Driving in Alaska

Old Jan 13th, 2003, 07:50 PM
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Driving in Alaska

We are flying into Anchorage the first week of July and plan on renting a car and going everywhere there's roads plus Denail for 8 days. Anyone have suggestions on what's cool to visit or where to stay. We only plan on going as far north to the Artic Circle and south to Seward. Thanks!
Old Jan 13th, 2003, 08:14 PM
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I have been to Alaska twice and believe me, it is a very large state. 8 days driving will not dent it. I personally prefer the southern part of Alaska - need the Keyni(sp) Pennisula.
Do you have places to stay? One of our
best trips was to rent a motor home, we had the kitchen and beds all together! It was great. The hotel situation is very limited up there unless you plan on camping. Also, the car rental company may limit you on where you can drive the car as some roads are barely just that - roads. Get more info and have a great time.
One more thing. Watch out for the mosquitos. Happy trails!
Old Jan 14th, 2003, 05:20 AM
Donna F
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Steve, slow down! Seward was one of our favorite spots but it took us a day getting there and a day getting back. Of course, you could drive from Anchorage to Seward in about 2-3 hours IF you don't stop to watch for whales or to pull over and look for mountain goats. We also spent a lot of time watching the salmon fishing at Bird Creek ... and took the tram to the top of Mt Alyeska. Wish we hadn't missed that handcar ride and hike that others have mentioned in their posts. Since we had traveled up on the ferry to Skagway we did not take a cruise out of Seward or Homer but I would definitely do that next trip. If you do a search on Fodors using Alaska as a search word, you'll pull up some good trip recommendations. Best beer in Anchorage is the Moose's Tooth. You can check for some local events on the Anchorage Daily News website www.adn.com. Also check the local paper when you are there. Try to meet some people with similar interests. Try some fishing? I'm sorry we missed hearing Hobo Jim sing at a bar in Seward.
Old Jan 14th, 2003, 06:59 AM
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Be careful about taking a rental car up to the Arctic Circle. The Dalton Highway (at least in '99 when we were there) is just a gravel road, almost no services, big trucks zipping by, AND most rental car companies specifically do not allow you to drive on it because you definitely risk damaging the vehicle. However, we went all the up to Prudhoe Bay with Northern Alaska Tour Company (www.northernalaska.com) and I highly recommend them. Tours are very small, and our guide was very knowledgeable. We did the fly/drive tour, but if you have limited time, they have a one day trip just to the Arctic Circle (leaving from Fairbanks) that you would probably enjoy. Also, if you are staying in Fairbanks, we really loved 7 Gables Inn (www.7gablesinn.com). Also, if you are in Fairbanks, spend an hour or so walking around 'Alaska Land'; it's kind of lame but fun.

Seward and Homer on the Kenai Peninsula are nice, but I liked Valdez better. Although, you probably can't go wrong picking either location. We did some kayaking and hiking out of Valdez, but I know you can do that on the Kenai Peninsula as well. (We took a 3-day kayaking/wilderness lodge based trip with Anadyr Adventures out of Valdez & I can recommend them as an outfitter, although I am sure there are many other good outfitters.)

