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please help rethinking our whole itinerary for July 2011

please help rethinking our whole itinerary for July 2011

Feb 13th, 2010, 06:48 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 82
please help rethinking our whole itinerary for July 2011

I need help re-thinking our itinerary for an approximately 12 day trip to Alaska July 2011. We had originally assumed we would do the very popular Kenai Penninsula/Denali trip, flying in and out of Anchorage. But as I read and Google more about Alaska, I see so many beautiful areas we hadn't considered with the jagged mountain scenery we love, for example the White Pass train from Skagway, Wrangell-elias Park, etc. So I thought perhaps I should start over with no assumptions and really figure out what are the best places for us to visit. We want to do a driving trip, not a cruise. We want to include a couple of days of great salmon fishing, probably for reds, in freshwater, not ocean. We love dramatic mountain scenery(for example, the rolling hills and vast vistas of Yellowstone were nice, but we found the dramatic jagged all around you mountains of Glacier NP incredible). Would like to see glaciers and take a day cruise to see glacier scenery. Definitely want to see Grizzlies (in a safe way), and moose are a priority. Don't mind staying at several areas and driving a bit, but don't want to spend the whole trip driving. Like to be out in nature and hike a bit but probably won't emphasize hiking on this trip, or maybe take some ranger led hikes. Thought a scenic train ride might be fun. We had originally planned on a short visit to Denali(though the wildlife and scenery seems so far away), flightseeing/glacier landing from Talkeetna, train to Prince Wiliiam Sound cruise, drive Seward Highway to Seward, Kenai Fjords Cruise, Brooks Falls bear watching, and fishing at Cooper Landing, But some of the other places I'm Googling actually seems more beautiful and dramatic in it's scenery. So please help me re-think this trip and make sure I'm hitting the best areas for us and what we like. The photos and videos of Denali just haven't struck me for some reason, while some of the photos of for example Kenai Penninsula, Wrangell-Elias, and that White Pass train ride got my heart going. So please direct me, the state is far too large to do it all in 12 days and I need some direction to get it right. We are considering this a once in a lifetime trip, though we may be back we are wanting to see as much as we can this one time.
Lorenky1 is offline  
Feb 13th, 2010, 09:06 AM
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 6,509
The problem with the White Pass train ride is that it fits better with an Inside Passage trip than with one to the Kenai and southcentral Alaska. But you could do it. Look carefully at the various options on the schedule:


And then think about how you would get to and from there. You could fly (or drive) to Whitehorse, and do a roundtrip to Skagway and back----which is sort of backwards in feeling to me, but might be easier than getting to Skagway to start there.

Or you could fly into Juneau, ride the ferry to Skagway, and take the train/bus combo oneway to Whitehorse and fly to Alaska from there. Or. . well I am sure there are lots of ways to do this but all of them will take several days of your trip. That would still leave you 8 or 9 days for the Kenai Peninsula, which probably inclludes all the scenery, bear viewing, gaciers and other things you could ask for.

As for skipping Denali---if the photos you have seen don't call to you, then it's probably not worth the time, $$$ and effort. The place is vast and the scale is huge. I happen to think it is one of the 3 or 4 most beautiful places I've ever been (counting places like the Alps and Dolomites, Sierras and Glacier NP in the mix), but I had the privilege of spending a whole summer there, working. And at that time I felt sorry for the people whose only experience of that magnificent place was a stay in a hotel at the park entrance, coupled with a long and tiring bus ride into the park, during which they may or may not see wildlife up close. (Many people do seem to enjoy that, but I for one would not, and it sounds like you might not either.)
enzian is offline  
Feb 13th, 2010, 09:33 AM
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I think you will be happy with what you have originally planned. On our first trip we took the ferry from Bellingham up the Inside Passage and had a car with us. We departed the ferry in Skagway. I had to reserve the train ride ahead of time and still had to spend an extra night in Skagway because it was already booked for times we wanted. Skagway during the day while the cruise ships are in port is almost like being at Disneyworld. Our train ride was disappointing because it was late in the afternoon and fog came in so the views weren't great. We did see better views on our drive out, headed to Tok and then onto to the Anchorage area.

Sometimes you get lucky. On another visit we had a terrific, beautiful calm day for our Kenai Fjords cruise. DH had been worried about getting sea sick but it was like being on a lake. The captain took us into a little lagoon. Because there was only one narrow, rocky entrance, it was something the boat could do only a couple of times each summer. OTH we didn't see a glacier calve but it was still an incredible experience to sit with the engines off, listening to all the sounds a glacier makes. The orcas were wonderful. We got close enough to a humpback to smell whale breath. All the scenery between Anchorage and Seward will thrill you.

On our last trip we went to an event held at the state fairgrounds in Palmer. Just about a 360 degree view of mountains. I can understand Enzian feeling sorry for those who don't have much time in Alaska. We have friends who moved there for just a couple of years and apparently they aren't leaving. It's been more than 10 years now. (A story you may hear pretty often.)

I think there is more to see and do between the Anchorage area and the KP those amount of miles. You will still do a lot of driving but not as much as between Skagway and Anchorage.
dfrostnh is offline  
Feb 13th, 2010, 11:33 AM
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 8,798
I spent a month in Alaska 12 years ago and didn't even come close to seeing everything I wanted to.

Among other things, I used Juneau as a base a for several day trips and it worked out well. My day trip to Pack Creek to see the bears was a highlight. We flew in on a float plane and spent the day watching the bears. The scenery there is amazing as well. It was an easy day excursion.

