Help with Alaska trip 2008

Old Dec 25th, 2006, 04:16 AM
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Help with Alaska trip 2008

Hello. I have been studying the forum and several travel books in preparation for our 2-week, trip-of-a-lifetime to Alaska in the summer of 2008. (Have purchased Milepost but itís not arrived yet.) My OM (Olí Man Ė his preferred moniker) and I will be 61 and 49 years old then and not big hikers, but certainly in good physical shape. Weíre planning to rent a truck camper most likely from ABC rentals and weíll have 14-15 days. I think weíll likely be there from June 27th through July 12th although nothing is yet set in stone. Iíd like to add that weíll be on a budget, but isnít everyone pretty much on a budget? We donít have lots of money but I (major planner) want to make sure we have the most memorable experience we can. We arenít inclined to cities; prefer villages and cozy pubs that might pass as local dives (we find the most interesting people and recommendations there). I like a historical museum or two but mostly we are looking for scenery and wildlife. (I hope this info helps.) Iím trying to make sure we donít spend the whole time driving, driving, driving Ė but then, we also want to see the most of what we can.

I am wondering if this sounds like a reasonable loop, Iím also not sure how many days to plan in each place. I need to figure it out though because Iíll have reservations for the ferry (maybe) in Valdez, a Kenai Fjord trip out of Seward (definitely), and (I sure hope) a bear viewing with Emerald Air out of Homer. Iíve been reading your great suggestions and hoping you can help us during this kind of early planning stage.

We'll be flying into Anchorage and staying the first night somewhere likely within 100 miles but in the direction of Denali. Suggestions welcome.
At least 2 nights in Denali; drive in as far as possible (can we camp in our camper at that point?) and then take the bus shuttle to Wonder Lake.
Go on up to Fairbanks for 2 nights(?) Iím not much of a shopper but Iíve read that thereís some neat shops in Fairbanks. Again, weíll be camping so if you know of any good accessible places nearby that would be great!
Iím thinking of backtracking down to Cantwell to take the Denali Highway to Paxson. Should we figure a whole day to cover this stretch? And is it true you can just pull over and camp along side the road?
Iím not sure about this but Iím thinking from Paxson to Valdez (Iím not sure the number of days weíll need by this point) and then maybe taking the ferry from Valdez to Whittier. (Itís so expensive Ė but it would avoid the return loop into Anchorage.) Iíd like to do the Kenai Fjords 6 hour day trip. Is there a company recommended above another? And Ė if we take the ferry from Valdez to Whittier would that be a repeat kind of experience? Iíd really love the chance to see whales.
Otherwise Valdez to Independence Mine and on towards Seward for the Kenai Fjords day trip (6 hours).
Seward to Homer for the Emerald Air bear trip.
Homer to Anchorage

Iíd appreciate any suggestions as to how doable this is? Maybe since all my reservations will be clumped toward the end of the trip, I should reverse the loop? You have all been such a great read. Iím looking forward to your insights.

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Old Dec 25th, 2006, 06:35 AM
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Lucky, just a couple of comments on the few parts of your trip I actually know

At least 2 nights in Denali; drive in as far as possible (can we camp in our camper at that point?)

There are nice campgrounds for campers near the entrance ... rules change, but in the past 6-7 years that we've been there you could take a hard-shelled camper on the gravel road and camp at Teklenika (may have spelled it wrong), which is about 30 miles inside the park. This is as far as you can drive yourself (without a special pro photographer permit) and you can catch the shuttle to Wonder Lake or wherever from Tek. You should look into reservations for this soon as this is a popular camping spot with limited permits. Without this permit you are limited to driving on the 14 mile paved road up to the Savage River bridge.

backtracking down to Cantwell to take the Denali Highway to Paxson.

Check with ABC Rentals and make sure they allow you to drive their rental camper on this road ... many rental companies do not allow this.

Seward to Homer for the Emerald Air bear trip.

Another option for bear viewing is to get camping permits for Brooks Camp and fly in from ANC ... the cost is about the same for several nights camping compared to a one day fly-in (most of the cost is flying in, then you can camp for $8/night and eat meals at the lodge) ... I'm pretty sure that on your dates (early July) Em Air will likely take you to Brooks anyway to see the bears at the falls.

