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Thread: Visiting Alaska on low budget

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    Default Visiting Alaska on low budget

    We are from Ohio and visiting Alaska on a low budget for 2 weeks in late June-July. We will have a small rental car. We would like to do a lot of day hiking, but while we are experienced hikers in tame Ohio and other parts of the east, Alaska wilderness will be a new experience. We have special interest in plant life, especially trees. Any random information would be appreciated! We will be flying in and out of Anchorage and our only commitment is a 3 day conference in Fairbanks.
    Is is safe at all to leave a rental car at a trailhead? I am reading about a lot of vandalism. Since we probably can't bring camping gear, will it be easy to find cheap motels or hostels or are reservations a must in the summer? Thanks!

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    Member Erik in AK's Avatar
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    While in Fairbanks: Head north out of town and turn on Chena Hot Springs Road. The Granite Tors trailhead is at mp 39.5. Great day hike.

    In Anchorage there's lots of local info on hiking in Chugach State Park which abuts the city to the east.

    Here's a link to the AK state trails http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/aktrails/

    As for accomodations, there are a few hostels and few, if any cheap motels. Check Craigslist for possible couch-surfing opportunities.
    If cave men had been trophy hunters the Wooly Mammoth would be alive today

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    Member Roger45's Avatar
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    First, as to the car issue...just like anywhere, don't leave valuable things in plan sight and lock the doors. In addition to the two legged predators you are use to in Ohio, we have four legged ones too Many of the parking lots charge about $5 to park...you can get a season pass for about $20 that should be good in most spots.

    Assuming you plan on heading north form the Airport...looking out the passenger side window going out of Los Anchorage you need to know all the mountains (Chugach) have trails to the top of them Many folks live here their whole life and don't have a clue they exist. There are some great books to be had on all the trails if you are interested. In general, the closer to the big population centers, the less you have to worry about the four leg critters being a problem. That said, some of the worse problems have been near towns. Make noise (talk) and enjoy. I have started to carry bear spray recently, but because of moose problems at times.

    As you leave the Glenn Highway 40 miles out of Los Anchorage, you will head up the Parks Highway all the way to Fairbanks. There are trails off and on for the next 300 miles, including Denali (Mt. McKinley). It is easy to spend 2 weeks hiking in the park alone, but you need to make reservations in advance to assure you can get in (better than Magic Mountain IMHO) Some of the more remote trails between Wasilla and Mt. McKinley Village are very remote in deed...be extra aware of bears in those areas. Keep a clean camp site at all times! Do not use bacon grease as an after shave if you know what I mean!

    A book like the Alaskan Milepost can be had new for about $20...used ones cheaper, and it will give you a mile by mile sites of interest along your travel route. Not a lot of detail about the trails, but enough to get you started. You might even find one in a Library near where you live. That is a good start.

    If this is the sort of info you are looking for, let us know and others will jump in I am sure. Feel free to PM if you want more details. You are going to have a great time!
    "...and then Jack chopped down the beanstock, adding murder and ecological vandalism to the theft, enticement and vandalism charges already mentioned, but he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you're a hero, because no one asks the inconvenient questions." Terry Pratchett's The Hogfather

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    This is great information! Thank you for taking the time to respond. I've been reading a lot of guide books, looking at maps, etc. but really treasure the personal advice. We are really excited about visiting Alaska.

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    I just want to throw a plug in for a quick trip to Seward while you are here.

    The drive from Anchorage to Seward is worth the trip alone and there is tons of hiking in Seward and all along the way.

    Head down, take a nature cruise out into the bay, and grab a sandwich from the Smoke House.

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    Quote Originally Posted by armybackpacker View Post
    I just want to throw a plug in for a quick trip to Seward while you are here.
    If time allows, I ditto this! At least a dozen trips possible. You will start a climb at sea level and go straight up 3 to 5,000 foot elevation, sometimes in just a couple of miles. You will get a great cardio workout, but the views will really knock your socks off. Most of these trails get a lot of traffic (less chance of bad animal encounters, but more help available if you get in trouble). I hope you have a good camera

    Most of the trails here are very easy to follow. If you are someone who likes to "go off the beaten path" I would recommend that you always carry a compass and a GPS. The sun does not rise in the east and set in the west here when you come up...rather it more "circles" the sky. This can really mess up your internal compass and it makes it easy to "get lost".

