.
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Old Jan 18th, 2006, 04:58 AM
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The Whale Watching/wildlife tour out of Whittier was recommended by a couple of travel books. Sound Eco Adventures claims about a 90% Success rate in humpback sightings and 50% on Orcas. According to the captain, they only had 2 trips last years without whale sightings.

What is the benefit/attraction to overnighting in Homer?

I'll probably ditch the AC drive -more of a novelty idea than a good vacation plan
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Old Jan 18th, 2006, 05:48 AM
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Kevin, Homer has gorgoeus scenery, Soldotna doesn't. After many trips to Alaska I would never recommend commuting to Homer from Soldotna, it just doesn't make sense. There is much more to do in Homer especially with two young kids.
I agree you should include Valdez in your itinerary. Again, I never knew you can see whales all the time in PWS. So many trips and we saw orcas only once.
I agree about Arctic Circle. You and your daughter should consider flying there with Alaska Airlines. Check their website, there are tons of information and itineraries for visiting Arctic Circle. 200 miles is not the same as driving on any highway or even on Seward or Richardson Highways in Alaska. I think you know already that the highways in Alaska are two lanes roads.
I hope you will consider shortening your itinerary. Alaska is beautiful, there is so much to see so you shouldn't go there just for a driving marathon. Your kids will be greatful they won't have to be in a car all the time. Also you need to know that if it rains when driving from one destination to another it will take you much, much longer. I remember our first trip to Alaska when driving from Fairbanks to Valdez we not only had a heavy rains but also fog and snow in a higher elevation of the highway.

Where are you staying on 7/22? It is not clear if it is Anchorage, Whittier or Girdwood.
Are you staying in Cooper Landing on 7/23 and 7/24? If so, after that stay in Homer not Soldotna. You can visit Ninilchik on the way to Homer. Once you get to Homer and drive through Soldotna you will understand why Homer is better destination.
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Old Jan 18th, 2006, 06:03 AM
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7/22 Plan was to stay in Whittier Soundview Alaska Condos to avoid any issues with Tunnel to make the 8:00 a.m. boat tour -small 6 person boat btw

Cooper Landing I was planning to stay at Drifter's Lodge (2 for 1 in Toursaver)

The appeal of the place I found in Soldotna was they had their own fishing dock and rented poles reasonably inexpensively. We wanted an afternoon (probably only a couple of hours max) of flipping some lines into the Kenai river during peak salmon time. My kids aren't into fishing enough to justify a 1/2 day charter (unless I can find one for $50-75 for 3 hours or so)
I do think I will adjust the schedule and reduce the nights in Soldotna and add to Homer.

Do you know if the public can enter the High School in the summer and look at the Sperm Whale skeleton they have there?
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Old Jan 18th, 2006, 06:13 AM
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One other quick question (you know, before I ask the 20 other "quick" questions)

Am I right in assuming I should be booking lodging and "critical, can't miss" tour items pronto since I am traveling during peak visit time. Or am I worrying too much. I struggle with trying to balance a flexible schedule with the safety of reservations?

Oh, and I should have said this before:
THANKS FOR YOUR RESPONSES AND ADVICE! I really appreciate people taking the time to offer suggestions and experiences to help me plan this trip.
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Old Jan 18th, 2006, 07:32 AM
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Yes, if you know your dates and the lodgings you want, then book ASAP.

We did not use this vendor, but we heard that Rainbow boat tours out of Homer has pretty good success at sighting whales. We did the NW Kenai Fjords boat tour last year out of Seward, and were thrilled when a humpback breached near our boat. That's not common, though, although we did spot many orca swimming and humpbacks diving--which is pretty common.

Do you have the Milepost? If not, the new one comes out in March, and as BQ advises, get one from the library in the meantime. You need it to plan your trip and while in Alaska.

The areas you are asking about have been discussed in detail on this board over the last few weeks. Read through all the threads for great information. The folks on this board know their stuff, and they helped us far more than any of the MANY travel guides we had purchased.

You can make Ninlchik a stop along the way to Homer, or returning to Anchorage. It doesn't take long to explore the little village and visit the church. You have to walk up to the church from the village, or there is a road that takes you right to the church from Sterling Hwy, but there's no sign marking the road as an entrance to the church. We found a little restaurant on the beach at the village that had great clam chowder.

Also, plan a side trip to Anchor Point. It won't take much time out of your day, unless you're like us and can't bear to leave the eagles. You'll see MANY eagles on the beach--you can even walk close enough to get some great photos. Also, the kids will get a kick out of all the various tractors that launch boats right on the beach there.

You will all enjoy Homer--so much to see and do there. Just wondering through the shops on the spit is fun, too. Lots of halibut fishing charters out of Homer--we went as a family and enjoyed it more than we ever dreamt we would. Great protected water kayaking around Homer, and of course, the trips with Emerald Air to see the bears. Stunning views around Homer--make sure your lodging has a view of the area--too many places to stay there that have a great view without choosing a place that doesn't.

Personally, I think you need to rethink your route somewhat. IMHO, some of the most beautiful scenery while driving (besides the Kenai)is between Palmer and around Matanuska Glacier, and then from around Copper Center all the way to Valdez. Great kayaking to Columbia and Shoup Glaciers out of Valdez, and some great PWS boat tours, too. We really enjoyed the drive along the Richardson Hwy from Delta Junction all the way to Valdez, but we were not bothered by smoke from wildfires when we were there.

There was road construction on nearly every road we traveled, which slows you down considerably, as does the many motorhomes on the routes.

