Alaska Trip Planning

Old Apr 24th, 2015, 06:25 AM
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Alaska Trip Planning

We have had a cruise and a drop camp experience, but we now are planning to drive to see scenery and mostly wildlife in Alaska based around a few nights near Denali in the Fall (b/f they close). We will begin our trip arriving around 11 PM in Anchorage and fly out of ANC 9 days later. I'm hoping for reasonable ($200 -250 or less) but comfy lodging suggestions for Anchorage and Seward areas. Also, for input on the best road route stops for refreshing &/or gas in remote areas - we do have a MilePost Book and online where we can get basic info. I recognize that we are taking a road less traveled. We are renting an SUV for the gravel roads & have insurance, are aware the average speed is 35-40, so don't really need to discuss that. Here is the breakdown of the trip so far:

Day 1 Arrive ANC late night, pick up SUV & overnight near the NE edge of Anchorage as close to Hwy 1 towards GlenAllen as we can get. It looks like The Guest House may fit this need but is there a better option? The nicer places seem to be further away and I don't want to pay for parking for a 6 hr. stay. The next day will be a LONG drive - the reason for staying near Hwy1 to trim minutes.

Day 2 Travel Glenn Hwy (Hwy1) 187 miles to Glen Allen (lunch there?) and another 72 on Richardson Hwy from there to Paxson where we will overnight.

Day 3 Travel Denali Hwy 134 miles to Cantwell and then on to our home for the next three nights in Healy. Browse Denali in prep of bus tour the next day (tickets arranged).

Day 4 Bus Tour to Eielson in Denali (8 hr.)

Day 5 Sleep in & Explore on our own ( carefully, as we can't run fast lol!).

Day 6 Ck Out of our Healy home and drive to Anchorage. Need Ressie here.

Day 7 Drive to Girdwood & then to Seward to overnight. Need Ressie here.

Day 8 Drive to Anchorage to prepare for 7:30 AM flight out the next day. Need Ressie here.

Day 9 Fly out.

This is the bones of our trip. I hope to ask more questions as things progress. Thanks and I look forward to any helpful input you can offer.

OleSouthernBelle
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Old Apr 24th, 2015, 08:41 AM
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What's a "ressie"? Or is that a who?

How many are "we"? If two, Anchorage has plenty of chain hotels of reasonable or better quality that you can pick from located in or near downtown (since you seem to be using it mainly as a stop over). We rented an apt on VRBO for Seward but that won't fit your needs because you'll only be there one night.
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Old Apr 24th, 2015, 09:05 AM
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ressie=reservation
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Old Apr 24th, 2015, 10:21 AM
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"I recognize that we are taking a road less traveled."
- No you are not. You are driving on roads that are very regularly used by locals and travelers.
- Depending on your actual dates, this may have some spectacular fall scenery.

"We are renting an SUV for the gravel roads & have insurance, are aware the average speed is 35-40, so don't really need to discuss that."
- In fact, without more info., your statements here spooned as if you may not understand what you are doing.
- You do not need an SUV because of gravel roads. Any car allowed on these roads will be just fine.
- Having insurance is not nearly as relevant as ensuring that the company you rent the vehicle from allows their vehicles on AKs few gravel roads (e.g. the Denali Hwy). If your contract does not allow the vehicle on that road and you have damage related to that road, then insurance likely won't cover it because you violated your contract (out of pocket then!)
- Where do you think average speeds are 35-40? Our paved highways are typically 55-65 miles per hour. Traffic, construction, site-seeing would likely increase time between places. You shouldn't average 35-40 on the Denali Hwy (that's too fast for much of the road and it's conditions by the end of the summer).

"Day 1 Arrive ANC late night, pick up SUV & overnight near the NE edge of Anchorage as close to Hwy 1 towards GlenAllen as we can get. It looks like The Guest House may fit this need but is there a better option? The nicer places seem to be further away and I don't want to pay for parking for a 6 hr. stay. The next day will be a LONG drive - the reason for staying near Hwy1 to trim minutes."
- At most it takes about 15 minutes to get from the west end of town to the NE of ANC. I would find a hotel/motel based on price/comfort as opposed to located near NE ANC.
- Are you renting an SUV because you are going to drive on the Denali Hwy? Most rental companies prohibit their vehicles (SUVs included) from being used on the Denali Hwy. Make the company you are using permits their vehicles on this road. T
- There is no particular reason for renting an SUV in AK. You really only need to rent a vehicle that can comfortably hold you, your fellow travelers, and your luggage.