    I think every trail system within a hour or two of Los Anchorage all have pretty good cell reception. there are even places in Denali that you can get cell bars in. If you are really adventurous and want to go into the deep wild, you may want to consider renting a satellite phone. There are a couple of places to rent them here and they are a great insurance package...but that is for the really remote areas most of the time.
    "...and then Jack chopped down the beanstock, adding murder and ecological vandalism to the theft, enticement and vandalism charges already mentioned, but he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you're a hero, because no one asks the inconvenient questions." Terry Pratchett's The Hogfather

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    If you really want to see Alaska, I would mail a tent, sleeping bag and pad to Anchorage, drive to a trail head, hike in and spend a night or two. If not all you are going to be doing is driving and you will never see the real Alaska.

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    I'd also agree with the drive to Seward. The Winner Creek trail in Girdwood is hard to beat for a day hike and/or hike the Crow Pass Trail to the glacier. Both of these are on the way to Seward. The Winner Creek trail has some cool, big ol' trees and a beautiful gorge that you cross in a hand tram. The Exit Glacier/Harding Ice Field trail, just outside of Seward, is also pretty sweet.

    If you want to backpack, you can rent all the gear you need from REI in Anchorage.

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    Thanks for the idea of renting equipment at REI. That's a perfect solution.
    Do you think we would be crazy to skip Denali? From what I'm reading, it looks like there could be a lot of crowds in late June-July and the whole bus thing, tickets, etc. seems like a turn-off. The Seward area looks wonderful as does Cordova. In Ohio, everyone equates a trip to Alaska with a trip to Denali so I'm not sure what to think!

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    Denali is a good trip if you want to sit on a bus and take pictures. Lots of scenery. But if you want to see and touch Alaska, the other trails mentioned (and many more that weren't) will offer you a fuller experience.

    You asked about reasonable rates with hotels. The answer is, No. There won't be. Prime tourist season in Alaska is May through September and even the most basic hotel room gets quite spendy. Occupancy also gets quite full and I've seen hotels in the summer that get so full they actually bunk people in the dining room. I'm not kidding. Saw it at a Super 8 once in Anchorage.

    Hostels I'm not sure about, or B&B's, but if you want to be certain to have a roof over your head when you get here you need to make reservations or you might find yourself sleeping in the car or pitching that REI rental tent somewhere.
    "If snowmachiners would adopt the habits of riding one at a time and not parking at the base of avalanche prone slopes, the number of fatalities would likely be whittled by at least a third, if not by half." ~ Jill Fredston, in the book Snowstruck, In The Grip Of Avalanches.

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    IMO, the best dayhikes accessible from a paved road (for the rental car) are going to be Harding Icefield and Lost Lake down by Seward, South Fork Eagle River Valley and (and sidetrips) outside of Eagle River / Anchorage, Pioneer Peak just outside Palmer if you're up for a really tough climb, Little Coal Creek Trail (north end of Kesugi Ridge trail system) in Denali State Park, and maybe Granite Tors or Wickersham Dome / Summit Trail outside Fairbanks since you'll be up here anyway. I highly recommend driving the whole loop (Parks Hwy to FBX, then the Rich and Glenn back to Anchorage). On the Rich through the Alaska Range, there are some great unmarked, virtually unknown hikes to the east of the highway. It's my backyard though, PM me if interested.

    About hotels - they're ridiculously expensive in summer. Here's a link to the Alaska Hostel Association: http://www.alaskahostelassociation.org/

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lchat View Post
    Do you think we would be crazy to skip Denali?
    The easy answer is yes and no Most people that do Denali take ride a bus. What that means is that there is a 90+ mile road that private vehicles can only drive about 20 miles or so. There are two types of buses that physically take you into the park, private tour buses or National Park buses. They start about 5 A.M. and run every 15 minutes or so. The Park bus allows more flexibility to enter and leave, turn around, or catch another bus. Bus drivers and other tourists always have lots of stories to tell. It takes about 12 hours to "do the park". Everything is handicap capable if I am not mistaken.

