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Please help with May 2012 itinerary

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Dec 1st, 2011, 07:56 PM
  #1
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Please help with May 2012 itinerary

We are a couple in mid-50's, avid travelers, love nature and landscapes. Will be traveling to Alaska for a 10-day vacation in mid-May 2012. The dates are not flexible, nor is the duration of the trip. Have to start and end in Anchorage. Would love to see glaciers, icebergs, wilderness vistas. However, seeing wildlife is not a high priority, nor is experiencing native culture, or doing trout fishing. Will not enjoy being in a cruise ship for 7 days.

Need ideas on what places to cover. One option seems to be : Anchorage - Talkeetna - Denali - Seward - Kenai Fjords cruise - Anchorage. A slightly different option could be Anchorage - Seward - Kenai Fjords cruise - Homer - Valdez - Anchorage. We are totally open to other options as well.

The important thing to find out is, which locations would be best between 15th-25th May ? Should we include Denali or omit it ? How is Homer, or Valdez ?

We can drive through, or take bus / railroad. Very flexible on these options. Please help us plan this trip of a lifetime.
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Dec 2nd, 2011, 05:00 AM
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"Great service. RV nearly brand new and spotless. The best way to experience Alaska!"

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Dec 3rd, 2011, 09:48 PM
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Went in july this year. We had ordered the northern light book and used the coupons extensively. Please see my trip report and feel free to ask any questions on activities ,lodging etc.
Book the car now
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Dec 3rd, 2011, 10:07 PM
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Mid-May is pretty much the beginning of the visitor season, and is a bit early for some activities, e.g. the interior of Denali Park will likely not be accessible.

Probably I'd focus on the areas surrounding Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound - plenty of glaciers (and icebergs near the faces). Visit Kenai Fjords NP, maybe the "26 Glacier" cruise out of Whittier. If resources permit, by all means get up in the air - a floatplane flightseeing trip from Lake Hood in Anchorage, or maybe a Denali fly-by from an operator in Talkeetna. Drive to Valdez (gorgeous drive) then take the ferry across PW Sound back to Whittier.

Because of the season I'd go with flexible plans, and capitalize on good weather, or have standby plans if the weather's poor.
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Dec 4th, 2011, 04:44 AM
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Good suggestions. Please keep them coming.

We expect to reach Anchorage on May 15th . We are thinking of doing the trip in this order :
1. Anchorage (1 night)
2. Homer (2 nights)
3. Seward (2 nights) - to do Kenai fjord cruise here
4. To Whittier for PWS 26 Glacier cruise, and on to Girdwood or Anchorage (1 night)
5. Hike on Matanuska Glacier, and on to Talakeetna (1 night)
6. Flightseeing, followed by drive to Denali (3 nights)
7. Return to Anchorage.

This way we will hit Denali by 22nd/23rd May, by which time bus services to Toklat River would have started. What do you think of this itinerary. Please critique and suggest improvements.
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Dec 4th, 2011, 10:16 AM
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I'd just be flexible on the second half of the trip. Toklat isn't very far into the park (you really need to get to Eielson and beyond IMO) and if the weather happens to be cloudy then you might not even see the mountain at all. In that case Denali can be a rather "low yield," expensive and time-consuming excursion, whereas the same days/hours could be spent continuing on from Matanuska Glacier over to the Richardson Hwy. and down into Valdez, one of the most beautiful drives in North America (again IMO). If you're still in need of glacier face time, the Worthington Glacier is pretty much next to the road 45 min. or so from Valdez. Maybe head over en route into Chitina to visit a log-cabin-y historic town (McCarthy would be even more interesting, but access might be doubtful that early, plus most rental car companies balk at taking their cars off the pavement.)

To me, the Richardson/Valdez route would be the better time bargain, especially if you ferried back across PWS so you don't have to retrace your route.

If the weather is not good (I know I'm harping on this, but May can be cloudy/rainy days on end) then you might find a more rewarding flightseeing experience using one of the floatplane operators at Lake Hood in Anchorage (or somebody on wheels from Merrill Field in Anchorage) who could take you up over Cook Inlet, or down and over the Chugach mts. to the Harding Icefield, which can be an eyeball-popping ride. You could do that either at the beginning or end of your trip. The beginning might even be better since it would give you some perspective on the scale of things right from the start - it's hard getting a handle on Alaska if you just stick to the road system.
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Dec 4th, 2011, 07:53 PM
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Gardyloo, your suggestions are excellent. I have also not been very comfortable about Denali, knowing that we cannot proceed beyond Toklat in May. But every travel site hypes up Denali so much, that I was unsure about leaving it out. I agree that it is a long way to go, just for one shuttle bus ride into the park.