"Day 2 Travel Glenn Hwy (Hwy1) 187 miles to Glen Allen (lunch there?) and another 72 on Richardson Hwy from there to Paxson where we will overnight."
- Paxson, consider the Denali Hwy Cabins (see: http://www.denalihwy.com/)
- stop at the Matanuska Glacier State Recreational Site (see: http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/aspunits...matsuglsrs.htm). Great views/scenery/leg stretch.
- I'd get an early lunch at Grand View RV (see: http://www.grandviewrv.com/) or Sheep Mountain Lode (See: http://sheepmountain.com/) instead of anything available in Glen Allen (get gas in Glen Allen)

"Day 3 Travel Denali Hwy 134 miles to Cantwell and then on to our home for the next three nights in Healy. Browse Denali in prep of bus tour the next day (tickets arranged)."
- Is your rental vehicle allowed on the Denali Hwy?
- Do a self-drive into Savage River

"Day 4 Bus Tour to Eielson in Denali (8 hr.)"
- Do a self-drive into Savage River

"Day 5 Sleep in & Explore on our own ( carefully, as we can't run fast lol!)."
- Do a self-drive into Savage River

"Day 6 Ck Out of our Healy home and drive to Anchorage. Need Ressie here."
- Drive thru ANC and head to Girdwood. Dinner at Jack Sprat, Chair 5, Silvertip Grill, or Seven Glaciers (all good/fun and searchable)

"Day 7 Drive to Girdwood & then to Seward to overnight. Need Ressie here."
- Stop at the AK Wildlife Conservation Ctr (see: https://www.alaskawildlife.org/)
- An easy hike/walk into Byron Glacier would be beautiful (see: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/chuga...=6606&actid=50)

"Day 8 Drive to Anchorage to prepare for 7:30 AM flight out the next day. Need Ressie here."
- Walk Seward and/or tour Exit Glacier and/or a morning boat cruise.
- Drive to ANC late afternoon (Stop in Girdwood for dinner). Head up to the Glen Alps trailhead observation area for some great views of ANC, the arms, and surrounding mountains (see: http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/aspunits...h/glenalps.htm).
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Old Apr 24th, 2015, 10:24 AM
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Consider renting an RV instead of SUV. No reservations needed unless you want to stop at a particular RV park. Even then you may be able to arrive early enough to just pull in.
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Old Apr 24th, 2015, 12:42 PM
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I figured ressie is a reservation, but that's Aussie-ish, not American.

The highway to and from Seward was full speed, not some 35-40 mph winding track. Alaska is still in the US and the roads are sealed and relatively straight - not akin to twisty Irish roads on the Ring of Kerry, Scottish country lanes, or the G-d knows how many unsealed dust paths that define Australia's bush.
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Old Apr 24th, 2015, 03:30 PM
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You guys, (It is OK to use that northern slang instead of my own southern vernacular I hope - y'all. lol) have given me a lot to consider, and I appreciate the suggestions, replies.

BigRuss: So sorry to confuse you as to my nationality. "We" are a couple of retirees. I am aware of the chain hotels. Also aware that they can vary from place to place and was looking for specific recommendation based on personal experience. I've looked at many of them, googled their locations/reviews and viewed them on google earth until I'm cross-eyed. Call me obsessed.

You are right about VRBO this trip. I did consider a B&B I came across, but it would not be a good thing to arrive to CK IN in someone's home at midnight, me thinks.

As to speeds, I painted with a broad brush. I did not mean to imply that all roads in AK were gravel and required slower speeds - just the ones on gravel & especially, Denali Hwy. I've actually traveled some Hwys. in AK and you are absolutely right in that speeds can be that of any US Hwy. In one experience, we were able to do so going but quickly got 'socked in' with fog in an area returning, bringing us to a crawl. But, that was not related to the condition of the road itself.

MichelleY: Thanks for the clarification.

sdpryde: You are absolutely right! I don't know what I'm doing. That's why I really appreciate your sharing any insight that you can provide. And, it looks like you can/did provide quite a bit! We did already have ressies (Russ, there's that word again - you tracking? ) at Denali Cabins. It makes me feel better that you concur.

