Alaska - Yukon trip report Part 1

Old Aug 15th, 2004, 01:54 PM
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Alaska - Yukon trip report Part 1

We did a driving trip from Winnipeg via Calgary to Yukon and Alaska from June 18, 2004 to July 14, 2004. Here is our itinerary;
Day 1, Calgary - Fort Saint John, 600 miles. Stayed at Ramada Inn and had dinner at Fogg and Suds. Nice hotel, great dinner.

Day 2. Fort Saint John to Watson Lake, 570 miles. Stayed at Gateway Motor Inn had dinner at Belvedere Motor Hotel. Gateway Motor Inn was a big dissapointment, the place needs remodelling. The place was also hot due to the northern heat wave. The fan supplied was of some help. Dinner was also not great. Watson Lake seem to be a popular tour bus stop for the night, and I found it impossible to get a room at the other hotels because they were all prebooked by bus tours. Watson Lake might be a good place to drive trough. Watson Lake gave us the first sign of trouble ahead, forest fires. The place was smoky.

Day 3, Watson Lake - Whitehorse - Dawson City, 600 miles. Smoke got worse as we drove north. Last 100 miles before Dawson the road was paved but had many bumps and dips, broken sections and gravel patches. Not great driving, a passing truck gave us a chipped windshield. We had it fixed at a glass shop in Dawson. In Dawson we stayed at El Dourado, had their suite. Great price and great room with air conditioning. Had dinner in their dining room, good food. Dawson is a very interesting place to visit but 2 days and 3 nights is sufficient. We were planning to drive the Dempster Highway to the arctic circle but changed the plans due to heavy smoke. The Taylor highway was also closed due to a large forest fire at Chicken. Left Dawson a day early for Valdez via Whitehorse.

Day 6, Drove Dawson to Whitehorse, 325 miles. Stayed at Westmark Conference Center. Good hotel but no air conditioning. Normally this is not a problem in Yukon but with the heat wave the room was hot.

Day 7, Drove Whitehorse to Valdez 650 Miles. The roads were good except for the last 100 miles on the Canadian side of the Alaska highway and the first 100 miles on the US side. Many dips and gravel patches. Smoke was very heavy we could hardly see the trees 200 ft. on either side of the road. Occasionally we would see mountains as blue silhouttes.

With the exception of Dawson City the sight seeing was a total disaster. We started to get a sence of desperation. Our dream vacation to Yukon and Alaska was going up in smoke. It was going to be a long drive through the big smoke with nothing to see.

As we approached Valdez things started to improve and the smoke cleared. We stopped at Worthington Glacier and Thompson pass just before Valdez. Things were looking up, the sun was shining, great views and no smoke. Our vacation was back on track.

In Valdez we stayed at Aspen Hotel. Good hotel.

Day 8, Stan Stephen whale watching cruise. Saw a lot of wildlife, good cruise. One dissapointment was that we spent 1.5 hrs. unloading and loading kayakers behind an island and never got to see the Columbia Glacier. Unless you are a kayaker, I would take a different cruise.

Day 9, Valdez to Seward,435 Miles. Good highway except at Matanuska Glacier, 20 miles of heavy construction and long delays.

To be continued in Part 2.

If I had to do this trip again. I would not book my trip months in advance. Instead I would wait until 3 to 4 weeks prior to departure and check on the forest fire situation. If bad, I would either cancel the trip or fly to Anchorage and rent a car and do the coastal locations only. I have been to Yukon before and had great weather and sight seeing. This time all of Yukon and east central Alaska was a bust.
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Old Aug 15th, 2004, 06:20 PM
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Part 2, trip report:

Day 9, Stopped at Exit Glacier on the way to Seward. Stayed at Harbourview Inn. Hotel room small but quite good.

Day 10, Could not get the cruise I wanted in Seward so we booked an afternoon glacier tour with Major Marine Tours out of Whittier. Nice morning drive to Whittier, superb cruise, made stops at two calving glaciers. After the cruise returned to Seward for the night.

Day 11, Drive to Homer with a stop at the historic Kenai Russian church. Stayed at the end of the spit at Lands End Resort. Had a room with a Bay view. Great room with a million dollar view of the Bay. Boat and ship traffic passed in front of our window. An eagle would fly past our window several times a day. Rooms very nice, but quite expensive. One negative is that the halways needed cleaning and obviously were neglected in their cleaning routine.

The fishing hole on the spit was open for snagging during the July 4th weekend. I have never seen anything like it. There were over a 100 people around the hole and a lot of them were snagging big King salmon. We had dinner three times at Captain Pattie's Fish House. We had salmon, halibut and Alaska King crab legs. I think we are cheated in Canada I have never seen such large crab legs. We had 5 legs (4 lbs). We ate ouselves silly but it was great fun.

