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Best options for limited time in South Central / Kenai

Best options for limited time in South Central / Kenai

Old Jun 19th, 2024, 12:07 PM
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Best options for limited time in South Central / Kenai

Hello

I've looked at a lot of great info on this forum, but finally figured maybe I should ask my own questions and see if I can get some more targeted recommendations.

We're (belatedly, but it looks like still plausibly) planning a trip for the first week of August (I'd say up to 7 days). Family of 4 with 11- and 14-year-old boys. Our top interests are wildlife viewing, hiking, and kayaking.

We'll be flying into Anchorage from Seattle. We're focused on going to Denali and Southcentral / Kenai, with limited or maybe no significant time in Anchorage. We plan to rent a camper van for the Denali portion, but at this point, it looks like our time in the South will be by car.

So far, our number one destination on the water, for obvious reasons, is Seward. Two things we're pretty set on there are hiking into Exit Glacier and doing a wildlife cruise into the fjords.

The other options I've been looking at, based on recommendations here and in books, are Homer and, to a lesser extent, Whittier. Either of those options would make the most sense if they were good destinations for kayaking - maybe better than Seward. I think Whittier may be, since it's on the PWS, but I'm not sure whether either Seward or Homer are on par.

Basically, I'd like to hear opinions on the value of going beyond Seward, given our limited time frame. I'm reading mixed things about Homer, but mostly positive (and some glowing), but maybe not as a destination for kayaking. Whittier seems like it only makes sense as a kayaking (and maybe some hiking) destination, and our options of places to stay seem really limited.

So, if anyone has targeted thoughts on our itinerary, they'd be much appreciated. Thanks!
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Old Jun 19th, 2024, 01:27 PM
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Welcome to Fodor. Just very quick since I'm dashing out -- others will have more details and suggestions for you. Have you already booked a camper?? If not, I'm pretty sure you will have a difficult time finding one this late.
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Old Jun 19th, 2024, 02:37 PM
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We know of a couple that are available for the dates we're looking to rent. These questions are to nail things down before we make that commitment.
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Old Jun 20th, 2024, 01:53 AM
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Our trip was long ago but we didn,t care for Whittier. Be mindful of one way tunnel to get there. Unless things have changed no reception because of mountains. This used to be a military base

We liked both Homer and Seward. Keep in mind travel times and boat schedule. We overnighted in an air b&b before Seward boat trip but were staying in town of Kenai. Good chance of seeing moose in Kenai/Soldotna area.
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Old Jun 20th, 2024, 07:23 AM
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Thanks, dfrostnh . So we have 2 nights booked in Seward and are pretty much planning on a night in Homer, because it sounds like a beautiful area (maybe not so much town) and isn't that far to go. We'll keep in mind places to stop on the way, as you mentioned. We'll also have a solid day or two in Denali, so expect we'll see plenty of land-based wildlife there.

My fundamental question - which maybe I buried a bit - was about best places to kayak. We could always take a side-trip to Whittier, just to kayak on the PWS (not to stay), if we have time. I think Valdez, which sounds like it may be a better place to go for sights while kayaking, is probably too much of a detour, given our timeline.

Since it looks like Seward and Homer our now on our itinerary (yet to book our night in Homer, but it seems to be a reasonable destination), any kayaking-specific recommendations both there and in Seward would be great.
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Old Jun 20th, 2024, 07:28 AM
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Well, I’ll respond even though we haven’t been there yet. Planning for late August, so I’ve been doing a lot of research. But take my comments for what they are worth, $0.02 or less.

Given limited time you should almost certainly stick to Seward. You can get in your fjord tour and kayak on the same day. Google “aialik glacier kayak”.

Another place to consider is Cooper Landing where you can do a full or half day raft trip on the Kenai River.

By staying up there you’d have time for Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and gold panning at Crow Creek Mine in Girdwood.

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Old Jun 20th, 2024, 07:36 AM
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Thank you, Nelson , for the specific kayaking recommendation. We do have time to go to Homer, so still may keep that on the itinerary, but I'll also look at Cooper Landing as a kayaking destination.

From everything I've read, we should take the "long" fjord cruise out of Seward (8 hours total?), so I'm not sure whether kayaking and a cruise in the same day will work out. Either way, we have another night we need to book somewhere, but like you say, it could also be another place entirely, like Girdwood, to see other sights.
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Old Jun 20th, 2024, 08:16 AM
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Originally Posted by joshschneider1711
Thanks, dfrostnh . So we have 2 nights booked in Seward and are pretty much planning on a night in Homer, because it sounds like a beautiful area (maybe not so much town) and isn't that far to go. We'll keep in mind places to stop on the way, as you mentioned. We'll also have a solid day or two in Denali, so expect we'll see plenty of land-based wildlife there.