I took a cruise to Tracy Arm Glacier and that was fun too. We saw the glacier calving.

There are some amazing day hiking opportunities near Juneau that I am so happy that I did. I shared trails with bear on several occassions. I can't remember the name of the meadow that I hiked to one day, but I will never forget the display of wildflowers.

If I were to do it over again, the part of the trip I would duplicate would be the Ferry ride from Bellingham to Juneau. That was a spectacular trip and so much fun.
iamq is offline  
Feb 13th, 2010, 11:39 AM
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 174
One place I really loved and would go back and see again is Cordova. You take a ferry there (which is a great trip in itself). The million dollar bridge and the drive there was awesome.
MonicaH is offline  
Feb 13th, 2010, 01:37 PM
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Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 82
Thanks very much for all the suggestions. Perhaps we could extend out trip to 13 or 14 days, it might help fit everything in. I'll think on that. It really sounds like we should include this drive to Valdez and that area. We are not locked into Anchorage, could just as easily fly to Fairbanks. I'm hearing the route from both these cities to Valdez are beautiful. Looks like the highways join at Glennallen. Is from there to Valdez the best part? Which would you recommend, from Anchorage or from Fairbanks? If I'm reading the map right it looks like the terrain surrounding is Wrangell-Elias NP, so we can get a taste of that as we travel. Also, we were pretty much certain on our plans to flightsee/glacier land Denali from Talkeetna. We can keep this plan though it's in the wrong direction, but at least we can have a chance of seeing the mountain from the air and from Talkeetna. Unless there is another flightseeing in the other area that you would recommend more highly? I'll look into the Juneau/Skagway situation but it sounds like it would be taking us way out of the way and into really another trip. Reluctantly will probably skip that fabulous looking train to White Pass. Okay, this sets me in a whole new direction but I'm excited, it feels like it fits better. As for Denali, I think it's true that it's a spectacular park but it really sounds like one that has to be savored and enjoyed over time, not just a one day visit on the bus, and it's just true that the other scenery I'm seeing appeals to me more. I'll do more research and see how it all fits and come back with more questions. Thanks!!!
Lorenky1 is offline  
Feb 13th, 2010, 01:39 PM
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Posts: 82
Just to clarify, I'm still planning on all the aforementioned activities in Kenai area, just now considering adding a day or two, perhaps eliminating Denali, and adding trip to Valdez.
Lorenky1 is offline  
Feb 13th, 2010, 03:04 PM
Join Date: Jan 2006
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If you are dropping Denali then it makes more sense to fly into Anchorage, tour the Kenai Peninsula, and then take the ferry from Whitter to Valdez. Then return by the Glenn and Richardson Highways, with a side trip to Kennicott/McCarthy.

Wrangell-St. Elias NP didn't even exist when I lived up there, and I have only been as far as Chitina (we used to go dip-netting for salmon there). I remember some great fishing (for trout) at a lake nearby.

I think those two loops---the Kenai and over to Valdez---would pretty well fill your time. If want to drive up to Talkeetna for the flightseeing, you could easily do that from Anchorage after you visit the other places (or before). But . . . to build this into your schedule and plan on a specific day is a bit risky---as it may not be a good day to fly. Still, you could find other things to do there, and it's worth it if there is a chance to see Denali.

I think you're wise to give up the White Pass railway idea---it is a very long way from the other things you want to see and do. I think of visiting Alaska as two separate trips---one is up the Inside Passage, seeing Juneau, Glacier Bay, and Skagway/Chilkoot Pass/White Pass, and the other is what you are looking at---Kenai, Denali, Wrangell-St. Elias, etc. from Anchorage. I think you need at least 12 days to do either one---and more is better.
enzian is offline  
Feb 13th, 2010, 03:07 PM
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 8,798
I am jealous that you're going to Wrangell St. Elias. I never made it there and not sure I'll ever get back to Alaska, but would love to see this area. Have a great trip.
iamq is offline  
Feb 13th, 2010, 03:35 PM
Join Date: Feb 2004
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I'd drop Denali and do Wrangell St. Elias if I could do our Alaskan trip over again.
padams421 is offline  
Feb 13th, 2010, 04:20 PM
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 7,443
Alaska is somewhat like a Mini United States. You can't fit the whole thing in on a single visit. It is big and takes time and money to get from point A to point B. I think pick 2 or 3 places and go with that. We basically just did Kenai area with a fly/out fishing trip. Really awesome. The reason I did Kenai, is that from what I read it has a little of "everything Alaska". I consider each area somewhat like visiting an entire State in the lower 48.
spirobulldog is offline  
May 7th, 2010, 06:58 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,586
MonicaH, I just read your trip report from 2008 and I really enjoyed it. I have to tell you that I'm pretty sure I had your Phil as a guide last year (2009). He had worked at Hallo Bay, the owner of Hallo Bay is a maniac and runs off all staff, guests, group leaders etc, he had worked with bears in Florida, and I think he was from NY or NJ? Anyway, he was working there as a "trial" and he's the one that took us on a planned-at-the-very-last-minute fly camping overnight away from the regular camp. He was good and I enjoyed him and his stories. I don't have a picture of Phil but here are some pics from the trip. Many of them were taken on that overnight trip with Phil (except the ones marked BF from Brooks Falls). http://www.pbase.com/cjw/2009_grizzly_bears_alaska

Sorry to butt in on your post, Lorenky1. I hope you end up with an excellent itinerary. I wish I could help.
sundowner is offline  
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