If you are traveling the Richardson, I hope you can make time to travel the 20 miles of paved road on the Denali Hwy--breathtaking views of the Alaska range.

I hope you have requested travel information from all the areas you will be visiting. It is most helpful with planning, and the photos really help you get an idea of some of what you'll be seeing.

Good luck, and enjoy your trip!
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Old Jan 19th, 2006, 04:54 AM
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As only my experience. I whale watch endlessly, many many trips every year, including usually going out for 3 day research trips out of Gloucester.

That being said. Prince William sound is not known for whales, a complete hit or miss with sighings more common out of Seward. Yes perhaps the operator does have his success rate, but HOW much time does it take to find them and how far. This is a common problem on the Boston trips, all the time is in transit to get to the banks, usually these boaters have at most 10 minutes of viewing, then time to head back, that's why you always want to go out of Gloucester, Cape Ann, Cape Cod etc. far closer. OK long winded but my point is maybe ask some more questions, I have sailed PWS many times and had a humpback sighing only one trip.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2006, 08:35 PM
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Its me again with more questions!

If we hike the Matanuska Glacier and Exit Glacier and do the long Kenai Fjords Boat trip, will it be overkill to do a cruise of Prince William Sound and hike Root Glacier in Wrangell-St.Elias? The main reason for going to WSENP is to do the Root Glacier and with shuttle travel times we would have to spend two nights.

Is three night in Homer too many?
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Old Jun 2nd, 2006, 09:49 PM
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lyntom, it wouldn't be overkill for us, but it really depends on what you like/want to see and do while in Alaska. If you really want to do Root, then that's something you should definitely try to include. Exit won't take that long, and it's not nearly like ice climbing at Matanuska. What will you be doing at Root Glacier?

Also, 3 nights in Homer may be right for you if you want to do a lot there. We could easily fill up those days (and nights) with activities in and around Homer. What will you be doing there for you to be spending 3 nights?
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Old Jun 3rd, 2006, 06:50 AM
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BayouGal:
We would see the Pratt Museum, maybe a fishing charter if we can find one that does a 1/2 day trip. And a kayaking trip either from Homer or Valdez-which do you think is better for that? Also, a trip to Halibut Cove and some hiking. Maybe also a side trip or two to some of the small villages. I don't want to just beat in time, though. Originally I had planned on just two nights there but, after reading about the town here, thought it might be wise to add another night.

I have made my husband understand that, since we are driving the whole way and road conditions/traffic are uncertian,we will have to take extra time and not try to do as many miles as we would if we were in the lower 48. I think he understands that the entire trip could take as much as 6 weeks.

Normally, in a trip "down here" we would try to do 450 to 520 miles per day. I am thinking that once we get near the Alaska Hwy., we should not plan on more than 300. We don't want to actually drive more than 8 hours including stops per day with 7 being ideal. I know some days will have to be longer, but that is our goal.
In Wrangell-St. Elias we would do the full day Root Glacier Hike. We love hiking--not super strenous but enough to get your "blood moving". We did a 9-mile hike to Iceberg Lake at Glacier and were really "bitten by the hiking bug." Also, from reading the posts here, the Endicott Mine tour seems like it would be fun.

I'm about ready to pass on the trip to the Arctic Circle--it seems that with us driving so far anyway and with so many activites being centered below Fairbanks, that perhaps a 200 mile trip to a "sign" just to say we've been there is not worth giving up something like Endicotte for.

I know all the questions from we easterners must get bothersome, but I really do appreciate your time in answering my questions.

Thanks so much!

Lynda
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Old Jun 3rd, 2006, 08:03 AM
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Lynda, travel questions are always welcome on Fodor's board. That is why we are all here, to help one another and learn all we can about destinations we are interested in.

As for Homer, we vegged one day--spent a couple hours casually shopping the Spit, stared at the Million Dollar View, and grilled the fresh halibut we'd caught on the fishing charter. And that was one of the best days of our trip! I think you'll love Homer. The views are breathtaking, and we found the Bohemian type community great.

We haven't driven from the lower 48, but I think you are very wise to plan days when you are not trying to "just beat in time." You will enjoy it so much more if you have some down time built into your plans. If you find you don't need it, there is more than enough to do in Alaska to fill that space in time.

Personally, I think kayaking out of Valdez for a day trip would be best. The 2 businesses there are reputable and comparable . . . just go with the one that suits you and your schedule best. Also, what you want to see while kayaking is probably the most important factor to decide where to kayak. After you check out the options out of Whittier, Seward, Homer, and Valdez, then come back to ask more questions here to fine tune your choice. Lots of folks sea kayak while in Alaska and plenty can offer good advice when you know what you want out of your kayaking trip.

We have not been to the Kennicott mines, but it is on our list for next time. You just can't do it all in one trip . . . which may be what you are finding about your original thoughts about going to the Artic Circle. We were fortunate that we had friends that had done the very thing you want to do. They told us that the road was VERY rough, all they saw/passed were big trucks, and the scenery wasn't anything to speak of . . . in other words, they told us to pass.

There are half day fishing trips out of Homer. We used Captain Mike and enjoyed it. They were so helpful with our planning that I am sure you could phone them and they'd help you figure out what would be best for you. I imagine just about any of the Homer charters could help you with your planning.

Good luck!
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Old Jun 3rd, 2006, 08:41 AM
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Thanks so much BayouGal. I really appreciate your "from experience" advice.

I'm sure I'll be back many times.

Lynda
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