Have fun, sounds like a great trip.

Bill



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Old Dec 25th, 2006, 05:21 PM
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We did the motorhome trip in Alaksa. We had three weeks. It's the only way to go.

You might want to stay in the Anchorage area the day or night you arrive. Then I definitely suggest the Anchorage RV park, which is on the outskirts and in a lovely large tree studded area with a lovely "club house" and great showers. (You are going to want to do these at least once or twice, even if you spend most of your time in state parks because showering in a small RV is like nothing you have probably ever experienced. <grin>) Also, they have laundromats.

This is also across the road from the Alaska Heritage site, which you will most defiitely want to visit.

On the way to Denali, Talkeetna is a reasonable stop overnight, and perhaps, if the "mountain is out", as they say, a flight over it. You won't be sorry to spend the money if you do this. There is a city park for your RV, by a river, under trees.

Be sure to reserve a spot for the RV at Denali ahead of time. We stayed at Riley Creek, which was within walking distance of the visitor center and the dog mushing exhibition, which you also must do. It is in a wooded area and very nice. And then the shuttle out as far as you can go. If you are hikers, you can get off the shuttle at any point and then pick one up by the side of the road on its way back. We preferred to just stay on it and get as close to the mountain as we could. The shuttle bus driver was a local teacher who had been doing this for probably lots of years and was very knowledgeable and he stopped when there was a sighting of wildlife...mainly caribou herds in our case.

The only downside was that we had a gaggle of German tourists on board who evidently did not understand English and who babbled very loudly during the narration. I finally stood up and yelled at them. Probably bad form, but I had had it with them....sheesh.

When in the Denali area, be sure you have provisions in the RV for meals. We were very naive about the area and ended up having to make meals from convenience store provisions, the only alternative....ugh...no fresh produce, for example.

We did not do the Fairbanks trip because we didn't want to rush the trip and wanted to do Seward and Homer. We did go to the Alaska State Fair in Palmer (August) which was great fun, and then decided to drive over to Valdez and take the ferry back to Whittier. We also stopped, on the way, at the Musk Ox farm. If you are in the area, be sure to do this. Interesting historically and the native women make fantastic scarfs, etc. from the combings of the underhairs of the musk ox which are first sent to Peru for spinning.

Our Valdez trip didn't work out as we had planned. The drive there is beautiful, but the town itself is not that interesting and the RV facilities kind of tacky. We had not had the foresight to make ferry reservations for the next day, so were faced with another night in Valdez, or a trip back the way we came. We opted for the latter. So be sure you have reservations for the ferry way ahead of time if you want to do this.

In Seward you can park in the city owned RV park on the beach for $10, when we were there, and that included showers. The Sea Life place there should be visited...they rescue and do research.

In Homer, you can park for free on the spit, and there is also a city owned park (when we were there the city park was too muddy, so we opted for the spit.) Bad decision. Noisy ant tacky.

We moved the next day to a lovely private RV Park....Oceanview..mile 172.7 Sterling Highway. It is on a very large parcel of lawn overlooking the bay. Bald eagles make their presence known in the top of a tree. There is a very good small museum in Homer.

We stayed at several stste parks, Eagle River is just about 11 miles north of Anchorage, as I remember, and a lovely spot.

As for the Kenai Fjords trip, definitely take the 6 or 7 hour trip. We used the company actually called Kenai Fjords and I would recommend them unqualifiedly.

OH. Don't skip Anchorage completely. The Anchorage Museum of History and Art is excellent, especially the upstairs Alaska Exhibit.

You know? I would actually skip Fairbanks with only two weeks. Your take, of course.

You are going to have a wonderful trip...don't try to rush it...so much to see if you have time to stop and smell the moose. Don't laugh...do not think they are cute animals. If you run into a cow with babies and get near her...you may be dead.

