Alaska Trip Planning Please Help

Old Feb 5th, 2017, 09:34 AM
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Posts: 174
Alaska Trip Planning Please Help

Hello Fodorites! We are planning a trip to Alaska summer 2017. We are trying to see and do a lot but understand we can't see it all. We are a family with three teenage boys, DH and me.This is a rough estimate of our plan and what we hope to see. It is possible we will flip the order of the itinerary based on availability of lodging or activites.

Day 1 Arrive Anchorage, get supplies (overnight in Anchorage or move to Aleyska base?)
Day 2 Flightseeing maybe Katmai National Park (maybe stay in Alyeska and use as our base to travel for the next few days--please comment on this!)
Day 3 Girdwood/ Alyeska head to Whittier: Prince William Sound Cruise, Bryon Glacier Hike
Day 4 Seward Dog Sledding and Exit Glacier Hike, Explore Seward
Day 5 Seward Kenai Fjords Cruise
Day 6 Travel to Matanuska Glacier, Col Glenn Highway, Trekking/ Ice Climb (stay in Palmer?)
Day 7 Talkeetna Aero Tour of Denali? Head to Healy, tickets for Denali shuttle next day
Day 8 Denali shuttle bus
Day 9 More Denali? Other?
Day 10 Travel to Anchorage, travel home.

Like I said this is a rough estimate. I would like insight into things we are doing too much of and not enough of. We like an active vacation and may be able to add another day or switch it up entirely. Thanks for your help.
Hang20 is offline  
Old Feb 5th, 2017, 11:01 AM
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I think your overall plan is okay. Girdwood is a good base for exploring Turnagain Arm including the Whittier glacier cruise, but not as a base for visiting Seward; you'll need to relocate there to go on Kenai Fjords cruises etc. There are no flightseeing options out of Girdwood; you'd need to return to Anchorage for these.

You don't comment on budget, but the flightseeing trips - bears and Denali - are quite expensive and some carriers won't be able to accommodate five passengers on the same plane. And particularly in the case of Denali, day to day (or hour to hour) weather conditions can further complicate things.

I'm going to wonder out loud and throw out an idea which you might consider. What if you dropped the flightseeing days and reallocated three of your ten (or eleven) days for a trip into the bush?

Most of the Denali flightseeing trips cost in the area of $300 - $500 per person, and the bear viewing trips usually more. Now by comparison, a round trip flight on Alaska Airlines from Anchorage to Nome costs around $330 (or less if you have frequent flyer miles with Alaska, American or several other airline programs.)

Nome is an historic gold rush town on the Bering Sea, and what's unique about Nome (compared to other bush communities) is that there's a sizeable road system radiating out from the town into the Seward Peninsula. There are rental vehicles available in Nome, and you can drive out into the boonies and see lots of animals - muskoxen, moose, reindeer, bears... and lots of birds, as well as seeing all sorts of artifacts of past gold rushes, visit an Eskimo village, etc.

Nome is not above the arctic circle so you won't get 24h of sun, but you can easily get "midnight" sun, and it won't get dark at all. In the summer it's a bustling little place (watch some episodes of "Bering Sea Gold" on TV to get an idea) but you can be seriously off the grid in no time. Look at these websites - and - to get an idea. Hotels in Nome won't cost much more than they do in the Kenai-Anchorage-Denali tourist corridor (maybe less) so the airfare really is the main differential.

Anyway, just throwing out the thought. I like to suggest that people pay a little attention to Alaska's human geography, which is incredibly varied and fascinating. Alaska is more than moose and mountains.
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Old Feb 5th, 2017, 03:01 PM
Join Date: Feb 2010
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Agree with Gardyloo - Alaska is so breathtaking from the ground and exploring it is a wonderful opportunity. We saw 17 grizzly bears on the Denali bus trip, including cubs playing and a mother bear nursing her cub. Not to mention moose and plenty of other flora and fauna. I think a trip to Nome sounds amazing and it will be on my list for our next trip to Alaska. We also enjoyed our trip down the Kenai Peninsula to Homer, as well as the Kenai Fjords cruise out of Seward. However you choose to explore Alaska, it is amazing!
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Old Feb 5th, 2017, 10:06 PM
Join Date: Nov 2010
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Read through my trip report for the June trip I took with my DW.
I'll be glad to answer questions about what we saw.
Instead of staying in Anchorage, we went out to the Microtel in Eagle Creek.
On the return we spent a night in Palmer only because the Microtel was fully booked.
We stayed at a very nice B&B near North Pole and another B&B on the hill above Homer. The second morning in Homer a mom moose and yearling walked by while we were eating breakfast.
You can buy your Denali shuttle bus tickets online. The shuttle buses are not very comfortable but are much cheaper than the so called "tour" buses.
tomfuller is online now  
Old Feb 12th, 2017, 10:53 AM
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Thank you all for your replies. We know there is a lot of budget needed for this trip. We found that it is less to go Katmai flightseeing if we do it out of Homer. We wanted to see that area anyways so here is another try at a plan.