1) DH didn't want to use an RV and wanted a SUV. 'nuff said. We have been open and direct with the rental agency and understand all bases to be covered in that respect.

I do understand that locals and some travelers use these roads, they wouldn't form the ruts I've read about in some areas if they didn't. And woe to Denali Cabins and the like as well if that were the case. What I've read though, is that these roads (Glen, Richardson, Denali) are not as widely used by travelers as SOME others - say maybe Parks Hwy? Is that agreed or do we still differ?

I'm glad you pointed out the 30 mph on Denali. I had it in my head 35-40 and SLOW DOWN when a car is approaching. That should be 30 mph MAX when no other car is around.

2) Good things to consider here!

3) Thanks for the lunch/scenery suggestions after Paxson. More to consider!

4) I get the strange feeling that you really feel strongly about your recommendation to Self Drive to Savage River?!
We had planned to do that one day, but 3 days & instead of the bus to Eielson? Please elaborate? It's a good thing you mentioned it as I now realize there is an application that has to be submitted in advance to drive a car there instead of riding the free shuttle. Are there any magic words you know that gets the privilege to do so?

5) AK Wildlife Conservation is planned - I'm happy you concur again. Easy walk to Bryron Glacier sounds right up our alley! Do you have an idea of the time that should be allotted to this?

6) I like your suggestions for the last day. What are your opinions of the Anchorage Museum? Any recs (that's recommendations - BigRuss) for a night's stay in or near Seward? Maybe even Girdwood if that would work?

GBelle: That's a good suggestion, but DH doesn't want to RV it this time. I'm sure it's fun and convenient and maybe? Economical - not sure on that one.
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Old Apr 24th, 2015, 04:44 PM
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I know what recs are. It's the Aussies who make everything diminutive - who else calls mosquitoes, "mozzies" (I usually call them something that rhymes with "tuckers").

The Wildlife Center is good. Thinking the baby musk oxen we saw two years ago will be a bit bigger now . . .
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Old Apr 24th, 2015, 05:43 PM
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Sounds good. My DH said the mosquitoes he encountered on his drop camp trip were the biggest, fiercest he'd ever seen. That's saying a lot for someone from south Alabama! Insect repellent, check!
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Old Apr 24th, 2015, 05:54 PM
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"4) I get the strange feeling that you really feel strongly about your recommendation to Self Drive to Savage River?! We had planned to do that one day, but 3 days & instead of the bus to Eielson? Please elaborate? It's a good thing you mentioned it as I now realize there is an application that has to be submitted in advance to drive a car there instead of riding the free shuttle. Are there any magic words you know that gets the privilege to do so?"
- For the most part the park road into Denali is closed to private vehicles (only its tour busses & shuttles get to use it).
- the exception... The park road is open to people in their own vehicele
- Most people go to Denali to see wildlife. The more time you are in the park accessing the road, the more likely you are to see wildlife. Thus when I'm at the park (2 or 3 times a year), I always make an early morning self-drive and an early evening self-drive to Savage River in the hope of viewing wildlife (no permits/application/form/fees at all).

5) AK Wildlife Conservation is planned - I'm happy you concur again. Easy walk to Bryron Glacier sounds right up our alley! Do you have an idea of the time that should be allotted to this?
- I'd allow 1- 1.5+ hrs for a Byron Glacier stroll. It's 20-30 minutes one-way (depending on foot speed) & if it's a nice day I like to wander around and soak in the beauty.

6) I like your suggestions for the last day. What are your opinions of the Anchorage Museum? Any recs (that's recommendations - BigRuss) for a night's stay in or near Seward? Maybe even Girdwood if that would work?
- If I was to see one "musuem like" thing in Anchorage, I'd head to the Alaska Native Medical Ctr (yup, the native hospital near Tudor & Elmore). It has by far the best display of AK Native arts & crafts. It's free to the public during normal visiting hours. Take the main elevator to the 5th floor. Take the staors down Each flooris landing has an amazing display. There's also a good coffee shop and free wifi.
- Girdwood... I love Girdwood. It has great/funky restaurants an it's fun to walk around.
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Old Apr 25th, 2015, 07:59 PM
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Please indulge me once more to inquire about skipping the bus to Eielson. Why would you do so? Yes, I do somewhat dread being on the bus becuz, well it's not comfortable and we have issues. But, I can't imagine not going beyond Savage River in the park?