    There are a number of tent camp sites and hiking trails that you get to by the bus. You have to have an approved (by the park) plan on where you want to go, how long you will be gone, and when/where you want to be picked up. Once you leave the bus you will have little to no contact with anyone else. The Park wants limits human exposure in these areas and will not let "over camping" to exist.

    Therefore, Park buses are crowded, have a bunch of people in them, but you cover a lot of ground, stop for all animals, get to take a ton of pictures, and hear great stories. Off the bus, you have the true wild Alaska, but are not so remote that you run into trouble. Remember, the mountain is in the clouds more often than out "to see" that time of year. The buses all cost (one fee); private ones cost a bunch...park buses are like $10, unlimited off/on. Stopping at highway trail heads cost about $5 for parking.

    IMHO, you can't go wrong with anything you do and will have fun with any/all of these ideas!
    "...and then Jack chopped down the beanstock, adding murder and ecological vandalism to the theft, enticement and vandalism charges already mentioned, but he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you're a hero, because no one asks the inconvenient questions." Terry Pratchett's The Hogfather

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    Moderator Paul H's Avatar
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    Lots of good information here. You say you like trees and plants, then definately drive down to the Alyeska ski resort in Girdwood, and hike the trail from the resort through the woods back to the hand tram.

    http://www.alaska-in-pictures.com/fo...4-pictures.htm

    In Anchorage, I'd recomend the upper huffman trailhead and hiking the Hemlock knob trail.

    http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/chugach/hillside.htm

    http://www.dnr.state.ak.us/parks/uni...llsideblck.pdf

    Definately bring a tent and sleeping bags, there is no such thing as affordable lodging in the summer, not so nice rooms go for over $100 a night, and most rates are in the $200+ range.

    When we came up for our honeymoon 16 years ago, all we had was a small tent, two sleeping bags and a small camping stove for heating up meals. It is by far the most affordable way to see the state, and I recomend it to anyone. No need to spend a fortune to see and experience the state.

    Honestly you won't be missing much if you skip the Denali tour. For most of the drive you can't see the mountain, and thats if it's a clear enough day to see the mountain. Hiking up to Flat top in Anchorage on a clear day will provide you one of the best vistas in the entire state, and it's a short mostly easy hike. Even if you don't get to the summit of flattop, the view from the trail is amazing.

    I also agree on doing the drive as a loop, i.e. take the Glenn Highway to Glennallen, then the cutoff to the Alcan up to Fairbanks and then back down the parks highway. You'll get a good appreciation of how diverse the states topography is by doing that loop.

    I haven't personally had problems with vandelism at trailheads, but it is always a remote possibility.

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    Member dkwarthog's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lchat View Post
    Do you think we would be crazy to skip Denali?
    Imo, Re-read HEATHEN's list...

    Do the next best thing to going to Denali NP.... Hike up Little Coal Creek Trail or the "Raunchy lake" trail (cant remember the real trail name but the trail head is about 10 miles south of Little Coal Creek...MUCH less pressure, great views of Denali, and beautiful trails and country...

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    Default Thanks!

    Thanks! This is all such helpful information! Really appreciate it!

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    Define cheap hotel? In July doubt you can find a room for under $100 a night unless it is a real flea bag.

    Outside of Anchorage they can cost even more. Best best is to find a smaller hotel in out of the way places. The internet can be your friend. But coming from Ohio it can be safe to predicte you will be alarmed at most of our prices for hotels and for grabbing a quick meal such as a cheeseburger, etc.