I like your suggestion of leaving out Denali and focusing on other parts of Alaska. The suggested drive to Valdez on the Richardson Hwy sounds more like our taste. How long would you suggest we stay at Valdez ? And after Valdez, you are suggesting ferrying back across the PWS (with car ??) to Whittier ? And from Whittier to where ? I could not quite understand that portion of your suggestion...could you please elaborate ?

Do you have any details or links about this floatplane from Anchorage to Harding Icefield ? Need to investigate this further as it sounds great.
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Dec 5th, 2011, 07:57 AM
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Well my suggestion is really to play it by ear to some extent. If you get a spell of good weather (and Alaskans are obsessed about this in the spring - there will be no shortage of forecasts) then a Denali flightseeing trip - from either Anchorage or Talkeetna - would trump everything. There's simply nothing that compares with approaching Denali in a light plane. (Anchorage > Denali will obviously be more expensive than out of Talkeetna since it's farther, but you're trading that expense vs. 2 or 3 hours on the road up to Talkeetna. To me it's worth the trade, since the views up the Susitna Valley, i.e. from Anchorage toward Talkeetna, are pretty cool themselves.)

Whether it's the Harding Icefield (which I believe is more often included in flightseeing trips out of Seward, Homer or Moose Pass than Anchorage) or some other icefields or glacier clusters in the Kenai or Chugach Mountains is, to me, rather immaterial. The point is that once you're out of the Anchorage bowl (and especially in May when there will have been comparatively little snowmelt in the mountains anyway) the views of glacier/snow covered mountains, and glacier flows - the "ice rivers" - are all around you. Harding is interesting because it abuts the Kenai Fjords area, but the northern part of Prince William Sound is literally ringed by glaciers - you just can't miss.

The flightseeing operators aren't slaves to any one route - they can improvise based on conditions and opportunities. It's not uncommon to think you're flying to A, then you get up and the pilot hears on the radio that there's a bunch of whales breaching and showing off at B, so he/she will ask your permission to divert to go see the whales (or the bears, the sheep, whatever).

You might have a look at Rust's website - old time Lake Hood operator. They offer both Denali and PWS/Chugach tours, or can customize something for you. http://www.flyrusts.com/ At Merrill Field in Anchorage (planes on wheels rather than floats, so generally faster and cheaper) I'd contact Spernak's - another old time operator. http://www.spernakair.com/index.htm

To me, Valdez is not all that interesting a destination (but pretty interesting in terms of the oil terminal etc.) So I wouldn't allocate too much time there - maybe a day or two at most. There are, however, numerous things to do in the area - kayaking, fishing, etc.

Then yes, take the state ferry from Valdez to Whittier. It's a car ferry and takes around 4-5 hours. The trip is very scenic. http://www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/index.shtml I don't think they've published schedules for May 2012 yet, but you could use the 2011 summer schedule for guidance.

Whittier is connected to the Anchorage - Seward highway by a one-way tunnel; once you're through the tunnel it's around an hour to Anchorage (north) or 1 1/2 hours to Seward (south). What the ferry does is allow for a big "loop" - Anchorage to Valdez then back to Anchorage, or v.v.

If you're planning this much driving in Alaska, it might behoove you to pick up a copy of The Milepost which is a comprehensive road guide to Alaska (as well as most of the access roads from the south into Alaska or northern Canada.) It's published annually, but you could pick up a used one from Amazon or some such and save money, since not that much changes from one year to the next.
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Dec 5th, 2011, 09:45 AM
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We did a short Alaska trip a couple of years ago and didn't visit Denali. Sure we would have liked to have seen it. We did Seward, Soldotna/fly out fishing, Alyeska/Girdwood. We thought it was spectacular. The state is so big it is hard to grasp.

I have had several people tell me that Kenai gives you a little bit of everything Alaska has to offer.

