Alaska Road Trip--many questions
This is my first time coming here, so I am not sure if my question is posted at right place. If it is not, excuse me, plz.
My husband and I are in our early 60’s and this is my retirement trip. It is going to be a road trip of about two weeks (giver or take a couple days depending on what I learn here.)…summer of 2013. We enjoy road trips and have been campers/hikers our entire
lives. However, my husband has had knee replacement surgery (2 years ago) so our hiking isn’t what it once was. The following is my “draft” agenda which I hope some of you can help me with.
We will be flying round trip from Austin Texas to Anchorage. I mention Texas because there is a reason I live here…it is called “heat.” I am cold natured…wet-cold weather is my least favorite, however, I love travel and the outdoors and know how to layer…at least for most of the US.
So we will be making a big loop, Anchorage to Anchorage.
Question: When will be the best time for me to go? I am thinking sometime between mid June to mid July. I know it is probably the most crowded time, but I am looking for the warmest, driest time possible. I know it is unpredictable, but what would be my best shot?
Day 1 – Fly into Anchorage – stay overnight, pick up car
Day 2 – Anchorage to Healy for our visit to Danali – overnight in Healy
Day 3 – Healy - Danali Bus into park
Questions: How far is best? Is Wonder Lake too far? Is is dangerous to get off the bus, (ie bears) for photographs? We had no problems keeping safe distances from the critters in Yellowstone and still getting great photographs (got our first /only Grizzley shot). But Alaska is more "wilderness" than Yellowstone…so I am trying to figure out my boundaries.
Day 4 – Danali to Fairbanks – overnight in Fairbanks (
Question: Should we do the Danali bus again before heading down the road to Fairbanks? Should we skip Fairbanks, head out early and drive directly to Glennallen?
Day 5 Fairbanks to Glennallen – overnight in Glennallen orCopper Center area. (Suggestions.) Staying overnight so that our drive to Valdez on Day 6 will be leisurely with plenty of time to stop and take picuures as I heard it was a spectacular drive.
Question: I heard that this drive is exceptional. True?
Day 6 – Drive to Valdez – Overnight in Valdez
Day 7 – Relax in Valdez – Visit glaciers, kayak? (Suggestions.) Or should we go on to Whittier first thing in the morning via ferry?
Day 8 – Take ferry to Whittier. Drive to Seward area. Overnight in Seward
Day 9 – Seward – Kayak (other suggestions?)_Visit downtown.
Day 10 – Seward – Glacier Boat Tour (suggestions?)
Day 11 – Drive to Homer – go out to Homer Spit, visit downtown; and tidal pools?.
Day 13 – Homer to Girdwood. Enjoy the ride. Overnight in Girdwood. (Unless we have an early morning
flight out…then will go on into Anchorage.)
Day 14 – Fly home from Anchorage
Our main interests: Wildlife viewing, birding, and photography, a glacier/boat tour of Prince William Sound and
Resurrection Bay area; kayaking amongst sea otters and seals; photographing Eagles (my hubby would love that! and Puffins...I want to add to my life (bird) list, easy to moderate hiking. We are open to recommendations. We will be staying mostly in cabins with kitchens or kitchenettes or B&B, or lodges...ie we won't be roughing it but rustic cabins are OK. Should this trip be done in the opposite direction for any reason?
Should we forgo any of what I have above to spend more time in Homer or Fairbanks, less time in Valdez, etc.? Am I trying to cram too much into two weeks? If so, what should I cut? Is there a place that is an absolute must see on this route (or close by) that I need to schedule time in for?
Thank all of you in advance for helping me plan this trip. It took me my whole life to get there so I want to make the very most of it!
At the moment the forums don't have an "Alaska Travel" section. The most visited section it the Alaska Hunting section. You might repost there - you'll get a lot of suggestions even though you obviously aren't looking for hunting advice.
You also might contact "Denalihunter" (search for him via the search function). He runs a lodge on the Denali Highway and can most likely give you great tips for touring the area between Anchorage and Fairbanks.