Have fun planning...read the Milepost assiduously.....
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Old Dec 26th, 2006, 03:45 AM
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Great advice already! To help with groceries, see if the major grocery stores have a "rewards" club which gives a discount price on certain items to members. We used a Carrs/Safeway Club card but don't remember now what kind of deal we got. A relative gave us one of their cards. You will find great grocery stores in the larger towns/cities like Anchorage, Soldotna, Seward but once you get north of Anchorage, Wasilla is pretty much the last place with a good size supermarket if you head to Talkeetna and Denali. Sounds like you will enjoy Homer and Seward a lot. Homer is very funky and artsy. For good shopping, consider going to the Forest Fair in Girdwood (between Anchorage and Seward) which is held around 4th of July. Great crafts, food vendors and music. You will also find Alaska made products in Seward and Homer. Soldotna has a nice shop called Malfunction Junction. Lower level is furs. Talkeetna has some interesting shops, too. Check the location and time for farmers markets. There were fresh oysters and great baked goods at the one in Homer. Both the Forest Fair and the markets are places you can easily talk with people. Also the public market in Anchorage on Saturdays and Sundays.
If you head right out to Denali, make sure you stock up on groceries before you get past Wasilla. Keep in mind 4th of July is a big holiday so campgrounds will be busy. We overheard people in Seward planning to go clamming in Ninilchik for 4th of July - big holiday coincided with a clamming tide that year. And Seward has the mountain race that weekend. There are some places you can visit that aren't well known but you will find out about them if you scan the Anchorage Daily News website such as special news from the Sealife Center in Seward or an unusual garden to visit near Homer or a recent discovery of historical significance.
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Old Dec 26th, 2006, 05:12 AM
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We did a 10 day RV trip in late August-early September of 2004. Click on my screen name and look for my trip report "RV'n in the KP" if interested. Since we only had 10 days, we did not head north from Anchorage but concentrated on the Kenai Peninsula.
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Old Dec 26th, 2006, 11:58 AM
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What we found most helpful was when making any reservations or calling for information, to ask the person on the line where they lived and what was fun (and non-touristy) to do there. We got so many great suggestions that way! It also kept us away from the hordes of tourists who were more interested in the buffet table than the incredible wildlife and scenery that was in front of them. Alaska can be done at a fair price with maximum results when you use Milepost and the recommendations of the people who live there.
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Old Dec 26th, 2006, 12:09 PM
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If you want to fish it doesn't get any better than a charter in Valdez and the drive is beautiful. The earth quake museum is very interesting. The Pipe Line Inn is a fun dive and has good food.

IMHO the Sea Life is lame but the 6 hour cruise is not to be missed.

Other advice here is good. I to would skip Fairbanks this time.

Have a great time. You'll Love it.
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Old Dec 27th, 2006, 02:57 AM
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Thank you for your thoughtful responses. When I sat down with a calendar yesterday I kept finding us in Seward for the 4th of July. That's when they have the mountain race and I'm thinking it's not the time we want to land there. So I'm toying with reversing the loop, leaving out Fairbanks (I do not know why the OM wants to go there actually), and spending the 3 days in Denali so we can stay further in. That way we're in and out of Seward by the 4th.

ABC rentals does allow the truck campers on the Denali Highway but "at your own risk". How bad is it? I live on a gravel road in Michigan and it takes a lot to scare me.

What do you think about adding in Kennecott? Worth the time? Not worth the time? We are not fisher-people so I'm thinking Valdez will not appeal so much to us.

I thank you all sincerely for your help. This will definitely be a "peak" experience for both of us!
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Old Dec 27th, 2006, 05:28 AM
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ABC rentals does allow the truck campers on the Denali Highway but "at your own risk". How bad is it?

I only drove the first 30 miles or so from the Denali side (staying at Denali and did this as a day side-trip) and that wasn't too bad. I'm sure you can find someone here or on other forums who can give you the skinny on the entire route.

Good idea skipping Fairbanks ... should be a great trip.

Bill
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Old Dec 28th, 2006, 11:38 AM
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I'm having a riot here! I even ordered some books (per Fodorite recommendations) set in Alaska. Looking forward to meeting BudgetQueen here as well someday.