OK, I got mixed up with the application for the annual lottery to be able to drive your own vehicle INSTEAD of taking the bus to Eielson or beyond. Thanks for straightening that out.
We WILL do at least one self drive to Savage River, likely more due to your tutoring. What time should we BE at Savage River in the AM and again in the PM? (Early is relative). We are talking September.

So, what I'm understanding you to say is we should rather stay in Girdwood instead of Anchorage Day 6 after checking out of our Healy home? How do you feel about Girdwood Guest House vs Alyeska Cabins? Jack Sprat is definitely in our sites!

Any lodging recommendations in Seward for Day 7?

Will consider the Native American Medical Center in Anchorage.
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Old Apr 26th, 2015, 07:13 AM
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I think the drive to Savage River is in addition to the shuttle trip. You want to take the bus. We scheduled the bus for 2 days and scheduled it to Wonder Lake. On the sunny day, we took it all the way to Wonder Lake. On our cloudy day, we stopped at Eielson, hiked, ate lunch and headed back.

We couldn't drive the Denali Highway because of rental car restrictions but the drive out the Glenn Highway is beautiful. We drove from Whittier to the Matanuska Lodge (highly recommended)There are some nice stops: Thunderbird Falls and the Independence Mine/Hatcher Pass area. We hiked the Matanuska Glacier and then doubled back to head to Denali.

The nice part of that drive to Denali/Healy (it was our longest drive of our trip)was that Denali was out. We stopped at Talkeetna for lunch, the south viewpoint, the north viewpoint was closed, could pick up our shuttle tickets at WAC,and drive out to Savage River before heading to Healy.

So just another thing to confuse you more. There is so much to do in Alaska and it is so beautiful. you will have a wonderful trip no matter what you decide.
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Old Apr 26th, 2015, 08:52 AM
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LindainOhio: Thanks for your remarks - much appreciated! We could not book Wonder Lake as they were booked up on our dates. But, I'm not sure we could tolerate the bus that long anyway and would probably have turned back at Eielson.

We are only good for easy walks, not real hikes. How long/difficult was the Matanuska Glacier hike?
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Old Apr 26th, 2015, 03:42 PM
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Thanks LindainOhio...

I never said for you to skip the shuttle to Eielson Visitor Ctr. In fact that's the bare minimum I would do and then I would add to it (e.g. Wonder Lake, self-drives, walks/hikes, etc.)

I try and do the Savage River self-drive about 6-6:30 am. The weather's always cool and there's very few other travelers around. If I've time, I'll do it again about 6:6:30 in the evening.

If you have the option then definitely stay in Girdwood instead of Anchorage for a night. I haven't stayed in either of the Girdwood places you mentioned (I have a small pop-up trailer & pretty much find a quite place wherever I want to erect it).

Don't look for the "Native American Medical Ctr" in Anchorage; you won't find it. It's the "Alaska Native Medical Ctr".
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Old Apr 26th, 2015, 05:38 PM
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We loved Girdwood and stayed at Hidden Creek B&B. We stayed in their cheapest room and it was wonderful. Double Musky Restaurant is famous. Everywhere we went in Alaska people mentioned we should go there. When we arrived (they don't take reservations) there was a long line and my husband didn't want to wait so we missed it.

We did the Prince William Sound Cruise one day when we stayed here. It was a half hour drive from the B&B. Maybe you could do this and skip Seward. We loved Seward but I think Healy to Seward is a long drive.

Regarding the Matanuska Glacier: We booked this at the last minute because it was such a gorgeous day. We went with MICA. They have a website. It was an easy trek but sounds like something you might not be interested in.

I do believe you can just walk over to the glacier yourself. I'm sure there is a fee. Can't remember. We used crampons, wore helmets and used trekking poles. Fabulous blue skies and that beautiful glacier made for some spectacular photos.