We didn't do Denali; you have to take the park's bus ride to get into the park (you can't drive), and while I'm sure it's lovely, it seemed too overhyped for my taste; there are so many great places to hike & see wildlife in Alaska, I didn't want to do it in conjunction with a ton of other people off of a rickety old bus. Did take a flightseeing tour of Denali, though; easy to get a plane out of Talkeetna, we didn't even make advance reservations.
Old Jan 14th, 2003, 08:18 AM
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It takes about 4 hours to drive to Denali from Anchorage. Keep in mind that no private vehicles are allowed in the park in the summer months. Take the park shuttle, much cheaper than the tour which goes the same route. I agree that Seward is another place to visit. Try to take the Kenai fijords tour. Beautiful. Have fun. You will love Alaska. I'm going back myself in May.
Old Jan 14th, 2003, 08:46 AM
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You can easily spend the 8 days between Talkteetna and the Kenai Peninsula. In addition to Seward, you can stop by for some fishing (or float rafting) along the Kenai River at Cooper Landing. Or venture out to Homer, which has spectacular scenery and easy access to flights to see bears. There is so much to do. If you're into whitewater rafting, there is a great Class V trip near Hope that we did a few years ago.
Old Jan 14th, 2003, 09:34 AM
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The recommendations above are a good start for you. Alaska is HUGE. If you took a map of Alaska and superimposed it on the lower 48, it would stretch from the Mississippi to the Atlantic Ocean and cover the eastern map from the northern part of the US to Louisiana.
If you are driving, invest in a "Milepost" guidebook which you can purchase at most bookstores (or order one). It will give you a breakdown of where the motels/hotels/gas stations/restaurants, etc. are on every paved road in the state.
I agree with the Artic Circle comments. Besides, there are few (you can probably count them on your hand) gas stations on the Dalton Highway, so you don't want to be stranded.
We had an RV for a week and only went from Anchorage to Fairbanks and back, with stops in Denali both ways. It was a good way to be sure you had accommodations, since the hotels/motels along the road may leave something to be desired. On the other hand, friends stayed at B&Bs when they were there several years ago, and found them nice because of the hosts.
If you want to do a "touristy" thing in Fairbanks, take the riverboat ride. It's actually quite interesting to learn about the history of the local population and the area. The Alaskaland is a waste of an hour. Also, north of Fairbanks is part of the Alaska Pipeline right off the highway, and of course, you can always "pan for gold." If you have kids with you, be sure to stop at North Pole, and visit Santa. (He looks great and made a believer out of our kids.)
We didn't find Seward that interesting, however, you can take boat trips to the Kenai Peninsula from that location and that's interesting. They take you along the cliffs where the seal hatchery is located, see the puffins, eagles, etc. Also, on the edge of Seward on the road to Anchorage you can walk on the glacier. It's the only one where you can do this unless you take one of the flights.
Search this forum on "Alaska" and/or RVs in Alaska and you'll get some great advice. We did.
Also, Anchorage also has a small zoo if you have time before you leave and didn't see many native animals.
Old Jan 14th, 2003, 03:56 PM
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We too rented an RV and loved it. Hotels are expensive and most are pretty dumpy outside of Anchorage.
Food is expensive also. You save a lot of money doing some of your own cooking.

I would definitely recommend spending most of your time on the Kenai Peninsula. It has the most spectacular scenery and things to do.

You can't walk on Exit Glacier outside of Seward anymore but it was still fun to get close.

We liked Seward the best and really enjoyed the 8 hour day cruise with the Kenai Fjord company. Get your tickets close to time to go. You don't want to do it if weather is bad and the seas are rough. We had no trouble getting tickets one afternoon for the next morning.

Old Jan 14th, 2003, 04:45 PM
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Connie, I don't think you are correct saying that and most hotels in Alaska are pretty dumpy outside of Anchorage. You went on your first trip to Alaska last summer, you rented RV. Here is your post from last August

Author: Connie ([email protected])
Date: 08/16/2002, 08:33 pm

Message: We just did an RV trip for our first Alaska trip. We wanted to be IN Alaska vs. just looking at it from a cruise ship.

So how come you have such a strong opinion about hotels in Alaska if you never used them. As you stated it was your first trip to Alaska and all you experienced was only accommodation in your RV.

We travel to Alaska every summer for the last eight years. We never rented RVs but stay in some great hotels, small inns and cabins all over Alaska including Nome, Homer, Valdez, Cordova, Seward, Fairbanks.

In our travels we had a couple not so interesting places but saying that most of those outside Anchorage are dumpy it's just not true.
Once we had one bad hotel experience in Anchorage

Old Jan 14th, 2003, 07:17 PM
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We didn't go everywhere you have gone but covered a pretty large area.

I gave you my OPINION and I stick by it. You don't have to stay IN a hotel to see what it looks like. We typically stay in mediocre hotels when travelling and I wouldn't have wanted to stay in most that I saw.

I also said they were pretty expensive. We stayed our first night in a Holiday Inn Express and paid $145. There was nothing fancy about this hotel. That's pretty much the going rate or higher.