This is my 3rd official itinerary taking into account your many posts and suggestions. Let me know what you think. 2008:

06/27 (Friday) Arrive in Anchorage. Stay at Anchorage RV park. Stock up. Maybe hit market first thing Sat. morning.
06/28 Seward Hwy to Homer
6/29 Homer for Emerald Air bear trip
6/30 Chillin' around Homer
7/1 to Seward. Explore town
7/2 Kenai Fjords 9-hour NW Fjord trip
7/3 Thurs. ferry from Whittier to Valdez
7/4 Spend the 4th of July around Valdez
7/5 Wrangell-St. Elias camp at Liberty Falls
7/6 Fly in to McCarthy with Wrangell Mountain Air. Tour Kennecott mine area returning to Liberty Falls.
7/7 Head to Paxon and travel Denali Highway
7/8 - 7/10 at Teklaneka campgrounds in Denali
7/11 Back to Anchorage prior to flying home on 7/12.

This way I skip the huge crowd in Seward on the 4th, have most all my reservation activities up front (hopefully no unforeseen delays that way), and can wind down prior to heading home. I'm also seriously considering switching to the smallest motorhome. For $20 more a day it seems like it would be much more comfortable. Sound like a plan yet?
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Old Dec 28th, 2006, 07:43 PM
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I just stumbled upon this thread for the first time and noticed that you're trying to avoid Seward on the 4th of July. I'm an Alaskan and think that's a big mistake!

If you're trying to see the local color, there's nowhere better than Seward on the Fourth of July. It may be hard to find a camping spot, but if at all possible you should try to go. (If you get out fairly early, you probably could at least get a spot at a campground between Anchorage and Seward, most of which are nice anyways. These days they may even be doing reservations--I would check the Milepost for current info.)

Seward is flooded with people for the holiday, but it's tons and tons of fun to see everyone out. The campgrounds are full of parties among friends, and last year I had one of the best nights of my life dancing to Hobo Jim (an Alaskan balladeer) at a local bar in a crowd of dressed-down locals and campers. On the night of the third there are fireworks (I think midnight).

On the morning of the fourth, there is Mount Marathon, a great mountain run. It's tons of fun to cheer for the muddy (and sometimes bloody) racers as they run to the finish line. There are fair-type concessions and people set up lawn chairs along the race track.

I'm not sure how exactly this fits into your itinerary, and it wouldn't be the end of the world if you missed it. But you certainly shouldn't go out of your way to avoid it! It's one of the best parts of summer in Alaska.
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Old Dec 29th, 2006, 04:15 AM
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Hurrah, another Hobo Jim fan! I'm envious though, I've only heard him once and it was a fairly sedate dinner show in Soldotna. He plays in Homer as well as Seward and Soldotna, etc. If you're going to skip Seward on the 4th, you might catch him in Homer. He's funny but some of his songs are haunting.
The problem with gravel roads is flying rocks/broken windshields. Make sure you check your windshield before leaving the rental place. I rented a van last year here at home and since it was pouring out, I didn't notice 2 good size pits in the windshield. I called the next day to report them and didn't have a problem but a friend has problem with windshield pits the last time she rented in Alaska.
Make sure you pay attention to the one-way tunnel schedule when you go to Whittier for the ferry. There's a website with information.
BTW the Girdwood Forest Fair was my closest encounter with a bear who was attracted by the smell of food. Unfortunately I just saw bushes moving after I heard someone shout "bear". The craft tents are set up among the trees. You won't find made in China stuff. Some of the exhibitors also have work in museum stores but you'll also see some local youth groups selling things to raise money.
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Old Dec 29th, 2006, 06:31 AM
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I actually considered the pros and cons of the festival atmosphere in Seward, Calliopejen. The OM and I do enjoy a good party but I once spent the 4th in a little town just north of Yellowstone and it was such a fun, intimate atmosphere. I'm afraid we'd just get swallowed up in Seward. Huge crowds make him a bit testy - well, unless he's had large quantities of the local brew... Plus, if we stayed through the 4th we'd end up 2 days short because of the ferry schedule. I'm not sure I want to give up 2 days for even a great party. But you do have me thinking about reversing the route again!

My shopping in Alaska will likely just be for groceries and gas. I think once I figure out all we want to do and see, I'll have to be satisfied with pictures as remembrances. I can do that.