My fundamental question - which maybe I buried a bit - was about best places to kayak. We could always take a side-trip to Whittier, just to kayak on the PWS (not to stay), if we have time. I think Valdez, which sounds like it may be a better place to go for sights while kayaking, is probably too much of a detour, given our timeline.

Since it looks like Seward and Homer our now on our itinerary (yet to book our night in Homer, but it seems to be a reasonable destination), any kayaking-specific recommendations both there and in Seward would be great.
sorry, we didn't do any kayaking.
we did the longest trip out of Seward. You might have time to kayak but we had to drive back to Kenai. We also never made it to Denali only getting as far north as Talkeetna despite two different trips to AK. We stopped on the way north of Anchorage for Independence Mine. Also a transportation museum. So much to see and do between Anchorage and Seward, you'll want enough time there.
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Old Jun 20th, 2024, 08:20 AM
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Originally Posted by dfrostnh
sorry, we didn't do any kayaking.
we did the longest trip out of Seward. You might have time to kayak but we had to drive back to Kenai. We also never made it to Denali only getting as far north as Talkeetna despite two different trips to AK. We stopped on the way north of Anchorage for Independence Mine. Also a transportation museum. So much to see and do between Anchorage and Seward, you'll want enough time there.
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Old Jun 20th, 2024, 08:28 AM
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Maybe not what you want to hear, but I'd question the wisdom of the whole Denali trek given your short timing window. Despite the park road closure past MP 43, the package tour people (mainly for cruise passengers) have not reduced their marketing efforts (got to fill those beds and buses) so there's a chance that you're not going to have the kind of experience you'd like. One of the bus drivers working the park road who's a regular on Flyertalk has indicated that while there are still wildlife sightings on the stretch of road that's still open, it seems to him that a lot of the wildlife has retreated farther into the park so as to avoid human contact. Maybe, maybe not, but Denali would take at least 3 of your 7 days, so the "opportunity cost" question arises.

A couple of other thoughts...

- No personal experience in kayaking, but you might want to look at the glacier kayak trips offered at Spencer Glacier, reached (only) by rail from Anchorage or Girdwood. The Spencer Glacier "whistle stop" is along a part of the Alaska Railroad's Anchorage - Whittier route, with no car access. A firm called Chugach Adventures offers kayaking and float trips on the Spencer Glacier's terminal lake from the whistle stop, which might work for you. Alaska Adventure Tours: Glaciers, Rafting, Kayaking | Chugach Adventures (alaskanrafting.com)

- If you didn't take the three days (minimum) needed for Denali, you might consider a couple of interesting destinations a bit closer to Anchorage. The first is Hatcher Pass and Independence Mine, an historical site near Palmer, roughly 60 - 90 minutes north of Anchorage. Hatcher Pass offers terrific hiking and views, and the old Independence Mine site is fascinating.

The second is Knik Glacier, which is often overlooked but which is one of the largest glaciers in the area, roughly an hour from Anchorage. There are several tour options, including jet boat, ATV and helicopter tours that include landing on the glacier.

alaska.org/detail/knik-glacier


I might mention that in numerous drives up the Knik Valley I've never NOT seen some kind of wildlife - moose, black bears... along the way.

Here's a map showing some of these places. Google the map entries. https://maps.app.goo.gl/SXa8o7s4B2bx9i1V6
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Old Jun 20th, 2024, 08:29 AM
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I did not do any kayaking, but I don't think the 8 hour tours include this. I found a 12 hour tour with kayaking, you are really paying a lot for the kayaking add on

https://www.millerslandingak.com/sew...national-park/

Here are some more options, but note only starting costs are listed, and that short tours (less than 6 hours) will not get very far from Seward. You will need a full day to get to the national park + add kayaking https://www.alaska.org/destination/s...kayaking-tours

Last edited by tom_mn; Jun 20th, 2024 at 08:32 AM.
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Old Jun 20th, 2024, 07:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Gardyloo
Maybe not what you want to hear...
Thanks for all of the great advice, @Gardyloo. Even with your caveats, I don't think I can convince my wife to skip Denali. We'll have a camper-van (pretty easy to drive, from what we know), so can at least do the up-to-14-miles you're allowed to drive in and take some hikes. Whether or not we see major wildlife, we want to see the mountain. We'll consider your advice and do some serious research about maximizing our time there without over-dedicating. As it is, we were planning to just drive in and camp the first night, then have a day for hiking closer in and maybe another day for bussing and hiking. Maybe we'll whittle that down to 2 nights. We'll still have the camper for two more nights, so could look at other options, including those you mentioned, with campgrounds nearby.