    However much it costs it the memories will last you a life time. Joining Costco or Sams Club and carrying a cooler in your vehicle with sandwich fixings can save you a ton of cash.
    Cheers
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    I have slept in the back of a truck/car more than once up here. Many a tent too. Everywhere you go on the roads up here you will see Laundromats, and it seems like everyone of them have showers that you can use. To date, I have never found a "bad trail" up here So anyone(s) you choose will be great. The biggest issue is if you want to do a bunch of short 1-5 hour hikes vrs extended/over-nighters. Most of our hike are uphill/downhill with few that are somewhat flat. Climbing The Butte outside of Palmer is about 6-700 foot elevation change and is one of the smallest you will find. Pioneer Peak takes you from sea level to about 7K...most everything else is somewhere in between. Some of the coastal trails are flat...

    I personally bought a copy of "50 Hikes in Alaska's Chugach State Park" and have found it a great resource. It can be had on Amazon for about $10 and you may find it in a library. Similar books can be found for Denali, the Sewart region and others. Lets you know where the trails are, how long, how techincal, and how much time you might take to hike it.

    Another great area to hike is the Hatcher's Pass region outside of the Palmer and Wasilla areas. Lots of old mining claims and great ridges to crawl around on.
    "...and then Jack chopped down the beanstock, adding murder and ecological vandalism to the theft, enticement and vandalism charges already mentioned, but he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you're a hero, because no one asks the inconvenient questions." Terry Pratchett's The Hogfather

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    I am doing Crows Pass Trail this Sunday, starting from the nature center and ending in Girdwood...if you plan on doing a little backpacking or hiking in bear country, read about the Do's and Doníts about bear safety....both black and brown..handling food, cubs, etc...a bottle of bear spray can be had for about 20 bucks at Wal-mart...also check out the Alaskan Railroad...they have trips all throughout the summer http://alaskarailroad.com/ tickets can be a bit spendy but the ride is AWESOME and can take you into Denali, Fairbanks, Anchorage...if you are retired military they offer discount prices...and bring a digital camera that can hold a TON of pictures...you could also do a pretty easy hike up to Flattop but be prepared for crowds...I would recommend Chugach State Park for starters then off to Denali The Nature Center in Eagle River has a plethora of information there!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shoedawg View Post
    [COLOR=black][FONT=Verdana]I am doing Crows Pass Trail this Sunday, starting from the nature center and ending in Girdwood...]
    Can you give us an update when you return from your trip? I tried to get up to the Crow's Pass Trailhead last week from the Girdwood side and was unable to get all the way up due to snow on the road.

    I will admit that I was probably in the wrong vehicle, a mini-van with recently installed summer tires, but we got ourseleves stuck for a few minutes and then had to come down in reverse for about a mile or so.

    We stopped in the Forest Service Ranger Station on the way back to Anchorage and they told us the road was a no go and that the trail was not passable around the Crow's Pass area.

    I am not sure if they are just trying to keep the novice people out of the area or what, but I figured I would share that information with you.

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    Quote Originally Posted by armybackpacker View Post
    Can you give us an update when you return from your trip? I tried to get up to the Crow's Pass Trailhead last week from the Girdwood side and was unable to get all the way up due to snow on the road.

    I will admit that I was probably in the wrong vehicle, a mini-van with recently installed summer tires, but we got ourseleves stuck for a few minutes and then had to come down in reverse for about a mile or so.

    We stopped in the Forest Service Ranger Station on the way back to Anchorage and they told us the road was a no go and that the trail was not passable around the Crow's Pass area.

    I am not sure if they are just trying to keep the novice people out of the area or what, but I figured I would share that information with you.

    The road up to the pass is open and clear. In fact the hike itself was fairly snow free expect for a few big patches of snow fields here and there. I did the whole entire 26 miles in 2 days, and had no trouble with weather, snow, etc. Trails are marked and pretty clean, you may have to look for it once in awhile but overall it is easy to find. I would HIGHLY recommned this trip for anyone who wants a very SCENIC hike. You will see glaciers, waterfalls, wildlife, cross rivers, streams, lakes. I saw 3 black bear, 2 moose, goat and sheep. And the trail itself is not very hard to do....I would recommend though starting at the Girdwood side and ending up in Eagle River....its all down hill for the most part and you have facilities at the nature center.

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