Day 14, drove to Anchorage. Higways between Seward - Homer - and Anchorage are very good. The one problem I noted was that at times the traffic was very heavy and some drivers were impatient and aggressive in their passing. Very risky practice and I am not surprised at the high reports of accidents.

Day 15, stayed at Anchorage Marriot, nice room. Visited Anchorage Museum and Alaska Native Heritage Center.

Day 16. Drove to Talkeetna and took a flight over Mt. McKinley with a landing on the glacier. The weather was clear with spectacular view of McKinley and the ice fields. Continued to Healy and stayed at Motel Nord Haven, great hotel with a reasonable price.

Day 17. Denali Shuttle Bus trip to Wonder Lake. Our good fortune was with us. Before our arrival the park was smoky with cloud cover and no one got to see McKinley. On this day the smoke was gone, and once we approached Wonder Lake the clouds cleared and we had a clear view of McKinley. We saw a lot of wildlife, Grizzly, Caribou, Moose, Wolves. Best of all with a slight breeze there were no mosquitoes. According to our driver we had a grand slam tour, we saw everything.

Day 18, Travelled to Fairbanks stayed at Sophie Station Hotel, Fountain Head Hotels. We had a small suite with a Kitchen, bedroom and a living room. Good place and a great price.

There was not much to see in town. However, University of Alaska Museum and Alaskaland Pioneer Park are deserving of a stop.

Day 19 was the end of our vacation and as if on signal the smoke rolled into Fairbanks and we left for Whitehorse before things closed in.

It was heavy smoke all the way back until we arrived in Watson Lake.

The smoke cleared after that and we had clear weather all the way to Calgary.

Many thanks for all the help I received in this forum, it proved very helpful in planning my trip. I hope this feedback will prove useful to other travellers.

Best wishes to all,
Z from Winnipeg
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Old Aug 18th, 2004, 01:54 PM
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Forgot to add, on the way to Anchorage near Whittier stopped at Portage Valley and took the National Park cruise, 2 hours to see Portage and Burns Glaciers. Spectalur view of the calving glaciers, best bargain in Alaska.
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Old Jul 12th, 2005, 07:07 PM
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ZfromWinnipeg nice report! What is Winnipeg like? I will look at a map to figure out how you did this.
 
Old Jul 27th, 2005, 07:52 PM
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What is Winnipeg Like? Winnipeg usually has great weather in the summer, dry heat and long daylight. Fall weather is great. Winters are very cold but it's dry cold (very comfortable). It's major attractions include historical sites such as Lower Fort Gary; St. Boniface French community; historical cemetery by the St. Boniface Cathedral resting place of Louis Riel; ST. Boniface Museum; a must see Museum at the Centennial Center includes a replica of Nonsuch ship and Hudson Bay archives; The Forks, at the junction of Red and Assiniboine rivers, has interesting walks; Folklorama is a 2 week annual multicultural festival, this year starting on July 31, 2005. 44 cultural Pavilions, great food and entertainment. In winter there is the Voyageur festival in St. Boniface. What can I say adoptionisfab, Winniipeg is a great place to live and a great place to visit. I am sure you can find a lot more information on the internet by doing a search on Winnipeg.

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Old Jul 27th, 2005, 09:00 PM
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Good Report!

Do you, or anyone else reading this, know of a way to get Yukon travel conditions, including smoke. I had planned to drive Anchorage to Skagway and back August 16-26 but, if these smoke conditions still exist, I may stay in Alaska. Is there a web site I can check just before heading that direction?
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Old Jul 28th, 2005, 01:43 AM
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I googled Alaska road conditions. This link to the Milepost's Road Conditions Report contains links to Alaska 511 and the Yukon road conditions info.
http://www.themilepost.com/road_repo...nditions.shtml

We traveled Skagway to Anchorage in late July one year. There was a large burn area that was acres and acres of blooming fireweed. Very beautiful.
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Old Jul 28th, 2005, 03:23 AM
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ZfromWinnipeg the reason I ask is that I was born there, Winnipeg General Hospital (dont know if it still exists). My parents loved it, said it had a great community feel. They didnt even complain about the snow.
 
Old Jul 28th, 2005, 01:00 PM
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Major forest fires and smoke in Yukon and Alaska occur only in some years. 2004 was a bit of a disaster as all of interior was covered in smoke. I was in Yukon and Skagway in June 2002 and there was no smoke and the sight seeing was just great. We took a plane ride from Haines Junction over Kluane National Park. Incredible view of Mount Logan. While Mount Mckinley is taller than Mount Logan the Kluane glaciers are massive compared to the Glaciers at Denali. It provides the best view of how North America must have looked during the ice age.

The best way to check on forest fires is to check headlines in local papers from Whitehorse, Dawson City, Fairbanks and Anchorage. Significant forest fire problems are reported in the papers. The news papers in 2004 were full of massive forest fire news. Unfortunately I had my whole trip booked and I did not want to change and took a chance.
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