We'll look at the train to Spencer Glacier and keep that on our list. We'll try to lock down our itinerary as much as possible by this weekend. At this point, we're pretty well booked (flights, van, condo in Anchorage our last night, 2 nights in Seward) - just trying to dial in the rest, with maybe a little wiggle room for playing it by ear.
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Old Jun 20th, 2024, 09:23 PM
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"we want to see the mountain"

Just don't get your hopes up too awful much. Then if you are lucky it will be 'gravy'. Denali sort of creates its own weather patterns and can be fogged or clouded over any time.
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Old Jun 20th, 2024, 10:09 PM
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Originally Posted by janisj
"we want to see the mountain"

Just don't get your hopes up too awful much. Then if you are lucky it will be 'gravy'. Denali sort of creates its own weather patterns and can be fogged or clouded over any time.
We live in the PNW and have experienced plenty of that here, in Hawaii, and elsewhere (Ecuador has a fine volcano we barely saw). Anyway, Denali's on the bucket list, so we'll be going and making the most of it.
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Old Jun 21st, 2024, 05:16 AM
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Seeing Denali: August is historically cloudier than say May or June and not a good month for visibility, but pointing out that last September there was a full week that Denali was visible from Anchorage, 130 miles away. So if in Anchorage and it is very clear weather go up on one of the parking structures and look north, you may be lucky. There's another peak, Mt. Foraker, that is to the left of Denali and appears to be just as tall. FYI: there are mountain ranges east, south, and west of Anchorage, but only the few (3-5) very tall peaks of the Alaska Range to the north, so when clear the view is unobstructed.
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Old Jun 21st, 2024, 05:19 AM
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Originally Posted by joshschneider1711
Anyway, Denali's on the bucket list, so we'll be going and making the most of it.
That’s exactly our situation. Plus we’ll be there in early September, so we’re hoping for a northern lights two-fer. We might get skunked or we might get gravy. Who knows?

There is a webcam looking at Denali from south of Talkeetna here. It’s been mostly out this past week after months of being socked in.
https://www.denalioverlookinn.com/webcam/

Good luck.
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Old Jun 21st, 2024, 07:39 AM
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Originally Posted by tom_mn
Seeing Denali
Just to clarify, by "seeing Denali," I essentially meant the park. Of course, we hope to see the mountain, but we'll get what we get.
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Old Jun 21st, 2024, 01:11 PM
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I do hope that you have booked a campsite for Denali as I do think I read on another forum that all sites were booked for the rest of the year. Apart from the immediate area around Anchorage, the roads are essentially two lanes in each direction and getting anywhere takes longer than you think it will. For Denali you need to book the transit shuttle which goes as far as Mile 43. We did see the mountain which was visibile when we overnighted at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge as they do have a lovely look-out porch adjacent to their casual restaurant. Pretty nice to relax with a drink and take in the views.

I would also recommend both the Wildlife Conservation Center as well as the Tramway at the Alyeska Lodge especially on a clear day. We stayed at the Lodge and went up on one of the first or second trams and the morning fog was just lifting at around 10:30 AM. In Seward, the Sealife Center is fun and there are lots of interactive activities for kids. In Homer, which is very spread out, the Pratt Museum is quite good. If the weather is good as you drive down there, you might be able to get a good view of the volcanoes across the inlet. There is also a large look-out viewpoint stop before you enter Homer.
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Old Jun 21st, 2024, 09:02 PM
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Thanks for all the recommendations, everyone. Still fine tuning plans and thinking about whether we'll spend time in Homer or possibly Whittier
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Old Jun 23rd, 2024, 04:19 PM
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We just got back. We started north of Anchorage and then did 1 night Soldotna for fishing, 2 in Homer, and 2 in Seward. I'm in the minority and really enjoy Whittier. There isn't much there but you can fill a day or two if you like to hike. I wish I had more time to visit the museum. We drove in, had a picnic lunch, walked around the old military buildings, walked along the river, and had to head back out. I could have spent a full day or two there easily, but again, I'm in the minority.
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