Day 1 Anchorage (get supplies, rental car etc depending on arrival time)
Day 2 Drive to Whittier, Prince William Sound tour afternoon, Portage Glacier (overnight in Seward?)
Day 3 Kenai Fjords Cruise (overnight in Seward or travel to Homer?)
Day 4 Exit Glacier, Dog Sledding, Ferry to Saldovia (this day is uncertain and where we do these things, where we will be based)
Day 5 Katmai Flightseeing (overnight in Homer? Seward? Soldatna? Other?)
Day 6 Drive to Matanuska ice trekking on glacier with MICA or other company. (Stay here or in Palmer)
Day 7 Travel to Talkeetna, flightseeing (Travel via Hatcher Pass? More scenic but longer?) spend night in Healy/Denali area
Day 8 Denali (overnight in Healy)
Day 9 Denail (overnight in Healy)
Day 10 Cushion to move these things around or give more time to a certain area
Day 11 Travel home from Anchorage

What else are we missing or not giving enough time to? Are we under estimating travel times? There is so much to see and just not enough hours to do it. Thank you.
Hang20 is offline  
Old Feb 12th, 2017, 12:20 PM
Join Date: Nov 2010
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You will only want to do the 8+ hour bus trip into Denali once and not 2 consecutive days.
Rather than stay in Healy, we went to the B&B outside North Pole and left early in the morning. The hostess was kind enough to make us breakfast sandwiches to eat on the way back to the entrance to Denali.
I did hike up to the toe of the Exit Glacier. I didn't see the need to pay a lot to hike on an Alaskan glacier since I can do that in Oregon for free.
We also liked the B&B we stayed at in the hill above Homer.
We weren't supposed to drive on dirt roads but I did drive the Skilak road. Drive slowly and take the car through the car wash and you will have no problems.
Our budget didn't allow for flightseeing or a boat trip.
North of Palmer you might want to visit the muskox farm.
If you don't like the lodging options in Palmer, try for the Microtel in Eagle River.
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Old Feb 18th, 2017, 03:57 AM
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Thank you TomFuller. Lodgings around Denali are few and far between at this point. We don't want to take the shuttle in for 8 hours for two days in a row--totally agree with you. At this point I am struggling with one day! it just seems like a long way to go when there are so many other things I want to do with our limited time.

We did reserve a rental car from a place called Midnight Sun. They have cars that are 2-3 years old and do allow you to take them on gravel roads (there are some limits like the Ice Road from the TV show--not a problem for us!)

I have looked at a couple of B&B's it is great for breakfast but may end up being more than the VRBO's I have looked at because we often need at least two rooms (not many with beds for 5 in one room and some require of family of 5 to get 3 rooms! Nice for space but I'd prefer to spend $ on other things.)

We're not sure if the flightseeing will work out yet. This is a dream list. We did use miles to pay for our flights so that freed up some budget. Thanks for your insights.
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Old Feb 18th, 2017, 04:42 AM
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I hope you didn't pay any more than Enterprise rate at Midnight Sun. I had reserved an economy car from Enterprise. They didn't have any when I got there. I snapped up the Subaru Outback when they offered at the same price.
The longest dirt road I drove was the Skilak road. Both B&B's we stayed at had dirt road access for about a mile. I just drove slow and used the car wash in Soldatna when I was done with dirt roads.
tomfuller is online now  
Old Feb 18th, 2017, 05:50 AM
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I haven't been to Alaska but have talked to many who have. It seems that the chance of seeing Denali is best in the spring, and your chance of seeing the mountain, even if you bus all the way in, goes from poor in June to extremely poor in August.
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Old Feb 19th, 2017, 02:17 AM
Join Date: Jun 2006
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Try to visit the Alaskan Conservation Center for a wide variety of animals. It is near Portage Glacier.
We bought online an Entertainment book and used coupons from it including flying over Denali from Talkeetna in a 10 seater Navajo plane. This was a magical experience. Of the 4 days we were in the region, the day of the flight was the only day the mountain was visible, so we were very lucky.
deladeb is online now  
Old Feb 19th, 2017, 06:45 AM
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 551
Be sure to check out the coupon books for Alaska before buying one. I think there are 2. We bought one when we went in 2012 and found a lot of great coupons to use. We were going to buy one when we went back in 2015 and found very few good coupons. The book wasn't worth the cost to us.

Both times we went to Alaska was near the end of August. The weather was not so good the first trip, but was spectacular the 2nd trip. We had great days for the bus trip at Denali, the Kenai Fjords trip out of Seward, and the glacier cruise at Whittier. We visited the Alaska Conservation Center the first time and enjoyed the animals, especially seeing the grizzly bears up close. In late August the fall colors at Denali were very beautiful.
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Old Feb 23rd, 2017, 06:36 AM
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Thank you so much for the continued insight. Tomfuller Midnight Sun was the best rate we could find for the size car we needed. There were very few SUV's and minivans available for our travel dates. It is a busy time of year but it is when we can go. I hope it all works out.

I would like to see the Alaska Conservation Center. We did something similar in West Yellowstone. We saw many animals in the park but some we only wanted to see at a distance unless they (or we!)were safely behind bars.

We have looked at some of the coupon books and they are not good for July--I am guessing they don't have to be. We'll check out some other deals as well. The trip is coming together. More questions soon!
Hang20 is offline  
Old Feb 24th, 2017, 11:42 AM
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The log cabin style Visitor Center in Anchorage has postcards to send to your friends. Have your address book handy.
The museum at the University of Alaska Fairbanks is worth a 2-3 hour visit. They have some small dinosaur skeletons found in Alaska.
North of Fairbanks is a place to see the Alaska pipeline up close. Up the road about a mile is a place where you can pan for gold in a trough.
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