Old Jan 14th, 2003, 08:03 PM
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You cannot judge a whole state of Alaska based on one hotel that is located near the airport in Anchorage. Hmmm, hard to admit that you made a mistake, dear connie?

we stayed in some awsome places in Anchorage and Seward. Do some text search here and you will know what others are saying about accommodations in Alska. You should read about some very nice places and not very expensive too.
Old Jan 15th, 2003, 10:10 AM
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Alaska is fantastic...
IMHO your schedule is too agressive...Alaska is a BIG state and you will need to be patient. Some of my favorite areas are the off the beaten path areas. The Anchorage tourism office (it's in a log cabin) is a good starting point.Leaving Anchorage I would stop in Wasilla at the Itiderod Museum. Check out some of the produce in the Mat valley. Driving east on the Glenn highway stop a the Matanusaka Glacier and Gunsite Mountain Lodge (or Sheep Mountain Lodge) for lunch. Watch out for the frost heaves in the road. Heading torwards Glennallen you will see a large mountain looming in the distance..that's not Denali...it's Mt. Drum part of the Wrangell Mountains. In Glennallen stop at the Copper Basin Visitor Center (corner of the Glenn and Richardson Hgwy). Get information on Flying from Gulkana Airport or drving to (check with your rental company) to McCarthy Alaska and the Kennicott Mines. Consider staying a night at Kennicot Glacier Lodge. Head south to Valdez, AK and take the ferry to Seward.
That's just one small loop...remember NEVER approach a bear!
Old Jan 15th, 2003, 03:31 PM
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You have a lot of great advice already. I'll emphasize:

Make bus tour reservations at Denali NOW. Make more than you need. One, two or three days in a row, because weather will be a big factor. Choose the best weather day. You can get refunds in the Denali Visitor Center.

Buy the Milepost and read it.

Consider renting a camper vs the car. It is totally legal to stop on the side of a roadway in Canada in a camper.

Don't try to drive to the artic circle.

Leave Sleep behind. Pack in as much as you can. Drive the circle from Anchorage to Fairbanks to Tok to Glennallen. (with The Milepost as your guide)

Take a flightseeing tour.

Really do your travel planning homework.
Old Jan 16th, 2003, 06:49 PM
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Thanks everyone for all the great info. My dad is taking us on this trip.( His 3 kids...40 year old kids! ) My mom and dad drove around Alaska before so I was just going by what he told me. As far as the Artic Circle....that was my idea and I guess not a good one.I would love to rent an RV but I'm not sure my dad really wants to.(Set in his old fashion ways)I'am hoping to stay at some nice places, maybe some B&B's, cozy places, ect.Would driving the Denali Highway be fun? I do own the Milepost book too. Thanks, Steve
Old Jan 16th, 2003, 09:40 PM
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If you do a search for the Denali Highway you will get two different opinions. The state has quit maintaining it (it's gravel) and this summer it was in really bad shape. The scenery was awesome though. You can always start down it and see if you can stand it. It's pretty jarring.
Old Jan 16th, 2003, 11:12 PM
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Most rental car companies won't permit travel on either the Dalton or the Denali Highways, and/or will make you sign a scary "at your own risk" clause meaning you break it, you buy it. I've driven the Denali several times and didn't find it particularly treacherous, but that was in my own car. One of my close encounters with Messrs. Ursus Arctos and kin took place while we were both picking berries just off the Denali Hwy in September. Here, take mine...

Eight days total? Time for some editing on your itinerary. Also, you will be traveling in the peak of peaks, and accommodation will be scarce if that. Start booking room now, especially around Denali Park and Seward (where the cruise ships now disgorge/engorge between 8 and 10 thousand folks twice a week).
Old Jan 21st, 2003, 12:25 PM
tom o
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Im trying to figure out what a good intro to alaska woud be--it seems like flying into anchorage seems like good idea--adn then driving around some in a rental--where woud be the best place to drop off the car? I take it that Denali is risky to drive to, so a bus or a plane might be a better option for that. And then some day ferries or tours.
Old Jan 21st, 2003, 12:32 PM
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Denali Park is not at all risky to drive to. The Parks Highway (not to be confused with the higway in the park ) is an excellent paved road up to Fairbanks. The Denali Highway runs from the Parks Highway to Paxton is the risky road. Really your only option for a rental car is to pick it up and drop it off in Anchorage.
Old Jan 21st, 2003, 12:53 PM
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I enjoyed Seward and a Northwestern Fjord tour as the 'big bang' first day after arriving Anchorage late. A 3 hour drive (or so) with an early departure (8:30am).

Old Feb 6th, 2003, 12:47 AM
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In reference to "most car rental companies" not allowing travel on certain roads, this is true. However, most does not mean all. For whatever reason, Affordable New Car Rental DOES allow you to take their cars on to many of those unpaved surfaces.

Be apprised.... not only has the Denali Highway now skipped a season of maintenence, but, the area took the brunt of a 7.9 earthquake last month. Traveling that road in a sedan will NOT be in your best interest unless you enjoy a nice "little" hike.
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