If you have a 7:30AM flight home, don't you want to be at a lodging near the airport? We didn't see much of Anchorage. We just spent our arrival day there. We biked the Tony Knowles trail and ate dinner on the deck at the Millenium Hotel right on Lake Hood. It was fun watching the seaplanes land on the lake.
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Old Apr 27th, 2015, 09:46 AM
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OSB - I can't help much with the Alaska info. It's been several years since I've been back and any info I had on businesses would be out of date. I second the recommendation for the Wildlife Conservation Center. I used to visit on every trip.

The real reason for replying to this was to say howdy. I haven't seen your name on the board for awhile and I thought you might have been one of those Fodor's poster who migrated to FB.

Enjoy your trip.
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Old Apr 27th, 2015, 11:20 AM
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sdpryde - I'm wondering now if we may qualify for a car drive to Wonder lake (since the bus is not available our dates), if we submit the application? I was hesitant about it b/c of the idea of 'safety in numbers'. I will ck into that to see if the deadline for applying has passed. But, either way, we do at least have Eielson booked.

Savage River Day 2 in Denali for sure 6:30 AM and 6:30 PM. For an hour or so.

OK, will try for a Girdwood stay on day 7.

Alaska Native Medical Ctr. - Got it!

LindainOhio: OK, will ck out Hidden Creek - thanks! Have made note of Double Musky Restaurant as well. There seems to be a plethora of good places to eat in that area!

We are more land lubbers even though we enjoy the water at times. But, suggestion noted and will keep an open mind about Prince William Cruise vs visiting Seward. Big question, how likely are we to see whales on that particular cruise? I'd love to see bubbling in person!

The Matanuska Glacier trek looks fun! But, maybe a bit much for us this time.

Good point about the lodging near the airport! Will plan on that!

dwooddon: I cannot deny, I am "one of those". Many current posters here are and it is a fun group - lots! I believe I contacted you about it, but maybe you didn't receive it? I've wondered and even asked about you a several times. Glad to 'see' you here! Contact me by email or FB if you wish to join in!
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Old Apr 27th, 2015, 11:31 AM
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We are more land lubbers even though we enjoy the water at times. But, suggestion noted and will keep an open mind about Prince William Cruise vs visiting Seward. Big question, how likely are we to see whales on that particular cruise? I'd love to see bubbling in person!

Not likely at all on glacier cruises out of Whittier, highly likely on the longer (6+ hr.) Kenai Fjords cruises out of Seward. Note the Kenai Fjords cruises are also on water than can be quite bumpy at times, so take precautions for seasickness.

IMO the Double Musky is past its prime; if I had to splurge on one dinner in Girdwood it would be at the Seven Glaciers on top of the mountain. HOWEVER, even if you're staying at a B&B where you get breakfast, try to save some room for a cinnamon roll at the Alyeska Bake Shop.
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Old Apr 27th, 2015, 01:47 PM
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I'm confused as to your wording of the W.L. shuttle; but it can only mean two things:
(1) your are trying to book it and it's already booked to its maximum or
(2) you are traveling to Denali after Sep. 17 and it's no longer running .


So... when are you traveling (exact dates)?


Here are some things to think about:
before Sep. 17 shuttle shut down...
- the W.L. shuttle is 'booked'; then they still have seats available for purchase on site at Denali (no guarantee you get them though)
- regardless, there is no 'permit'/'application' to let a private vehicle on the park road.

after Sep. 17...
- once the shuttle system shuts down (and if weather/road conditions permit) private vehicles can travel as far as mile 30 of the park road (the Teklanika River overlook stop).
- the only other way for a private vehicle to travel past mile 30 is to be a winner in the 'road lottery' drawing and to travel on the day it gets drawn for (odds in the past are roughly 1:6). The available dates are Sep 13, 20, 21, & 22

By the way, if you are traveling in AK mid-September and later I hope you know/understand that a lot of tour operators will be shut down for the winter.
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Old Apr 27th, 2015, 06:30 PM
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I'm now pondering where to stay in Girdwood the day we drive from our stay in Healy. Is that too long of a drive? If not, I have three places of interest: Girdwood Guest house is the closest, but after google mapping them all, they aren't a great distance apart. The other two are Alyeska Resort (recommended by a friend) and Hidden Creek B&B, suggested by LindainOhio. If I was to pick just based on my impression over the internet, it would be either Hidden Creek or Girdwood Guest House.
So, if you have been driving all day, are tired and want to get where you are going, does it matter in the end which of these you'd stay?
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