My parents on the other hand went this past year and didn't even do Kenai area. They really enjoyed landing on Denali/Glacer.
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Dec 5th, 2011, 08:26 PM
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Thanks Gardyloo, for taking the time to give a detailed response. You have given me much material to research about.

spirobulldog, what were your reasons for skipping Denali ? Just curious.
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Dec 5th, 2011, 09:33 PM
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I would buy a copy of Milepost, perhaps the best AK guidebook for trip planning.
We rented a motor home from www.greatalaskanholidays.com/ and enjoyed a week of driving around following an earlier week on a now-defunct Glacier Bay small boat cruise.
You have a one in three chance of the weather being clear enough to see Denali. Gardyloo is right. If you want to see Denali, drive to Talkeetna and charter a plane. We flew with Doug Geeting. Denali was socked in, so the pilot devoted our air time to cruising the glaciers from above. Truth be known, probably more impressive than a peek at some mountain.
Motorhome is to us the best way to explore the area around Los Anchorage. You can park overnight for free at any Walmart or Sam's.
You won't have enough time to fully explore the Kenai Peninsula so save up for a return visit
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Dec 6th, 2011, 06:01 AM
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jyares, what do you suggest, that we leave out Denali and concentrate on the Kenai peninsula ? In that case how do we allocate the 3-4 extra days that we save? At Valdez ? Or somewhere else ?

Will certainly buy a copy of the Milepost and read through it.
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Dec 6th, 2011, 12:25 PM
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We were on a very short trip and I just didn't have time to do both and so I picked Kenai. I hope to go back and see a lot more of Alaska.
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Dec 6th, 2011, 06:42 PM
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Denali is one of those special places, like Grand Canyon. If the weather is predicted to be clear, do go see it, even if from a distance. It blew my mind to see the mountain from Fairbanks.
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Dec 6th, 2011, 08:12 PM
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Indiancouple:
Denali is a commitment with advance arrangements and reservations required to do it right.
Earlier this year, my son and his family spent the better part of a week in Denali, staying at Camp Denali, hiking the backcountry trails, watching the wildlife, rafting the rivers, and doing a helicopter glacier walk. They had a great time--blue skies their entire visit.
That said, if you want to see Denali, your odds for a day of favorable weather are less than one in three.
Denali entrance visitor center is about 130 miles up the road from Anchorage. A day trip into Denali is possible. You must park your car at the Visitor Center and ride a school bus on an 80 mile unpaved road in and out. About ten hours' round trip.
Your alternative, the one we chose, is The Talkeetna Option in which you drive 110 miles from Anchorage to Talkeetna and charter a plane there. If you are lucky and it is a clear day, you will have a better view of Denali from the plane than anyone who is on the ground. And if conditions are right, you may be able to make a glacier landing.
During our entire week around Anchorage after the Glacier Bay cruise, Denali was socked in which is why on our final day we drove to Talkeetna and took a chance on the plane charter. Didn't get close to Denali, but the air cruising over the glaciers was unforgettable.
We rented a motorhome after the Glacier Bay small ship cruise and spent our week touring the Kenai Peninsula. Sterling Highway down to Homer (Pratt Museum), Seward Highway to Seward, and Glenn Hwy to Palmer. Overnighted at Portage campground and enjoyed breakfast with Portage Glacier out the camper window. Another overnight along Turnagain Arm with the Beluga Whales passing by.
Anchorage is a great place to spend a day shopping and dining. We took one of the Volksmarch 10 K walking tours which included a stroll through a lovely suburban park. The Anchorage Zoo is worth visiting. And gives you a chance to shoot closeup pix of wildlife to show the folks back home.
If you have the time and the $$, consider the possibility of a Glacier Bay cruise. The two cruise companies that were operating when we were there are no longer in business. Lindblad offers small ship cruises but they are based in Juneau, the State's capital which is only accessible by air or ship. The ocean liners that serve the area claim to offer a Glacier Bay experience, but we've heard that they are just too huge to get close enough to a calving glacier,
After you read through your copy of Milepost, you'll get a better idea of what you'll want to do.
Please keep me posted.
Jerry
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Dec 7th, 2011, 10:09 AM
  #16
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jyares, thanks for your very informative reply. I think I really need to get hold of the Milepost and a good guide book, and digest it before I come back with more specific questions.
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