This is his website: http://www.alpinecreeklodge.com/
I would say your time frame is correct. Mid June to mid July is about the best time. By mid June everything will be green and growing. Homer is not a one day trip. It is a long drive from Seward to Homer. I would plan a full day in Homer so you can have a leisurely drive to and from Homer - it is a beautiful drive. Also, in either Seward, Whittier or Valdez, you should take a glacier/wildlife cruise on one of the many tour boats. You'll get up close and personal to seals, otters, puffins and glaciers. I haven't done it, but I think the kayaking would be better in Homer than Seward. Post that question in the Kayaking forum here.
In any case, you'll have a great time.
Best of luck,
Last edited by GD Yankee; 08-07-2012 at 21:11.
Reason: more info
Susan, sounds like you have a great plan there! And thanks GD Yankee! I have a couple of suggestions. We do trip planning for a lot of folks and over the years we have found our guests have enjoyed some spots. So suggestions below:
For one, your travel plans look great. Your not trying to 'Do Alaska' in five days and just see each spot 5 minutes. Your are spending time and have a lot of thought involved.
On your day 3. If your going to 'Do the Park' you might as well go all the way to Wonder Lake. You will see a lot of wildlife. Big suggestion: Take the early buss in, which is 6:30AM. Don't take the 7:30am. The earlier, the better. Your wildlife viewing will be much better earlier. And you have no worries about bears. You'll be on a bus with 30 or more people, and anytime you see an animal, there are generally rangers around to make sure you don't interfere with them, or they with you.
On your day 4. It's only a couple of hour drive from Denali to Fairbanks. Consider spending the night at Chena Hot Springs. It's about 90 minutes out of Fairbanks and is a great spot. Lot's to see and do. Don't forget to go to North Pole to Santa Clause's house. It's a neat spot, and worth an hour stop. While there, sign up for sending someone a letter from Santa. Touristy, but still worth the stop!
On your day 5. You are correct. Glenallen to Valdez is a great drive! You will see huge waterfalls, and also glaciers right next to the highway, with some nice visitor centers at the foot of the glaciers. You can walk up to them also.
Day 7. Yes, relax in Valdez. Lot's of things to do there. Kyaking, fishing, etc. Would be a good day for you to catch your breath.
Day 9. Seward. Glacier cruise and whale watching our guests really enjoy. Don't forget to go to the Seward SeaLife Center. Really cool place and you could spend a couple of hours or more in there. Might take the short drive out to Exit Glacier. Neat spot there as well.
Don't forget to stop at the Alaska Wildlife Center in Portage. That is a must see, and you can get up close and personal with most of the Alaskan big game animals.
The trip you have planned, with some minor adjustments will get you to see everything you want to see!
Now, the shameless plug by me... Drive the Denali Highway. I've been here my whole life, and to me, this drive is the most beatutiful one that you can do. That's why I live here.
Good luck and don't hesitate to ask any other questions. We'll be glad to help you out!
DenaliHunter covered most of my advice, but here are a few more thoughts:
-- At some point before the trip, check out the National Park Service web offerings. www.nps.gov/alaska is a good starting spot. Denali has an extensive web site, Kenai Fjords' site is growing, and since you're driving right by Wrangell-St. Elias, check that out too.
-- People and bears have, for the most part, had few problems in Denali. Part of that is due to quite strict rules at campgrounds that keep human food away from the critters. Also, much of the best hiking is in the high country where the tundra is relatively low -- meaning you and the wildlife can see each other and stay apart. All that said, if you feel the need you are allowed to take bear spray or firearms into the park (there are some rules on how to carry those on the bus, and prohibitions on firearms in many NPS buildings).
-- The Wonder Lake bus ride is great, but it is a long day. Many folks go as far as Eielson Visitor Center and build in more time to take a hike or two off the road.
-- When you drive through Copper Center, make a stop at the Wrangell-St. Elias NP visitor center. You'll get all sorts of ideas for your next Alaska trip!
-- The SeaLife Center and Exit Glacier are good stops in Seward. The latter will put you face to face with a glacier after a short, flat walk. And there are lots of day boat operators offering tours to the park coast, fishing and other combinations of trips in Resurrection Bay and beyond if you want time on the water.
Enjoy the planning and the trip.