Thanks for the suggestions. I still have lots of time to ponder.
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Old Dec 29th, 2006, 11:15 PM
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Do yourself a favour - go to www.toursaver.com. The Great Alaskan Toursaver is a book of coupons - very cheap to purchase and FULL OF GR8 COUPONS. For example, we were able to do several trips - buy one get one free so my partner went free on most of our sightseeing trips, eg in Talkeetna, we did a flight over Denali - $350 (and well worth every cent - I would have been very disappointed in Denali without the flight and only the ground component). So instead of having to pay $700 for the two of us, $350 is a good deal. I wouldn't hesitate to get the book of coupons again if we were to do another trip to Alaska
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Old Dec 30th, 2006, 03:40 PM
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luckygreen,

I just read a message on tripadvisor that the lovely Anchorage RV Park has been sold and is probably closed. Everybody is devastated. Evidently they could make more money on this lovely site by developing it. You might try their website to see if it has closed already. www.anchrvpark.com .

Looking at my (outdated) copy of The Milepost, I see "Hillside on Gambel Motel and RV Park" www.hillside-alaska.com. and Golden Nugget Camper Park. No website given but they may have one by now. It looks nice. Also Centennial Camper Park, 5 miles from downtown.

The only other RV site in Anchorage that I know of I wouldn't necessarily recommend, Ship's Creek Landings, except for its location. We stayed there our first night after landing. It is only about a 1/2 mile walk to town, which was nice because we didn't have to start up the rig and find a place to park when doing some exploring for a restaurant. Rows of RV's on gravel pads ...showers... also tents. But for your first night it would probably be OK.

Again,no website given, you might try a google. Phone is 907-277-0877.

OH...I forgot. WalMart allows you to park your RV overnight in their parking lot at no charge. We found ourselves in Anchorage on a stormy very late afternoon and not wanting to go further on our travels in the rain we took advantage of that. We woke up early to see a man in a yellow slicker posting messages on the windshields of our RV and the other RV's which had appeared during the night. Doing an "OH, OH" I dashed out to retrieve the message. It welcomed us to WalMart.

(I don't know why this site does strange things to the links I put in...making them live and then repeating them.)

Good luck.
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Old Dec 30th, 2006, 04:10 PM
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OK, by googling I found out that Anchorage RV Park is indeed closed. Look at their site and eat your heart out....<sigh>.

Centennial Camper Park and Ship's Creek Landings both responded to a google.

Have fun.
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Old Dec 31st, 2006, 07:43 AM
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Walmart NO longer allows overnight parking of RV's. As for the Denali Highway- be CERTAIN to take out all the extra insurance available and make sure you have no deductable. It's about given some ding will happen on the Denali Highway. Allow all day, since you will be obligated to stop frequently and not drive over 25mph.
Go over the RV with a fine tooth comb and ask to see the current damage report. Photograph the RV before you leave the lot.
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Old Jan 14th, 2007, 05:22 PM
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You all are great - so helpful as I plan this trip for the end of July - Homer - 1 week; Seward - 1 week; and up to Denali...
Would you recommend Emerald Air to see the bears? It is expensive. Any other suggestions and places to see them (planned places) along our planned route. You all have helped me so much w/my planning...Would you recommend the restaurant on top of the hill in Girdwood?
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Old Jan 14th, 2007, 10:58 PM
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Your trip sounds like it will be great fun! I'd recommend the most comfortable (you'll be in it for a while) but small (easier to drive & park) RV. People in Alaska are very friendly so you'll pick up tips and meet nice people. Plan your structured agenda but also be sure to "go with the flow". Near Girdwood there are 2 nice attractions if time permits. Portage Glacier has a nice visitor's center and you can make a quick stop. Also there is a Wildlife Park off the highway, headed south, that some people love and others hate. It's a place that rescues injured and orphaned animals. They have large places to roam but are fenced in. Anyhow, you can see moose, caribou, black bears, etc. I don't like zoos but I don't mind places that are taking in animals that need assistance. In Seward, if you go there, don't forget about Exit Glacier. You can take some nice pictures at the Glacier and the hike is easy. The restaurant at the top of Alyeska Ski Resort (Girdwood) is nice, even if you just stop for appetizers and cocktails. The tram ride is short and if you have dinner at the top I believe the tram ride is "free". Have a great time! No matter what you do it should be fun.
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Old Jan 16th, 2007, 03:44 AM
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So helpful!!!!!!!!!Thanks
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